World’s Young Activists at War: First, Occupy Wall Street, Next Un-Occupy Palestine

Active Citizens, Climate Change, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Credit: Amnesty International

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2020 (IPS) – The world’s young activists, numbering over 3.8 billion, are on the war path.

The rising new socialist movements—which originated with “Black Lives Matter” and “Occupy Wall Street” (one protester’s slogan read: “Un-Occupy Palestine”) — were aimed at battling racism, political repression and institutionalized inequalities in capitalist societies.


In its recent cover story, Time magazine dubbed it “Youthquake” – a new phenomenon shaking up the old order, as young activists lead the fight against right-wing authoritarianism, government corruption and rising new hazards of climate change.

Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS “it is stunning to see how aggressive government efforts to quash protests, including by killing protesters, have not even succeeded in stopping them in the short run”.

In the long run, far too much is at stake, she said, where the coming years are likely to see more protests rather than fewer.

And it is more so in Asia, says AI, in a recently-released report which reviews human rights in 25 Asian and Pacific states and territories during 2019.

“2019 was a year of repression in Asia, but also of resistance”.

“As governments across the continent attempt to uproot fundamental freedoms, people are fighting back – and young people are at the forefront of the struggle,” says Nicholas Bequelin, AI’s Regional Director for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“From students in Hong Kong leading a mass movement against growing Chinese encroachment, to students in India protesting against anti-Muslim policies; from Thailand’s young voters flocking to a new opposition party to Taiwan’s pro LGBTI-equality demonstrators. Online and offline, youth-led popular protests are challenging the established order,” he added.

Also, the rise of a new generation determined to lead the fight against climate emergency has led to a major youth movement worldwide, resulting in protest marches, with thousands of young people demonstrating in the streets of New York and in several world capitals.

According to Time magazine, the world’s under-30 population has been rising since 2012, and today accounts for more than half of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Credit: Amnesty International

Asked for the primary reasons for this surge in young activism, Mariner said this new era of youth activism reflects young people’s understanding that it’s their future at stake.

“If they don’t demand more from governments, including a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, their future is uncertain. It is the young who will inherit this fast-warming planet, and they see all too clearly the consequences of their elders’ inaction and irresponsibility,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the Youth Assembly, described as one of the longest-running and largest global youth summits, is scheduled to take place in New York city February 14-16.

The theme of next week’s 25th session will be: “It’s Time: Youth for Global Impact” aimed at underlining the importance of engaging young people, “especially at a time when the youth are influencing and leading movements that can change the world.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International report says China and India, Asia’s two largest powers, set the tone for repression across the region with their overt rejection of human rights.

Beijing’s backing of an Extradition Bill for Hong Kong, giving the local government the power to extradite suspects to the mainland, ignited mass protests in the territory on an unprecedented scale.

Since June, Hong Kongers have regularly taken to the streets to demand accountability in the face of abusive policing tactics that have included the wanton use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults and abuses in detention. This struggle against the established order has been repeated all over the continent, said AI.

In India, the AI report noted, millions decried a new law that discriminates against Muslims in a swell of peaceful demonstrations. In Indonesia, people rallied against parliament’s enactment of several laws that threatened public freedoms.

In Afghanistan, marchers risked their safety to demand an end to the country’s long-running conflict. In Pakistan, the non-violent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement defied state repression to mobilize against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

Divya Srinivasan, Equality Now’s South Asia Consultant, told IPS young people across Asia have shown incredible resilience and bravery in their continuing battle against government repression in 2019.

One remarkable feature of these protests is that in many instances, they have been led by women and girls, including those from minority communities, she added.

In India, one of the epicentres of protests against the new anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which discriminates against Muslims, has been the neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi.

Srinivasan said women and children have braved the winter chill and gathered in huge numbers to continuously occupy a highway around the clock in a peaceful protest that has already lasted over a month.

“The voices of these women, particularly Muslim women, have been bravely opposing the Government’s discriminatory laws, and voicing concerns about the oppression of minorities and police brutality.”

“The Shaheen Bagh protest began on December 14th with around a dozen local women and their children and numbers soon swelled into the hundreds”, she said.

And the site has become a creative space for many children and young people, with singing, storytelling, poetry, and talks happening daily, and drawings, graffiti, posters, photographs, and art installations decorating the roadside where people are camping”

In early 2019, Srinivasan said, India saw another historic protest in the form of the Dignity March, which was a 10,000-kilometre long march through 24 states that brought together thousands of survivors of sexual violence, including many young women and girls, who were raising their voices to call for justice, dignity, and an end to victim-blaming and stigma.”

“Young women across Asia are making their voices heard. We cannot ignore them any longer,” declared Srinivasan, a licensed attorney in India with a background in women’s rights, including work on sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence against women.

