Children’s Futures at a Crossroads

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Credit: UNICEF/Abdulazeem Mohamed

War in Sudan is putting the future of its 24 million youngest citizens at risk, the Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned. January 2024

Meanwhile geopolitical and geoeconomic fragmentation threaten the development and survival of children across the globe. But a more hopeful path exists.

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2024 (IPS) – At the start of 2024, we stand at a critical juncture: Geopolitical tensions are escalating, economic integration is unravelling, and multilateral cooperation is faltering. This global fragmentation threatens to undermine decades of progress made for children worldwide.

The choices we make today – whether to continue on this path or whether we should bolster global cooperation – will have a profound impact on generations to come.

Children are always the most vulnerable in times of crisis – a reality highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, when school closures, economic hardship and disrupted health services jeopardized children’s rights and wellbeing.

Almost four years since that pandemic was declared, our new report, Prospects for Children in 2024: Cooperation in a Fragmented World, paints a concerning picture for children’s future development and welfare.

Tensions among major powers are rising and the threat of new conflicts emerging is high. Beyond the immediate physical dangers, children can experience lasting psychological trauma and violations of their basic rights.

If military spending continues increasing at the expense of investments in healthcare, education and social protections, children’s development will be further compromised.

Meanwhile, economic fragmentation is widening disparities between countries. Restrictive trade policies and supply chain disruptions are leading to rising energy and food prices, reducing access to essential goods and negatively impacting child nutrition and household incomes.

Competition for critical minerals essential for the green economy is increasing the risks of trade fragmentation while threatening the pace of the green energy transition. At the same time, the drive to expand mining for minerals puts mining communities and children at risk of exploitative practices.

Despite continued global economic growth, the lukewarm and uneven recovery is diminishing prospects for reducing child poverty. From now until 2030, 15 million more children a year will be living in poverty than would have otherwise, due to the unequal post-COVID recovery.

This gloomy picture is compounded by the weakening of multilateral institutions, which is further undermining the potential for progress for children. Why?

Because a fragmented multilateral system that is hamstrung by competing interests will struggle to deliver on conflict prevention, climate change, effective digital governance, debt relief and enforcing child rights standards, fuelling dissatisfaction in the Global South with rising inequalities.

Children in the poorest nations also face continued barriers to financing for basic services. Crippling debt, high remittance fees and lack of voice in global economic governance restrict investments in healthcare, education and social protections – investments vital to children’s survival and development.

But amid all these concerning trends, we see still signs of hope. Alternative alliances are emerging in the developing world to advance cooperation, bringing novel policy solutions, more nimble policymaking and effective results.

Despite expressing discontent with current democratic political structures, young people remain optimistic that opportunities exist to reform and resolve deficiencies in the political system, whether at the national or international level. They are engaging as change-makers, breathing new life into civic participation and democratic renewal.

In addition, technological innovations are unlocking new opportunities to empower children and enhance their rights. Green transition, if carried out in a just and sustainable way – one that prioritizes young people’s needs, skills and access to jobs in emerging sectors (such as the digital and green economy) – can benefit younger generations.

Reforms and modernization of global governance and financing arrangements could still deliver greater justice for developing countries. This more hopeful path will not unfold on its own. It requires global leaders to make an active choice – to double down on solidarity, inclusion and cooperation despite tensions and instability.

Prioritizing children and their rights must be at the centre of this choice.

Jasmina Byrne is Chief, Foresight & Policy, UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight.

IPS UN Bureau


Rich Nations, IMF Deepen World Stagnation

Civil Society, COVID-19, Economy & Trade, Environment, Financial Crisis, Global, Headlines, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 13 2023 (IPS) – With the US Fed raising interest rates, the world economy is slowing as debt distress spreads across the global South, increasing poverty worldwide to pre-pandemic levels, with the poorest countries faring worst.

Extreme poverty continues to be high and is now worse than before the pandemic in low-income countries (LICs) and among those affected by fragility, violence and conflict. The promise of eradicating poverty worldwide by 2030 has become unachievable.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Bretton Woods institutions’ (BWIs) annual meetings in Marrakech in October were only the second-ever in Africa. But the rich nations-dominated BWIs failed yet again to rise to the challenges of our times, setting Africa and the global South even further back.

Instead of fostering cooperation to address the causes and effects of the contemporary catastrophe, neither the International Monetary Fund nor the World Bank governors could agree on joint communiques due to the greater politicisation of multilateral fora.

Indebtedness immobilises governments
Indebtedness and restrictive creditor rules prevent governments from spending more counter-cyclically to overcome the many contractionary tendencies of recent times, besides preventing them from addressing looming social and environmental crises.

The G20’s largest twenty economies have urged strengthening “multilateral coordination by official bilateral and private creditors … to address the deteriorating debt situation and facilitate coordinated debt treatment for debt-distressed countries”.

But its Common Framework to restructure debt has been roundly criticised by civil society, think tanks and even the World Bank on many grounds, including the paltry concessional credit relief offered to a few of the very poorest countries.

