Transgender Health Rights Boosted by Hospitals’ ‘Separate Room’ Policy

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Gender Identity, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, LGBTQ, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


The community frequently targets transgender people. Now they are able to welcome new measures that mean they will be able to safely access health care. Credit: Yusufzai Ashfaq/IPS

The community frequently targets transgender people. Now they are able to welcome new measures that mean they will be able to safely access health care. Credit: Yusufzai Ashfaq/IPS

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 30 2024 (IPS) – Transgender people and civil society organizations have welcomed the decision of the chief minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, to allocate separate rooms in hospitals for the transgender community so they can avail themselves of uninterrupted healthcare.

“We demand that all provinces follow suit and announce facilities for more than 500,000 transgender people in the country,” Farzana Shah, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Transgender Association, told IPS.

On April 6, KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Khan Gandapur announced separate rooms for transgender persons in public hospitals after complaints that they aren’t getting admissions because they face violence in the facilities.

“In the last year, about 47 transgender people have died because of violence, and 90 have been injured. Many injured transgender people die due to delayed treatment. In most cases, we can’t get healthcare at hospitals,” Shah, 40, said.

The Chief Minister’s directives to reserve rooms have received a positive response.

Members of a delegation of transgender people who recently met him quoted Gandapur as saying, “Provision of better health facilities to transgender persons in the province is our priority. We will help the underprivileged community.”

Arzoo Khan, a social activist, is overwhelmed.

“In all 38 district-level hospitals, we now have a separate room. Previously, the hospitals denied admission to our colleagues,” Khan said.

“The problem we face is that most transgender people have been deserted by their families because of social repercussions. People look down on transgender people.”

“We don’t have anyone to help us; therefore, the government’s support is a highly welcome step,” Khan said.

In addition to the allocation of space, the government also provided land for a separate graveyard for transgender people.

Civil society activist Jamal Khan said that there are several instances when the local communities have denied the burial of eunuchs because they don’t consider them Muslims.

“They earn their livelihoods through dancing at marriage parties and on other festive occasions where they have social acceptability,” he said. “The allocation of separate hospitals’ rooms and land for graveyards are really commendable measures that will lead to the protection and respect of transpeople.”

Transgender people are often deprived of last rituals, like giving them baths and performing their funerals after deaths.

Sobia Khan, another leader, said they are deeply vulnerable and subject to abuse and violent attacks, despite being a cheap source of entertainment.

“Some transgender people also have HIV/AIDS and other potentially fatal diseases for which they need continuous medication,” Sobia said.

The attitude of the police towards the group was also bad, she added

“More often than not, police beat up our members; they pull them by their collars and drag them into the streets.”

Khan claimed that her parents have been excluding her for the past ten years.

“Peshawar, the capital of KP, is home to 9,000 transgender persons; most of them have lost connections with their families and they were regarded as sinners and hence ditched by near and dear ones,” Sobia said.

Where the group was targeted by violence, the perpetrators were seldom brought to justice, which emboldens others to mistreat transgender people.

“Sexual harassment of trans people is a common sight. Everyone thinks that we are sex workers, which is untrue because we only dance. Many are raped,” she said.

Police officer Rahim Shah told IPS that many transgender people were invited to marriage parties where they danced for money.

Shah claimed that upon their return from the performance at night, robbers targeted them and killed or injured those who attempted to resist.

“In cases of murder or transgender injuries, their family members don’t come to receive dead bodies for burial or look after the wounded in hospitals,” he said. Their problems are complex, as they neither enjoyed respect in the community nor in their families.

Sumaira Shah, 29, narrates her ordeal after running away from home.

“My family was staunchly opposed to dancing and my father and brothers used to beat me every day, forcing me to quit dancing as it was a source of dishonoring the family but it was my fashion,” she said.

“Sick of daily taunts and beatings, I ran away from my native Swat district to Peshawar when I was just 14,” she said. Since then, I haven’t seen any of my relatives. Shah said she welcomed the hospital room policy.

“A month ago, a hospital in Peshawar sent me back home with some medicines despite having a high fever,” she said.

She said, “People frequently threaten me when I decline their offer for sex relations, and I’m afraid because many of our seniors have died at the hands of gangsters when they didn’t comply with their demand for illicit relations.”