Asked whether there is a role for the United Nations to either support or give its blessings to these youth activists, AI’s Mariner said: “The UN, including at the highest levels, can and should speak out to demand that governments respect the right of peaceful protest”

She pointed out it was heartening to hear UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemn the killings of protesters in Iraq, “although he has been far less vocal regarding repression elsewhere”.

Also encouraging, from the perspective of UN action, are the numerous UN special rapporteurs who have called on the authorities in Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia, among others, to protect the rights of those who participate in protests, she declared.

The AI repot said people speaking out against these atrocities were routinely punished, but their standing up made a difference. There were many examples where efforts to achieve human rights progress in Asia paid off.

In Taiwan, same-sex marriage became legal following tireless campaigning by activists. In Sri Lanka, lawyers and activists successfully campaigned against the resumption of executions.

Brunei was forced to backtrack on enforcing laws to make adultery and sex between men punishable by stoning, while former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak took the stand on corruption charges for the first time.

The Pakistani government pledged to tackle climate change and air pollution, and two women were appointed as judges on the Maldivian Supreme Court for the first time.

And in Hong Kong, the power of protest forced the government to withdraw the Extradition Bill. Yet, with no accountability for months of abuses against demonstrators, the fight goes on.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Urbanization as a Path to Prosperity

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Chris Wellisz. Credit: Porter Gifford

WASHINGTON DC, Jan 29 2020 (IPS) – Growing up in New York City in the 1970s, Edward Glaeser saw a great metropolis in decline. Crime was soaring. Garbage piled up on sidewalks as striking sanitation workers walked off the job. The city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.


By the mid-1980s, it was clear that New York would bounce back. But it could still be a scary place; there was a triple homicide across the street from his school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Glaeser was nevertheless captivated by New York’s bustling street life and spent hours roaming its neighborhoods.

“It was both wonderful and terrifying, and it was hard not to be obsessed by it,” Glaeser recalls in an interview at his office at Harvard University.

Today, that sense of wonder still permeates Glaeser’s work as an urban economist. He deploys the economist’s theoretical tool kit to explore questions inspired by his youth in New York.

Why do some cities fail while others flourish? What accounts for sky-high housing costs in San Francisco? How does the growth of cities differ in rich and poor countries?

“I have always thought of myself as fundamentally a curious child,” Glaeser, 52, says. Rather than “pushing well-established literature forward,” he seeks to comprehend “something that I really don’t understand when I start out.”

While still a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Glaeser made his mark as a theorist of the benefits of agglomeration—the idea that dense and diverse cities are hothouses of innovation, energy, and creativity that fuel economic growth.

In the years since, his work has ranged across a breathtaking variety of subjects, from rent control and real estate bubbles to property rights, civil disobedience, and carbon emissions.

“For a couple decades now, Ed has been the leading thinker about the economics of place,” says Lawrence Summers, a Harvard professor who served as director of the National Economic Council under US President Barack Obama. “And the economics of urban areas are increasingly being seen as central to broad economic concerns.”

Glaeser and Summers are collaborating on a study of the hardening divide between well-educated, affluent coastal regions of the United States and islands of economic stagnation in what they call the “eastern heartland,” the interior states east of the Mississippi River.

There, in cities like Flint, Michigan, the proportion of prime-age men who aren’t working has been rising—along with rates of opioid addiction, disability, and mortality.

How can policy help? Traditionally, economists have been skeptical of the value of place-based policies like enterprise zones that offer tax breaks to investors, saying it is better to help people, not places.

People, they assumed, would move to where the jobs were. But labor mobility has declined in recent decades, partly because of high housing costs, partly because demand for relatively unskilled factory work has diminished.

Breaking with economic orthodoxy, Glaeser and Summers say that the federal government should tailor pro-employment measures, such as reducing the payroll tax or increasing tax credits to low earners, to fit the needs of economically distressed areas such as West Virginia. They also make the case for boosting investment in education.

As a Chicago-trained economist, Glaeser is a strong believer in the magic of free markets and opposes measures that distort incentives. “I have always been against spatial redistribution, taking from rich areas and giving to poor areas,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that you want the same policies everywhere.”

Urban economics seemed like a natural pursuit for Glaeser. His German-born father, Ludwig, was an architect who taught him how the built environment shapes people’s lives. His mother, Elizabeth, was an asset manager who introduced him to economics. Glaeser recalls how she used the example of competing cobblers to explain marginal cost pricing.

“I remember thinking what an amazing and fascinating thing it is to think about the impact of competition,” he says. He was 10 years old.

In high school, Glaeser excelled at history and mathematics. As a Princeton University undergraduate, he considered majoring in political science before choosing economics, seeing it as a path to Wall Street.

But dreams of a career in finance ended with the stock market crash of 1987, just as he started job interviews. So he opted for graduate school, because “it didn’t seem like I was cutting off many options,” he says.

“Then I got to Chicago, and that was when I really fell in love with economics.”

