Global Austerity Alert: Looming Budget Cuts in 2021-25 and Alternatives

Aid, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Financial Crisis, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Map of countries with projected austerity cuts in 2021-2022, in terms of GDP, based on IMF fiscal projections. Credit: I. Ortiz and M. Cummins, 2021

NEW YORK and NAIROBI, Apr 15 2021 (IPS) – Last week Ministers of Finance met virtually at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to discuss policies to tackle the pandemic and socio-economic recovery.


But a global study just published by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, international trade unions and civil society organizations, sounds an alert of an emerging austerity shock: Most governments are imposing budget cuts, precisely at a time when their citizens and economies are in greater need of public support.

Analysis of IMF fiscal projections shows that budget cuts are expected in 154 countries this year, and as many as 159 countries in 2022. This means that 6.6 billion people or 85% of the global population will be living under austerity conditions by next year, a trend likely to continue at least until 2025.

The high levels of expenditures needed to cope with the pandemic have left governments with growing fiscal deficit and debt. However, rather than exploring financing options to provide direly-needed support for socio-economic recovery, governments—advised by the IMF, the G20 and others—are opting for austerity.

The post-pandemic fiscal shock appears to be far more intense than the one that followed the global financial and economic crisis a decade ago. The average expenditure contraction in 2021 is estimated at 3.3% of GDP, which is nearly double the size of the previous crisis. More than 40 governments are forecasted to spend less than the (already low) pre-pandemic levels, with budgets 12% smaller on average in 2021-22 than those in 2018-19 before COVID-19, including countries with high developmental needs like Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Liberia, Libya, Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The dangers of early and overly aggressive austerity are clear from the past decade of adjustment. From 2010 to 2019, billions of people were affected by reduced pensions and social security benefits; by lower subsidies, including for food, agricultural inputs and fuel; by wage bill cuts and caps, which hampered the delivery of public services like education, health, social work, water and public transport; by the rationalization and narrow-targeting of social protection programs so that only the poorest populations received smaller and smaller benefits, while most people were excluded; and by less employment security for workers, as labor regulations were dismantled. Many governments also introduced regressive taxes, like consumption taxes, which further lowered disposable household income. In many countries, public services were downsized or privatized, including health. Austerity proved to be a deadly policy. The weak state of public health systems—overburdened, underfunded and understaffed from a decade of austerity—aggravated health inequalities and made populations more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Today, it is imperative to watch out for austerity measures with negative social outcomes. After COVID-19’s devastating impacts, austerity will only cause more unnecessary suffering and hardship.

Austerity is bad policy. There are, in fact, alternatives even in the poorest countries. Instead of slashing spending, governments can and must explore financing options to increase public budgets.

First, governments can increase tax revenues on wealth, property, and corporate income, including on the financial sector that remains generally untaxed. For example, Bolivia, Mongolia and Zambia are financing universal pensions, child benefits and other schemes from mining and gas taxes; Brazil introduced a tax on financial transactions to expand social protection coverage.

Second, more than sixty governments have successfully restructured/reduced their debt obligations to free up resources for development. Third, addressing illicit financial flows such as tax evasion and money laundering is a huge opportunity to generate revenue. Fourth, governments can simply decide to reprioritize their spending, away from low social impact investments areas like defense and bank/corporate bailouts; for example, Costa Rica and Thailand redirected military expenditures to public health.

Fifth, another financing option is to use accumulated fiscal and foreign reserves in Central Banks. Sixth, attract greater transfers/development assistance or concessional loans. A seventh option is to adopt more accommodative macroeconomic frameworks. And eighth, governments can formalize workers in the informal economy with good contracts and wages, which increases the contribution pool and expands social protection coverage.

Expenditure and financing decisions that affect the lives of millions of people cannot be taken behind closed doors at the Ministry of Finance. All options should be carefully examined in an inclusive national social dialogue with representatives from trade unions, employers, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders.

#EndAusterity is a global campaign to stop austerity measures that have negative social impacts. Since 2020, more than 500 organizations and academics from 87 countries have called on the IMF and Ministries of Finance to immediately stop austerity, and instead prioritize policies that advance gender justice, reduce inequality, and put people and planet first.

Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at Joseph Stiglitz’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, former Director at the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF
Matthew Cummins is senior economist who has worked at UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank.