In contrast, the G24 caucus of developing countries at the BWIs has emphasised the need for “durable debt resolution measures while collaborating on resolving the structural issues leading to such vulnerabilities.”

But all those advocating purported solutions are not even trying to ensure fiscal space and public spending capacity for counter-cyclical efforts, let alone achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and national development objectives.

The IMF currently imposes additional charges on countries that do not quickly clear their debts to the Fund. Besides the usual fees and interest, borrowing countries paid over $4 billion in such surcharges in 2020-22, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surcharges will cost debt-distressed countries about $7.9 billion over six years. The G24 has emphasised that surcharges are pro-cyclical and regressive, especially with monetary tightening.

Governments have undertaken contractionary policies and cut imports for lack of foreign exchange. This deepens the problems of heavily indebted poor countries who cannot but count on the Fund for relief and solutions.

At Marrakech, the governing International Monetary and Financial Committee decided to “consider a review of surcharge policies”. The G24 called for “a suspension of surcharges while the review – which we hope will lead to substantial permanent reduction or complete elimination – is being conducted.”

Rich nations have been divided over surcharges. With Ukraine now among the top surcharge payers, following civil society criticisms, the Biden administration’s refusal to review surcharges in 2022 was heavily criticised by the US Congress.

Deepening austerity
IMF fiscal austerity measures of the 1980s returned with a vengeance after the 2008 global financial crisis, and then again during the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020. Most Fund loans require cutting the public sector wage bill (PSWB), the budget line to pay employees.

Most wage earners in many LICs, including nurses, teachers and other social service workers, work for the state, directly or indirectly. Although much needed, these employees have been more likely to be targeted by such budget cuts.

PSWB cuts may involve hiring or wage freezes, or limiting, or even cutting wages. These inevitably undermine government capacities and services. Fiscal consolidation has also involved raising more indirect, consumption taxes, and tax exemptions, e.g., for essential goods such as food.

In 38 countries with over a billion people, loan conditionalities during 2020-22, the three years of the Covid-19 pandemic, meant regressive tax reforms and public spending cuts. PSWB and fuel or electricity subsidy cuts are also common demands worsening economic contractions.

Austerity bound to fail
But the IMF’s own research suggests such austerity policies are generally ineffective in reducing debt, their ostensible purpose. The April 2023 IMF World Economic Outlook acknowledged austerity programmes and fiscal consolidations “do not reduce debt ratios, on average”. Yet, its Fiscal Monitor still demands “fiscal tightening” of most developing countries.

The new IMF-World Bank debt sustainability framework sets the LICs’ external debt-to-GDP ratio limit at 30% or 40%. It insists debt-distressed economies must have lower ratios than ‘strong’ countries, effectively further penalising the weak and vulnerable.

Instead of enabling consistently counter-cyclical macroeconomic frameworks, the IMF’s current short-termist approach is mainly preoccupied with annual, or worse, quarterly balances, mimicking corporate reporting practices.

Such short-termism further limits fiscal space, effectively preventing or deterring public sector investments requiring longer-term macroeconomic frameworks to realise benefits. This discourages ‘patient’ medium- to long-term investments required for national economic planning and transformation, essential for sustainable development.

Restrictive debt and fiscal targets have meant even less public investment. This is typically required of borrowing countries as a credit conditionality. Annual IMF Article IV consultations cause other countries to also accept similar constraints to avoid Fund disapproval.

While a few better-off economies enjoy full employment, most countries face further economic contraction, not least due to interest rate hikes led by the US Fed and their many effects. Instead of being part of the problem, the IMF should be part of the solution.

IPS UN Bureau


Debt & Crisis of Survival in Sri Lanka & the World

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Anti-government protest in Sri Lanka on April 13, 2022. Credit: Wikipedia

WASHINGTON DC, Aug 25 2023 (IPS) – Sri Lanka has been faced with an unprecedented political and economic crisis since the beginning of 2022.

The dominant narrative attributes the crisis to the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine conflict, China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ and – most importantly – the corruption and mismanagement of the ruling Rajapaksa family.

Western mainstream media celebrated the so-called aragalaya (struggle, in Sinhala) protest movement that led to the ouster of the Rajapaksas and upholds the IMF bail-out as the only solution to the dire economic situation.

The aragalaya protests emerged from genuine economic grievances, but failed to develop an analysis beyond the ‘Gota, Go Home’ demand for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign. Influenced by local and external interests with their own agendas, the protestors exhibited little-to-no awareness or critique of the global political economy and the financial system at the root of the country’s crisis.

In 2022, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that 60 percent of low-income countries and 30 percent of emerging market economies are ‘in or near debt distress.’ While the details differ from country to country, the historical patterns of subordination that have given rise to global crises are the same.

The Sri Lankan crisis is an illustrative example of convergent global debt, food, fuel and energy crises facing much of the world. It is corporate media bias and narrative control that deflects from this analysis.