Glaeser keeps a framed photograph of himself with Gary Becker, the Chicago economist and Nobel prize laureate. Becker taught him that the discipline’s conceptual tools could be used to explore topics that had once been the domain of fields like sociology or anthropology—topics like racial discrimination, fertility, and the family.

“It was that sense of the creative side of economics that could work on a virtually unlimited canvas and try to make sense of any problem that you thought was important—that was the part that was so exciting to me,” Glaeser says.

At the time, Chicago economists Robert Lucas and Paul Romer were developing the so-called endogenous growth theory, which focused on the role of innovation and the exchange of ideas in economic development.

As Glaeser recalls it, Lucas pointed to cities as places where knowledge spillovers occur—meaning people can benefit from other people’s ideas without paying for them. Think of a city like Detroit early last century, where Henry Ford used his experience as chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company to start his automobile business.

That concept inspired a groundbreaking 1992 paper, “Growth in Cities.” Glaeser and three co-authors set out to use cities as a laboratory in which to test the new growth theories. Using 30 years of data covering 170 US cities, they found that local competition and diversity, rather than specialization, are the prime motors of urban growth.

The paper instantly made Glaeser a star and earned him a job offer from Harvard.

Glaeser “showed that urban variety, not specialization in one particular thing, was a big driver of employment growth,” says Joseph Gyourko, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a longtime collaborator. “It was Ed’s first really well-cited article, so it did start him on his path.”

Gyourko and Glaeser started working together in the early 2000s, when Glaeser took a year’s sabbatical at Penn. They wondered why some cities, such as Detroit, declined so slowly, and why so many people stayed instead of moving elsewhere. They hit upon a simple answer: housing is durable, and as cities slump, it becomes cheaper to live there.

That insight prompted a related question: Why is housing so much more expensive than the cost of construction in cities like New York and Boston? The answer: land-use restrictions limit density, curbing the supply of housing and driving up prices. It was basic economics, yet until then, urban economists hadn’t focused on the role of regulation.

Glaeser argues that excessive regulation is destructive of the very essence of urban life—density. Cities thrive on the creativity that occurs when people living cheek by jowl exchange ideas and know-how. Sunbelt cities like Houston have grown because an easy regulatory environment keeps housing inexpensive.

To economists like Glaeser, building and zoning regulations are a tax on development. Some level of tax makes economic sense, because construction imposes costs on residents in the form of noise, congestion, and pollution.

But overly stringent regulation, often pushed by residents who want to keep out newcomers and protect their property values, can make housing unaffordable for most people.

Glaeser is similarly skeptical of historic preservation rules, to the dismay of followers of Jane Jacobs, the legendary critic of urban-renewal projects who celebrated the lively street life of New York’s old ethnic neighborhoods.

Glaeser is a big Jacobs fan—he owns an autographed copy of her 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities—but argues that her efforts to oppose development in Greenwich Village were at odds with her support for low-income housing.

“I believe that many of our oldest buildings are treasures,” he says. “But don’t simultaneously pretend that that’s a route toward affordability. Affordability is created by mass-produced cheap housing or mass-produced cheap commercial space. And you might not like it aesthetically, but that is the affordable route.”

In 2000, Glaeser published “Consumer City,” a paper he wrote with Jed Kolko and Albert Saiz. In it, he took the concept of agglomeration a step further, arguing that people are drawn not only to the opportunities that cities offer, but also to amenities such as theaters, museums, and restaurants.

“We know that cities can attract the disproportionately young and innovative,” says Richard Florida, a professor of urban studies at the University of Toronto. “Ed was identifying the factors driving that, this whole idea that cities are not only places of production, but places of consumption.”

Glaeser laments policies such as the mortgage interest deduction, which encourages people to buy homes rather than rent apartments; highway subsidies, which make it easier to drive to the suburbs; and a school system that disadvantages inner-city students.

Such policies, he argues, not only are antiurban but also contribute to climate change, because city dwellers, who live in smaller homes and use mass transit, consume less electricity and gasoline than their suburban counterparts.

Surprisingly, he and his wife, Nancy, who have three children, decided to move to the suburbs of Boston several years ago. To Glaeser, it was a perfectly rational decision: the suburbs offer more living space, better schools, and a reasonably fast commute.

Already well known in academia, Glaeser started to reach a broader audience with the publication in 2011 of his bestselling book, Triumph of the City, a lively study of urbanization from ancient Baghdad to modern Bangalore.

His eloquence and enthusiasm make him a sought-after speaker at academic forums and TED Talks. Invariably, he is impeccably attired in well-pressed suits and preaches the gospel of urbanization in crisp, rapid-fire sentences.

Despite his celebrity, he takes teaching seriously. Rebecca Diamond, who attended his advising sessions as a graduate student, said he was generous with his time. “He taught me perspective and not to get too stuck in the weeds,” says Diamond, who now teaches at Stanford University and stays in touch with Glaeser.

