Conceptual Advances for United Nations 2.0

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is a Research Analyst at Stimson Center

WASHINGTON DC, Jul 20 2021 (IPS) – The forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report, to be released before this year’s UN General Assembly High-Level Week, is expected to offer ambitious recommendations to accelerate the realization of the UN75 Declaration as the world comes to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Promote Peace & Prevent Conflicts. Credit: United Nations

While the report’s ideas are still undisclosed, three notions are likely to represent conceptual building blocks: a “new social contract,” a “new global deal,” and “networked and inclusive multilateralism” have each permeated current high-level discussions at the United Nations, especially in speeches of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

While these three concepts are not mentioned explicitly in the UN75 Declaration, they are implicit in the framing of the declaration’s twelve commitments. Building on perspectives from past and present scholars, world leaders, policymakers, and practitioners, these powerful notions are each unpacked in Stimson Center’s recent report, “Beyond UN75: A Roadmap for Inclusive, Networked, and Effective Global Governance.”

Critics, including the United Nations, argue that the present state of the social contract is outdated and incapable of meeting the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. The UN Secretary-General himself emphasized that a new social contract is “an opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world” from COVID-19.

A new, modernized social contract could, indeed, help advance a more just post-COVID-19 recovery and economic policies that consider the realization of human rights as an end in itself—rather than as one more channel to achieve high economic growth levels under outdated metrics.

It could include a global political commitment to securing social protection floors and universal access to educational systems, among other initiatives that seek to respond to the major economic, technological, and societal shifts now underway.

Similarly, an equitable, resilient, and sustainable social contract should rebuild people’s trust in governance institutions. Trust is a prerequisite that offers legitimacy to those governing, and it permits the existence of a contract in the first place.

With the “new social contract” being the vision and long-term goal for weaving a new normative fiber binding states and peoples together, the world also needs a more operational “new global deal.”

The UN Secretary-General suggested that a new global deal would entail a redistribution of power, wealth, and opportunities, and global political and economic systems that deliver critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, and peace.

This echoes long-standing discussions about representativeness in the current system of global governance, considering, for example, the distribution of special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund, which gives the United States a blocking minority share, or the setup of the Security Council with its five permanent, veto-wielding powers and ten non-permanent members.

Resource redistribution and redirection also need to be seen in light of calls for a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic and of the need to recalibrate the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Advancing a new social contract and new global deal further require a more networked and inclusive multilateralism. This would entail a paradigm shift from the state-centric international world order to one where myriad actors, beyond nation-states (especially traditional major powers), can collaboratively share and implement solutions to complex problems.

Delivering the future we want will not come from “polarized member states or politicized UN secretariats.” It will result from collaborations between international civil servants, Member States, and progressive networks of non-state actors—including scholars, academics, media, businesses, philanthropies, and other stakeholders.

In this spirit, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations must update their rules of engagement with non-state actors, to facilitate networked and inclusive multilateralism. There is no dearth of institutional innovation ideas that can help build inclusive multilateralism.

For instance, the Call for Inclusive Global Governance, released in April 2021 and endorsed by over 150 civil society organizations worldwide, provides three recommendations for promoting greater inclusion and participation of civil society at the UN: first, the creation of a formal instrument—a World Citizens’ Initiative—to enable individual citizens to influence the UN’s work; second, a UN Parliamentary Assembly to allow for the inclusion of elected representatives in agenda-setting and decision-making at the UN; and third, the appointment of a UN Civil Society Envoy to support greater civil society engagement at the UN.

Networked and inclusive multilateralism, going beyond classic intergovernmentalism, provides a platform and framework to carry out a new global deal (operational plan) in the service of establishing a new social contract (vision).

What is needed now is enlightened leadership, combined with a well-designed strategy for reform for channeling these ideas in support of a more interlinked and participatory global governance system.

Guided by these three powerful concepts, the Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” can generate political momentum for a potential 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance for truly innovating the United Nations system to keep pace with present and future challenges and opportunities.

The 75th anniversary of the United Nations was believed to be a moment for laying the foundations for a new kind of multilateralism. Although adoption of the UN75 Declaration represents an important milestone, its vision is yet to be matched by a commensurate global plan for action.