Social rights activist Pervez Ahmed appreciates the government’s new initiatives.

He claimed that this was the first time the government had made an effort to safeguard the health of those who had lost their parents’ support and faced harsh rejection from the community.

Ahmed said that the government has already included transgender people in a free health insurance program, under which they can avail themselves of USD 12,000 per year.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Lao PDR Lawmakers Meet to Further ICPD25 Programme of Action

Conferences, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Population, Sustainable Development Goals


Delegates at the workshop on Harnessing Demographic Dividend through the Roadmap to 2030 for Lao PDR. Credit: APDA

Delegates at the workshop on Harnessing Demographic Dividend through the Roadmap to 2030 for Lao PDR. Credit: APDA

VIENTIANE, Apr 29 2024 (IPS) – A recent workshop of lawmakers heard that targeted interventions would be necessary to meet the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), its Programme of Action (PoA), and Lao PDR’s national commitments to ICPD25 at the Nairobi Summit 2019.

The Workshop on Harnessing Demographic Dividend through the Roadmap to 2030 for Lao PDR aimed to equip parliamentarians with the knowledge and strategies necessary to address the critical population and development challenges confronting Lao PDR.

Thoummaly Vongphachanh, MP and Chair of Social and Cultural Affairs Committees, National Assembly, told the workshop in her opening address that collective action was important for tackling population and development challenges.

Edcel Lagman, MP Philippines and acting Chair of AFPPD, addressed the ICPD’s emphasis on individual rights, gender equality, and the correlation between development and women’s empowerment. With this in mind, he urged parliamentarians to enact rights-based policies that promote gender equality and social justice, incorporating population dynamics into development planning.

UNFPA Representative to Lao PDR, Dr Bakhtiyor Kadyrov, reiterated the organization’s commitment to supporting parliamentarians and government initiatives in addressing population and development challenges, emphasizing the importance of inclusive policies and partnerships to ensure no one is left behind.

A representative of DoP/MPI, Kaluna Nanthavongduangsy, provided an overall overview of the ICPD and its POA, along with Lao PDR’s national commitments to ICPD25, at the Nairobi Summit 2019. He said its commitment was based on five pillars.

  • Managing and using demographic benefits and investing in youth.
  • Addressing climate change and its impact on the public sector and social protection.
  • Promoting health and well-being, including rights to sexual and reproductive health.
  • Enhancing the availability and use of demographic information.
  • Strengthening partnerships and mobilizing resources.

Latdavanh Songvilay, Director General of the Macroeconomic Research Institute, Lao Academy of Social and Economic Sciences, outlined various challenges hindering the realization of the demographic dividend in Lao PDR. These challenges may include barriers to education and employment, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and socio-cultural factors impacting women’s empowerment and reproductive health.

Her presentation offered valuable insights into the complex interplay between demographic changes, socio-economic development, and policy formulation in Lao PDR. By identifying opportunities and addressing challenges, her analysis was crucial for the parliamentarians to make informed decisions and identify targeted interventions that could maximize the benefits of the demographic transition.

The Lao’s Family Welfare Promotion Association’s Executive Director, Dr Souphon Sayavong, emphasized the importance of comprehensive approaches that combine legal frameworks, law enforcement, survivor support services, and community engagement to combat SGBV effectively.

He also noted that harmful practices, such as child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence, needed targeted interventions to raise awareness, provide support to survivors, and change social norms that perpetuate harmful practices.

Sayavong also said that there were socio-economic consequences of gender inequality and SGBV, emphasizing their detrimental effects on individual well-being, community development, and national progress.

Dr Mayfong Mayxay, Member of Parliament and Vice-Rector of the University of Health Sciences, Ministry of Health, Lao PDR, said it was crucial to identify and tackle the various problems encountered by young people, including drug addiction, school dropout, early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy.

He said additional issues like substance abuse, smoking, and alcohol consumption needed targeted interventions, including prevention programmes and awareness campaigns. School dropout issues were often socioeconomic, so it was important to find strategies including scholarships, vocational training opportunities, and community-based support systems to ensure that young people can access education and pursue their aspirations.

During his presentation, he highlighted the risks associated with early marriage and adolescent pregnancies, which pose significant health risks for both mothers and children.