Developing-world cities are his latest passion. True to form, he sees them as relatively uncharted territory, neglected both by urban economists, who focus on advanced-economy cities, and development economists, who concentrate on rural areas. They are also growing fast, and their physical and institutional infrastructure are works in progress, so economists’ policy advice can have an impact.

“The ability of economists to make a difference by getting engaged is just very large,” he says. “So, I think it is the new frontier.”

It also takes him to interesting places. His latest research project, with Nava Ashraf and Alexia Delfino of the London School of Economics, took him to the markets of Lusaka, Zambia, to study barriers to female entrepreneurship.

They found women are more likely to go into business if the rule of law is strong enough to help overcome inherently unequal relations with men.

Like Jane Jacobs, Glaeser is big believer in observing what he sees around him. “You don’t really understand a city until you’ve actually walked in the streets,” Glaeser says.

“That’s what makes Ed a first rate applied theorist,” says Gyourko. “You’ve got to get your hands messy in the data. Sometimes data is just walking around.”

While researching Triumph of the City, Glaeser explored places like Mumbai’s Dharavi quarter, which was a “completely magical experience.” Among the world’s most densely populated places, Dharavi hums with entrepreneurial energy, with potters, tailors, and other craftsmen working side by side in cramped, ill-lit quarters.

At the same time, unpaved streets, polluted air, and open sewers are reminders of the downsides of density. But Glaeser doesn’t bemoan the poverty of such places; on the contrary, he says cities attract the poor precisely because they offer opportunity. For the developing world, urbanization is the best path to prosperity.

“For all of their problems, amazing things are happening in India and sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America,” Glaeser says. “And things obviously don’t always go the right direction, but cities have been working miracles of collaboration for thousands of years, and whenever I go to a developing-world city, it is obvious to me that the age of miracles is not over.”

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.

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Addressing the Low Female Representation in STEM Education

Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Education

Data by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), shows that only 35 percent of students studying STEM in higher education globally are women. At primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have no electricity, computers or even access to the internet. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

DJIBOUTI CITY, Jan 28 2020 (IPS) – Dr. Anne-Maria Brennan loved science as a young girl. But instead of encouraging her, those around her made attempts to steer her in the “right direction”. “The right direction was in nursing, teaching and secretarial courses. I was told that girls do not study physics,” she tells IPS.


“These voices were so loud that I seriously considered becoming a music teacher. But then someone sensibly told me that I could become a scientist and an amateur musician, but there was nothing like an amateur scientist who was also a professional musician,” she says.

That was in the seventies, today Brennan is the vice-president of Science Engagement at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation in the United Kingdom.

Brennan previously served as an associate professor in Bioscience and Forensic Biology, at the School of Applied Science, London South Bank University.

“It turns out that girls could in fact study physics, or mathematics, science, technology and engineering,” she quips.

It has been five decades since Brennan swam against the tide, pursuing a career in science. But data by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), shows that globally only 35 percent of students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – or STEM – in higher education are women. Further confirming that girls are still being steered towards domestic and caring career paths.

“Gender balance in enrolment as well as inclusivity in both participation and achievements in STEM education remains a global south challenge,” Professor Kalu Mosto Onuoha, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, tells IPS.

“Education systems will never be balanced and inclusive when half of the population is not participating at per with their counterparts in STEM education,” he adds.

Similar sentiments were shared by other delegates participating in the 3rd International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education currently being held in Djibouti City, Djibouti. Organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), over 200 delegates and government representatives from over 35 countries are currently in the Horn of Africa nation where state leaders are expected to sign a Universal Declaration on universal inclusive education.

  • Unfortunately, low female representation in STEM education is a narrative that knows no boundaries. According to UNESCO, Sweden has the highest share of women graduates from STEM programmes among Nordic countries, but STEM attainment among female students in Sweden stands at 16 percent, compared to male students at 47 percent.

Brennan affirms that the numbers are similarly low in the United Kingdom but notes some improvements in the fields of general practice and dentistry, where women have taken a lead.

She says there are few women in surgery and even fewer in engineering because men in these fields are considered unfriendly and the sectors too involved and dirty.

“These wide gender gaps in developing countries are purely out of choice. Students in these countries are making the choice to pursue other interests. In developing countries the choice is made for our students by a patriarchal culture and through socialisation,” says Onuoha.

He says that these inequalities are first rooted in the exclusion and marginalisation of girls in education enrolment.

“Girls who eventually made it to school were encouraged to undertake feminine subjects like teaching. They were socialised to believe that they could only be good mothers if they took on lighter subjects,” Onuoha expounds.