The island’s severe debt and economic crisis must be seen in a broader global context as the culmination of several centuries of colonial and neo-colonial developments, and the disastrous and inevitably self-destructive capitalist paradigm of endless growth and profit. Debt is not “a straightforward number but a social relation embedded in unequal power relations, discourses and moralities…and…institutionalized power.”.

Colonialism and Neocolonialism

The development of export agriculture and the import of food and other essentials under British colonialism turned Sri Lanka into a dependent ‘peripheral’ unit of the global capitalist economy.

Adopting ideologies of modernization and development and theories of comparative advantage, the capitalist imperative integrated self-sustaining indigenous, peasant, and regional economies into the growing global economy, through the appropriation of land, natural resources, and labor for export production.

Monocultural agriculture, mining, and other export-based production disturbed traditional patterns of crop rotation and small-scale subsistence production that were more harmonious with the regional ecosystems and cycles of nature.

Plantation development contributed to deforestation, loss of biodiversity and animal habitats. While a small local elite prospered through their collaboration with colonialism, most people became poor, indebted, and dependent on the vagaries of the global market for their sustenance.

Although colonized countries including Sri Lanka gained political independence following World War II, unequal exchange continued under neo-colonialism. Terms of trade disadvantaged the ‘Third World’ with their labor, resources and exports grossly undervalued and imports overvalued.

The dynamic is better understood as poorer countries being over-exploited rather than under-developed. Rising populations combined with corruption and inefficiency of local governments gave rise to endemic foreign exchange shortages and economic crises in Sri Lanka and many other countries.

The debt relief and aid given by the IMF, the World Bank and bilateral institutions from the Global North have been mere band-aids to keep the ex-colonial countries tethered to the global financial and economic structures. Post-independent Sri Lanka went to the IMF 16 times before the current 2023 bail-out which seeks to further perpetuate the county’s cycle of debt dependence.

The transfer of financial and resource wealth from poor countries in the global South to the rich countries in the North is not a new phenomenon. It has been an enduring feature throughout centuries of both classical and neo-colonialism. Between 1980 and 2017, developing countries paid out over $4.2 trillion solely in interest payments, dwarfing the financial aid they received from the developed countries during that period.

Currently, international financial institutions – notably the IMF and the World Bank – remain outside political and legal control without even ‘elementary accountability’. As critics from the Global South point out, “The overwhelming power of financial institutions makes a mockery of any serious effort for democratization and addressing the deteriorating socioeconomic living conditions of the people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the Global South.”

Financialization and Debt

Corporate and financial deregulation which accompanied the rise of neoliberalism starting in the 1970s has given rise to financialization, and the increasing importance of finance capital. As more and more aspects of social and planetary life are commoditized and subjected to digitalization and financial speculation, the real value of nature and human activity are further lost.

As a 2022 United Nations Report points out; food prices are soaring today not due to a problem with supply and demand but due to price speculation in highly financialized commodity markets.

A handful of the largest asset management companies, notably BlackRock (currently worth USD $ 10 trillion) control very large shares in companies operating in practically all the major sectors of the global economy: banking, technology, media, defense, energy, pharmaceuticals, food, agribusiness including seeds, and agrochemicals.

Financial liberalization advanced when interest rates dropped in the richer countries after the global 2008 financial crisis. Developing countries were encouraged to borrow from private international capital markets through International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) which come with high interest rates and short maturation periods.

Although details are not available to the public, BlackRock is reportedly the biggest ISB creditor of Sri Lanka. Most of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt is ISBs, with over 80% of Sri Lanka’s debt owed to western creditors, and not – as projected in the mainstream narrative – to China.

IMF debt financing requires countries to meet its familiar structural adjustment conditions: privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), cutbacks of social safety nets and labor rights, increased export production, decreased import substitution and alignment of local economic policy with US and other Western interests.

These are the same aims as classical colonialism, they are just better hidden in the more complex modern system and language of global finance, diplomacy and aid.

A vast array of policies exacting these aims are well under way in Sri Lanka, including the sale of state-owned energy, telecommunications and transportation enterprises to foreign owners, with grave implications for Sri Lanka’s economic independence, sovereignty, national security and the wellbeing of her people and the environment.

The IMF approach does not address long-term needs for bioregionalism, sustainable development, local autonomy and welfare. A small vulnerable country such as Sri Lanka cannot change the trajectory of global capitalist development on its own.

Regional and global solidarity and social movements are necessary to challenge the deranged global financial and economic system that is at the root of the current crisis.

Global South Resistance

Since the 1970s, major collaborative projects have been initiated by developing countries and the UNCTAD to develop a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring. Yet they are futile in the face of the powerful opposition of creditors and the protection given to them by wealthy countries and their multilateral institutions, and the UN has failed to uphold commitment and implement a debt restructuring mechanism.

