Empowering Women through Wisdom

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

Opinion

Caryll Tozer* is engaged in social upliftment of women headed-households, and advocates conservation and women and child rights. She is a co-founder of Women In Need crisis center providing refuge for abused women.
 
Soraya M. Deen* is a lawyer, interfaith consultant and award-winning international activist and community organizer. She divides her time between Sri Lanka and Los Angeles and has written extensively on the plight of minorities and minority women.

Credit: Oxfam.org

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec 22 2020 (IPS) – During the COVID 19 lockdown in Sri Lanka, seven women from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds came together to deliver Wisdom and their message that women must be empowered and their voices for national unity must be heard through this movement.


We called ourselves the Wisdom Women and named the online program we created, “Wisdom Wednesdays”. The program airs every fortnight and since its inception in March 2020, we have hosted 21 stimulating shows, with thousands of people watching from across the world.

https://youtube.com/channel/UC28pnsQlhE1Y5BtYOSU6ZMQ

As co-founders, a Muslim and a Christian, we are determined to continue with the show until enough number of women stand up and say, “our country and the next generations deserve better and therefore we must speak up as a movement of women and work for national unity and reconciliation.”

A thirty-year bloody war has left Sri Lanka divided. One might expect our governments to move forward with a robust agenda for peace building. But nothing has improved, not even a tourniquet to arrest the bleeding. Successive governments have not spelt a serious agenda,

As conservation and environmental activists, we have worked to co-found an organization to support and eradicate abuse through the organization: One Home at a Time, which has built 17 homes for women-led households and wells for villages that need water. We believe that each individual can make a difference, and we have raised money, built homes, for these women and their family that lack basic housing. We have seen what happens when you support a woman who then can raise her family.

Whether we show up in NE Nigeria, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, women have been dealt a raw hand. Patriarchy and misogyny are institutionalized, structural, interpersonal and intra personal.

An incredible team of powerful women, each one more powerful in their experience and individual body of work comprise the team. The group represents the various ethnicities, religions and gains strength from each other. We have an incredible team.

Along with us there is Selvi Sachithanandam who through her foundation helps peace building and social transformation through spirituality; Kamani Jinadasa who is the founder of a center for troubled youth and works extensively against gender-based violence.

We also have Farzana J. Khan who helps through her foundation supporting education, and works on small and medium enterprise; Ven. Tenzin Leckdron a Bikkuni who belongs to a monastery in Tibetan Buddhism and currently works in remote areas in Australia; and, Ameena Hussein who is engaged in various social work and is a publisher and writer.

All power houses in their own field. Having gone through life’s tremendous challenges and hardships, we know very well what it takes to uplift women and give them the skills to thrive.

Our mission is to educate and inspire women. Teach women some basic skills, but first to let them know they are POWERFUL. The work at Wisdom Wednesdays has just begun.

We are taking our show and our gifts on the road. We have structured workshops to suit one day and residential programs for women. We want to bring them together; inspire them to build power, and organize the community.

Sri Lanka has a female population of 52%, with an abysmal parliamentary representation. Less than 12 % of the representatives are women. COVID has sent a powerful message to the strong-willed women of Sri Lanka. It is a time for reflection and for change.

Women have risen to the challenge to keep their home fires burning, care for their children, face abuse and violence undeterred. Our goal is to tap into that strength and resilience.

We also believe that at a national level, a woman’s voice must be heard at every negotiating table in order to bring in a balanced and cohesive response to issues.

We are subtle activists, not armchair program designers. When we get to the river if we find the water muddy and dirty, we get into the river and clean the water. Our deepest concern now is funding to take this movement to the next level.

Bringing together 35 women to a residential workshop from Friday afternoon to Sunday is costly. But we see something beyond, that when love, expertise and commitment come together, magic can happen. There will be enablers, and there will be minority rights and women’s rights which are in great jeopardy.

