How Collective Action Can Move the Needle on Gender Equality

Active Citizens, Conferences, Development & Aid, Education, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women’s Health

Opinion

Delegates take a group photo at the Young Leaders & Alumni Workshop at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Credit: Isabella Sarmiento

NEW YORK, Mar 18 2022 (IPS) – During this year’s sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), we are eager to see the global community pivot towards more inclusive approaches to advocacy. It’s imperative to put the spotlight on women’s rights and youth-led organizations in communities that are often left out of key discussions. By handing the mic over to advocates across all backgrounds and ages, we can shift to a model that enables all advocates to take a lead role in policy-making and ultimately translate promises and rhetoric into real impact and accountability.


Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways that the global community works together to push for inclusive progress toward gender equality — progress that fully and effectively engages and equally benefits everyone — are fundamentally changing. Private conversations between the organizations and people with the resources and privilege to access the halls of power have given way to hybrid events and videoconferences that are open to a more diverse, intergenerational set of stakeholders than ever before. This significant shift began to open the doors to more inclusive partnerships.

Also, during these past two years, a global reckoning called on us all to meaningfully transform our advocacy, practices, and programs. International development organizations, including our own, took a long, overdue look in the mirror, and in some cases, began the deep learning and unlearning needed to acknowledge the persistent power imbalances that plague our sector at large. It’s a first step in living up to the values of equity and inclusion — not just on paper, but in practice.

As the world as we know it changed, we were hard at work changing, too. We began actively leveraging our power and influence more intentionally than ever before to center the work and expertise of women’s rights and youth-led organizations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Now, we are digging deeper to find and use new tools that enable advocates to co-create and co-lead by themselves so that our work and the Women Deliver 2023 Conference (WD2023) is more inclusive, diverse, consultative, and accessible than ever before.

Young gender equality advocates kick off the Youth Zone at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Credit: This Is It Studios

In “calling us in” and championing our ability to foster more inclusive partnerships across all of our programs, we are taking action to effectively and authentically advocate for, with, and alongside girls and women everywhere, in all their intersecting identities, to catalyze lasting progress on gender equality.

Transforming ourselves is of course a continuous process. Each day, we are learning to do better and to be better. We hope that our key learnings, below, can support our development colleagues, wherever they find themselves on their journey.

1. Accessibility and inclusion must lead the way — in-person and virtually.

    According to expert studies, organizations and individuals from LMICs are often under-represented at global health convenings. From day one, it’s urgent to intentionally engage those who have historically been excluded. In planning WD2023, we have leveraged the lessons of the past two years and from prior Women Deliver Conferences. We used an open application to select one-third of our Conference Advisory Group — a diverse panel with a balance of technical expertise. Our advisors represent 30 organizations — 10 individuals are from youth or youth-led organizations and 35 are from LMICs. We have done this to ensure that the Conference is co-created from the start by organizations and individuals representing the intersectional identities of the girls and women we work with and for.

    We meet regularly via videoconference with our Advisory Group to co-create the Conference’s Global Dialogue, theme, programming, and more, with support from social impact design experts at IDEO.org. IDEO also supports us as we carry out targeted discussions with specific stakeholder groups, including Women Deliver Young Leaders and Alumni, Deliver for Good Country Coalitions, and Conference Sponsors and Funders.

    In planning how to shape the dialogue, foster collaboration, and drive collective action before, during, and after the Conference, we’re working with our partners to ensure that all Conference advocacy spaces, be they digital or physical, are accessible to all. This includes low-bandwidth options, closed captioning, interpretation in multiple languages, and International Sign Language. On-site, we will also provide trauma-informed specialists, breastfeeding/nursing stations, child safeguarding support, and mental health specialists.

Mme Safiétou Diop, President of Réseau Siggil Jigeen speaking at a press conference during the launch of the Deliver for Good Senegal Campaign in Dakar, Senegal in 2019.

2. Move from meaningful youth engagement to co-leadership and intergenerational action.

    It’s time to follow the lead of young people, shift away from top-down approaches, and actively provide resources for robust youth co-leadership. According to global consensus, young people have a fundamental right to actively and meaningfully engage in all matters that affect their lives. For international development organizations, this means offering space, support, and compensation that youth need and deserve to co-create a more-gender equal future — a future from which they have the most to gain and to lose.

    We created the 14-person Young Leaders Program Alumni Committee, with an honorarium for their valuable expertise, to advise us on strategy and implementation of the Young Leaders Program and ideate youth co-creation opportunities. This committee provides invaluable guidance to ensure the Young Leaders Program models meaningful youth engagement and co-leadership, and effectively meets the needs of Young Leaders on the ground.

    Women Deliver also hosts Multi-Country Workshops to foster capacity strengthening, knowledge sharing, and coordinated advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender equality. Starting in 2021, these workshops are now designed and led by a Young Leader Planning Committee representing the regions where the workshops take place. They are in the driver’s seat as they craft workshop content and programming, while Women Deliver provides logistical support and the virtual space to gather. This co-created process has led to more targeted — and impactful — workshops that cater to Young Leaders’ specific needs and build capacity in the issue areas where it’s most needed.

Delegates taking a group photo on stage at the Deliver for Good Campaign side event “Leveraging National Movements for Global Change” at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

3. Elevate diverse voices and support organizations working on the ground.

    Incusion and participation have to be integrated into the mission of development work, not a one-off tactic or strategy. Diverse, resilient feminist and women’s rights organizations and movements are – and must always be positioned as – the key drivers of change for gender equality and women’s rights across the globe.