  • But the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 indicates that these inequalities are not limited to the lagging behind of girls at the enrolment level.
  • In countries such as the Southern Africa nation of Namibia where girls outpace boys in school enrolment at all levels, the gap widens in STEM education. Here, about eight percent of female students have attained STEM education, compared to 21 percent of male students.
  • Nonetheless, the report shines a spotlight on countries with impressive levels of STEM education uptake among their female students.
  • In Mauritania, for instance, attainment in STEM is at 29 percent among female students, and 31 percent among male students. In the South Asian nation of Myanmar, female students outpace male students in attainment of STEM education.
  • A few other countries such as the Arab country of Oman are slowly and surely closing the gender gap in STEM uptake, with 41 percent of female students and 55 percent of male students.

“In developing countries there are many concerted efforts to address the first part of  the problem, even though painfully slowly, we are slowly closing gender gaps in education enrolment, retention and in some cases, achievements,” Professor Mahouton Norbert Hounkonnou, from the Benin National Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, tells IPS.

Hounkonnou is a full professor of mathematics and physics, and called for the demystification of sciences. “STEM education is taught as if only a few people are meant to understand but science and math is for all of us. Everybody does math on a daily basis without even knowing it.”

Hounkonnou says that balanced and inclusive education systems call for an overhaul in what is taught in STEMs, who teaches it and how it is taught. “Learners love to be engaged. Our classrooms must become more interactive. We also need a gender component, currently lacking, in many of our educational interventions,” he adds.

He called for investment in infrastructure and learning materials to improve the environment in which STEM education is provided.

U.N. research shows that countries in the sub-Sahara Africa face the biggest challenges. At the primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools have access to electricity, computers and internet.

“This forum provides an opportunity for us to define the shape a balanced and inclusive STEM education system should take, and make concerted efforts to build that system. It will take financial and technical resources, including the training of teachers to better interact with female learners,” says Hounkonnou.

 

Balanced and Gender-Inclusive Education is a Smart Investment

Africa, Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Education

Pupils at the Elangata Enterit boarding primary school in Kenya’s Narok County. Experts say that a balanced education includes enabling girls to participate at the same level as boys. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

DJIBOUTI CITY, Jan 27 2020 (IPS) – Fihima Mohamed’s mother never attended school and until two years ago she could not read or write. Mohamed’s mother had been born in neighbouring Somalia but was sent to Djibouti as a young girl to live with her aunt. The expectation had been that she would have a better life by escaping the ongoing conflict in her home country at the time.


Instead, Mohamed’s mother became a domestic servant to her aunt — a circumstance that showed her that her own daughter’s future would be just as difficult if she too did not go to school.

Born and raised in the Republic of Djibouti, Mohamed told IPS that most of her childhood was spent in school or studying.

Between the ages of six and 16 years, she was driven by the vivid pictures her mother painted of the life that awaited her if she did not stay in school and perform well — one of domestic abuse. “I was told that as a woman, education would give me freedom,” she said, remembering how her mother was not able to make major household decisions and did not have the freedom to determine what direction her life took.

But her mother did make a decision that determined the course of Mohamed’s life. She opted not to buy the fish her children enjoyed so much for their meals and instead spent the money on private tuition classes for her daughter to supplement her schooling.

“I attended public school during the day, and at night, two hours of private school tuition. My mother sacrificed a lot to raise 25 dollars per month to pay for these night classes,” she said, explaining that she went to those classes not for her own sake but also so that she could help her three younger siblings with their homework.

The sacrifice paid off and Mohamed was placed among the country’s top-five students for her high school final exam. She received a scholarship to study in France for four years.

Fast track to 2020, Mohamed holds a bachelor’s degree in law and political science, and a Master’s degree in refugee studies. She is a social entrepreneur, a gender and environment activist and the founder of the Women Initiative, a local social movement for the empowerment of women and girls.

She said that Djibouti is among a growing list of developing countries were education attainment levels have significantly narrowed between boys and girls. United Nations statistics indicate that the gross primary school enrolment rates for girls have risen to nearly 61 percent.

This emerged during the 3rd International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education that is currently being held in Djibouti City, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

Organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), over 200 delegates and government representatives from over 35 countries rallied behind an education pathway that leaves no one behind.

  • According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, there is an increasing number of countries in the global south where, on average, educational attainment gaps are now relatively small.
  • These countries include Cambodia, Kenya, Cuba, Myanmar and Ethiopia.
  • In Myanmar, for instance, primary school enrolment rates stand at 88 percent for girls, and 90 percent for boys.
    • Additionally, in secondary level, enrolment rate for girls is at 62 percent and 57 percent for boys.
    • Even at tertiary level, enrolment rates for girls stand at 19 percent, compared to 13 percent for boys.

Countries struggling with gender parity in education include Togo, Burkina Faso and Burundi.

Togolese Prime Minister Komi Selom, Klassou confirmed that alarming gender inequalities exist, despite the existence of innovative strategies towards an inclusive education system.