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The UN Food Systems Summit: How Not to Respond to the Urgency of Reform

Aid, Civil Society, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

At a critical juncture on the road to the UN Food Systems Summit, three UN rights experts warn that it will fail to be a ‘people’s summit’ unless it is urgently rethought.

NEW YORK, Mar 22 2021 (IPS) – Global food systems have been failing most people for a long time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a critical situation even worse. 265 million people are threatened by famine, up 50% on last year; 700 million suffer from chronic hunger; and 2 billion more from malnutrition, with obesity and associated diet-related diseases increasing in all world regions.


Michael Fakhri

Everyone agrees that we need urgent solutions and action. The convening of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit by Secretary General António Guterres was therefore welcome. However, as we move towards critical junctures on the road to the Summit, we remain deeply concerned that this ‘people’s summit’ will fail the people it claims to be serving.

After more than a year of deliberations, the Summit participants will meet this October in New York to present “principles to guide governments and other stakeholders looking to leverage their food systems” to support the Sustainable Development Goals. We will be told that the outcomes have been endorsed by the civil society groups who took part, with ‘solutions’ crowd-sourced from tens of thousands of people around the world. And if other solutions are not there, we will be told that this is because their proponents refused to come to the table.

But coming to the table to discuss ‘solutions’ is not as simple as it sounds. What if the table is already set, the seating plan non-negotiable, the menu highly limited? And what if the real conversation is actually happening at a different table?

These concerns are still as pressing today as they were on day one.

First, the Summit initially bypassed the bodies already doing the very hard work of governing global food systems. The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) already has the structure that the Summit organizers have been hastily reconstructing: a space for discussing the future of food systems, a comprehensive commitment to the right to food, mechanisms for involving civil society and the private sector on their own terms, and a panel of experts regularly providing cutting-edge reports. In other words, everyone is already at the table. The Summit has flagrantly – and perhaps deliberately – shifted governments’ attention away from the CFS.

Hilal Elver

Second, the Summit’s rules of engagement were determined by a small set of actors. The private sector, organizations serving the private sector (notably the World Economic Forum), scientists, and economists initiated the process. The table was set with their perspectives, knowledge, interests and biases. Investors and entrepreneurs working in partnership with scientists framed the agenda, and governments and civil society actors were invited to work within those parameters. Inevitably, that has meant a focus on what the small group saw as scalable, investment-friendly, ‘game-changing’ solutions – the bread and butter of Davos. Reading between the lines, this means AI-controlled farming systems, gene editing, and other high-tech solutions geared towards large-scale agriculture.

As a result, the ideas that should have been the starting point for a ‘people’s summit’ have effectively been shut out. For over a decade, farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and food workers have been demanding a food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty and agroecology. This vision is based on redesigning, re-diversifying, and re-localizing farming systems. It requires that economic assumptions be questioned, human rights be protected, and power be rebalanced.

Some concessions have been made on the road to the Summit. But these changes have been too late, or too cosmetic, to impact meaningfully the process. Only in November was the CFS added to the Summit’s Advisory Committee. And only this month was the FAO’s Right to Food office invited to participate (with a limited mandate). Presumably there will be further changes at the margins: human rights will be mentioned in general terms, agroecology will be included as one of many solutions.

Olivier De Schutter

But this will not be enough to make the Summit outcomes legitimate for those of us — inside and outside the process — who remain skeptical. Having all served as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, we have witnessed first-hand the importance of improving accountability and democracy in food systems, and the value of people’s local and traditional knowledge. It is deeply concerning that we had to spend a year persuading the convenors that human rights matter for this UN Secretary General’s Food Systems Summit. It is also highly problematic that issues of power, participation, and accountability (i.e. how and by whom will the outcomes be delivered) remain unresolved.

Those of us who came to the Summit table did so in the hope that we could fundamentally change the course. As the end-game approaches, we still hope that this is possible. But radical change is needed:

    ● The right to food must be central to all aspects of the Summit, with attention on holding those with power accountable;
    ● Agroecology should be recognized as a paradigm (if not the paradigm) for transforming food systems, alongside actionable recommendations to support agroecological transition;
    ● The CFS should be designated as the home of the Summit outcomes, and the place where it is discussed and implemented, using its inclusive participation mechanisms.