    Over the past two years, we have stepped back to shift power across every aspect of our organization’s activities, policies, programs, and behaviors, into the hands of the youth and women’s rights groups most impacted by our work. For example, in 2020, in partnership with Girl Effect, as well as with young people themselves, we worked to understand how youth in India, Malawi, and Rwanda use digital platforms to learn about their sexual and reproductive health (SRHR). This project was designed and executed by more than 160 adolescent girls and young women, who worked hand in hand with researchers on the ground in India, Malawi, and Rwanda to conduct interviews within their own communities, as well as to design questions, discuss results, and generate recommendations. Moving forward, we must involve girls and women in all aspects of data collection and evidence generation that impacts them. This will ensure that the local knowledge and skills needed to drive sustainable change in their own communities, regions, and countries are an integral part of effective advocacy and decision-making.

    We’re now handing the pen directly to Young Leaders and spotlighting the work of youth-led organizations during key advocacy moments. Last year, the Deliver for Good Campaign organized its first ever Continental Conversation — an idea conceived by partners in Kenya and Senegal — as a way to work together towards gender equality in the region. What was first envisioned as a one-off peer-to-peer sharing opportunity via videoconference became understood as a vital, first-of-its-kind Continental Conversation to bridge divides — some of which had never been crossed. Together, the Campaign’s country partners shared their own experiences, lessons, challenges, and successes in advancing gender equality, laying the groundwork for a cross-regional peer-to-peer learning model with the power to accelerate progress on girls’ and women’s health and rights in Kenya, in Senegal, and around the world.

    Over the past year, we have also co-convened multi-sectoral coalitions with diverse partners representing the intersectional identities of girls and women. For example, as part of the SRHR & Climate Justice Coalition, we’re working on collective action and coordinated advocacy in partnership with more than 60 representatives from a wide range of civil society organizations. The Coalition is working to advance SRHR and gender equality in the context of climate change from an intersectional and climate justice approach.

    The Coalition emerged from the need to break down silos between the SRHR and Climate Justice organizations and movements, facilitate knowledge sharing, jointly mobilize, and amplify the voices and priorities of grassroots organizations. These organizations are led by girls and women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and Indigenous people from LMICs, particularly those most affected by climate change and without continuous access to high-quality SRH services. The Coalition is currently raising awareness of the interlinkages of SRHR and climate change in order to ensure SRHR is a key part of climate change conversations and action strategies ahead of key policy moments, such as CSW66 and COP27.

4. Collect and present data that accurately represents the diverse needs of all girls and women.

    Sustainable progress — and lasting change — will take all of us. Over the past two years, we’ve focused on connecting advocates working across different issue areas and collecting gender-disaggregated data. The data is broken down into the many factors that shape people’s lives, including race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and socioeconomic class in order to drive collective action, the mainstay of transformative change. We also need to engage with data scientists from regions most impacted by this research.

    Last year, we partnered with Focus 2030 to carry out a survey of 17 countries on six continents — representing half of the world’s population. An overwhelming majority said they support gender equality, believe that women should be fully engaged in charting our path forward, and expect leaders – political and in business – to take meaningful action to bridge the gender divide. In centering the voices of citizens, we were able to effectively advocate for bigger, bolder commitments by governments and the private sector, ahead of the Generation Equality Forum.

As Women Deliver evolves and grows, we will continue to call upon our partners and funders, including in the private sector, to ensure that the international development world champions and secures robust, feminist funding and resources for women’s rights organizations, youth, and other marginalized communities. We hope you will join us in leveraging the changes set into motion during the pandemic and the global reckoning in our sector. Let’s work together to bridge existing divides and form inclusive partnerships — between countries, sectors, and generations.

The authors are Kathleen Sherwin (CEO/President), Divya Mathew (Director, Policy & Advocacy), Julia Fan (Senior Manager, Youth Engagement), Gretchen Gasteier (Manager, Conference), Rachel Elliott (Senior Associate, Communications) of Women Deliver

IPS UN Bureau

 

Building a Disability-Friendly Workplace: Why Includability Matters

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Headlines, Health, Labour

Opinion

An includable leader knows that not everyone comes from the same space with the same privileges. They are aware of systemic barriers that dictate interactions between people of different genders, classes, or abilities, according to the author. Credit: United Nations - Awareness of differences is not the barrier to includability. It is the inability to create a common ground for dialogue, which requires strategic planning and building competency

An includable leader knows that not everyone comes from the same space with the same privileges. They are aware of systemic barriers that dictate interactions between people of different genders, classes, or abilities, according to the author. Credit: United Nations

BENGALURU, India, Dec 2 2021 (IPS) – In her famous speech ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us against a singular narrative of a person—a stereotype. This, Adichie asserts, is not because stereotypes are untrue, but because they are incomplete—“They make one story become the only story.” This is true in all walks of life, including in our interactions with people with disabilities at workplaces.


The consequence of the single story, according to Adichie, is that it robs people of dignity. “It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Take the example of my brother, Hari. He topped the MBA programme in Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. He has a visual disability, and he managed his education with the help of audio cassettes, screen reader software, and the internet. But when it came to his placement, none of the employers wanted to hire him because of his ‘blindness’. He went through 70 interviews.