“We have school canteens to provide school free meals, free medical cover for school-going children and the newly approved year-on-year budgetary increase to the education sector,” he said during the summit.

  • The Global Gender Gap Report indicates that in Togo, enrolment in primary school is at 88 percent among girls, and 94 percent for boys.
  • Secondary school enrolment for girls is at 34 percent for girls and 49 percent for boys.
  • At tertiary level, 10 percent of girls enrol vis-à-vis 19 percent of boys.

“Efforts to narrow this gap include a new government commitment to allocate at least 25 percent of its national budget to the education sector,” he said.

Fahima Mohamed says Djibouti is among a growing list of developing countries were education attainment levels have significantly narrowed between boys and girls. She called for more investments to ensure that girls participate at the same level as boys. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Mohamed told IPS that ongoing consultations on education will bring the global south a step closer towards “building fairer and more inclusive economies by transforming our education systems to ensure that every child has access to quality education”.

She explained that ultimately the idea was to embrace an education system that reflects the reality of children in the global south. This also included improving educational infrastructure and content so that the latter could be more diverse to reflect the multiple-cultural narrative of the global south.

Nonetheless, Sheikh Manssour Bin Mussallam, President of ERF, emphasised that balanced and inclusive education systems are not solely about having more children in classrooms, but the “construction of systems that makes exclusion impossible”.

“Our education systems should guarantee that marginalised groups participate under balanced and equitable conditions. The transformative power of education is only true if education itself is transformed and driven by forces that uphold equality and equity,” he said during the opening day of the summit.

Data by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) shows that existing education systems are far from equitable, prosperous and sustainable.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 21 percent of girls are much more likely to be out of school at primary school age compared to 16 percent of boys.
  • Globally, UNESCO statistics indicate that sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the worst rates of education exclusion. One in four children in South Asia, and one in five children in sub-Saharan Africa will never enter school.
  • Equally alarming, World Bank statistics show that children with a disability are more likely to never enrol in school at all. Overall, only one in four children with disabilities complete secondary school.
  • Additionally, primary school completion rates are 10 percentage points lower for girls with disabilities compared to girls without disabilities.

“In Sri Lanka where girls are consistently outpacing boys in both education access and achievement, our main challenge is lack of financial and technical resources to address the [requirements] of special needs children,” P.C.K. Pirisyala, director of education at the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service, told IPS.

“Developing countries are grappling with a lack of teachers to provide adequate training and material to provide disability-inclusive education,” she said.

She further said that a lack of resources (both technical and financial) and a lack of schools equipped to accommodate special needs children has made it difficult for these children in the global south to access education and participate with their peers.

“This forum will provide the global south with a roadmap that reflects these realities, and bring us closer to the dream of balanced and inclusive education for all by 2030. This is all in line with the [U.N.] sustainable development goal four on education for all,” she concluded.

The summit runs until Wednesday, Jan. 29.

 

Women’s Groups Applaud Gender Action Plan Following COP 25

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Annabelle Avril – Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF)

MADRID, Spain, Jan 8 2020 (IPS) – After nearly two weeks of negotiations at COP 25 climate negotiations in Madrid last month (2-13 December), governments will be adopting a new 5-year Gender Action Plan (GAP) that progressively builds upon the first GAP, and works to address many of the concerns raised by women and gender groups at the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including calls for greater focus on implementation and scaling up gender-just climate solutions.


The GAP has been unanimously agreed to by governments who are called to lead or contribute to actions to promote gender-equality in the UNFCCC process as well as support all activities. Crucially, this GAP takes into account human rights, ensuring a just transition, and the challenges Indigenous Peoples face while fighting for climate justice and protecting their communities.

“In comparison to the initial GAP, new activities provide the opportunity to meaningfully shift towards capacity building and enhanced implementation of gender-responsive climate action at all levels, including for example, the promotion of gender-responsive technology solutions and preserving local, indigenous and traditional knowledge and practices in different sectors” said Ndivile Mokoena, GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice Southern Africa.

The negotiations were not easy, with Parties failing to deliver a text for the closing of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) as expected, and the COP25 Presidency having to host high-level consultations in the final week to come to a consensus.

Delays in negotiations included initial process challenges to arrive at a basis for negotiating text, followed by disagreement on inclusion of previously agreed language on human rights and just transition, as well as over references to finance and means of implementation.

“While it was frustrating to witness delays in the negotiations, particularly challenges to agreed language on rights, the fact that we have achieved and adopted a 5 year gender action plan that includes many of the key demands of Parties as well as views of women and gender groups goes to show the critical importance to which countries have started to understand and value gender equality in climate action.”

“I think the political will shown by negotiators under this agenda to negotiate towards consensus and achieve a robust outcome could and should be modeled under all other items in this process. In particular, I want to highlight the incredibly strong leadership of the Government of Mexico in facilitating Parties to come to this agreement. It was inspiring to witness!” said Bridget Burns, WEDO, United States.