The UN has established gender equality as both a stand-alone goal and a central tenet to achieving an inclusive and sustainable development agenda by 2030. We must promote participation. Promoting participation – means recognising we each have something unique and important to contribute to society.

We want to promote two more concepts through our work. Subsidiarity, and ending future conflict. We have not witnessed subsidiarity in the context of social theory, premised upon empowering individuals to resolve issues that affect them without interference from larger, and often more centralised, social, private, religious or government bodies.

Currently, Wisdom Wednesdays is being watched in over 8,000 homes across the world. We receive encouraging comments from diverse audiences. In a divided world hearing a positive message is like a drop of water in the ocean.

There is no good news anymore. People who watch TV know this. Feeding the spiritual is as important as feeding the hungry. People are hungry for hope and a new way forward.

Individual transformation, focused and committed action leads to community transformation. This time we want to mobilize women to take that action. We need women to speak out against divisiveness and bring a stop to racism and bigotry. We want to address these issues through experiences and wisdom of the women. Unified we will be that much stronger.

*Caryll Tozer is a committee member of The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, the third oldest conservation organization in the world. She lives by the premise that “to remain silent when there is injustice makes one culpable”.

*Soraya M. Deen travels across Sri Lanka mobilizing women, men and interfaith groups to understand and explore contextual realities for the problems they face by bringing together like-minded community members to solve – urgent, relevant, winnable action. She is the Founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, inspiring voices of change. Soraya serves as a resource person and women’s outreach coordinator for the Omnia Institute of Contextual Leadership, a think tank in Chicago that addresses religious based oppression, dominance and violence.

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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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UN Women Calls for Accelerating its Unfinished Business

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

Opinion

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

Women in Bangladesh stand up for gender equality. Credit: UNICEF/Jannatul Mawa

NEW YORK, Sep 7 2020 (IPS) – Twenty-five years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing set a path-breaking agenda for women’s rights. As a result of the two-week gathering with more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.


This historic blueprint articulated a vision of equal rights, freedom and opportunities for women – everywhere, no matter what their circumstances are – that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide.

A quarter century on, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, calls for urgent action: “With nations around the world searching for solutions to the complex challenges of our age, the leading way for all of us to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies, is to accelerate the implementation of women’s rights – the Beijing Platform for Action. That vision has been only partly realized. We still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, and this simply has to change”.

The Beijing Platform for Action imagined a world where every woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for work of equal value. As a defining framework for change, the Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern.

Twenty-five years later, no country has fully delivered on the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. A major stock-taking UN Women report published earlier this year showed that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed.

Women currently hold just one quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board. Men are still 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The anniversary is a wake-up call and comes at a time when the impact of the gender equality gaps is undeniable. Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains of decades of collective effort – with just released new data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line.

We are also witnessing increased reports on violence against women throughout the world due to the lockdowns, and women losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors.

While much works remains on fulfilling the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action, it continues to be a global framework and a powerful source of mobilization, civil society activism, guidance and inspiration 25 years later.

It was at the Fourth World Conference on Women, specifically at the Women & Health Security Colloquium, where Hillary Clinton coined the phrase, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights”.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, she recalled her participation at the Conference as the Honorary Chairperson of the US delegation, and the significance of the Beijing Declaration: “A 270-page document might not lend itself to bumper stickers or coffee mugs, but it laid the groundwork for sweeping, necessary changes.”

Underlining the urgency for implementation, she added: “As the changes laid out in the Platform for Action have been implemented, what’s become clear is that simply embracing the concept of women’s rights, let alone enshrining those rights in laws and constitutions, is not the same as achieving full equality. Rights are important, but they are nothing without the power to claim them.”

Years after, global activists continue the hard work and those who participated at the 1995 Beijing Conference remain touched by this historic meeting. Zeliha Ünaldi, a long-standing gender advocate from Turkey, said it was a life-changing experience: “When I recall those days, mingling around the tents with thousands of women committing to a better world, two words immediately come to my mind: sisterhood and peace. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the subsequent five years helped me understand the power in us and of us as the global women’s movement.”