Mayxay emphasized the importance of comprehensive sexual education, access to reproductive health services, and legal reforms to address these issues and protect the rights of young girls.

He underscored the importance of promoting maternal and child health, including the need for nutritional education, prenatal care services, and support systems to address malnutrition and its adverse effects on maternal and child health outcomes.

Solutions he suggested involved holistic approaches encompassing education, healthcare, community support, and policy reforms, to empower young people and ensure their health and well-being.

Dr Usmonov Farrukh, interim Executive Director of AFPPD, reiterated AFPPD’s commitment to supporting parliamentarians’ advocacy on population and development in the Asia-Pacific in his closing speech, emphasizing collective action and partnership.

Vongphachanh’s closing remarks summed up the priorities agreed to in the meeting of the 14 National Commitments at the first National Conference on Population and Development, Demographic Change, held in 2023. She said opportunities, challenges, and policy levers to achieve demographic dividends, women’s empowerment and prevention and response to GBV and harmful practices, commitment to their programme of Family Planning 2030, and the health and future of the young population, particularly the resolutions for social issues they are facing such as drug use, school dropout, early marriage, and adolescent pregnancy, were crucial.

Note: This workshop was supported by AFPPD and APDA, the UNFPA, and the Japan Trust Fund.


Harnessing Science-Policy Collaboration: The Vital Role of IPBES Stakeholders in Achieving Global Nature Targets

Biodiversity, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Natural Resources, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations


Dr. Anne Larigauderie, IPBES Executive Secretary

Dr. Anne Larigauderie, IPBES Executive Secretary

BONN, Germany, Apr 26 2024 (IPS) – In December 2022, the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) saw governments worldwide unite behind a set of ambitious targets aimed at addressing biodiversity loss and restoring natural ecosystems, through the Global Biodiversity Framework – known now as the Biodiversity Plan.

As the world gears up to meet these critical commitments for people and nature, success depends very directly on the concrete choices and actions of people from every region, across all disciplines and at every level of decision-making. In this collaborative effort, non-governmental stakeholders of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) are vital actors, in addition to the 146 Governments who are members of IPBES.

But who are IPBES stakeholders? Any individual or organization that can benefit from or contribute to the science-policy work of IPBES is an IPBES stakeholder. They include individual scientists, knowledge-holders, experts and practitioners, as well as institutions, organizations, and groups operating within and beyond the fields of biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people.

There are two main self-organized groups of IPBES stakeholders: ONet and IIFBES. ONet provides a broad space for individuals and organizations to exchange knowledge, align actions and deepen engagement with the work of IPBES—with subgroups from the social sciences, young career researchers and many more. IIFBES is a network to bring together the expertise, perspectives and interests of Indigenous Peoples and local communities interested in IPBES’s work. Both of these ‘umbrella’ groups are instrumental in amplifying diverse voices, knowledge systems, and experience, to strengthen science-policy for biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. This is important not only in support of IPBES, but also to the success of the Biodiversity Plan.

IPBES stakeholders contribute to the achievement of the Biodiversity Plan in three distinct ways. Firstly, they fortify the scientific foundations underpinning policies to protect biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. Their expertise, channeled into the IPBES assessments, was instrumental in shaping the targets and indicators of the Biodiversity Plan. IPBES stakeholders will also continue to play a central role in ensuring that the actions to meet these targets are grounded in robust scientific knowledge and evidence.

Secondly, IPBES stakeholders are equipped with the resources and tools provided by IPBES: including Assessment Reports and their summaries for policymakers, to advocate for and effect change. These resources offer invaluable insights into national, regional, and global thematic issues. When considered by decision-makers, they become catalysts for evidence-based policies. Effective dissemination and uptake of these resources are paramount in translating global targets into tangible, on-the-ground initiatives that address local challenges. Consequently, stakeholders can make a substantial contribution by widely disseminating IPBES products and providing information for their effective use.

Thirdly, IPBES stakeholders have a tremendous opportunity to engage in the international forums where policy decisions are explored and made. Their active involvement and participation in decision-making bodies within these forums, coupled with their own extensive networks, foster the exchange of knowledge and resources. Collaborations forged in these settings bridge the gap between science and policy. Many IPBES stakeholders are active participants in the CBD processes, for instance, facilitating the exchange of information between these two bodies and thereby driving the Biodiversity Plan’s effective implementation.

