Reduce Military Spending – the Much-Needed Response to Violence Against Women

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Maria Victoria (Mavic) Cabrera Balleza is Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

The United Nations is conducting a 16-day social media campaign from 25 November to 9 December for its 2020 Campaign: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 16 Days of Activism is a worldwide campaign calling for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Credit: International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA)

NEW YORK, Dec 10 2020 (IPS) – The COVID-19 pandemic is NOT the biggest pandemic the world confronts at the moment, despite over 69 million cases and 1.5 million deaths worldwide.1 If it’s not COVID, what is it then? It is violence against women!


Globally, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the past 12 months alone.2 The figure increases by 30 per cent if the violence experienced by women and girls in their lifetime is added.3

These numbers are likely underestimates, since many women do not report sexual and intimate partner violence due to stigma associated with it. The UN Women policy brief on COVID-19 and VAW points out that less than 40 per cent of the women who have experienced violence seek help.

Those who do, often turn to family and friends, and less than 10 per cent report to the police. This perpetuates a culture of impunity as perpetrators go unpunished.

The data clearly shows that violence against women and girls is a global emergency, which requires urgent action. It can take many forms, from human trafficking and sexual slavery, through rape and forced sexual acts, to bettering and sexual harassment—on the street, at workplace, school and online.

Harmful cultural practices – such as female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage are also forms of violence against women and girls. The list goes on.

Gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. However, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Some of them are young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrant, refugee and displaced women and girls, indigenous women and girls, women and girls from ethnic and religious minorities, women and girls with disabilities, and those living in situations of conflict and humanitarian crises.

The threat of violence faced by millions of women and men around the world has been compounded by the security, health, and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are trapped at home with their abusers, while women’s shelters and domestic violence hotlines are struggling to meet demands.

As the world grapples with COVID-19, it is also past time to take concrete action to address the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls.

United Nations response

There is no shortage in UN campaigns, programs, task forces and initiatives that all aim to end violence against women and girls

Groups such as the Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and the Action Coalition for Gender-based violence bring together civil society, Member States, UN agencies, international organizations, and philanthropies provide space for sharing lessons learned, coordinating action and mobilizing resources to end violence against women and girls.

The Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations launched in 2019 has committed a record €500 million to end violence against women and girls.

Advocacy and communications campaigns such as the UNiTE by 2030 campaign managed by UN Women, call on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media, and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.

There is also the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), all of which have specific but related mandates that address violence against women and girls.

How effective is the UN response to violence against women and girls? The effectiveness of the UN response was put to a major test by the outbreak of COVID-19. The massive increase in the incidence of violence against women and girls is an indication that the response is ineffective—or at best—insufficient.

While one could argue that the weakness of individual Member States both in managing the pandemic and addressing violence against women and girls cannot be attributed to the UN, the shortcomings brought to light by the pandemic beg the question: how can the UN improve Member States’ compliance with and implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Labour Organisation’s Violence and Harassment Convention, and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its supporting resolutions?

All of these are powerful international laws that call on the UN and Member States to take concrete actions on this issue. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that actions taken to date have barely scratched the surface of the complex and pervasive issue of violence against women and girls. An effective and sustainable response requires structural changes, and a re-evaluation of global priorities!

The UN Secretary-General’s call

The current global priorities are most clearly visible if we follow the money. USD $1.9 trillion! This is how much the world spent to run military institutions in 2019, the largest annual increase in military expenditure since 2010.4 Let that sink in!!!

Meanwhile, women’s shelters are underfunded, many women—including victims of sexual violence—do not have access to quality healthcare, including maternal and reproductive health, and many women’s rights organizations are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To end violence against women, Member States and donors need to put their money where their mouths are. It is not only the right and necessary choice—it is also a smart investment.

According to the World Bank, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—more than double what most governments spend on education.5

UN Women estimates that cost to be approximately $1.5 trillion6 – almost at the level of the record-high military expenditures. Preventing violence against women and girls first and foremost saves lives—but it can also save money.

In his 2020 report on Women and Peace and Security, the Secretary-General drew attention to the stark difference between soaring rates of military spending and the strains in social protection systems including the unavailability of necessary health care that disproportionately impact women and girls. It also underlined how bilateral aid to women’s organizations in fragile or conflict-affected countries has stagnated at 0.2 per cent of total bilateral aid ($96 million on average per year).

The Secretary-General’s report marks the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1325, arguably the most important international law that address violence against women and girls in conflict situations. It presents five goals for the next decade.