In other words, to make this a people’s summit, the table needs to be urgently re-set.

Michael Fakhri is the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Hilal Elver served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2014-2020.
Olivier De Schutter served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2008-2014, and is the current UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, and co-chair of IPES-Food.

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International Women’s Day, 2021Women’s Leadership in the Global Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic

Civil Society, Education, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

UN Women China Qinghai programme beneficiaries. Credit: UN Women

BEIJING, Mar 6 2021 (IPS) – Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), and the theme for this year’s celebration is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We recognize the tremendous contribution and leadership demonstrated by women and girls around the world in shaping our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and a more sustainable future.


A global review of the progress achieved towards commitments made at the Fourth World Conference on Women 25 years ago in Beijing, conducted by UN Women in 2020, reveals that no country has fully delivered on the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. Globally, women currently hold just one-quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board and are absent from some key decision-making spaces, including in peace and climate negotiations.

This reality is despite the advances that we can see globally: there are now more girls in school than ever before, fewer women are dying in childbirth, and over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support women’s equality.

However, progress has been too slow and uneven.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains from decades of collective effort – with data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line globally.

Siddharth Chatterjee

We also witness new global challenges emerging from the pandemic, such as the increased reports of violence against women trapped in lockdown throughout the world, forming a Shadow Pandemic. Women with disabilities facing further obstacles in accessing essential services. Women have lost their livelihoods faster, being more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors as they make up the majority of informal sector workers. Access to technologies have become a necessity, but the gender digital divide lingers, particularly in the least developed countries.

But in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, women have stood tall at the frontlines, serving as health workers and caregivers, where they make up 70% of the global workforce. Women also lead in their capacities throughout government and civil society to give vital assistance, bringing their irreplaceable perspectives and skills to the table.

Answering these complex global challenges while tearing down the barriers to women’s participation and leadership now requires bolder political commitment backed up by adequate resources and targeted approaches to accelerate progress towards parity through legislation, fiscal measures, programmatic change, and public-private partnerships.

China has made progress in safeguarding women’s rights and promoting gender equality. Notably, China’s poverty alleviation achievements have had a multiplier effect on advancing women’s empowerment beyond alleviating poverty among women. Advances in girl’s education, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, social protection and assistance are admirable – and important not just for the advancement of women’s rights – but in creating a “moderately prosperous” Chinese society with a “bright shared future” for all. Yet, as in many countries, there are still challenges that persist across the course of women’s lives.

Like elsewhere, systemic issues remain in equal pay for equal work and promotion opportunities for decent work in China. Under-representation of women in senior leadership roles impacts many sectors, with less than 10% of board members of listed companies in China being women.

Smriti Aryal

Disproportionate sharing of unpaid care work leaves women in China carrying 2.5 times the burden of men, all of which impacting the female labour force participation rate. The shadow pandemic of gender-based violence, like anywhere else, continues to be a concern for women and girls in China as widely reported and discussed in media already.

The newly enacted Civil Code offers opportunities to strengthen legislation, including judicial mechanisms, law enforcement and service delivery for addressing sexual harassment, sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. Robust implementation of the provisions for ending sexual harassment and abuse will be a step towards China’s demonstration of “Zero Tolerance” towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

The 14th Five-Year National Development Plan, 2021-2025 and the new 10-Year Plan on Development of Women and Children, 2021-2030, also present opportunities for China to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the centre of the development agenda and address the remaining gender gaps and challenges in the country. The world now looks to China for continued leadership on the SDGs and the Beijing Platform for Action.

We welcome the Government of China’s recent commitment to prioritizing women’s empowerment in its future development cooperation and global engagement. This comes at a time, when we need stronger global action and multilateralism to alleviate the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 and accelerate actions towards the achievement of the SDGs. As we look at women’s rights issues that many countries are grappling with – poverty, maternal health, livelihood and food security, access to continued education, to name a few – are also the areas where China has seen the most progress domestically. South-South cooperation enables China to share its lessons and continue learning from others, to achieve genuine empowerment for women and girls around the world.