Bouncing back now from the COVID-19 presents an opportunity to also rebuild a global system that can help all nations and peoples effectively overcome current global inequalities, injustices, and insecurity. It is incumbent on all of us to make 2021 a turning point for multilateralism.

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Universal Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Are Critical for Truth, Trust and COVID Recovery in Asia and the Pacific

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 28 2021 (IPS) – With health systems at a breaking point, hospitals at capacity and desperate family members searching for oxygen for loved ones, the devastating second wave of COVID-19 that has swept across South Asia has felt ¬surreal. Official figures have indicated record-breaking daily coronavirus cases and deaths, not only in South Asia, but across the entire Asia-Pacific region during the latest surge. As devastating as it has been, the truth is we may never know how many people have died during the pandemic.


Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

Underreporting of deaths is common across the Asia-Pacific region, with an estimated 60 per cent of deaths occurring without a death certificate issued or cause of death recorded. One reason for this is the lack of a coordinated civil registration system to accurately record all vital events. This issue is exacerbated in times of crisis, as many of the poor die as they lived: overlooked or without being officially counted.

Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems record deaths and other key life events such as births and marriages. A complete approach to civil registration, tracking vital statistics and identity management relies on multiple arms of government and institutions working together to collect, verify and share data and statistics so they are reliable, timely and put to right use. Without such official data and records during catastrophes such as a pandemic, we see how fast people get left out of extended social protection, vaccination drives and emergency cash transfers. Conversely, it significantly limits the ability of the most vulnerable groups to claim this access and their rights.

The need for accurate data and reporting mechanisms is critical at all times and even more crucial during humanitarian situations, whether a natural disaster or health emergency, when urgent decisions are required and hard choices have to be made. Governments, health authorities and development partners need timely and complete data to know the extent of the issue. This data can guide evidence-based decisions on where resources should be deployed and assess which interventions have been most effective. The more complete, accurate and trustworthy the data, the better the decisions. Or at least, the leadership is unable to use the excuse of ”we did not know.”

Kanni Wignaraja

In 2014, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) convened the first Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, during which the Asian and Pacific CRVS Decade (2015-2024) was declared. Governments later set a time frame for realizing their shared vision – that all people in the region will benefit from universal and responsive CRVS systems.

These are complex and vast systems that need both technological and human capabilities to do it correctly, and the political commitment to sustain the effort. Development partners, including ESCAP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), continue to actively work with governments and institutions to support the development of national civil registration systems, vital statistics systems and identity management systems such as national population registers and national ID card schemes.

A challenge facing governments has been transitioning from a standalone paper-based registration system to an integrated and interoperable digital one. UNICEF has worked with countries in the region on the registration of newborns, digitalization of old records and creation of integrated digital birth registration systems. UNICEF is also working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to improve integration of health services and civil registration, allowing governments to provide uninterrupted civil registration services and respond faster to health priorities, especially during crises.

Omar Abdi

UNDP and UNICEF play leading roles in implementing the UN Legal Identity Agenda, which aims to support countries in building holistic, country-owned, sustainable civil registration, vital statistics and identity management systems. Recognizing the importance of protecting privacy and personal data, UNDP advises countries on the appropriate legal and governance framework and has been engaged in supporting civil registration, national ID cards and legal identity in countries.

It is clear from the report by ESCAP, Get Every One in the Picture: A snapshot of progress midway through the Asian and Pacific CRVS Decade, that many countries in our region have seen improvements. However, we need to do more to ensure that all countries are able to produce reliable official statistics. And to use this to also learn and look forward.

The human toll of the COVID-19 crisis has been immense with far reaching consequences for the most vulnerable families. To respond effectively to disasters and build back better, it is time we get everyone in the picture.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Kanni Wignaraja is the Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP
Omar Abdi is the Deputy Executive Director of Programmes, UNICEF

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Water Harvesting Strengthens Food Security in Central America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SENSEMBRA, El Salvador , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – At the school in El Guarumal, a remote village in eastern El Salvador, the children no longer have to walk several kilometers along winding paths to fetch water from wells; they now “harvest” it from the rain that falls on the roofs of their classrooms.