The upcoming UN General Assembly later this month will be a key opportunity to bring to the forefront the relevance of the Beijing Declaration and move the needle on implementation, with a High-Level Meeting attended by global leaders on “Accelerating the Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of all Women and Girls” on 1 October.

The event will showcase how building equal and inclusive societies is more urgent than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages lives and livelihoods.

Calling on world leaders to use their political power to accelerate robust action and resources for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls: “This is a re-set moment. On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.”

The anniversary will be further commemorated in the context of the Generation Equality Forum, a civil society–centred, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of France and Mexico, foreseen to take place in the first half of 2021.

Exactly 25 years after the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, its significance is undimmed. In that quarter century we have seen the strength and impact of collective activism grow and have been reminded of the importance of multilateralism and partnership to find common solutions to shared problems.

Back in 1995, the deliberations of the Conference resulted in the framing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: a bold agenda for the change needed to realize the human rights of women and girls, articulated across 12 critical areas of concern.

The Platform for Action provided a blueprint for the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, adopted by 189 UN Member States and universally referenced.

The continued relevance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action cannot be overstated today. The far-reaching social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the significant increases in violence against women, threaten to reverse many of the hard-won advances made in the last 25 years to empower women and girls.

At the same time, the outstanding value of women’s leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic is in plain sight, along with the recognition of just how much women’s work and women’s movements have sustained the world, from domestic life, the fight for human rights, to national economies.

We also know that by next year, 435 million women and girls are likely to have been reduced to extreme poverty. Governments, local administrations, businesses and enterprises of all sorts must not let this happen.

To tackle persistent systemic barriers to equality, we need transformative approaches and new alliances that engage the private sector alongside governments and civil society. This is a re-set moment. The economic and policy lifeboats for our struggling world must put women and children first.

The political will of leaders can make the difference. World leaders convening at this year’s United Nations General Assembly have the opportunity to use their power in action to accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and to support the role of civil society organizations and youth.

Our humanitarian responses to COVID-19, our economic stimulus packages, our reinventions of working life and our efforts to create solidarity across social and physical distance – these are all chances to build back better for women and girls.

For success, we need to work together on these transformative actions. In 2019, we launched a global campaign called Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future, with a call for renewed commitment by governments in partnership with civil society, academia and the private sector.

It included clear timelines, responsibilities and resources towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious long-term framework that included goals to achieve universal gender equality.

On October 1, 2020, when a High-Level Meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action is convened by the President of the General Assembly, Member States can put into action their commitment toward a more gender-equal world.

On this important anniversary, let us reaffirm the promises the world made to women and girls in 1995. Let us draw on the activist spirit of the Beijing Conference and commit to forging new alliances across generations and sectors to ensure we seize this opportunity for deep, systemic change for women and for the world.

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Sasakawa Vows to Continue Support for Fighting Leprosy in Bangladesh

Asia-Pacific, Conferences, Development & Aid, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Chairman of the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation in Japan Yohey Sasakawa speaking at the Conference of Organizations of Persons Affected by Leprosy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam / IPS

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 12 2019 (IPS) – Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa, has assured Bangladesh of continuing support for the Zero Leprosy Initiative announced by the country’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, aimed at eliminating leprosy by 2030.


Sasakawa was speaking at the opening of the first ever meeting of organizations working on leprosy in Bangladesh.

“The government has already announced the Zero Leprosy Initiative that will help eliminate the discrimination the leprosy patients have been facing,” he told a conference in the country’s capital. Prime Minister Hasina on Wednesday (December 11) also addressed the conference and Sasakawa reminded activists that the country’s leader expressed her commitment to make Bangladesh free from leprosy in the next decade.

Several organizations working in the field of leprosy, like members from the Leprosy and TB Coordinating Committee (LTCC) and People Organizations with support from The Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation, are attending the gathering.