We recognize that gender equality and women’s empowerment are drivers for transformative change and a prerequisite for the achievement of all SDGs. The UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, 2021-2025, signed between the United Nations System in China and the Government of China, is underpinned by this principle and prioritizes the advancement of women’s rights as a key programming area of its own. As the UN Country Team (UNCT), we stand ready to support and continue to work with the Government of China and all national actors for our concerted efforts towards advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

2021 is only the beginning of our journey on the Decade of Action for the SDGs. We have an unprecedented opportunity to do things differently for current and future generations of women and girls. On International Women’s Day, we call upon our partners and supporters to celebrate the leadership and contribution of China’s women, and become advocates, champions, and influencers that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment today, and every day.

Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in China & Smriti Aryal, Head of Office, UN Women in China
On behalf of the UN Country Team in China for International Women’s Day 2021

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International Women’s Day, 2021A Just COVID-19 Recovery – Not Without Women’s Leadership

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Education, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Opinion

NEW YORK, Mar 5 2021 (IPS) – Almost exactly a year ago today, I packed my computer and a couple of necessities in the office in New York, hugged the colleagues, and headed home to what most people thought would be a couple of week’s Covid-19 lockdown. Little did we know.


Katja Iversen

Despite Trump and the blows he and his administration had dealt to sustainable development, women’s leadership, LGBTQI rights, and the right of women to decide on their own bodies and lives, there were still some optimism on the gender equality front. The number of women in politics across the globe was slowly creeping upwards; new innovative contraceptives were hitting the market; the role of girls, women and gender equality in sustainable development, was getting a lot more traction; there was a growing attention to gender smart investing; and the worldwide Generation Equality Forum, hosted by the governments of Mexico and France with UN Women, was coming up as a unique opportunity to refuel and accelerate action around Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Taking stock today on International Women’s Day 2021 with its theme: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” the bag is a lot more mixed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequality at large, and has disproportionately affected girls and women. They constitute the vast majority of the frontline health and social workers across the globe; they carry even more of the unpaid care work at home in locked down families than before; they are the victims of the dramatic surge in domestic violence spurred by lockdowns; many women have lost access to essential sexual and reproductive health care, like family planning and safe childbirths; and women have – to a much larger extend than men – lost their jobs and economic opportunities.

Women’s rights organizations have worked tremendously hard in the communities and on the fore-front of COVID-19. Back in the first weeks of the pandemic, I myself and the civil society led Deliver for Good campaign worked with the UN Secretary General and his team on how we could place girls, women and gender equality at the center of the UN’s COVID-19 work, and we also made sure that the UN COVID-19 response and recovery fund got a solid gender lens.

However, throughout the world, women have largely been left out of decision making on essential COVID-19 efforts. Only 3.5% of national COVID task forces have gender parity according to a study in British Medical Journal, and the brand new Global Health 50/50 report being launched on 8 March 2021 suggests that rhetoric is often used as a substitute for action, and reveals that the vast majority of programmatic activities to prevent and address the health impacts of COVID-19 largely ignores the role of gender.

There is a certain irony to this, as countries with women at the helm, like New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Taiwan etc. have fared a lot better in dealing with the pandemic – and as countries with more women in political leadership in general do better in terms of both lowering inequalities and driving stronger economies. The answer to this dichotomy might be found in the latest Reykjavik Index by Women Political Leaders and Kantar, that measures how people feel about women in power. It shows that support is stagnating, and that it is even decreasing among younger men.

So, hard won progress has been rolled back. But there are also good news, which I as an eternal optimist, want to include in today’s stocktaking:

The global cry for racial justice has propelled a much and long needed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in political, economic and social life. We are also seeing a surge in gender smart investing, with 2020 bringing some big, new and achieved gender-smart allocations. A global survey from Women Deliver and Focus 2030 from January shows that the vast majority of the surveyed voters consider gender equality to be an important cause governments should work towards, and support involving women in all aspects of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. And the Biden/Harris win in the United States is manifesting in very diverse political appointments, in budget allocations, in commitments to sustainability and to gender equality, and the revoking of the republican Global Gag Rule that has prevented support to reproductive health across the globe.

The global Generation Equality Forum was postponed a year, and the work of its six action coalitions is gaining speed. Over the next three months all actors – heads of states, leaders from corporates and civil society organizations, celebrities, journalists, activists, young and old – will be meeting – mostly virtually – on multiple occasions to commit to transformative action, and show that a gender equal world is a healthier, wealthier, and better world for all.