“The water is not only for the children and us teachers, but for the whole community,” school principal Angelica Maria Posada told IPS, sitting with some of her young students at the foot of the tank that supplies them with purified water.

The village is located in the municipality of Sensembra, in the eastern department of Morazán, where it forms part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a semi-arid belt that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to some 11 million people, mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture.

In the Corridor, 1,600 kilometers long, water is always scarce and food production is a challenge, with more than five million people at risk of food insecurity.

In El Guarumal, a dozen peasant families have dug ponds or small reservoirs and use the rainwater collected to irrigate their home gardens and raise tilapia fish as a way to combat drought and produce food.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a (rainwater harvesting) system like this.” — Angélica María Posada

This effort, called the Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS), has not only been made in El Salvador.

Similar initiatives have been promoted in five other Central American countries as part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

The aim of the RHS was to create the conditions for poor, rural communities in the Dry Corridor to strengthen food security by harvesting water to irrigate their crops and raise fish.

In Guatemala, work has been done to strengthen an ancestral agroforestry system inherited from the Chortí people, called Koxur Rum, which conserves more moisture in the soil and thus improves the production of corn and beans, staples of the Central American diet.

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador's eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school's roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador’s eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school’s roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The best structure for conserving water is the soil, and that is where we have to work,” Baltazar Moscoso, national coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger Free, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala City.

Healthy schools in El Salvador

The principal of the El Guarumal school, where 47 girls, 32 boys and several adolescents study, said that since the water collection and purification system has been in place, gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced.

“The children no longer complain about stomachaches, like they used to,” said Posada, 47, a divorced mother of three children: two girls and one boy.

She added, “The water is 100 percent safe.”

Before it is purified, the rainwater that falls on the tin roof is collected by gutters and channeled into an underground tank with a capacity of 105,000 litres.

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank which supplies students, teachers and the community.

The school reopened for in-person classes in March, following the shutdown declared by the government in 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a system like this,” added the principal.

There are 40 families living in El Guarumal, but a total of 150 families benefit from the system installed in the town, because people from other communities also come to get water.

A similar system was installed in 2017 in Cerrito Colorado, a village in the municipality of San Isidro, Choluteca department in southern Honduras, which benefits 80 families, including those from the neighbouring communities of Jicarito and Obrajito.

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Vegetable gardens and tilapias boost food security

About 20 minutes from the school in El Guarumal, following a narrow dirt road that winds along the mountainside, you reach the house of Cristino Martínez, who grows tomatoes and raises tilapia in the pond dug next to his home.

The ponds are pits dug in the ground and lined with a polyethylene geomembrane, a waterproof synthetic material. They hold up to 25,000 litres of rainwater.

“The pond has served me well, I have used it for both the tilapia and watering tomatoes, beans and chayote (Sechium edule),” Martínez told IPS, standing at the edge of the pond, while tossing food to the fish.

The cost of the school’s water harvesting system and the 12 ponds totaled 77,000 dollars.

Martínez has not bothered to keep a precise record of how many tilapias he raises, because he does not sell them, he said. The fish feed his large family of 13: he and his wife and their 11 children (seven girls and four boys).

And from time to time he receives guests in his adobe house.

“My sisters come from San Salvador and tell me: ‘Cristino, we want to eat some tilapia,’ and my daughters throw the nets and start catching fish,” said the 50-year-old farmer.

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to FAO estimates, the ponds can provide about 500 fishes two to three times a year.

The ponds are built on the highest part of each farm, and the drip irrigation system uses gravity to water the crops or orchards planted on the slopes.

Tomatoes are Martínez’s main crop. He has 100 seedlings planted, and manages to produce good harvests, marketing his produce in the local community.

“The pond helps me in the summer to water the vegetables I grow downhill,” another beneficiary of the programme, Santos Henríquez, also a native of El Guarumal, told IPS.

Henríquez’s 1.5-hectare plot is one of the most diversified: in addition to tilapias, corn and a type of bean locally called “ejote”, he grows cucumbers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and various types of fruit, such as mangoes, oranges and lemons.

“We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. He sells the surplus produce in the village or at Sensembra.