To go beyond the differences, leaders must focus on the commonalities between them and the person they are interacting with. To be an includable leader, one must do away with the us-versus-them narrative

The problem was not that the interviewers saw him as a person with vision impairment, but that they could see only one ‘story’ of him—his disability. It created fear and discomfort, and took precedence over any other stories that would have helped the interviewers see his personality, conduct the interview, and gauge his competence.

They focused so much on how he was different from them that they did not even try to look for similarities. Hari likes cricket, a sport with billions of admirers across the country, and this could have been a conversation starter for some of them. Or someone could have simply said, “Hey, I have never met a blind person. How do I interview you?”

EnAble India’s idea of includability—the ability to include—emerged from this and many other experiences I had with leaders, managers, and employees across organisations. I realised that awareness of differences is not the barrier to includability. It is the inability to create a common ground for dialogue, which requires strategic planning and building competency.

What is includability quotient?

Becoming an includable leader requires cultivating what we call an includability quotient (IncQ)—a competency framework for leaders on how to include diverse people in their organisation. A leader with a high IncQ is able to get the most out of their team, and is guided by three broad principles:

1. Internalising the landscape

An includable leader knows that not everyone comes from the same space with the same privileges. They are aware of systemic barriers that dictate interactions between people of different genders, classes, or abilities. They are also aware of how these barriers intersect, and actively plan strategies to overcome them.

For example, disability, lack of access to education, and poverty are often interlinked. To overcome this, we urged the leaders in a multinational corporation (MNC) we had worked with to hire persons with disabilities who had earned diplomas—for a position for which a degree was otherwise necessary.

The leader took the right decision to hire and provided a level playing field to overcome the inequities which come with the landscape. Their next step was to offer the employees a scholarship to pursue their degree later. Similarly, there are information technology (IT) companies that provide a loan for modified two-wheelers to people with disabilities for easy access to the workplace. In each example, the leader used their competency to distinguish a level playing field from an ‘excuse’.

2. Normalising the differences

To go beyond the differences, a leader must focus on the commonalities between them and the person they are interacting with. An includable leader does not function with an us-versus-them narrative. They actively try to facilitate conversations by using appropriate language and triggers.

However, like all conversations, this normalisation of differences is a two-way process. Employees with disabilities must be equipped with self-advocacy tools that help them to identify as more than their disability. The tools can include hobbies, adjectives, and aspirations that might spark an exchange.

For example, when a leader met Ajay*, a person with intellectual disability who is 38 years old and speaks in monosyllables, the leader didn’t know what to say. However, when Ajay presented them with a card where he described himself as a cricket lover and as Mr Dependable, the leader asked him about cricket. With this topic, Ajay gradually opened up and spoke a couple of sentences. The leader could see his personality, which may not have been possible if only the term ‘intellectual disability’ was ringing in his head.

In another instance, a manager had to familiarise his interns with domain-related video content in an American accent. To make it easier for the interns who might have found a non-Indian accent a barrier to understanding, the manager first introduced similar content in an Indian accent to them. This was a learner-centric approach that worked for people from different backgrounds.

3. Changing expectations    

Every person is capable of growth. Our inadequacy as leaders and managers is that at times we fail to remember this. An includable leader uses appreciative inquiry (AI)—an evaluation mechanism that focuses on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of an employee. This is applicable to employees coming from all kinds of spaces—be it a person with or without disability. And it is done with the belief that what you focus on will grow.

Whenever a new employee joins the team, the leader figures out their strengths and gains an understanding of the systemic barriers they face. From here both of them can go on to co-create solutions. Once this is done, the boundaries need to be pushed by focusing on the employee’s strengths.

Take, for instance, the case of an MNC that hired a person with intellectual disability for an internship. In the initial days, the intern mostly interacted with their manager and a colleague who was assigned to them as a buddy. With time the intern was made to attend presentations, which interested them enough to want to present on their own.

The MNC’s strategy was to make the intern speak on any topic of their choice for five minutes to a small team. As a second step, the management provided the intern with the topic to speak on. And, finally, the intern was asked to make a formal presentation to a larger team.

The MNC’s process of gradually moving the metre helped the intern gain confidence to speak in front of people and accumulate technical knowledge from the interactions. This kind of intervention helps employees not only in their current job but also going forward in their career. Additionally, a leader skilled enough to design and implement such a process gathers the confidence to work with team members from various facets of society.

Lessons for nonprofits

These are not easy lessons to learn for even the most eager leaders and managers—not because they do not want to engage, but often because they do not have a language to communicate their guilt, worries, and discomfort when they encounter a person they see as different from themselves.

Finding that common language requires a leader and a colleague to first learn to self-include. This involves feeling comfortable about themselves by gaining awareness of their own space, which comes with its own difficulties. It includes being able to speak openly about their problems and concerns—be it personal or professional. It is only then that a workplace can become truly inclusive.

As facilitators working with organisations, our job is to make space for these conversations at various levels. This requires us to build a nuanced understanding of the various elements that form an organisation—only then can we come up with tools, methods, and strategies. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt over the years:

1. An includable workplace is more than the leader

While speaking with and educating leaders is an essential part of creating an inclusive workplace, the idea needs to travel across the organisation. The leadership has to play the role of an implementer in bringing changes at various levels. This includes individuals being comfortable with and understanding the needs of a colleague with disability, as well as people with disabilities being able to assert an identity that is more than their disability.