Bangladesh’s leprosy burden ranks fourth-highest in the world. Four thousand new cases are detected annually – an average of 11 to 12 cases per day over the last 10 years. Every year an estimated 3000 leprosy sufferers are affected by complications that require specialized treatment in hospital.

Although the the number of leprosy cases are declining, more than one-third of leprosy patients are facing the threat of permanent and progressive physical and social disability.

Govenment needs help

Calling upon the leprosy patents to extend their support to the government in this regard, Sasakawa said Bangladesh’s Ministry of Health could not fight leprosy alone.

Sasakawa, also a World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador, said: “You, the leprosy patents, know better about the disease than doctors. Your government is working to eliminate leprosy by 2030. And we are here to learn how we can help your government fight leprosy.”

He asked the participants to play a strong role in eliminating leprosy in Bangladesh. “I hope you will convey the lessons you learnt from the conference today to your community.

“If you all raise voice together, it would be stronger. So, you have to be stronger to fight leprosy (in Bangladesh). Your support is important to reach the goal,” he said.

About his journey as WHO goodwill ambassador, Sasakawa said he has been working on fighting leprosy around the world for the last 40 years.

“I have been providing assistance to about 120 countries, while I have traveled to different parts of the world 700 times to help (leprosy patients),” he said. “No matter which country I visited, the plight of the leprosy patients is the same.”

Sasakawa said he came here to share his opinion and experiences on leprosy from his journey. “I am very happy seeing the faces of leprosy patients who are participating in the conference, as this is the first time … we have met together,” he added.

Highlighting the nature of leprosy patients, the Nippon Foundation chief said the people who get disabilities suffering from leprosy and those become disabled due to road accidents are not the same, because leprosy is an infectious disease.

“That’s why leprosy patients fear to meet and their communities also do not accept it,” he said.

Role of NGO’s in the fight against Leprosy-free world

Sasakawa also praised the role of the NGOs, including Lepra Bangladesh and the Damien Foundation, in fighting leprosy in the country.

Shandha Mondal, district coordinator of SHALOM (leprosy), a local NGO working in Meherpur, said Prime Minister Hasina’s announcement on the Zero Leprosy Initiative will increase the voice of the people who have been working on leprosy elimination, and this will help them fight leprosy together.

Motiur Rahman, a leprosy patient of Gazipur, said the prime minister always gives priority to leprosy patients. For example, he said he had sought accommodation from the Bangladesh premier and he received a house from the Government.

The participants attending the national conference said that the prime minister’s call to local pharmaceuticals to produce medicines and distribute among leprosy patients free of cost is really commendable.

Speaking at the National conference on Zero Leprosy Initiative 2030, Prime Minister Hasina said many Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies export medicines, and she called on these companies to produce drugs for leprosy locally and distribute those among leprosy patients free of charge.

But, they said, the PM should also instruct the authorities concerned to launch a new programme and announce a special budget for leprosy. This would be more helpful in fighting leprosy in Bangladesh, they said.

The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation of Japan organized a national conference on leprosy in Dhaka on December 11 under the theme “ZeRo leprosy initiative”.

 

Bangladesh Can Be Leprosy-Free Before 2030 Prime Minister Tells National Zero Leprosy Conference

Asia-Pacific, Conferences, Development & Aid, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Mr Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation and WHO Goodwill ambassador. Credit : Crystal Orderson / IPS

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 11 2019 (IPS) – Leprosy is not a curse but should be detected and treated early, Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has told delegates at a gathering in her country’s capital to discuss the elimination of the disease.


“In the past, it was thought that leprosy was a curse. But it was not a curse at all. The disease is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium Leprae). We should fight it through research,” Hasina said, adding that the discrimination against leprosy sufferers should end. She called upon all concerned to work together so that Bangladesh could be leprosy-free before 2030.