It called on the international community to “Reverse the upward trajectory in global military spending with a view to encouraging greater investment in the social infrastructure and services that buttress human security.”

Moreover, the Secretary-General urged Member States to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, control the availability of armaments; to promote the participation of women in all arms control and disarmament processes and forums; and to reduce excessive military expenditures.

The current context calls for renewed efforts to curb military spending, which has been a chief strategic objective of the women’s movement for peace, he further stressed.

Complementing his call for reduced military spending, the other goal presented by the Secretary-General is to galvanize the donor community for universal compliance with a minimum of 15 per cent of ODA to conflict-affected countries dedicated to advancing gender equality, and the remaining 85 per cent to integrate gender considerations, including multiplying by five the direct assistance to women’s organizations.

The reduction of military spending does not only represent the possibility of financial resources that could support women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence as well as predictable core funds to women’s rights organizations.

It is also an opportunity to generate stronger political commitment to disarmament and arms control and eliminate the threats posed by the estimated one billion small arms that are circulating globally. It can also lead to preventing the use of arms to commit or facilitate serious acts of violence against women and girls.

We, in the women, peace and security community as well as all actors working on gender equality, human rights, and the elimination of violence against women and girls must waste no time.

Let us all come together and seize the moment to present our evidence-based analysis, and policy recommendations in order to influence policy outcomes and decisions that divert weapons spending to fund civil society’s initiatives to end violence against women and girls, and COVID-19 response and recovery.

1 Worldometer, “COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic”, Updated 9 December 2020. Accessed from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
2 UN Women, “COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls”, 2020. Available at: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/issue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5006
3 World Health Organization, “Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence”, 2013. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/85239
4 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Global military expenditure sees largest annual increase in a decade—says SIPRI—reaching $1917 billion in 2019”, 27 April 2020. Available at: https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2020/global-military-expenditure-sees-largest-annual-increase-decade-says-sipri-reaching-1917-billion
5 World Bank, “Gender-Based Violence (Violence Against Women and Girls)”, 25 September 2019. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/socialsustainability/brief/violence-against-women-and-girls
6 UN-Women, “COVID-19 and ending violence against women and girls”, 2020. Available at: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/issue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5006.

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Lost in Translation? Understanding Relevance of Women, Peace & Security in Arms Control & Disarmament

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Renata H. Dalaqua is Programme Lead for Gender & Disarmament at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)

 
At the core of landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security is the assertion of women’s right to participate in decisions related to war and peace.

 

The United Nations is conducting a 16-day social media campaign from 25 November to 10 December 2020 for its 2020 Campaign: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 16 Days of Activism is a worldwide campaign calling for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Credit: UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)

GENEVA, Dec 3 2020 (IPS) – “What does the Women, Peace and Security Agenda have to do with arms control and disarmament?”.

Under varying formulations, this question keeps coming up whenever someone refers to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda as a basis for ensuring that women’s voices and their specific security needs were taken into account in multilateral arms control discussions.


Even for those supportive of bringing gender equality concerns to disarmament fora, the linkages between WPS and arms control were not always clear. To tackle this, UNIDIR’s Gender and Disarmament programme initiated a nine-month research project that resulted in Connecting the Dots, a report that outlines the interconnections between arms control and the WPS Agenda and sets out concrete ideas for further dialogue and collaboration among distinct policy communities.

Shared goals

The WPS Agenda and arms control and disarmament share the broader goal of preventing and reducing armed violence. The current trend towards gender-responsive arms control is strengthening these synergies, highlighting the importance of women’s meaningful participation in discussions related to weapons.

At the core of landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security is the assertion of women’s right to participate in decisions related to war and peace.

Likewise, that resolution acknowledges that conflict affects women and girls differently to men and, therefore, crisis management, humanitarian and development responses need to take account of the specific needs of women and girls.

Renata H. Dalaqua

Since SCR 1325 (2000), the Security Council has adopted ten resolutions on WPS, collectively forming the basis for what is often referred to as the WPS Agenda. It is commonly defined as having four interconnected pillars:

    • • Meaningful

participation

    • of women in decision-making processes at all levels and in all aspects of international security;

Prevention

    • of violence against women and girls and of any violation of their rights;

Protection

    • of women and girls from all forms of violence and from any violation of their rights;

Relief and Recovery

    , that is, ensuring that the voices and concerns of women and girls are accounted for when creating the structural conditions necessary for sustainable peace.