2. ‘Peacetime’ interactions go a long way

We have seen that people with disabilities and those without have more fruitful interactions when these are facilitated during ‘peacetime’—an informal, non-work setting. For instance, when a person without disability studies with a person with disability at school or when they work together as volunteers, there’s a chance that they might be able to build a sustainable bond that’s beyond notions of ability and disability. Peacetime creates an exposure opportunity where the knowing and acceptance happens in a non-threatening way.

3. Facilitators need to keep introspecting

Conversations around disabilities demand a space of vulnerability. This is true for participants across the intersections of people with disabilities, non-profit facilitators working with people with disabilities, and leaders. It is easy to form attachments, look out for each other, and become protective of each other. However, as facilitators, we must be wary of our actions that stem from these emotions.

Our well-intentioned protectiveness can stand in the way of a person being able to push their limits and prepare for the competitive world of employment. This is a clear deviation from our own idea of building together a more equitable world. Thus, we need to constantly evaluate our actions. Because that equitable world—in Adichie’s words, “a kind of a paradise”—will emerge not from our guilt or pity, but from our rejection of the singular narratives of individuals.

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.

With contributions from Gayatri Gulvady.

Shanti Raghavan, the author of this article, is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of EnAble India, which works towards providing economic independence to persons with disability

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

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School Meals Coalition Hopes to Provide a Meal to Every Child

Aid, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Featured, Food Security and Nutrition, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Food Security and Nutrition

School meals have a host of benefits, including improving enrollments and preventing malnutrition. Now the School Meals Coalition plans to recruit local food producers to assist in the programme. Credit: Bill Wegener/Unsplash

United Nations, Nov 26 2021 (IPS) – Meals at schools not only give each child a nutritious meal but increase enrolments, among other benefits.


This emerged at a recent launch of the School Meals Coalition, a new initiative that aims to give every child a nutritious meal by 2030 through bolstering health and nutrition programmes. The coalition comprises over 60 countries and 55 partners dedicated to restoring, improving and up-scaling meal programs and food systems. Among their partners are UN agencies UNICEF, World Food Programme (WFP), UN Nutrition, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and UNESCO.

In the briefing, the speakers identified School Meals Coalition’s primary goals to restore school meal programmes to the status before the COVID-19 pandemic and reach children in vulnerable areas who have not accessed these plans before. The member countries’ political leaders have come together to support this “important initiative”, according to the permanent representative of Finland to the United Nations, Jukka Salovaara.

“School meals are so much more than just a plate of food. It’s really an opportunity to transform communities, improve education, and food systems globally,” he said.

School meal programmes are a significant safety net for children and their communities. As one of the primary means for children to get healthy meals, they help combat poverty and malnutrition. Their impact on education is seen in increased engagement from students. They also serve as incentives for families to send their children, especially girls, to schools, thus supporting children’s rights to education, nutrition and well-being.

“We see documented jumps of 9 to 12 per cent in enrollment increases just because the meals are present,” WFP Director of School-Based Programmes Carmen Burbano said. “So, these are really important instruments to bring [children] to school.”

The programmes would also provide opportunities for sustainable development practices and transformations in food systems. One key strategy is to promote and maintain home-grown school meal programmes, recruiting local farmers and markets to provide food supplies. Investing in school meal programmes, especially through domestic spending, has proven to increase coverage. In low-income countries, the number of children receiving school meals increased by 36 percent when their governments increased the budgets for these programs.

A WFP study found that at the beginning of 2020, over 380 million children globally received meals through school meal programmes. The closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic effectively disrupted those programmes, depriving 370 million children of what was effectively their main meal for the day. While there have been marked improvements since schools re-opened worldwide, with 238 million children accessing the school meals, there are still 150 million children that don’t have access.

The School Meals Coalition aims to close this gap through a system of collaboration between member countries and their partners. Among their initiatives will be a monitoring and accountability mechanism that is being developed by the WFP and its partners, which will be used to follow the coalition’s accomplishments, and a peer-to-peer information-sharing network, spearheaded by the German government, between members and partners that will use findings to influence their programme output.

Even before the pandemic, school meal programmes did not reach the most vulnerable children, 73 million, who could not access these programmes. Reaching children that have fallen through the cracks can be challenging, but it is significantly more difficult in countries affected by conflict or environmental disruptions.

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and the World Food Programme (WFP) earlier signed a memorandum of understanding to feed children in protracted crises.

At the signing, WFP Assistant Executive Director, Valerie Guarnieri said: “Simply put, sick children cannot attend school and hungry children cannot learn. It is essential we invest more in the health and nutrition of young learners, particularly girls.”

ECW Director, Yasmine Sherif said a feeding scheme made a massive difference in children’s lives.

“For many children and youth in crisis-affected countries, a meal at school may be the only food they eat all day and can be an important incentive for families to send and keep girls and boys in school. It is also essential for a young person to actually focus and learn,” she said.

The coalition plans to find ways to break the barriers to enable children to reach school or look for alternative learning pathways to reach children who could not physically attend school.

The factors that can prevent children from fully attending schools, such as poverty, complexity in family lives, or conflict, have only been exacerbated over the last nearly two years, thanks mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic. As more schools open worldwide, the restoration of school meal programmes is expected to provide much-needed support for children and their communities in turn.

“This is a very urgent and timely priority,” said Head of the Sustainable Development Unit of the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, Olivier Richard. “Because school meals are very important for the recovery of our societies from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To learn more about the School Meal Coalitions, you can follow their page.