Only through collective action and close collaboration between international institutions, policy actors, scientists, local and Indigenous communities, and other relevant stakeholders can we seamlessly translate science into policy and practice, ultimately achieving the goals of the Biodiversity Plan. This is why more individuals and organizations should seize the opportunity to become active IPBES stakeholders. Joining the IPBES community is not only a commitment to a sustainable future for people and nature but is also a positive response to the pressing global biodiversity crisis.

Dr. Anne Larigauderie is the Executive Secretary of IPBES ( – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which provides objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the contributions they make to people, as well as options and actions to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets.

IPS UN Bureau


Conditions Worsen for Belarus Migrants Stuck in ‘Death Zone’ on EU Border

Aid, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Europe, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration & Refugees, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Migration & Refugees

Aid agencies say that refugees caught on the Polish and Belarus borders are subject to brutal pushbacks. Graphic: IPS

Aid agencies say that refugees caught on the Polish and Belarus borders are subject to brutal pushbacks. Graphic: IPS

BRATISLAVA, Apr 25 2024 (IPS) – As the refugee crisis on the Belarus/EU borders approaches its fourth year, a crackdown on activism in Belarus is worsening the situation for migrants stuck in a “death zone” as they attempt to leave the country.

Groups working with refugees say the repression of NGOs in Belarus has led to many organizations stopping their aid work for migrants, leaving them with limited or no humanitarian help.

And although international organizations are operating in the country providing some services to refugees, NGOs fear it is not enough.

“There have been elevated levels of violence [against refugees from border guards] since the start of this crisis. But what has got worse is that before there were more people willing to help these refugees in Belarus, but now there is pretty much no one there helping as activism can be punished criminally in the country,” Enira Bronitskaya, human rights activist at Belarussian NGO Human Constanta, which was forced to pull out of the country and now operates from Poland, told IPS.

Since the start of the refugee crisis on the Belarus/EU border in the summer of 2021, rights groups have spoken out over brutal refugee ‘pushbacks’ by guards on both sides of the border.

Some have accused Minsk of manufacturing the crisis as a response to EU sanctions. They say Belarusian authorities actively organize, encourage, and even force migrants to attempt crossings over the border, but at the same time sanction violent and degrading treatment of those same migrants by border guards.

But others have also raised issue with what they say are equally violent and inhumane methods used by EU border guards in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania against those same migrants, as well as systematic breaches of their rights to claim asylum.

“These people are subjected to numerous forms of violence, both by Belarusian and Polish border guards. We’ve seen bruises, black eyes, knocked-out teeth after blows, kicks or hits with the back of rifles, irritation of skin and eyes after being sprayed with pepper gas, and teeth marks after dog bites,” Bartek Rumienczyk of the Polish NGO We Are Monitoring (WAM), which helps migrants who arrive in Poland from Belarus, told IPS.

“We also tell people they are entitled to ask for international protection in Poland, but in practice, these pleas are often ignored by border guards. We have witnessed numerous situations when people were asking for asylum in our presence and still they were pushed back to Belarus,” he added

These practices leave people stranded between the two borders in terrible conditions. Some aid workers describe it as a “death zone”.

“Refugees who manage to make it over [into the EU] talk about the ‘death zone’ between fences on the EU border and razor wires on the Belarus side and border guards who will not let them back into Belarus. They are therefore stuck there,” Joanna Ladomirska, Medical Coordinator for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) in Poland, told IPS.

“This death zone runs all along the Belarus/EU border, and it is huge—maybe tens of thousands of square kilometers—and no one knows how many people might have died there, or might be there needing treatment. My worry is that no one has access to this zone—not NGOs, no one,” she added.

At least 94 people have been known to have died in the border area since the start of the crisis, according to Human Constanta’s research, although it is thought many more may have also lost their lives.

Those that do manage to cross the border are invariably injured, some seriously. Exhaustion, hypothermia, and gastrointestinal affections because migrants have been forced to drink water from swamps or rivers are common, while almost a third of them have trench foot, and many have suffered serious injuries from razor- and barbed-wire fences. Some have also had to have parts of their limbs amputated due to frostbite, according to aid groups providing medical care to them.

Although both international and local organizations continue to work to help migrants on the EU side of the border, this is much more limited on the Belarusian side, say those working directly with migrants.