Political will was also built through the effective mobilization efforts of both the Women and Gender Constituency and other civil society allies who refused to see this COP stall progress on gender equality.

“Mobilization efforts via social media, letters to Ministers, including protests by civil society movements were critical to raising political awareness on GAP,” said Kavita Naidu, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Thailand.

However, there are concerns that the Gender Action Plan lacks clearly defined indicators and targets for measuring its progress, such as a progressive target on advancing women’s leadership in the process.

Credit: Annabelle Avril/ WECF

“While the GAP acknowledges intersectional identities that women hold, including indigenous women and women with disabilities, more work needs to be done to understand the multidimensional and non-binary social intersections that impact the ways in which people mitigate to and build resilience to climate impacts.”

“The adoption of the enhanced GAP does not mean our work is done. We will need to focus our work now at the national level to ensure the implementation of the GAP, as well as monitoring its implementation,” Nanna Birk, LIFE Education Sustainability Equality, Germany.

While Women and Gender Constituency applauds this outcome, it fully recognizes and maintains that no real action on gender equality can be achieved without progress from Parties to fully implement the Paris Agreement, including to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

“We know we are far from that reality. The GAP is a tool to advance progress on both gender equality and effective climate solutions, but gender equality does not live in the GAP. It is realized through just and bold climate action. We remain appalled by the lack of progress overall in these negotiations and move forward boldly to lift up women’s rights and the voices of women and gender advocates everywhere as we know that real climate action can only be achieved when these voices and leadership are centered and heeded.” added Burns.

Read the agreed outcome of the gender agenda item here.

The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) is one of the nine stakeholder groups of the UNFCCC. Established in 2009, the WGC now consists of 29 women’s and environmental civil society organizations, who are working to ensure that women’s voices and their rights are embedded in all processes and results of the UNFCCC framework, for a sustainable and just future, so that gender equality and women’s human rights are central to the ongoing discussions.

http://womengenderclimate.org

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India’s Citizenship Law Triggered by Rising Right-Wing Ideology

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Credit: Foreign Policy

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2020 (IPS) – “Fire bullets at the traitors of the country,” chanted mobs of Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, supporters wrapped in Indian flags in Delhi last week.


It’s been less than a month since protests emerged against the BJP’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a new law to redefine and restrict who is considered an Indian citizen. In a violent crackdown, 27 peaceful protesters have been killed and police have detained 1500 others. BJP vigilante mobs continue to threaten and beat people protesting this controversial bill.

The CAA became law on December 11th, 2019 to provide a path to citizenship for minorities that fled from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan prior to 2014, but its most controversial point is that it specifically excludes Muslims. Critics call it discriminatory and say it threatens the secular nature of India’s constitution by trying to establish a Hindu religious state, or a “Hindu Rashtra,” akin to other religious states like Saudi Arabia or Israel’s attempt for a Jewish nation state.

In addition to the CAA, the Indian government is also planning to implement a National Register of Citizens, also known as the NRC, across the whole nation by 2021. The most recent NRC was implemented by the Indian government in the state of Assam in 2015 forcing Indians to provide documented proof of their citizenship to be considered Indian citizens. The result was the disenfranchisement of 1.9 million mostly Muslim residents who now risk being sent to illegal detention camps as they do not have what the government considers sufficient documentation or “legacy documents” which must date back to the 1970s. People fear that its extension to the rest of the country will not only affect Muslims who are not safeguarded by the CAA, but also the poorest, unlettered parts of society.

According to Indian historian and executive-director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, Vijay Prashad, the BJP has couched the CAA as a progressive refugee policy which is redundant given that India is already a signatory of the Global Compact for Migration as well as other international treaties on migration and refugees.

“Why not bring these treaties to be ratified by India, why bother to create your own bizarre thing if there’s already an international framework to say that we accept refugees and migration?” he asked rhetorically. “Well it’s because they’ve used the question of migration not for migration itself but to define what is an Indian citizen, which is a very chilling thing because now they are making the claim that Muslims are not citizens in India,” Prashad told IPS News.

Prashad says this is a core part of the BJP’s right-wing ideology. India’s home minister Amit Shah even referred to undocumented Muslim migrants coming from Bangladesh to India as “termites” and “infiltrators” and threatened to throw them into the Bay of Bengal.

India is currently the world’s largest democracy which historically has not used religion as a prerequisite for citizenship. According to Ramya Reddy, human rights lawyer from Georgetown University Law Center, the CAA puts India’s democracy at risk by violating Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian constitution, which deal with equality and liberty.

Protests

Daily protests have been met with extreme violence by the police who have fired stun grenades, smoke bombs, tear gas, and even used live ammunition to shoot and kill protestors. Police have attempted to stop protests by imposing Section 144 of the Penal Code, a draconian law from the British Raj historically used to crush freedom fighters by prohibiting the assembly of more than 4 people. The section of this law, however, is being applied selectively.