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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: What Went Wrong During India’s COVID-19 Response

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Headlines, Health

Opinion

During the pandemic, there was little support from the government when it came to making funding and resources available to the nonprofits that were working closely with communities. | Picture courtesy: Digital Empowerment Foundation

Nov 23 2021 (IPS) – From its devastating economic impact and the migrant crisis to the startling death toll, the COVID-19 pandemic in India unfurled one crisis after the other. The glaring gaps in our system, which had always been there, became even more prominent during the pandemic. There is one question at the back of everyone’s mind that still remains unanswered: What went wrong?


No entity can operate in isolation, be it the government, the private sector, or civil society. During times of crisis, the government must ensure that all cogs in the wheel continue to work effectively. Civil society—local communities and nonprofits—must enable delivery of public services up until the last mile. And, finally, the private sector needs to step up in terms of financial resources and leveraging of networks and influence.

Nonprofits in 13 states and union territories were able to provide meals to more people during the lockdown than the concerned state governments – Would a collaborative relationship between the government and the social sector have aided a better response to the COVID-19 crisis?

However, when the pandemic was at its peak in India, these three entities failed to come together and work collaboratively to cushion the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the people.

The missing link between the government and the social sector

According to our village-level digital entrepreneurs in the SoochnaPreneur programme at Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), the four essential systems that were massively hit by the pandemic were education, healthcare, finance, and citizen entitlements. When the pandemic was raging, our SoochnaPreneurs reported that all people wanted was food and rations, a device to access online education for their children, the ability to talk to a doctor or health worker to learn how to keep themselves safe, and to make some money to meet their daily needs from the confines of their homes. Ironically, given the stringent nature of the lockdowns, all this needed access to the internet.

However, across the country, lack of access to resources, high levels of digital illiteracy, and the deepening digital divide exacerbated by the pandemic acted as major roadblocks in India’s COVID-19 response. Even as the government announced relief packages—food grains and cash payments—the mechanisms of delivery to beneficiaries at the last mile were unclear.

For instance, common service centres (CSCs), which are supposed to work as access points that enable digital delivery of services such as banking and finance across rural India, were mostly non-functional. During the pandemic, the government claimed that people could use their local CSCs to access various digital services including telehealth and registration for vaccinations. However, like any other office, shop, or business centre, almost all CSCs had closed their operations due to the strict lockdown rules in various states.

With government services not always being available, the social sector stepped up. Whether it was making access to digital tools and digital literacy a priority or the distribution of essentials, nonprofits across the country filled in the gaps. According to one report, nonprofits in 13 states and union territories were able to provide meals to more people during the lockdown than the concerned state governments.

The question that arises is: Would a collaborative relationship between the government and the social sector have aided a better response to the COVID-19 crisis?

For instance, the distribution of food grains could have been made efficient from the get-go if, rather than having long queues of people waiting at shops, organisations with the digital know-how had been allowed to deliver ration at the doorsteps of people with a biometric machine in hand. This synchronisation and management of resources is something that should have been under the government’s purview, while a partnership with civil society organisations could have helped with execution and delivery. Considering that hundreds of thousands of nonprofits working at the grassroots were tasked as frontline workers, the government could have tapped into this already existing infrastructure and network.

The lack of trust between the social sector and the government didn’t help. During the pandemic, there was little support from the government when it came to making funding and resources available to the nonprofits that were working closely with communities. For instance, while local nonprofits worked as service providers during the pandemic, funds lying with local government bodies could have been diverted to their operations to successfully navigate the panic-like situation brought on by the first lockdown when everything came to a halt.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020, also imposed difficult conditions on what could be considered eligible expenses for nonprofit organisations, thus creating more obstacles in raising and distributing crucial aid. Even as the prime minister called for nonprofits to step in, many organisations found their hands tied due to certain rules imposed in the middle of the pandemic.

Moreover, during the first lockdown, there was a diversion of CSR funds to PM Cares. At present, not only is there a lack of transparency on how these funds have been deployed, but this diversion of funds has also been a huge blow to nonprofits who have been struggling to look after their own employees and their organisations while providing relief to communities on the ground.

The private sector did not step up either

There was lack of communication and collaboration across business, and a piecemeal approach was adopted. Industry associations could have encouraged CEOs and company heads to interact with each other and solve issues on a larger scale. For instance, industry bodies such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), and Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) could have deployed their resources to help manage the mass migration of workers from industrial towns and urban centres more systematically and humanely.

In pre-pandemic times, CSR within corporates would ask nonprofits to work in areas where they have manufacturing facilities and offer localised support. Corporates could have extended this reasoning during the lockdown as well and enlisted the support of their nonprofit partners to help those workers and informal sector migrants who were homebound, while providing the nonprofits with the required monetary and infrastructure support.

There was also a reluctance from corporates to innovate in times of need. Since DEF works on digital integration to fight poverty, we reached out to many CSR funders to provide funds for buying smartphones, tablets, projectors, and other electronic devices to provide digital infrastructure in the villages. However, it took us more than a year to convince some of them to help us offer support to people with no digital access and empowerment through our Digital Daan initiative.

It is important to contextualise the social and economic support at the time of disaster and that can happen only if there is a relationship of trust between the stakeholders.

What the social sector could have done better

The onset of the pandemic brought with it uncertainty for most nonprofits. In addition to lack of funding and overstretched resources, many nonprofits had to take up the role of relief workers and divert efforts from their primary objectives, which would have been domestic violence, child protection, water and sanitation, and so on.