Sri Lanka was a global leader in efforts to create a New International Economic Order, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace in the 1960s and 70s. In the early years of their political independence, countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America sought to forge their own paths of economic and political development, independent of both capitalism and communism and the Cold War.

These included African socialist projects such as Tanzania’s Ujamma, import substitution programs in Latin America and left-wing nationalism and decolonization efforts in Sri Lanka and many other countries.

Almost without exception, these nationalist efforts failed, not only due to internal corruption and mismanagement but also due to persistent external pressure and intervention. Massive efforts have been taken by the Global North to stop the Global South from moving out of the established world order.

A case in point is the nationalization of oil companies owned by western countries in Sri Lanka in 1961 and the backlash against the left-nationalist Sri Lankan government which dared to take such a bold move.

The western response included the 1962 Hickenlooper Amendment passed in the U.S. Senate stopping foreign aid to Sri Lanka and to “any country expropriating American property without compensation.” As a result, Sri Lanka lost its credit worthiness, the domestic economic situation worsened, and the left-nationalist government lost the 1965 elections (with some covert US election support).

Observing those developments, political economist Richard Stuart Olsen wrote: “…the coerciveness of economic sanctions against a dependent, vulnerable country resides in the fact that an economic downturn can be induced and intensified from the outside, with the resulting development of politically explosive ‘relative deprivation’…”

These observations resonate with Sri Lanka’s current repetition of the same vicious cycle: an externally dependent export-import economy; worsening terms of trade; foreign exchange shortage; policy mismanagement; external political pressure; debt crisis; shortages of food, fuel and other essentials; mass suffering; and political turmoil.

Geopolitical Rivalry

Sri Lanka’s present economic crisis – the worst since the country’s political independence from the British – must be seen in the context of the accelerating neocolonial geopolitical conflict between China and the USA in the Indian Ocean. Many other countries across the world are also caught in the neocolonial superpower competition to control their natural resources and strategic locations.

There is much speculation as to whether the debt default on April 12, 2022 and political destabilization in Sri Lanka were ‘staged’ or intentionally precipitated to further the US’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Quadrilateral Alliance (USA, India, Australia and Japan) in its competition to confront China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative and counter China’s presence in Sri Lanka.

It is widely recognized in Sri Lanka that ‘The policy of neutrality is the best defence Sri Lanka has to deter global powers from attempting to get control of Sri Lanka because of its strategic location.’ Although President Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed to pursue a ‘neutral’ foreign policy, the Rajapaksas were seen as closer to China than the west. After Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa were forced to resign, Ranil Wickramasinghe – a politician who was resoundingly rejected in the previous elections by the electorate but is a close ally of the west – was appointed as President in an undemocratic transition of power.

To what extent were Sri Lanka and her people victims of an externally manipulated ‘shock doctrine’ and a regime change operation, sold to the world as internal disintegration caused by local corruption and incapability?

While it is not possible to provide definitive answers to these issues, it is necessary to consider the available credible evidence and the geopolitics of debt and economic crises in Sri Lanka and the world at large.

Paradigm Shift

As the locus of global power shifts from the west and a multipolar world arises, new multilateral partnerships are emerging for development financing, such as the New Development Bank (NDB) – formerly referred to as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Development Bank – as alternatives to the Bretton Woods and other western dominated institutions.

However, given controversial projects, such as China’s Port City and India’s Adani Company investments in Sri Lanka as well as their projects elsewhere, it is necessary to ask if the BRICS represent a genuine alternative to the prevailing political-economic model based on domination, profit and power?

Dominant political power in our era is about propaganda, control of narratives and exploiting ignorance and fear. In the face of worsening environmental and social collapse across the world, there is a practical need for a fundamental questioning of the values, assumptions and misrepresentations of the dominant neoliberal model and its manifestations in Sri Lanka and the world.

At the root of the crisis, we face is a disconnect between the exponential growth of the profit-driven economy and a lack of development in human consciousness, i.e., in morality, empathy, and wisdom.

Ultimately, dualism, domination and the unregulated market paradigm need to be questioned to find a balanced path of human development, based on interdependence, partnership and ecological consciousness. Such a path of development would uphold the ethical principles necessary for long-term survival: rational use of natural resources, appropriate use of technology, balanced consumption, equitable distribution of wealth, and livelihoods for all.

This article is derived from the author’s new book: Asoka Bandarage, CRISIS IN SRI LANKA AND THE WORLD: COLONIAL AND NEOLIBERAL ORIGINS: ECOLOGICAL AND COLLECTIVE ALTERNATIVES (Berlin: De Gruyter,2023)]

IPS UN Bureau


Thoughts for 2023: Promoting Innovation & New Technologies

Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations


Patients seeking treatment at the Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Credit: World Bank/Dominic Chavez

The UN agency devoted to ending AIDS as a public health threat has called on top politicians and governments across the world to ensure the right to quality healthcare is upheld, and not just a privilege to be enjoyed by the wealthy.