Arms control and disarmament measures can strengthen all those pillars, effectively helping to implement the WPS Agenda. Despite these convergences, multilateral processes on WPS have rarely addressed the governance of weapons.

For its part, initiatives in the field of arms control and disarmament to improve women’s participation and tackle gendered impacts of weapons have not been framed explicitly in connection with the WPS Agenda.

Misconceptions

How do we explain this disconnect? UNIDIR found two misconceptions that hinder the integration of WPS and arms control.

First, is the belief that gender relates primarily or even exclusively to women and girls. This is not the case. Gender is a broad construct that refers to the roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate or a “norm” for women and men, for girls and boys, and for non-binary or gender-fluid people.

Gender norms are socially constructed differences – as opposed to biological differences (sex) – and they function as social rules of behaviour, setting out what is desirable and possible to do as a man or a woman in a given context.

Gender points to a relational view of male, female, and trans categories as contextually and relationally defined. Thus, the way women interact with issues of weapons and armed conflict cannot be addressed by focusing only on women.

For this conversation to be effective, men and masculinities must be part of the Agenda. Moreover, as long as gender-related debates are considered “women’s issues”, their reach will be limited and progress towards the integration of gender perspectives into arms control and disarmament will be slow.

The second misconception is that WPS resolutions only apply to conflict or post-conflict situations and, thus, would not be relevant to multilateral arms control processes, which tend to be seen as instruments negotiated by and for societies considered to be at peace.

But this is not true, as many of the WPS-related activities are relevant in peacetime as well, especially those that deal with prevention of violence in general and of violence against women and girls. Femicides, in which weapons play a role, are particularly visible in areas or countries that are otherwise relatively peaceful.

Moving forward

As the WPS Agenda enters its third decade, states and civil society actors are looking for ways to strengthen its implementation. UNIDIR’s research offers several recommendations to contribute to those efforts.

    • • Go beyond merely adding women. Efforts should be taken to ensure that women, men and persons of other gender identities affected by armed violence can meaningfully participate in arms control and disarmament. This could take participation to the next level, overcoming the simplistic notion that gender equates to women.
    • • In addition to small arms control, the goals of prevention and protection should inform multilateral processes on cybersecurity. After all, online gender-based violence (GBV) is a serious issue and it can turn into armed violence, as we have seen in attacks perpetrated by the so-called

incels

    • • Lessons learned from gender-sensitive victim assistance in mine action should be applied to protocols and agreements dealing with weapons of mass destruction. In view of sex-specific and

gendered effects of chemical, biological

    and nuclear weapons, a gender-responsive approach to assistance under WMD treaties could help states and their populations to become more resilient and recover more rapidly.

Ultimately, the WPS Agenda provides a practical structure for the comprehensive integration of gender perspectives across the whole range of arms control and disarmament processes. Bringing these policy areas closer should be of equal interest to both arms control practitioners as well as WPS advocates.

This piece presents findings from a larger research project. The author is grateful to Dr. Renata Dwan and Dr. Henri Myrttinen for their contribution and insights.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network (ELN) or any of the ELN’s members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges.

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Empower Young People to Sustain Our Planet, and Let Peace and Prosperity Thrive

Africa, Conferences, Development & Aid, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Labour, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

We need to empower young people to sustain our planet, and let peace and prosperity thrive says UN’s Resident Co-ordinator in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee speaks to IPS on reflections on the ICPD25 Summit.

Young people at ICPD25 youth session. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 15 2019 (IPS) Q: At ICPD25 we heard that women and girls are still waiting for the unmet promises to be met? DO you think this time around there is a commitment to ensure that these promises are met?

The Nairobi Summit is about the Future of Humanity and Human Prosperity.


We all have an opportunity to repeat the message that women’s empowerment will move at snail-pace unless we bolster reproductive health and rights across the world. This is no longer a fleeting concern, but a 21st century socio-economic reality.

We can choose to take a range of actions, such as empowering women and girls by providing access to good health, education and job training. Or we can choose paths such as domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and child marriages, which, according to a 2016 Africa Human Development Report by UNDP, costs sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion per year on average due to gender inequality and lack of women’s empowerment.

Fortunately, the world has made real progress in the fight to take the right path. There is no lack of women trailblazers in all aspects of human endeavour. It has taken courage to make those choices, with current milestones being the result of decades of often frustrating work by unheralded people, politics and agencies.