Since mass protests following his re-election in 2020, autocratic Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has implemented a sweeping crackdown on dissent. This has seen, among others, widespread prosecutions of workers in civil society.

Many NGOs, including some that had previously helped migrants, have been forced to close, leaving only a handful of major international organizations to do what they can for migrants.

However, questions have been raised about how effective their operations are.

“There are international organizations like the ICRC that are working with the Red Cross, but the Belarus Red Cross is only handing out food parcels in certain areas; it’s not a regular, stable supply,” said Bronitskaya.

“Basically, there is no one there giving [the migrants] the help they need. It is very possible there will be even more deaths than before,” she added.

But it is not just those stuck between the borders who are struggling to get help.

Anyone who fails to get into the EU and finds themselves back in Belarus is classed as an irregular migrant, is unable to access healthcare or benefits, and cannot legally work.

Many quickly find themselves in poverty, living in constant fear of being discovered by immigration authorities, and vulnerable to exploitation. Some aid workers told IPS they had heard of migrants in Minsk and other Belarussian cities forced to turn to prostitution to pay to support themselves.

Facing such problems, many decide they have little choice but to attempt the crossing again despite the risks.

Aid organizations and global rights groups say governments in EU countries and in Minsk must adhere to their obligations to protect the rights of these migrants.

“It’s not the best approach to the situation if the EU makes it difficult or impossible to cross its border by building walls or putting up legal barriers, nor is it good if Belarus creates a situation where people are stranded,” Normal Sitali, Medical Operations Manager for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) in Belarus, told IPS.

“There must be unhindered access to the border area for independent humanitarian organizations and for international and civil society organizations to respond to the dire situation there. Governments need to look at ensuring access to healthcare for these people so that international organizations do not need to provide and pay for it; they also need to look at legal protections for them; and they need to examine how these people can be ensured the space and protection to claim their rights as individuals while in transit,” he added.

MSF, which helped thousands of migrants during the crisis, last year stopped providing services to them after deciding migrants’ medical needs were outweighed by their need for protection and legal support, which MSF says can only be provided by dedicated organisations with specific expertise.

But some doubt the situation will improve any time soon with political relations between Belarus and the EU badly strained.

“Governments need to do something but the political situation makes things complicated. EU governments will not negotiate with Lukashenko because of the repressions going on in Belarus. Unless there is some significant change, nothing is going to get better,” said Bronitskaya.

However, others are hopeful of change.

Officials in Poland’s new government, which came to power in December last year, have claimed the number of pushbacks has fallen under the new administration and said a new border and migration policy is being drawn up that would treat the protection of human rights as a priority. Plans are also being put in place for the border forces to set up special search and rescue groups to stop humanitarian crises at the country’s borders, they have said.

“As a European country, [Poland] should respect European human rights laws and provide people with access to safety. You don’t need to negotiate with the Belarus regime to do that,” Ladomirska told IPS.

“I hope that with the new Polish government, something might change. We’re talking to them; change is feasible, and with the new government, there is an opportunity for that change.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


Afghan Women’s Voices Stifled as Taliban Tightens Media Controls

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations

Human Rights

The author is an Afghanistan-based female journalist, trained with Finnish support before the Taliban take-over. Her identity is withheld for security reasons

Taliban's decree imposes radio ban on Afghan women, further restricting media freedoms. Credit: Learning Together.

Taliban’s decree imposes radio ban on Afghan women, further restricting media freedoms. Credit: Learning Together.

Apr 22 2024 (IPS) – Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in 2021, the space for women in the public sphere has significantly narrowed, with successive orders further restricting their presence in various sectors, including the media.

The Taliban have recently decreed that women’s voices should no longer be broadcast on radio in four provinces – Khost, Logar, Helmand, and Paktia.

Women and men must stay separate from each other in media houses, and women are even banned from calling radio stations during social discussion programmes to seek solutions to their problems.

The radio stations are constantly monitored by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue, even where there are no male workers, says Halima, a presenter in one of the radio stations. “Every time they come, they warn us not to laugh and not to joke in the programmes because it is a great sin”, she says.