So – as I am celebrating International Women’s Day 2021, it is on a backdrop of hope, some apprehension, and a lot of determination. The inclusion and leadership of girls and women, in all their rich diversity, is needed in every arena and at every level – in COVID-19 efforts, in politics, in the economy, and in general. If we don’t prioritize and invest in women’s leadership, the COVID recovery will be less effective, and the future will be less just and less sustainable. That is not the world we want!

The author is an executive adviser and leading global advocate on sustainability, gender equality, and women’s health and leadership. Katja was a member of President Macron’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s G7 Gender Equality Advisory Councils, an advisor to the Clinton Global was one of the original members of 100Women@Davos, and was recently named Dane of the Year, as well as included in Apolitical’s Top 20 of the Most Influential People in Gender Policy.

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International Women’s Day, 2021#MarchWithUs: 5 Activists on Dismantling “Gender Lies”

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Education, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

Protest for women’s rights in Kathmandu, Nepal. Credit: Sanjog Manandhar

PARIS, Mar 5 2021 (IPS) – Today, despite centuries of activism and mobilisations, women and non-binary people continue to remain disadvantaged in almost every sphere – from “public life” to the “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence.


In light of COVID-19, some struggles have been considered in theory, but most continue to be ignored in practice. How can we dismantle the “gender lies” perpetuating in the 21st century? How do we start taking into account the diverse experiences of women, without excluding black and indigenous voices on the basis of power and privilege?

Afghanistan, Nepal, Bolivia, Mexico and Uganda: five activists tell us how they transform the ways their communities think and act around gender.

Afghanistan: rap music to save child brides

Sonita Alizadeh, is a survivor of two attempts at forced marriage, and now a rapper and activist fighting for the liberation of women against forced marriage. Born in Herat, Afghanistan, under the Taliban regime, she grew up in Iran, as a refugee with her family. At 10 years old, she narrowly escaped a forced marriage. Her family again tried to sell her when she was sixteen, she escaped. Afghanistan has the 20th highest number of women married before the age of 18 in the world, with 28% of Afghan girls married off as minors, according to Girls Not Brides.

My mother was a child bride, and she did not meet her husband until their wedding day. By marrying me off at a young age, she was simply repeating the cycle. This tradition makes me want to raise awareness of this harmful issue with the help of millions of others around the world through my music,” says Sonita in an interview with Forus.

Witnessing her friends swiftly disappearing as they were forced to marry, Sonita wrote the song “Daughters for Sale”, which kick-started her work as a human rights activists and rapper.

Music touches people in a way words cannot – it is deeper and more emotional. People listen to music and young people pay attention to the lyrics. Music can be a powerful way to hear important messages. That is why I always rap about things that need to change in the world, or ideas that young people need to hear, to dream big.”

Today, Sonita uses her tracks and success to give young girls self-confidence. She sings to tell: “Hold this hope in your heads and your hearts. Hold this hope for the future. Never give up.”

Nepal: Fighting “period poverty”.

As 2020 drew to a close, protesters across South Asia took to the streets and to social media, calling on their governments to end the perpetuating cycle of widespread sexual violence against women and children.

In Nepal, hundreds of activists returned to the streets after a 17-year-old girl was raped and strangled to death. Some protesters wore black over their eyes to symbolize public authorities closing their eyes to sexual violence. Activists say that although the country’s constitution guarantees equal rights to women, there is a clear disjunction between theory and practice.

“How do we make sure that there is no gap between law and social progress?” asks Jesselina Rana, a human rights lawyer, co-founder with engineer Shubhangi Rana of Pad2Go, a social enterprise focusing on menstrual health and the taboos surrounding it.

It is estimated that around 83 percent of menstruating individuals face some form of restriction or exclusion during their menstrual cycle in Nepal.

“From a very young age, menstruating individuals are made to believe that their menstrual cycle makes them impure, and it can only be talked about behind closed doors,” Jesselina explains.

With Pad2Go, Jesselina distributed over 80 sanitary napkin vending machines across Nepal. She collaborates with pad manufacturers, to provide pads at less than market rate in order to ensure affordability. She also organises discussions with both men and women to normalise conversations around menstruations.