Leaders like the indefatigable Dr. Natalia Kanem the Executive Director of UNFPA and her predecessors, are pushing the global change of paradigm to ensure we demolish the silo of “women’s issues” and begin to see the linkages between reproductive rights and human prosperity.

Siddharth Chatterjee

Numerous studies have shown the multi-generation impact of the formative years of women. A woman’s reproductive years directly overlap with her time in school and the workforce, she must be able to prevent unintended pregnancy in order to complete her education, maintain employment, and achieve economic security.

Denial of reproductive health information and services places a women at risk of an unintended pregnancy, which in turn is one of the most likely routes for upending the financial security of a woman and her family.

As the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, I am privileged to serve in a country, which has shown leadership to advance the cause of women’s right-from criminalizing female genital mutilation to stepping up the fight to end child marriage and pushing hard on improving reproductive, maternal and child health.

Q: At ICPD25 we heard that innovative partnerships are needed to ensure commitments to women and girls. 25 years on do you think this will happen? Can you site an example in Kenya or Africa on this?

Achieving the SDGs will be as much about the effectiveness of development cooperation as it will be about the scale and form that such co-operation takes. There is a lot of talk about partnership, but not enough practical, on-the-ground support to make partnerships effective in practice, especially not at scale.

Under the leadership of the Government of Kenya therefore, the UN System in Kenya in 2017 helped to spearhead the SDG Partnership Platform in collaboration with development partners, private sector, philanthropy, academia and civil society including faith-based stakeholders.

The Platform was formally launched by the Government of Kenya at the UN General Assembly in 2017 and has become a flagship initiative under Kenya’s new UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022 (UNDAF). As the entire UNDAF, the Platform is geared to contribute to the implementation of Kenya’s Big Four agenda in order to accelerate the attainment of the Country’s Vision2030.

In 2018, the Platform has received global recognition from UNDCO and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation as a best practice to accelerate SDG financing. This clearly implies that we are on the right track, and as you can read in this report are developing a blueprint for how 21st Century SDG Partnerships can be forged and made impactful, but much more needs to be done.

Primary Healthcare (PHC) – in the SDG 3 cluster – has been the first SDG Partnership Platform window contributing to the attainment of the Universal Health Coverage as a key pillar of the Big Four agenda. We are living in a day and age where we have the expertise, technology and means to advance everyone’s health and wellbeing. It is our moral obligation to support Kenya in forging partnerships, find the right modalities to harness the potential out there and make it work for everyone, everywhere.

With leadership as from my co-chairs, Hon. Sicily Kariuki, Cabinet Secretary for Health in Kenya, and H.E Kuti, Chair of the Council of Governors Health Committee and Governor of Isiolo, and the strong political commitment, policy environment, and support of our partners we have in Kenya, I am convinced that Kenya can lead the way in attaining UHC in Africa, and accelerate the implementation of the ICPD25 agenda.

Q: Funding remains a crucial challenge- do you think there is a commitment to fund the initiatives?

Yes, there is a clear commitment to fund the ICPD Plan of Action.

I applaud partners whom have been doing so for long as the governments of Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and UK, and Foundations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But increasingly there is also the recognition that we cannot reach our ambitions through aid and grants.

At the global scale we need to let better regulation evolve for advancing greater equality and support to those furthest left behind.

Especially within middle-income-countries / emerging economies, our ICPD25 funding models need to be underpinned by shared-value approaches, and financed through domestic and blended financing.

I feel encouraged therefore by the Private Sector committing eight (8) billion fresh support to the acceleration of the ICPD Plan of Action.

Considering the trillions of dollars being transacted however by the private sector, this should be only the start and we should continue to advocate for bigger and better partnership between public and private sector targeting the communities furthest left behind to realize ICPD25.

Q: What do you think should be done to ensure young people’s participation?

Africa’s youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050. Whether this spells promise or peril depends on how the continent manages its “youth bulge”.

Many of Africa’s young people remain trapped in poverty that is reflected in multiple dimensions, blighted by poor education, access to quality health care, malnutrition and lack of job opportunities.

For many young people–and especially girls– the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services is depriving them of their rights and the ability to make decisions about their bodies and plan their families. This is adversely affecting their education and employment opportunities.

According to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report for 2016, gender inequalities cost sub-Saharan Africa US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. Women’s empowerment and gender equality needs to be at the top of national development plans.