“When the radical Hindutva supporters gather, this is not considered an unlawful gathering according to the police because they’re pro-government. The police even escort them,” said Aatir Arshad a Bachelor’s student from Jamia Millia University who’s been involved in recent protests.

Jamia Millia Islamia University, a public college in New Delhi with a majority-Muslim student body, became the center of the protest movement in Delhi after police stormed the university campus, dragged out several students, beat them up and arrested them, including those who were not participating in the demonstrations.

“They rushed into the library, where students were not even protesting, they were just studying for their exams and the police beat them up,” Arshad told IPS News. “That moment was apocalyptic for Jamia Milia Islamia. They also harassed students and then claimed they did nothing.”

Arshad adds that police also entered the mosque on the university campus, beat up the Imam, as well as the guards of the university. Protests are still going on because of the events from that day.

Ahla Khan, an alumnus from Jamia Millia and resident of the Jamia Nagar area, explained to IPS News how on the first day of protests her and her sister were just walking to Jamia University when they got caught in the middle of a confrontation between police and protesters. They ran to the sidewalk and watched as police hit students with batons.

“I was watching a guy standing there, just looking at his phone doing nothing. The police ask him ‘where are you going’ and he doesn’t say anything. And just like that the police start beating him up,” says Khan.

She explains how the protesters have been highly organized and peaceful in Delhi. Many have volunteered to distribute tea in the biting cold weather, organized assemblies and facilitated plays and book readings. Chants and slogans have called for repealing the CAA as well as for Azaadi, or freedom. Police have been more restrained than in Uttar Pradesh (UP) where police violence has been lethal. The Chief Minister of UP called a meeting in late December threatening to seize property of those involved in protests “to compensate damage to public property.”

“In UP police and RSS goons have been barging into people’s houses, hitting them, beating people up, thrashing their entire houses, looting them, TVs and fridges broken,” said Khan.

The government has also made several attempts to prevent media outlets from covering police violence and has blocked the internet is several parts of India where there are massive protests. Internet shutdowns have become commonplace, with the shutdown in Kashmir being the longest ever in a democracy.

International Response

While many protesters are still languishing in jail, the United Nations has voiced concern over the CAA with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, calling for “restraint and urg[ing] full respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly.” UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s spokesperson stated that the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s Constitution.”

Despite this, Reddy says that this doesn’t have any enforcement as domestic law always takes precedence over international law. Even though the UN has criticized the CAA, “[changes have] to happen domestically or with pressure,” she said. And right now, no other major international powers like the UK, the US, and Canada have come out against this because they’re strong allies [of India],” Reddy told IPS News.

In fact, on a recent visit to Washington, D.C. India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar cancelled a meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the other members of Congress refused to exclude Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a critic of the CAA, NRC, and India’s actions in Kashmir.

South Asian students in the United States are expressing their dismay with the Indian government by launching a campaign demanding their House of Representatives “express their disapproval through targeted sanctions against Modi government officials until both laws are repealed.” So far, the letter has been signed by the Yale South Asian Society, Harvard College U.S.-India Initiative, Columbia University South Asian Organization, University of Pennsylvania South Asia Society Board, Cornell University South Asian Law Students Association, Brown University South Asian Students Association and Dartmouth University Muslim Students Association Al-Nur, and many other student groups.

Democratic Deficit

Implementing a nationwide National Register of Citizens will cause massive economic disruption, according to a recent report by the Wire. The article states that the NRC in the state of Assam alone, which makes up just 3% of the population, “took almost a decade, required the involvement of over 50,000 government employees and cost more than Rs. 1,200 crore,” or just over 168 million US dollars. While the Indian development dream is flailing with its ranking in hunger slipping annually and unemployment rising, the implications of implementing these exclusionary laws go beyond the marginalization of Muslims to also draining resources from some of the world’s poorest residents.

“This is not about a policy you can really implement,” said Prashad. “You can’t actually, practically expatriate 200 million Muslims.” Prashad also pointed out in his recent article that India’s Muslims form the eighth-largest country in the world.

The point, he adds, is that “this is a marker saying we are redefining citizenship and emboldening the hard-right and mobs on the street to make it clear to Muslims that they are not welcome here and that India is a Hindu country,” Prashad told IPS.

Despite the hard attempt by the government quell any resistance to the CAA, protests have been occurring daily with Muslims, Dalits, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, farmers, lawyers, workers, writers, and journalists joining together to prevent what could leave millions stateless in “the largest disenfranchisement in human history.”

When asking Aatir Ashad, who’s been protesting daily, about his experience he tells IPS News that whenever there’s a call for a protest, the police just close all of the metro stations so that no one can reach the protest site.

“Great democratic country we’re living in,” he says sarcastically, distressingly, as he prepares for another day of joining the protests.

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