“Nepal being a patriarchal society, men engagement is crucial to overcome social issues faced by women. Socially we need to get men into those spaces of conversation, at a young age, to make sure that everyone is part of the discussion to end the toxic cycle of gender discrimination.”

Protest in Mexico. Credit: Melanie Isahmar Torres Melo

Bolivia, Mexico: “Ni Una Menos”

Cradled in the “machismo culture”, Bolivia has one of the highest domestic violence rates against women in South America. The annual average of 110 femicides in the past 7 years persists, despite a 2013 law establishing measures to prevent and prosecute gender-based violence.

During the Covid-19 crisis, the economic consequences of the pandemic disproportionately affected Bolivian women. Government restrictions reduced access to food, aid programs did not adequately address the needs of communities, increasing their vulnerability and insecurity.

During the lockdown the slogan “Stay at Home” was widely promoted across Bolivia, yet for many women and girls victims of violence, that actually meant a very dangerous “Cállate en casa” (shut up at home), explains Iris Baptista from Red Unitas, a platform funded in 1976 that reunites 22 NGOs in Bolivia.

“Red Unitas created the campaign “SIN VIOLENCIA ES MEJOR” (Better Without Violence), to raise awareness of the fact that women are doing most of the work during the pandemic, to fulfil their role as mothers, wives and workers, yet they continue to face violence at home,” Iris explains.

But, violence against women and femicides are not just common in Bolivia—they are prevalent throughout the region. Global data is difficult to gather due to differences in reporting standards, however, the 2016 report, “A Gendered Analysis of Violent Deaths” founds that fourteen of the twenty-five countries with the highest femicide rates are Latin American.

Defined as “a pandemic within the pandemic”, gender-based violence has spiked since COVID-19 broke out. Writer Lynn Marie Stephen believes that laws and initiatives to protect women, “fail to indict the broader systems that perpetuate these problems, like social, racial, and economic inequalities, family relationships and social mores”.

“It’s not that there was less violence against women in the past, it’s just that it wasn’t made as visible as it is today,” says Melanie Isahmar Torres Melo, a photojournalist covering women issues in Puebla, Mexico.

Every day, 10 women are killed in Mexico. The number of femicides has increased by 137% in the past five years and reached its highest monthly rates in 2020. Despite this number, only 5% of all crimes committed in Mexico are punished. This dichotomy between numbers is often the result of a “single crime” vision, rather than a sociological phenomenon, linked to the idea of patriarchy and sexism.

“Most perpetuators are never caught; this has triggered ‘social anger’ around the issue of feminicides in Mexico. There is no respect for victims, they are blamed for being killed. New movements are rising led by different collectives and civil society organisations. People are taking to the streets and shouting “Ni Una Menos” no woman should be killed,” says Mela.

Uganda – creating an enabling environment for civil society

I was arrested and shamed for leaked nudes”, model and activist Judith Heard explains. When nude pictures of her were published without her consent in 2018, she was widely criticized and was arrested under the Anti-Pornography Act. Her situation is far from unique, a survey conducted in 2016 found that 50% of Ugandan women aged between 15 and 49 has experienced violence by an intimate partner. As a result, in February 2019, Heard launched Day One Global, an advocacy organisation that seeks to curb sexual harassment and rape.

From Marion Kirabo who led a women’s protest against rising tuition fees, to Rosebell Kagumire, editor of the African Feminism digital platform opening “discussion and dialogue on feminist issues throughout the continent”, activists and “gender advocates” in Uganda, are creating innovative forms of “transnational feminism” both online and offline.

Yet, a recent report by Forus International, shows that only 1% of gender equality funding is going to women’s organizations worldwide, and that promoters of gender equality need increased protection. Even more worryingly, attacks on women organisations and civil society more generally, have been reinforced by the current COVID-19 crisis.

Overall, organizations that engage in monitoring the state’s conduct and advocate for human rights, anti-corruption, accountability, and democratic governance are experiencing growing obstacles. One of the most recent examples is the Uganda Communications Commission Guidelines for everyone posting content online, including bloggers and online news platforms, which aims to control people’s freedom of speech.

“While the Ugandan government welcomes the social services many civil society organizations provide, at the same time it feels threatened by the possibility of political mobilization and empowerment of the population that come with self-organized practices; needless to say, such threats to the government’s grip on power yield conflicts between the state and civil society actors,” according to the Uganda National NGO Forum, an umbrella organization with more than 650 member NGOs across the country.