Between 10 and 12 million people join the African labour force each year, yet the continent creates only 3.7 million jobs annually. Without urgent and sustained action, the spectre of a migration crisis looms that no wall, navy or coastguard can hope to stop.

Africa’s population is expected to reach around 2.3 billion by 2050. The accompanying increase in its working age population creates a window of opportunity, which if properly harnessed, can translate into higher growth and yield a demographic dividend.

In the wake of the Second World War, the Marshall Plan helped to rebuild shattered European economies in the interests of growth and stability. We need a plan of similar ambition that places youth employment in Africa at the centre of development.

In the meantime, the aging demographic in many Western and Asian Tiger economies means increasing demand for skilled labour from regions with younger populations. It also means larger markets for economies seeking to benefit from the growth of a rapidly expanding African middle class.

Whether the future of Africa is promising or perilous will depend on how the continent and the international community moves from stated intent to urgent action and must give special priority to those SDGs that will give the continent a competitive edge through its youth.

The core SDGs of ending poverty, ensuring healthy lives and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education all have particular resonance with the challenge of empowering youth and making them effective economic citizens.

Many young people in Africa are taking charge of their futures. There is a rising tide of entrepreneurship sweeping across Africa spanning technology, IT, innovation, small and medium enterprises.

They are creating jobs for themselves and their communities.

We need to empower young people to sustain our planet, and let peace and prosperity thrive.

Q: Lastly, we heard strong commitments from President Uhuru Kenyatta on the issue of FGM- do you think it will really happen by 2022?

President Uhuru Kenyatta needs to be lauded for his strong commitment to ending FGM.

Despite being internationally recognized as a human rights violation, some 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, and if current rates persist, an estimated 68 million more will be cut between 2015 and 2030.

We cannot accept this any longer and should step up for this cause.

Without leaders as H.E Kenyatta championing the fight to address cultural harmful practices as FGM – rapid strides will never be made.

 

Art Helping Women to Highlight Gender-based Violence at ICPD25

Africa, Arts, Conferences, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Ann Kihii (25) spends time with other young women from poor communities in Nairobi and use embroidery to create images that tell a story about the daily challenges they face. They also get a chance to discuss the issues among themselves in a safe space. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 14 2019 (IPS) – While women find it hard to talk about their painful experiences, some have found a way of expressing themselves through art. Women, trained as artists, from Nairobi’s informal settlements Kibera and Kangemi, have produced a beautiful quilt that tells stories about their daily challenges.


Displayed at the Pamoja Zone of ICPD25, the quilt is used to lobby delegates to rally behind girls and women by ensuring that they enjoy sexual reproductive rights and end gender-based violence.

Being able to express yourself through art

While the embroidered quilt is a beautiful piece of work, each square that forms part of it it is sewn by different women who are expressing their sad experiences.

“I live in a community where violence against women is the order of the day,” she told IPS. “Unfortunately, women find it hard to talk about it.” Ann Kihiis (25) is one of the young women who have turned out to be a fine quilt maker. Using small square pieces of fabric, she sewed an image of a woman who was experiencing violence in her marriage.

In the same image, there is a shadow which she says symbolises the anger and hurt that an abused woman carries with her all the time unless she is able to talk about it and heal from the experience. Although she has never been in an abusive relationship, she said observing it from a young age in her family and community has traumatised her.

Ann Kihii showcases the quilt that she contributed in making where she designed an image of a woman in an abusive relationship who always carries the anger and hurt. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

“I love art and this is a way of creating awareness about gender-based violence and letting people know that it’s okay to talk about it,” said Kihiis.

She said she is aware that women who are abused end up believing that they do not deserve to be loved, something that is not true.

Art brings women together

On the same quilt, other artists made images depicting crime, drugs and teenage pregnancy. For example, there is an image of a young girl who is sitting on a desk with a baby on her back. This, according to Bobbi Fitzsimmons, a quilter from the Advocacy Project is the story of a young girl who was abandoned by her father after falling pregnant. When she fell pregnant for the second time, she decided to take control of her life and returned to school even if it meant studying with much younger learners.

Bobbi Fitzsimmons, a quilter from The Advocacy Project, trains women groups across the world to express the challenges they face by using embroidery, painting and applique to raising awareness so as to get support in addressing gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health rights. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

“Art is a very effective way of expressing oneself,” she said. “What’s more, the women came together while working on the quilt and discussed their issues, in what was a safe space for them to talk.”