NEW YORK, Dec 20 2022 (IPS) – Promoting innovation and technology to promote inclusive development means using new technologies to enhance equal access to services, eliminate discrimination, increase transparency, and create a stable and just future for all – especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Obviously, the rule of law is a key driver of inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development, and empowers people from all strata of life to seek and obtain justice. Doing more with less is posing a challenge here. We are operating in an increasingly connected yet complex global and national settings and fiscally fragile environment.

Our traditional structures, systems and processes are proving to be inadequate to deal with new developmental challenges, pandemics, inaccessibility and exclusions, conflicts, and humanitarian crisis. Our governance and justice systems are not the most transparent and data friendly domain. Bringing that information to light is no easy task.

Barriers to Governance and Rule of Law

As indicated before, there are many barriers to accessing public services and ensuring accessible public health, rule of law, especially where there are high levels of poverty, marginalization, and insecurity. Governance institutions – formal and informal – may be biased or discriminatory. Public governance systems may be ineffective, slow, and untrustworthy.

In the last 3 years of pandemic, we also realized our public health system is often crippled by lack of investment, inclusive and accessible initiatives, and innovation. Discriminatory decision making and exclusivity further complicated the situation at all levels. People may lack knowledge about their rights.

Often legal assistance and consumer protection are out of reach, leaving people with little recourse to formal mechanisms for protection and empowerment. There may be a culture of impunity for criminal acts, unacceptable level of tolerance for exclusionary practices.

Other discriminations, injustices, and abuses in the family, or through deprivation and labour exploitation, may go unaddressed. Despite all these, more can be done to ensure that they benefit from the inclusive governance and public health work, and, rule of law practices, which expand their opportunities and choices.

Quest for New Ideas …

Despite all these, more can be done to ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups benefit from inclusive public health, legal empowerment, and access to justice, which expand their opportunities and choices.

We need fresh ideas, resources, and unconventional ways of collecting and analyzing data, such as using micro-narratives or innovative, accessible public hearings, targeted consultations, to complement traditional mechanisms including surveys. But innovation is rapidly becoming the new buzzword, so I would be careful in applying it here:

    • Innovation is not cost-free and takes time so it should be mainstreamed:
    • Innovation is both science and arts. And it should be seen as a standalone practice. one of the biggest problems that public sector innovation faces today is that governments have de facto created a ‘class of innovators,’ rather than making innovation an inclusive process that is open to anyone who has the motivation and capacity to influence change. This must change.
    • Repackaging or reproduction is not innovation unless it caters to the specific needs of vulnerable and marginalized communities which are not supported by existing mechanisms and services.
    • What is innovative in Bangladesh, Turkey, and Tanzania may not be so in India, Turkmenistan, Senegal, or Mexico;
    • Big data is important but harnessing it for the right cause should be central consideration. Linking it with better evidence base is of critical significance. The COVID-19 challenges amply demonstrated it.
    • Going beyond social networking is key – while Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media outlets play an admirable role in connecting people, these are not enough to solving a protracted problem and sustaining a solution. We must also be mindful of the recent trend of using social media to silence public defenders, journalists, and whistle blowers. The twitter is a case in point (December 2022).
    • Innovative ideas, while refreshing, need to be pragmatic so that they can be implemented. They mast be part of a solution, not the overall problem.
    • Evidence of impact is more important than the novelty factor.

Innovation and New Technologies for Solutions

My own take is that ideas do not need to be always transformational or revolutionary. Our platforms can replicate or even recycle what already works by introducing successful models to new actors and environments.

Even seemingly ordinary things can become innovative in different terms, approaches, or settings. linking inclusion to innovation is not only about looking at how it can advance policies and create better impact for governments, but also about giving people, public servants, and citizens alike, the self-efficacy, power, and freedom to direct change in the way they see necessary. This contributes directly to the making of inclusive development.

New technologies are changing the lives of people around the world. In the same way that they make daily tasks simpler, they can make official and routine interactions with government institutions, service providers easier and can provide innovative solutions to a host of public sector governance, public health, and rule of law challenges.

Technology has an immense untapped potential to strengthen inclusive practices for governance including public health governance, and the rule of law. Technological innovation must provide equal access to services, help to eliminate discrimination, and assure more transparency and accountability. They must not be used to silence voices, deny human rights, or create justifications for maladministration, inaccessibility, and exclusions.

As we are approaching 2023 in a few days, let us hope for a more inclusive and diverse public sector governance rooted in human rights values and practices.

Dr. A.H. Monjurul Kabir, currently UN System Coordination Adviser and Global Team Leader for Gender Equality, Disability Inclusion/Intersectionality at UN Women HQ in New York, is a thought leader, political scientist and senior policy and legal analyst on global issues and regional trends. For policy and academic purpose, he can be contacted at He can be followed in twitter at mkabir2011

IPS UN Bureau


Pandemic Aggravated Violence against Women in Latin America

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

Gender Violence

This article is part of IPS coverage of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.