One important factor missing in this entire conversation was the inability of many nonprofits to adopt digital tools to improve operations, efficiency, and delivery of services. While webinars became a recurring feature in their calendars, thus creating a space for knowledge sharing, grassroots nonprofits were often not a part of these dialogues. Smaller nonprofits were also overwhelmed with work on the ground due to the needs of their communities coupled with inadequate support from either their funders or governments; hence, many of them had little time or resources to think or build their capacity to go digital.

The pandemic did however push several nonprofits to adopt digital tools for operations and delivery of services. Larger nonprofits with their own networks, adequate funding, and a strong digital presence were able to leverage digital platforms. However, many of the smaller nonprofits and those at the frontlines had to innovate to reach beneficiaries digitally.

Moreover, with the government aggressively pushing Digital India—from telehealth to online education and even the vaccine roll-out—it became imperative for organisations to incorporate digital and technological solutions in their everyday operations. Many nonprofits therefore had to work on building in-house digital capacity and infrastructure during the pandemic, while also serving their communities and raising funds.

In the case of mobilising money, digital platforms could have been a powerful tool for the sector, and they did help many nonprofits raise funds. However, this was not the case for the entire social sector.

According to the India Giving Report 2021 by the Charities Aid Foundation, individual donations were at an all-time high during the pandemic. Crowdfunding platforms such as GiveIndia provided people easy access to donate to various causes. However, this giving may not have been as diversified—the absence of reliable information online acted as a barrier for many givers while donating. Therefore, givers may have chosen to stick to organisations they trusted. And many local nonprofits with limited digital know-how had to rely on local giving or local resource mobilisation.

For example, our colleague Mohamed Arif, whom we lost in the second wave, was in charge of DEF’s digital centre at Nuh, Haryana. He was digitally savvy and active on social media and was thus able to raise approximately INR 25 lakh (in cash and food grains, and other essentials) through his personal Facebook profile and networks.

However, while the pandemic did push many nonprofits to incorporate technology-led solutions, I find that urgency dwindling again. Digital empowerment of the sector requires sustained efforts wherein organisations put aside certain funds every year for digitally upskilling their employees, maintaining digital collaterals, and modifying their approach to include technology in their everyday operations.

I see the pandemic as an inflection point in the future of nonprofits and civil society as a whole. Which organisations survive this period of transition will largely depend on how well they can adapt to these changing times. According to me, one of the key changes the sector will have to make to stay relevant is to become more digitally aligned.

Osama Manzar, the author of this article, is the founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation. He is a Senior Ashoka Fellow, a Chevening Scholar, and has served on several boards such as the Association for Affordable Internet, Association of Progressive Communications, World Summit Awards, and Down To Earth. He specialises in creating digital models for poverty alleviation and has travelled to more than 10,000 villages. Get in touch with him on Twitter: @osamamanzar

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

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Campaigners Petition UN to Investigate Racial and Gender Discriminations in Global COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Out

Civil Society, Health, Human Rights

US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland in violation of international human rights law in “prolonging the pandemic” ahead of vital World Trade Organisation meeting

GENEVA, Nov 10 2021 – An international coalition of human rights law groups, public health experts, and civil society organisations is taking legal action against the US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland, on the grounds that these countries are in violation of international human rights law by failing to intervene on what has been an inequitable and racially discriminatory roll-out of the vaccine and other COVID healthcare technologies.


In an appeal to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the coalition charges that by failing to lift intellectual property barriers on all COVID-19 medical technologies through a TRIPS waiver (or to effectively implement it through technology transfers), the US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland are in violation of the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a human rights convention ratified by nearly all countries in the world.

Because the rich countries currently making and hoarding vaccines are majority white, and the formerly colonized countries suffering due to vaccines being withheld are majority Black, indigenous, or other people of colour, the current inequitable vaccine rollout is a textbook example of structural racial discrimination.

The International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requires that countries take effective measures “to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws or regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.” Countries have an obligation under the convention to “prevent, prohibit and eradicate” all practices of racial discrimination particularly “racial segregation and apartheid.”

Yet the US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland have opposed or willfully failed to take all available measures to increase global supply of and equitable access to vaccines and other COVID-19 medical technologies, a violation of their obligations under the human rights convention.

Globally, 73% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses have gone to just 10 countries. Rich countries have administered 61 times more doses per capita than poorer countries and delivered only 14% of the 1.8 billion doses promised to poor countries. Just 5.8% of Africans have been vaccinated. The top 10 high-income countries will have hoarded 870 million excess doses of vaccines by the end of 2021. Countries in the Global South stand to lose $2.3 trillion from now until 2025 if they can’t vaccinate 60% of their population by mid-2022.

The appeal asks the CERD Committee to compel the US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland to “respect, protect and fulfil their human rights obligations,” as well as to take several immediate actions, including:

    • Demand that the Respondent States immediately support, implement, and enforce a temporary waiver of the intellectual property barriers on COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments currently imposed by the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS), as requested by India and South Africa in October 2020, and
    • Mandate technology and knowledge transfers from the relevant pharmaceutical corporations to the many manufacturers around the world standing by to ramp up production of these lifesaving medical technologies.
    The CERD meets from November 15 in a weeks-long session coinciding with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting on November 30. The WTO ministerial is a key opportunity to resolve the year-long impasse on the proposal to break the corporate monopoly control of COVID-19 healthcare technologies by granting the TRIPS waiver.