The Kenyan women artists are trained by the Kenya Quilt Guild under Fitzsimmons’ directorship.

The United National Population Fund (UNFPA) funded The Advocacy Project to train the women. They also funded the exhibition of quilts from women in other parts of the world. For example, there is a quilt from Nepal on display with squares of paintings through which a group of women from the Eastern part of the country expresses themselves after they were treated for uterine prolapse, a painful condition affecting 600 000 women in Nepal. Another quilt donning the walls of the Pamoja Zone is one from survivors of sexual violence from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while another depicts child marriages in Zimbabwe.

In total, 18 quilts are on display at the exhibition, where delegates are fascinated by the stories.

Karen Delaney, the deputy director of The Advocacy Project believes that through this initiative, women do not only come together to talk about their issues but they also get a lifetime skill for income generation. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

In making the quilts the artists are trained to use the following skills: beadwork, painting and applique.

“Apart from the opportunity of bringing together the women, they gain skills that they can use to generate income for the rest of their lives,” said Karen Delaney, the deputy director at The Advocacy Project.

 

Young People at ICPD25: ‘ We Have the Right to Sexual and Reproductive Rights’

Africa, Conferences, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

ICPD25 Youth delegates: Michele Simon (left) and Botho Mahlunge. Credit: Joyce Chimbi / IPS

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 14 2019 (IPS) – Every day in developing countries it is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth. This amounts to 7.3 million births a year.


Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are still the leading cause of death among adolescent girls, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics.

Let us be heard

Born long after the Cairo Promise, the 18-year-old Michelle Simon and the 19-year-old Botho Mahlunge both youth representatives from Botswana, lament that years later a world where girls can enrol and stay in school is far from the lived reality for millions of adolescents across the globe.

“When I was 13 years old I started to see the connection between girls getting pregnant and dropping out of school. “These girls were very bright but when they left school they never returned.

I started to talk about preventing these pregnancies at that young age,” Simon tells IPS.

Simon says that 25 years after the promise, “it is very sad because those who should be protecting us have failed us. Parents cannot even close the gap between them and their adolescent”.

She argues that parents have abdicated their responsibility to the education system and the entire society. “But where is the parent’s responsibility towards adolescent health?” she asks.

Simon says that in this era of technology and information, adolescent health should not be the problem area that it is. “We cannot hide behind culture and say that ours is a conservative society.

Culture should reflect problems

“Culture evolves and it must so that it can reflect the problems we are facing,” she says.

Mahlunge says that failure to educate our young people on sexuality “is the reason so many girls are getting pregnant and infected with HIV.”

She says the continued exclusion of young people in rural areas from sexual and reproductive health and rights discussion is also to blame for the prevailing state of affairs.

“Young people in rural areas are completely vulnerable. They are so far removed from the little information and services available to young people in urban areas,” Mahlunge observes.

We need sexual health education

Denis Otundo from the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa says that the ICPD25 conference has a lot in store to offer adolescents.

He notes that the stigma attached to providing adolescents with comprehensive sexuality education in many African countries is unfounded.

“This Summit is very clear on what needs to be done. As early as at the age of 15 years, adolescents should start receiving information on sexuality. The focus is to provide the right information, at the right time so that adolescents can make the right decisions,” he says.

Otundo says that this information includes life skills “on how to say no to sex because this is part of promoting adolescent health. It is also about training them on identifying all forms of violence, teaching them about available channels to report violence, and how to report”.

Experts at UNFPA argue that if laws support access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights, this could delay early sexual debut because such rights encourage and enable young people to make sound decisions.

He says that when young people lack access to proper information, they turn to fellow adolescents for information.

Invest in young people says the Asian Population and Development Association

Dr Osamu Kusumoto from the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) says that the capacity of countries to accelerate and achieve ICPD25 commitments is dependent on the extent to which countries invest in their young people.

“Unplanned pregnancies are a big problem in developing countries. When you have a large population of young people pregnant while they should be in school, this is a problem for the economy too,” he says.

In Kenya alone, UNFPA statistics show that many young girls are likely to have repeated pregnancies.

As many as one in five girls give birth before the age of 18 years, even worse, as a majority of then will get married. Girls between 15 to 19 years are particularly at risk of acquiring HIV.

Kusumoto says that interventions must address young people’s most pressing problems. In this way, they can stay in school and acquire the skills needed to participate in the economy.