"Not one woman less, respect our lives” writes a Peruvian woman on the effigy of a woman in a park in front of the courthouse, before a demonstration in Lima over the lack of enforcement of laws against femicides and other forms of violence against women. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

“Not one woman less, respect our lives” writes a Peruvian woman on the effigy of a woman in a park in front of the courthouse, before a demonstration in Lima over the lack of enforcement of laws against femicides and other forms of violence against women. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Nov 24 2022 (IPS) – Violence against women has failed to decline in the Latin American region after the sharp rise recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, while preventing the causes of such violence remains a major challenge.

This is what representatives of the United Nations, feminist organizations and women’s movements told IPS on the occasion of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.

“We attack the problem but not its causes. I have been talking for 30 years about the importance of preventing violence against women by fostering major cultural changes so that girls and boys are raised in the knowledge that it is unacceptable in any form.” — Moni Pizani

This date, established in 1999 by the United Nations, was adopted in 1981 at the first Latin American and Caribbean feminist meeting held in Colombia to promote the struggle against violence against women in a region where it continues to be exacerbated by high levels of ‘machismo’ or sexism.

The day was chosen to pay tribute to Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three sisters from the Dominican Republic who were political activists and were killed on Nov. 25, 1960 by the repressive forces of the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

The date launches 16 days of activism against gender violence, culminating on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, because male violence against women and girls is the most widespread violation of human rights worldwide.

“It is not possible to confirm a decrease in gender violence in the region at this post-pandemic moment,” said Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of the region’s leading experts on women’s rights. “I could say, from the information I have gathered and empirically, that the level has remained steady after the significant increase registered in the last two years.”

Pizani, who retired from the United Nations, currently supports the UN Women office in Guatemala after a fruitful career advocating for women’s rights. She was twice representative in Ecuador for UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, then worked for East and Southeast Asia and later opened the UN Women Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama City as regional director.

“Before the pandemic we used to talk about three out of 10 women having suffered violence, today we say four out of 10. The other alarming fact is that the impact is throughout the entire life cycle of women, including the elderly,” she told IPS in a conversation in Tegucigalpa, Honduras during a Central American colloquium on the situation of women.

UN Women last year measured the “shadow pandemic” in 13 countries in all regions, a term used to describe violence against women during lockdowns due to COVID.

Seven out of 10 women were found to have experienced violence at some time during the pandemic, one in four felt unsafe at home due to increased family conflict, and seven out of 10 perceived partner abuse to be more frequent.

The study also revealed that four out of 10 women feel less safe in public spaces.

Pizani said the study showed that this violation of women’s human rights occurs in different age groups: 48 percent of those between 18 and 49 years old are affected, 42 percent of those between 50 and 59, and 34 percent of women aged 60 and over.

Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of Latin America's leading experts on gender issues, with a long career at UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, takes part in a Central American colloquium in Tegucigalpa on sustainable recovery with gender equality in the wake of the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of Latin America’s leading experts on gender issues, with a long career at UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, takes part in a Central American colloquium in Tegucigalpa on sustainable recovery with gender equality in the wake of the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

According to the same study, unemployed women are the most vulnerable: 52 percent of them experienced violence during the pandemic.

And with regard to mothers: one out of every two women with children also experienced a violation of their rights.

The expert highlighted the effort made by many countries to adopt measures during the pandemic with the expansion of services, telephone hotlines, use of new means of reporting through mobile applications, among others. But she regretted that the efforts fell short.

This year, the region is home to 662 million inhabitants, or eight percent of the world’s population, slightly more than half of whom are girls and women.

The level of violence against women is so severe that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) cites it as one of the structural factors of gender inequality, together with gaps in employment, the concentration of care work and inequitable representation in public spaces.

Governments neither prevent nor address violence

Peru is an example of similar situations of gender violence in the region.

It was one of the countries with the strictest lockdowns, paralyzing government action against gender violence, which was gradually resumed in the second half of 2020 and which made it possible, for example, to receive complaints in the country’s provincial public prosecutors’ offices.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office Crime Observatory reported 1,081,851 complaints in 2021 – an average of 117 per hour. The frequency of complaints returned to pre-pandemic levels, which in 2020 stood at around 700,000, because women under lockdown found it harder to report cases due to the confinement and the fact that they were cooped up with the perpetrators.

Cynthia Silva, a Peruvian lawyer and director of the non-governmental feminist group Study for the Defense of Women’s Rights-Demus, told IPS that the government has failed to reactivate the different services and that the specialized national justice system needs to be fully implemented to protect victims and punish perpetrators.

Lawyer Cynthia Silva, director of the Peruvian feminist institution Demus, poses for a picture at the headquarters of the feminist organization in Lima. She stresses the need for government action against gender violence to include not only strategies for attending to the victims, but also for prevention in order to eradicate it. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Lawyer Cynthia Silva, director of the Peruvian feminist institution Demus, poses for a picture at the headquarters of the feminist organization in Lima. She stresses the need for government action against gender violence to include not only strategies for attending to the victims, but also for prevention in order to eradicate it. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

She stressed the importance of allocating resources both for addressing cases of violence and for prevention. “These are two strategies that should go hand in hand and we see that the State is not doing enough in relation to the latter,” she said.