Tian Johnson, Founder & Lead Strategist, African Alliance and member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said: “As a consequence of neocolonial economic and social policies in Africa, fragile health systems impact communities’ access to health services in much of the continent. Africa will become known as the continent of COVID-19 – not because of vaccine hesitancy but because of the inequity, greed, and inaction of pharmaceutical companies and political leaders of the North. Having to rely only on the continent’s own capacity and resources will not be enough to save African lives. Nor should it be. African lives matter, just as much as lives in Berlin, Washington, Tel Aviv, Geneva, London, Toronto or Brussels. COVID-19 is a global crisis that requires global action, whose response all countries should be able to share equally.”

Paula Litvachky, from the Center for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina, said: “Latin America has been extremely affected by the pandemic. It concentrates almost 25 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in a continent that is less than 10 percent of the world’s population. Although there is regional industrial capacity, many States have had problems accessing vaccines. Groups such as indigenous peoples, Afro descendants and racialized sectors are harder hit than others, both by the virus and by the dramatic social and economic crises it is provoking.”

Anele Yawa, General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign and a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said: “Big Pharma has prioritized excessive profits over protecting people’s health for too long. Often they are aided and abetted by governments in the Global North through their inaction or opposition to a more just system. We have repeatedly seen this occur in many fights for access to affordable medicines, from the fight for HIV medicines in the early 2000s and more recently in our fight to Fix the Patent Laws to ensure more affordable medicines for cancer, TB, mental health and beyond. Yet again now with COVID-19, we are seeing Big Pharma greed being prioritized over people’s lives all over the world. Governments must fulfil their international obligations and help prioritize people over profits by ensuring vaccine equity for all, irrespective of where you were born, poverty, gender or immigration status.”

Joshua Castellino, Executive Director of Minority Rights Group International, said: “COVID-19 has hit people of colour, women, indigenous people, and other minority and discriminated groups harder in terms of infections, deaths, lack of access to healthcare, resultant poverty, and even violence and emotional trauma. The discrimination of the virus is being revisited by vaccine discrimination, as rich nations deliberately withhold and deny these same groups of people equitable access to it.”

Meena Jagannath, coordinator of the Global Network of Movement Lawyers at Movement Law Lab, said: “We have tabled an evidenced-based challenge to the UN, an institution meant to embody the spirit of multilateral cooperation. Our evidence points to specific actions by the named states in perpetuating structural divisions between the global north and the global south that are rooted in historical colonialism, all in the service of profit and the corporate capture of power. This contravenes their legal obligations under international covenants and agreements they’ve ratified. This is a test-of-our-times for the UN system to engage and correct. We are deadly serious in our resolve to seek justice and redress.”

Mandivavarira Mudarikwa, Attorney, Women’s Legal Centre, South Africa, a member of ESCR-Net – International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said: “It is undeniable that women in their diversity, especially those of colour, have disproportionately been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including in shouldering the greatest burden of healthcare and unpaid care work. The inequitable availability of access to health care, personal protective equipment and the distribution of vaccines, and other lifesaving treatments has laid bare the ongoing discrimination that women face in their daily lives. Critical, transformative action is needed immediately if we are to substantively effect change and bring about just and equal access to the right to health. We therefore support the submission of the CERD urgent action appeal aimed at addressing the gender and racial injustice that persists and hope that others will join in this collective action.”

The petition urges CERD to find that these countries must prioritise actions that will protect people’s lives instead of the corporate-controlled intellectual property of the vaccine. They should be supporting — rather than blocking — a proposal at the WTO to waive these intellectual property monopolies, so that more countries are able to make more and cheaper vaccines and other COVID healthcare technologies.

Germany, the UK, Norway and Switzerland have actively opposed moves to waive intellectual property barriers on all COVID-19 vaccine technologies at the WTO. The US has declared support but only for a narrow waiver on the vaccine alone, while failing to use other mechanisms at its disposal e.g. mandating technology transfers through use of the Defense Production Act.

The petition is also strengthened by a separate legal brief signed by jurists around the world which finds that these “blocking” states are also, by their actions, breaching a number of covenant and treaty obligations under international human rights law. The brief says these countries are violating both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, along with a number of treaties they have signed as members of the WTO, including their legal obligations of international cooperation. A broad legal coalition is also advancing additional complaints in other forums, including a submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to surface the gender discrimination.

The petitioning groups include African Alliance, Center for Economic and Social Rights, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Minority Rights Group, Oxfam International and Treatment Action Campaign. The petition was coordinated by Global Network of Movement Lawyers (of Movement Law Lab) and ESCR-Net, and is supported by SECTION27 and other organizations within the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

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For Girls, the Biggest Danger of Sexual Violence Lurks at Home

Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Gender Violence

Girls' sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru's capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Girls’ sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru’s capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Oct 22 2021 (IPS) – “During the pandemic, sexual violence against girls has grown because they have been confined with their abusers. If the home is not a safe place for them, what is then, the streets?” Mía Calderón, a young activist for sexual and reproductive rights in the capital of Peru, remarks with indignation.


The 19-year-old university student, whose audiovisual communications studies have been interrupted due to the restrictions set in place to curb the covid-19 pandemic, is an activist who belongs to the youth collective Vayamos in San Juan de Lurigancho, the district of Lima where she lives.

Located to the northeast of the capital, it is a district of valleys and highlands areas higher than 2200 metres above sea level, where water is a scarce commodity and is supplied by tanker trucks. San Juan de Lurigancho was created 54 years ago and its population of 1,117,629 inhabitants, according to official figures, is mostly made up of families who have come to the capital from the country’s hinterland.