Young people are the heart of this Summit

“Adolescents are at the heart of the Summit. All the commitments that have been made, in one way or another, touch on adolescents,” says Otundo.

He says that adolescents are the most affected by sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful practices including female genital mutilation and child marriages.

Among the private sector partners who have committed funds to deliver the Cairo promise include Plan International who will allocate $500 million to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and adolescents by 2025.

“I speak out about unwanted pregnancies and violence against young people. I also speak out about the need to stay in school because I believe this is what we need to accelerate the promise made to us even before we were born,” Simon says.

Botho encourages young people wherever they may be “to engage and to dialogue. If you see an opportunity to hold government accountable, do not hold back.”

 

World Youth Call to Governments to Ban All Hin Drances to LGBTQI Communities

Africa, Conferences, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, LGBTQ, TerraViva United Nations

MARTIN KARADZHOV, Global Youth Commitee speaking at ICPD25. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 13 2019 (IPS) – Governments across the world must ban all state-implemented harmful practices against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community delegates at the ICPD25 tells IPS.


Adding his voice in bridging the gap of Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) among the youth, Martin Karadzhov, chair for Global Youth Steering Committee, told delegates at a youth event themed “our bodies, our lives, our world”, at the 25thInternational Conference on Population Development (ICDP25).

LGBTQI young people remain voiceless

Although there are 1.8 billion youths between the ages of 10 and 24 years, they continue to be marginalised when it comes to SRHR issues. Karadzhov said LGBTQI youth in many countries were subjected to harmful practices including pressure on them to convert, a practice with no scientific basis which is also unethical and, in most instances, a torture. “Justice for one is justice for all,” he said.

He urged governments to repeal discriminatory laws against the LGBTQI community, adding that they were denied access to Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services on the basis of their sexuality. “Our human rights are not controversial,” said Karadzhov.

Young people often only a statistic

Echoing his sentiments was Mavis Naa Korley Aryee, a youth programme national radio host at Curious Minds. She said although there are 1. 8 billion reasons why young people should be involved in decision-making process, they are only mentioned as statistics.“Being part of a minority should not be a reason for discrimination,” said Aryee.

Young people speak out at Nairobi Summit. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

She advocated for access to SRH services to be made available to all young people, adding that they have a right to make choices about their bodies. She was, however, encouraged by the way the global youth had stood up to be counted despite the challenges they face. Aryeenoted that the youth contributed to the development agenda leading to ICPD25, adding that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are also about them.

“We have then numbers. No one will ignore 1.8 billion reasons. The more we collaborate, the more we advance our agenda,” she said.

Fighting for a seat a the table

The global youth is fighting for a seat on the decision-making table where Marco Tsaradia, a Member of Parliament from Madagascar, said young people are told: “things have always been done like this”. He said the youth are keen to bring about new ideas because they are talented and innovative. However, he complained that the existing decision-making structure prevented them from achieving this objective.

It gets worse if young persons with disabilities want to enter the table because, said Leslie Tikolitikoca from the Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation, they tend to be “judged on their disabilities rather than their abilities”. For example, he said, instead of providing services to those who are unable to hear or see, those in power would rather make decisions on their behalf instead of helping them to contribute to the discussion.

“How are we going to ensure that we leave no one behind if we don’t involve all young people?” he wondered.

EU commits funding

Following the youth’s proposed solutions to their SRHR, Henriette Geiger, from the directorate of people and peace at the European Union Commission, said it was time to act. She said the EU has proposed that governments should consider reducing the voting age to 16 years.

Young people at ICPD25 youth session. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

“That would make a huge impact in decision-making on youth policy,” she said, adding that the EU was funding key initiatives to change public perceptions about the LGBTQI community by using film.

Although she said the EU was involved in many SRHR programmes in Africa, she further pledged €29 million towards SRHR programmes for the youth, urging organisations to take advantage of this initiative.

Not all doom and gloom

During the opening address of the ICPD25, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director, Natalia Kanem, told delegates “good progress is not good enough”, insisting that the promises made to girls, women and everyone should be kept.

Kanem paid special tribute to the youth, for bringing new ideas and resources to make rights and choices a reality.

“To the youth, you’re inspiring in pushing us to go further Thank you,” said Kanem.

It is not all sad and gloomy for the youth, said Ahmed Alhendawi, the secretary-general of the World Organisation of the Scouts Movement. The fact that the youth have formed themselves into a global youth movement should be celebrated because that is how they are going to win the fight to be part of decision-making processes.