Prime Minister Hasina, who spoke in Bengali at the National Conference 2019 on Zero Leprosy Initiatives by 2030, also committed her government to proper treatment for leprosy sufferers.

To achieve these targets, the country’s National Leprosy Programme, in collaboration with the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation in Japan, has worked tirelessly to convene the conference, bringing together hundreds of health workers, medical professionals and district officers to discuss the issue under the theme “Zero Leprosy Initiatives”.

Certain areas in Bangladesh are particularly leprosy-prone, including its northern region and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Prime Minister Hasina said.

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

“If we can give special focus to these areas, I do believe it would be quite possible to declare Bangladesh a leprosy-free country before 2030,” she added.

“Leprosy patients must be considered on humanitarian grounds. If we all take a little responsibility in this regard, they will get recovery from this disease … I think we can do so,” Prime Minister Hasina said.

Distribute drugs free of cost

The prime minister said many Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies export medicines, and she called upon these companies to produce drugs for leprosy locally and distribute those among leprosy patients free of charge.

The prime minister also warned that no-one could fire leprosy patients from their jobs but rather should arrange treatment for them.

End stigma and discrimination

The Chairman of the Nippon Foundation and World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, Yohei Sasakawa, says leprosy is not only a medical issue but also a social issue “because of the stigma and discrimination that the disease attracts”.

He said: “We have an effective cure for leprosy, and it is essential that every person with the disease has access to the cure and is diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion. With timely diagnosis and treatment, a patient can be cured without disability.

“This conference presents us with an opportunity to re-focus efforts on leprosy and aim at an ambitious target: zero leprosy by 2030,” Mr Sasakawa added.

The WHO Representative to Bangladesh, Dr Bardan Jung Rana, told delegates that leprosy has caused immense human suffering when those affected remained untreated.

“With the aim of a leprosy-free world, WHO is committed to providing technical and strategic guidance, strengthening country-level capacity and delivering interventions through appropriate technology at affordable costs,” said Dr Jung Rana.

Leprosy a treatable disease

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease affecting mainly the skin, the peripheral nerves, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment has been available through the WHO free of charge to all patients worldwide since 1995.

The history of leprosy dates back centuries in Bangladesh. Different Christian missionary organizations used to provide leprosy services in various high endemic areas in the country. In 1965 the government sector implemented leprosy services through three public hospitals.

Eliminating leprosy in Bangladesh

Despite its efforts to eliminate leprosy as a public health threat, Bangladesh’s leprosy burden ranks fourth-highest in the world. Four thousand new cases are detected annually – an average of 11 to 12 cases per day over the last 10 years. Every year an estimated 3000 leprosy sufferers are affected by complications that require specialized treatment in hospital.

Although the the number of leprosy cases are declining, more than one-third of leprosy patients are facing the threat of permanent and progressive physical and social disability. The human suffering resulting from the physical deformities and related social problems are immense.

Activists and community workers in Bangladesh welcomed the government’s commitment to ensure proper treatment for leprosy sufferers.

Delegates at National Conference 2019 Zero Leprosy Initiative by 2030, Dr Sr Roberta Pignone, PIME sisters (middle). Credit : Crystal Orderson / IPS

Stop pushing Leprosy in a corner

Dr Sr Roberta Pignone, Project Director of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate (with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) Sisters) in Khulna in the south of Bangladesh, told IPS: “It is good to listen to the prime minister and health officials and hear what they say they will do in the future to eliminate leprosy.” She added: “Leprosy is always pushed in a corner. It is good to hear that the government is aware of the disease. If the prime minister speaks to the nation, they will listen.”

The PIME Sisters have been working with leprosy since the mission opened its doors in 1986. “Sometimes leprosy is neglected and this conference shows that the government is committed to deal with leprosy,” says Dr Sr Pignone. “It is time to accept that leprosy is in the country and to deal with the situation.”

The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation of Japan organized a national conference on leprosy in Dhaka on December 11 under the theme “ZeRo leprosy initiative”.