“We used to have four and a half thousand female journalists and media workers in Afghanistan”, says Ahmad (name withheld), a media activist, “but unfortunately, due to the recent political developments, the imposition of restrictions, and the lack of economic opportunities, many female journalists lost their jobs”. Last year a substantial 87 per cent of female journalists left the industry.

In the eastern provinces, Ahmad says, the Taliban do not allow women’s voices to be broadcast on the radio, while in the Southern provinces, journalists are not allowed to take photos because, to the Taliban it is a great sin.

At the end of February the Afghan Centre for Journalists sent out information to media outlets, according to which, Mohammad Khaled Hanafi, Acting Minister for the Promotion of Virtue warned that women would be banned entirely from working in the media if they show their faces on television or in interviews. A representative for the Ministry was reported brandishing sample pictures of appropriately dressed women with only two eyes peering from behind a hijab.

Female workers now manage only seven media houses. Two of these are in Badakshan one in Balkh, one in Farah one in Herat and two in Kabul – all of these face a huge number of challenges. Although most of these media houses are symbolically run in the name of women, but the important work and decision-making of media are in the hands of men.

In Helmand Province, women are banned entirely from appearing on television, neither should their voices be heard on radio. According to the local newspaper Hasht Sobh, Abdul Rashid Omari, the Taliban security commander in Khost province, has warned local media officials in an official letter that they would be prosecuted if they allow girls or women make phone call to radio stations.

“Some private radio stations in Khost promote moral corruption, a good example of which is broadcasting school lessons or social programs in which many girls participate” the letter states. Adding further, “By abusing these educational and social programs, girls make illegitimate phone calls with the organizers of the programs during the official and unofficial time, which, on the one hand, leads the society to moral corruption and, on the other hand, against Islamic standards”

There is not much space left for the media in Afghanistan, complains Frishta (name withheld). It is even hard for them to breath, but despite all of those restrictions, she continues to work.

“It is true that I am in charge of the radio station, but I can never make important decisions on its operations. The owner of the radio, who is a man, always makes the decisions. I produce the programs according to his guidelines and orders,” says Frishta.

But, the reason why Frishta perseveres is that a few international organizations provide financial support for women’s work in radio and television, and the money is much needed. Among them are United Nations agencies, UNICEF and UNESCO, which support 28 regional or local radio stations across the country in the publication of humanitarian information and training programmes. Also, an EU-funded project,”Support to Afghan Media Resilience to Foster Peace and Security”, has assisted several women’s radio stations produce education, cultural and news programmes.

Besides the increasingly diminishing space for women in the media, the Taliban are clamping down the media in every other way. For instance, Youssef Bawar (name changed), one of the reporters in the Eastern Zone, says journalists of Persian language external broadcasts, such as Afghanistan International TV and AMU TV, cannot work openly inside Afghanistan. If found, they will be arrested and tortured. The Taliban Department of Information and Culture in Nangarhar Province last year, warned journalists that those who criticize the Taliban have no right to complain if they are arrested and treated in whatever way.

According to Yousef Bawar, foreign journalists coming to report on Afghanistan must obtain permission from the Taliban Department of Information and Culture. Once they are inside the country, a member of the Taliban will accompany them around in order to prevent them saying anything negative about the Taliban rule. The Taliban do not disclose charges brought against foreign reporters.

Yalda (not real name) is a journalist who worked as a journalist for seven years but could no longer stand the conditions anymore and left the profession. According to Yalda, the Taliban would come to their office several times a month, inspect their work and ask managers why they are working with women.

“Many times, they warned our manager that if male and female colleagues were seen together, then we wouldn’t have the right to complain about whatever happened to them”, she says.

“The media are not allowed to produce critical reports about the lack of facilities or services in the educational or health sectors in general. They are not allowed to criticize the government, and most of the media’s programs focus on the achievements publicised by the Taliban,” Yalda says.

The fall of the Republic created an adverse impact on the media in Afghanistan and many media outlets closed down and many journalists became unemployed. Previously there were 438 radio stations, but that has now been reduced to only 211; the number of newspapers has fallen from 91 to 13. Afghanistan’s 248 television channels have now been whittled down to just 68 since the Taliban took power three years ago.

Yet the few media outlets that are left still face great difficulties along with the disappearance of female journalists. They are bedevilled with lack of timely access to information, lack of programming support and above all, direct media censorship.