Lima’s 43 districts are home to a total of 9.7 million people, and San Juan de Lurigancho has by far the largest population.

In an interview with IPS during a walk through the streets of her district, Calderón said she helped one of her friends during the mandatory social isolation decreed in this Andean nation between March and July 2020, which has been followed by further restrictions on mobility at times of new covid-19 outbreaks.

Since then, classrooms have been closed and education has continued virtually from home, where girls spend most of their time.

“She was in lockdown with her two sisters, her mother and stepfather. But she left before her stepfather could rape her; the harassment had become unbearable. Now she is very afraid of what might happen to her little sisters because he’s still living at home,” she said.

But not all girls and adolescents at risk of sexual abuse have support networks to rely on.

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Data that exposes the violence

Official statistics reveal a devastating reality: Between early 2020 and August of this year there have been 1763 births to girls under 14 years of age, according to the Health Ministry’s birth registration system (CNV).

All of these pregnancies and births are considered to be the result of rape, as the concept of sexual consent does not apply to girls under 14, who are protected by Peruvian law.

Looking at CNV figures from 2018 to August 2021, the total number increases to 4483, which would mean that on average five girls under the age of 14 give birth in Peru every day.

This is also the conclusion reached by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (Cladem), which in September completed a nationwide study on forced child pregnancy in Peru, published on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

For Cladem, forced child pregnancy is any pregnancy of a minor under 14 years of age resulting from rape, who was not guaranteed access to therapeutic abortion, which in the case of Peru is the only form of legal termination of pregnancy.

“These figures are unacceptable, but we know they may be even worse because of underreporting,” Lizbeth Guillén, who until August was the Peruvian coordinator of this Latin American network whose regional headquarters are in Lima, told IPS by telephone.

The activist headed up the project “Monitoring and advocacy for the prevention, care and punishment of forced child pregnancy” which was funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women between 2018 and August 2021.

An aggravating factor for at risk girls and adolescents was that during the months of lockdown, public services for addressing violence against women were suspended and the only thing available was toll-free telephone numbers, which made it more difficult for victims to file complaints.

“What we have experienced shows us once again that homes are the riskiest places for girls,” said Guillén.

The Cladem study also reveals that the number of births to girls under 10 years of age practically tripled, climbing from nine cases in 2019 to 24 in 2020. And the situation remains worrisome, as seven cases had already been documented this year as of August.

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

One district’s experience

“Sexual violence against girls has been indescribable during this period, worse than covid-19 itself. Men have been taking advantage of their daughters, they think they have authority over them,” said Julia Vargas, a local resident of Villa El Salvador.

This municipality, which emerged as a self-managed experience five decades ago to the south of the capital, offers health promotion as part of its public services to the community.

Vargas, a 61-year-old mother of four grown children, is proud to be a health promoter, for which she has received training from the Health Ministry and from non-governmental organisations such as the Flora Tristán Peruvian Women’s Centre.

“It’s hard to conceive of so much violence against girls,” she told IPS indignantly at a meeting in her district, “and the worst thing is that many times the mothers turn a blind eye; they say if he (their partner) leaves, who is going to support me.”

Studies indicate that women’s economic dependence is a factor that prevents them from exercising autonomy and reinforces unequal power relations that sustain gender-based violence.

Vargas continued: “There was a case of a father who got his three daughters pregnant and made them have clandestine abortions, and do you think the justice system did anything? Nothing! It said there was consent, how can a young girl give consent?!”

“Girls can’t be mistreated this way, they have rights,” she said.

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The culprit nearby

Calderón is also familiar with this situation. “The pandemic has highlighted the fact that sexual violence comes mainly from someone close to home and that many times the girls are not believed: ‘you provoked your uncle, your stepfather’, they are told by their families, instead of focusing on the abuser,” she said.

Her collective Vayamos works to help girls have the right to enjoy every stage of their lives. Due to the pandemic, the group had to restrict its face-to-face activities, but as a counterbalance, it increased the publication of content on social networks.

“No girl or adolescent should live in fear of sexual violence or should face any such risk,” she said.

However, Cladem’s research indicates that between 2018 and 2020, there were 12,677 complaints of sexual violence against girls under 14 in the country, the cause of many forced pregnancies.

But official statistics do not differentiate between child and adolescent pregnancy.

The 2019 National Health Survey reported that of the female population between 15 and 19 years of age, 12.6 percent had been pregnant or were already mothers. The percentage in rural areas was higher than the national rate: 22.7 percent.

Youth activist Mia Calderón, health promoter Julia Vargas and Cladem member Lizbeth Guillén all agree on the proposal to decriminalise abortion in cases of rape and on the need for timely delivery of emergency kits by public health services to prevent forced pregnancies and maternity.

These kits contain emergency contraceptive pills, HIV and hepatitis tests, among other components for comprehensive health protection for victims.

“There are regulatory advances such as this joint action protocol between the Ministry of Women and the Health Ministry for a girl victim of violence to access the emergency kit, but in practice it is not complied with due to the personal conceptions of some operators and they deprive the victims of this right,” explained Guillén.

She stressed that in order to overcome the weak response of the State to such a serious problem, it is also necessary to adequately implement existing regulations, guarantee access to therapeutic abortion for girls and adapt prevention strategies, since the danger often lies directly in the home.

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