Silva urged the government to take action in measures aimed at the populace to contribute to rethinking socio-cultural patterns and ‘machista’ habits that discriminate against women.

Based on an experience they are carrying out with girls and adolescents in the district of Carabayllo, in the extreme north of Lima, she said it’s a question of supporting “deconstruction processes” so that egalitarian relations between women and men are fostered from childhood.

On Nov. 26 they will march with various feminist movements and collectives against machista violence so that “the right to a life free of violence against women is guaranteed and so that not a single step backwards is taken with respect to the progress made, particularly in sexual and reproductive rights, which are threatened by conservative groups in Congress.”

Adolescent women and men in Lima, the Peruvian capital, wave a huge banner during the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated such violence in Latin America. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Adolescent women and men in Lima, the Peruvian capital, wave a huge banner during the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated such violence in Latin America. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

An equally serious scenario

Argentina is another example of gender violence – including femicides – in Latin America, the region with the highest levels of aggression against women in the world, the result of extremely sexist societies.

This is in contrast to the fact that it is one of the regions with the best protection against such violence in national and even regional legislation, because since 1994 it has had the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.

The problem is that these laws are seriously flawed in their implementation, especially in the interior of the countries, agree UN Women, regional organizations and national women’s rights groups.

Rosaura Andiñach, an Argentine university professor and head of community processes at the Ecumenical Regional Center for Counseling and Service (CREAS), said it is worrying that in her country there are still high rates of femicide, despite the progress made in terms of legislation.

Between January and October 2022, there were 212 femicides and 181 attempted gender-based homicides in the country of 46 million people, according to the civil society observatory “Ahora que sí nos ven” (Now that they do see us).

She said the government still owes a debt to women in this post-pandemic context, as it fails to guarantee women’s rights by not adequately addressing their complaints.

“We do not want the same thing to happen as with a recent case: Noelia Sosa, 30 years old, lived in Tucumán and reported her partner in a police station for gender violence. They ignored her and she committed suicide that afternoon because she did not know what else to do. We are very concerned because the outlook is still as serious as ever in terms of violence against women,” Andiñach said.

It was precisely in Argentina that the #NiunaMenos (Not one woman less) campaign emerged in 2015, which spread throughout the region as a movement against femicides and the ineffectiveness of the authorities in the enforcement of laws to prevent and punish gender-related murders, because femicides are surrounded by a very high level of impunity in Latin America.

Moni Pizani, from UN Women, stressed that the prevention of gender violence should no longer fall short in the region.

“We attack the problem but not its causes. I have been talking for 30 years about the importance of preventing violence against women by fostering major cultural changes so that girls and boys are raised in the knowledge that it is unacceptable in any form,” she underlined.

This strategy, she remarked, “involves investing in youth and children to ensure that the new generations are free from violence, harassment and discrimination, with respect for a life of dignity for all.”


Public Development Banks Can’t Drag Their Feet When It Comes to Building a Sustainable Future

Civil Society, Climate Action, COVID-19, Democracy, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations


Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast , Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – A coalition of civil society organisations is demanding public development banks (PDBs) to take radical and innovative steps to tackle human rights violations and environmental destruction. No project funded by PDBs should come at the expenses of vulnerable groups, the environment and collective liberties, but should instead embody the voices of communities, democratic values and environmental justice.

The demands, part of a collective statement signed by more than 50 civil society organisations, come as over 450 PDBs gather in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from October 19th, for a third international summit, dubbed Finance in Common.

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency, coupled with human rights violations and increasing risks for activists worldwide, is bringing the need to change current practices into even sharper focus. While public development banks may drag their feet on addressing intersecting and structural inequalities, civil society organisations are taking actions aimed at creating dignified livelihoods by embedding development with concrete affirmative measures towards climate, social, gender, and racial justice.

PDBs cannot be reluctant to act. They need to hit the target when it comes to supporting the transformation of economies and financial systems towards sustainability and addressing the most pressing needs of citizens worldwide – from food systems to increasing support for a just transition towards truly sustainable energy sources. PDBs must recognise that public services are the foundation of fair and just societies, rather than encouraging their privatisation and keep austerity narratives alive.

9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted, and with an environmental activist killed every two days on average over the past decade, development banks have an obligation to recognize and incorporate human rights in their plans and actions, following a “do not harm” duty.

Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

Communities cannot be left out of the door. They need to be given the space to play the rightful role of driving forces in the answers to today’s global challenges, without them PDBs will move backwards rather than forward – and this means more environmental degradation, less democratic participation, and to put it bluntly an even greater crisis than the one we are facing today. And nobody needs that.

The recommendations in the collective civil society statement emerge from a three-year process of engagement and exchange, involving civil society networks in an effort to shape PDBs policies and projects. You can find some of their words and messages below.