The return of the Taliban has brought about immense challenges across all sectors, but perhaps none as profound as the stifling of media freedom and the suppression of journalists’ voices.


The Summit of the Future Is a Rare Chance to Fix a Broken System: Civil Society Must Be Included

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

NEW YORK, Apr 22 2024 (IPS) – Today, the spectre of a major regional conflict, and even a possible nuclear conflagration, looms large in the Middle East. Despite stark warnings issued by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, the multilateral system is struggling to resolve the very challenges it was supposed to address: conflict, impoverishment and oppression. In a deeply divided world, this September’s Summit of the Future offers a rare chance to fix international cooperation and make good on gaps in global governance.

The problem is, too few people and civil society organisations, outside UN circles, even know the Summit is happening. This is characteristic of a lack of broad consultation. Things started poorly with limited time and opportunities for civil society to provide inputs last December into the zero draft of the Pact for the Future, which is supposed to be a blueprint for international cooperation in the 21st century.

The zero draft, released in January 2024, lacks the ambition many hoped would be on show to tackle the enormity of the challenges before us. It included just one mention of the role of civil society and nothing about civic space, even though growing restrictions on fundamental freedoms are severely impeding the transparency, accountability and participation needed to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the set of ambitious but largely unrealised universal commitments the Summit intends to reaffirm.

To be clear, the Summit’s co-facilitators, Germany and Namibia, are in an unenviable position, having to balance the demands of states that want the process to be purely intergovernmental and others that see value in civil society’s engagement. Some don’t see any role for civil society: in February, a handful of states led by Belarus sent a letter to the Special Committee on the UN Charter questioning the legitimacy of civil society organisations. If their demands were acceded to, the UN would miss the innovation and reach that civil society participation brings to the table.

Next month, the UN is hosting a major civil society conference in Nairobi with the aim of providing a platform for civil society to contribute ideas to the Summit of the Future. But, with barely a month between the selection of applicants and the hosting of the conference, it remains to be seen how many civil society representatives, particularly from smaller organisations in the global south, will be able to make it.

There remains a need for the UN to take on board the Unmute Civil Society recommendations, which include a call for the appointment of a civil society envoy. Such an envoy could drive the UN’s outreach to civil society beyond its hubs. With many finding the institution remote, an envoy could champion better and more consistent participation of people and civil society across the UN’s sprawling agencies and offices. So far, civil society engagement with the UN remains deeply uneven and dependent on the culture and leadership of various UN departments and forums.

The Summit can only benefit from civil society engagement if it’s to achieve it aims, particularly as many conflicts are raging around the world, including in Gaza, Myanmar, Sudan, Ukraine and elsewhere. Many of civil society’s reform ideas are included in the UN Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, which will be deliberated at the Summit, including nuclear disarmament, strengthening preventative diplomacy and prioritising women’s participation in peace efforts.

There’s also an urgent need to address the soaring levels of debt many global south countries face, which is diverting public spending away from essential services and social protections into debt servicing. Civil society backs efforts such as the Bridgetown Initiative to secure commitments from wealthy countries on debt restructuring and debt cancellation for those countries facing a repayment crisis. But civil society needs to be included to help shape plans, because if financing for development negotiations don’t include guarantees for civic space and civil society participation there’s no way of ensuring that public funds benefit people in need. Instead, autocratic regimes could use them to shore up repressive state apparatuses and networks of corruption and patronage.

Civil society further calls for reforms in the international financial architecture. These include demands to bring decisions by the G20 group of powerful economies into the ambit of the UN’s accountability framework, and to equitably distribute shares and decision-making at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, presently controlled by a few highly industrialised countries.

But it’s unclear how many of civil society’s transformative proposals for global governance reforms will end up in the final outcomes of the Summit of the Future. So far, there’s been limited transparency in relation to UN member state negotiations, records and compilation texts, despite civil society having shown its commitment by making over 400 written submissions to the Pact for the Future process.

Troublingly, few governments have consulted nationally with civil society groups on their positions for the Summit of the Future negotiations. If these trends continue, the international community will miss a key chance to make life better for future generations. It isn’t too late to robustly include people and civil society in the process. The aims of the Summit are too important.

Mandeep S. Tiwana is CIVICUS Chief Officer for Evidence and Engagement and representative to the UN in New York.