#MarchWithUs

Despite the considerable progress, more than half of the world’s girls and women—as many as 2.1 billion people—live in countries that are not on track to reach key gender equality-related targets by 2030.

However, a new survey from Focus 2030 and Women Deliver, covering 17 countries on six continents—reveals that citizens are eager for sustained and strengthened political and financial investments to accelerate progress towards gender equality. In particular, the global public supports the need for women to play a role in all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic response, with 82% of survey respondents on average saying they believe women should be involved in the response at all levels.

To build a recovery plan and a roadmap for the future, a gender lens must be applied. With the digital campaign #MarchWithUs, Forus is taking a full month to reflect on the voices of women and non-binary activists who are on the frontline of social change. It is time to act to turn “gender lies” into gender promises.

The authors are members of Forus Communication team.

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International Women’s Day, 2021The World Not Only Needs Women Leaders – It Needs Feminist Leaders

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

PARIS and REYKJAVIK, Mar 5 2021 (IPS) – International Women’s Day pays tribute to the achievements of women worldwide and reminds us what still needs to be done for full gender equality. In 2021, we are taking stock of the many ways in which COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women and girls around the world.


The pandemic has created a new landscape. Although women have played a key role in responding to the crisis, gender inequalities have widened across the board. In education, 767 million women and girls were impacted by school closures. Eleven million may never return to class, joining the 132 million already out of school before the crisis struck. From the economic perspective, the recession is pushing 47 million more women and girls into poverty, destroying their economic independence and making them more vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence.

As we look at this landscape, we have to ask ourselves: if gender equality is our goal, what kind of leadership will the world need moving forward?

It is not enough to just count the number of women in the highest positions of power. No single person at the top of the pyramid can repair the damage being done to the progress that has been made in gender equality since the world adopted the Beijing Declaration on women’s rights 25 years ago.

What we need are leaders for gender equality – and we need them everywhere in our societal structures. Leaders of all ages, all gender identities and from all backgrounds. These leaders are not just agents of change, but designers of change. They lead through their example and engagement. They expose injustices and unequal opportunities. They know that gender inequalities stem from discrimination and exclusion and that it is only by lifting these barriers that real change can happen. This is feminist leadership.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland

Feminist leaders tackle power structures. They name and deconstruct all forms of exclusion and marginalization. They empathize with the vulnerable and voiceless, and champion their causes. They open new doors and take risks, courageously blowing the whistle on hidden injustice, and unmasking structural barriers perpetuating inequalities. They are all around us. Be it the activist defending an indigenous community, the schoolgirl mobilizing her generation to save the climate, or the poet raising her voice to promote social justice.

Feminist leaders have the courage to create, report, educate, experiment. Think about Azata Soro, actress, film director and producer who broke her silence on sexual harassment and violence in the African film industry. Think about Maria Ressa, risking jail for her brave investigative journalism. Think about Yande Banda, a tireless advocate for girls’ education in Zambia and beyond. Think about Katalin Karikó, who overcame the many challenges faced by women in science and was instrumental in developing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. As stories like these become known, they challenge people’s intimate convictions of what is achievable and by whom. These women are, in all their diversity, feminist leaders.

However, feminist leadership is not the prerogative of women alone. Gender equality isn’t just a women’s fight, it’s a fight for social justice. Men also need to be involved in the construction of a fairer society. Many of them are showing the way. The Congolese gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy to stop rape from being used as a ‘strategy of war’. And there are many others like him, all over the world.

On this International Women’s Day, we stand committed to building future generations of feminist leaders through education. We support women who dare to create and do what is necessary to prevent them from censorship and attacks. We call on the international community to ensure the safety of women journalists who address gender inequalities through their reporting. We also stand side by side with men who dare to care and reject toxic masculinities and behaviours and open up spaces for women to influence decision-making or participate in scientific discovery and innovation.

Let us support these feminist leaders, from all walks of life. Let us take action so that women can affirm their leadership and be powerful role models for generations to come. Because gender equality not only serves to advance the cause of women – a fairer society benefits us all.

Audrey Azoulay is Director-General of UNESCO and Katrín Jakobsdóttir is Prime Minister of Iceland.

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