As the call for accountability grows, the Finance in Common summits are an opportunity for PDBs to show moral leadership and help remedy the lack of long-term collaborations with civil society, communities and indigenous groups, threatening to curtail development narratives and practices.

Here’s the messages from civil society organisations from around the globe directed at public development banks.

Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) the Nigerian national network of 3,700 NGOs said: “The Sahara and Sahel countries especially have been facing the most serious security crisis in their history linked with climate change, social justice and inequalities in the region. Marked by strong economic (lack of opportunities especially for young people), social (limitation of equitable access to basic social services) and climatic vulnerabilities, the region has some of the lowest human development indicators in the world – even before the covid pandemic. Access to affected populations is limited in some localities due to three main factors: the security situation, the poor state of infrastructures and difficult geographic conditions. PDBs must prioritise civil society organisations and Communities initiatives supporting state programs of decentralization, security sector reforms and reconciliation. This will help reduce the vulnerability of populations and prevent violent extremism.”

Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of Spong, the NGO network of Burkina Faso said: “Development projects shape our world; from the ways we navigate our cities to how rural landscapes are being transformed. Ultimately, they impact the ways we interact with one another, with plants and animals, with other countries and with the food on our plates. The decisions taken by public development banks are therefore existential. Such responsibility comes with an even greater one to include communities directly concerned by development projects, those whose air, water and everyday lives are affected for generations to come. For this to happen, public development banks must reinforce their long-term efforts to create dialogue with civil society organisations, social movements and indigenous communities in order to fortify the democratic principles of their work. We encourage them to listen, to ask and to cooperate in innovative ways so that development stays true to its original definition of progress and positive change; a collective, participative and fair process and a word which has a meaning not for a few, but for all.”

Tity Agbahey, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for human rights in development said: “Many in civil society have expressed concerns about Finance in Common as a space run by elites, that fails to be truly inclusive. It is a space where the mainstream top-down approach to development, instead of being challenged, is further reinforced. Once again, the leaders of the public development banks gathered at this Summit will be taking decisions on key issues without listening to those most affected by their projects and the real development experts: local communities, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, feminist groups, civil society. They will speak about “sustainability”, while ignoring the protests against austerity policies and rising debt. They will speak about “human rights”, while ignoring those denouncing human rights violations in the context of their projects. They will speak about “green and just transition”, while continuing to support projects that contribute to climate change.”

Comlan Julien AGBESSI, Regional Coordinator of the Network of National NGO Platforms of West Africa (REPAOC), a regional coalition of 15 national civil society platforms said: “Regardless of how they are perceived by the public authorities in the various countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to covering the aspects and spaces not reached or insufficiently reached by national development programmes. Despite the undeniable impact of their actions on the living conditions of populations, NGOs remain the poor cousins of donor funding, apart from the support of certain philanthropic or charitable organisations. In such a context of scarce funding opportunities, aggravated by the health crisis due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, Pooled Finance, which is in fact a paradigm shift, appears to be a lifeline for CSOs. This is why REPAOC welcomes the commitments made by both the Public Development Banks and the Multilateral Development Banks to directly support CSO projects and programmes in the same way as they usually do with governments and the private sector. Through the partnership agreements that we hope and pray for between CSOs and banks, the latter can be assured that the actions that will be envisaged for the benefit of rural and urban communities will certainly reach them with the guarantees of accountability that their new CSO partners offer”.

Frank Vanaerschot, Director of Counter Balance, said: “As one of this year’s organisers of the Finance in Common Summit, the EIB will brag about the billions it invests in development. The truth is the bank will be pushing the EU’s own commercial interests and promoting the use of public money for development in the Global South to guarantee profits for private investors. Reducing inequalities will be second-place at best. The EIB is also co-hosting the summit despite systemic human rights violations in projects it finances from Nepal to Kenya. Instead, the EIB and other public banks should work to empower local communities by investing in the public services needed for human rights to be respected, such as publicly owned and governed healthcare and education – not on putting corporate profits above all else.”

Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate at Accountability Counsel said: “PDBs must be accountable to the communities impacted by their projects. All PDBs need to have an effective accountability mechanism to address concerns with projects and should commit to preventing and fully remediating any harm to communities”.

Jyotsna Mohan Singh, Regional Coordinator, Asia Development Alliance said: “PDBs should have a normative core; they should start with the rights framework. This means grounding all safeguards into all the various rights frameworks that already exist. There are rights instruments for indigenous people, the elderly, women, youth, and people living with disability. They are part and parcel of a whole host of both global conventions and regional conventions. Their approach should be grounded in those rights, then it will be on a very firm footing.

Asian governments need to support, implement, and apply strict environmental laws and regulations for all PDBs projects. The first step is to disseminate public information and conduct open and effective environmental impact assessments for all these projects, as well as strategic environmental assessments for infrastructure and cross-border projects.”

IPS UN Bureau