However, some beneficiary families have underutilised the ponds. They were initially enthusiastic about the effort, but began to let things slide when the project ended in 2018.

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

An ageold Chorti technique in Guatemala

In Guatemala, meanwhile, some villages and communities are betting on an agroforestry technique from their ancestral culture: Koxur Rum, which means “wet land” in the language of the Chortí indigenous people, who also live in parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

The system allows corn and bean crops to retain more moisture with the rains by combining them with furrows of shrubs or trees such as madre de cacao or quickstick (Gliricidia sepium), a tree species that helps fix nitrogen in the soil.

By pruning the trees regularly, leaves and crop stubble cover and protect the soil, thereby better retaining moisture and nutrients.

“Quickstick sprouts quickly and gives abundant foliage to incorporate into the soil,” farmer Rigoberto Suchite told IPS in a telephone interview from the village of Minas Abajo, in the municipality of San Juan Ermita, Chiquimula department in eastern Guatemala, also located in the Central American Dry Corridor.

Suchite said the system was revived in his region in 2000, but with the FAO and Amexcid project, it has become more technical.

As part of the programme, some 150 families have received two 1,500-litre tanks and a drip irrigation system, he added.

“Now we are expanding it even more because it has given us good results, it has improved the soil and boosted production,” said Suchite, 55.

In the dry season, farmers collect water from nearby springs in tanks and, using gravity, irrigate their home gardens.

“Many families are managing to have a surplus of vegetables and with the sales, they buy other necessary food,” Suchite said.

The programme is scheduled to end in Guatemala in 2021, and local communities must assume the lessons learned in order to move forward.

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Maldives’ UN General Assembly Presidency Renews Hope for Small Island Developing States

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Taking Stock, Looking Forward. Credit UNESCO

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – Earlier this month, Abdulla Shahid, the Maldives’ foreign minister, was elected President of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which commences in September.


This is the sixth time a candidate from a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) has been elected to steer the work of the UN’s highest policy-making organ during its 76-year history:

Rudy Insanally of Guyana became the first president of the General Assembly elected from the UN-SIDS category in 1993; followed by Saint Lucia’s Julian Hunte in 2003; Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain in 2006; and the late John William Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda in 2013, while Peter Thomson of Fiji, took the helm during the GA’s 71st session in 2016.

https://www.un.org/ohrlls/content/list-sids

It may seem surprising that such small nations have so frequently been named to this high position—the aggregate population of all SIDS is only 65 million, less than one percent of the global population—but the UN’s 38 SIDS constitute one fifth of the international organization’s total voting membership.

This position gives SIDS outsized power as a voting bloc, which they have wielded to great effect, perhaps most significantly when it comes to climate change, which as we will see has benefited the entire global community.

Abdulla Shahid. Credit: United Nations

Far from representing a monolithic group, SIDS hail from every region of the world and are home to dozens of languages and a wide variety of social and economic characteristics. Some, like Guyana and Belize, are not even islands, but they all share unique social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities (like size, remoteness, and limited resources base) that the UN has recognized a distinct group of developing countries since 1992.

They are also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, like extreme weather, sea level rise, and biodiversity loss, making them natural allies in the fight to cut the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the crisis.

In fact, in 1989, the Maldives hosted one of the first international conferences on sea level rise, a consequential event in the international climate change fight and the inspiration for the creation of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which has been credited to establish the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and winning the inclusion of the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature goal in the Paris climate accord in 2015, the latter during the Maldives chairmanship of the group.

SIDS have also shown critical leadership in the creation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2014, SIDS helped lead the negotiations, ultimately creating what is known as the SAMOA Pathway, a blueprint to ensure priorities of SIDS were reflected in the final 17 SDGs.

Before that, John William Ashe skillfully set the stage for the SDGs by working with larger countries to create a process for the SDGs that truly had global buy in.

All along, SIDS main argument that the specific challenges they face need to be given special consideration, and today a number of the SDGs do just that, including sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism. Such recognition was further solidified in 2015 as part of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda adopted at the UN Conference on Financing for Development and again that year in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Catherine Haswell, the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives (left) meets a group of local women. May 2021. Credit: UN Maldives/Nasheeth Thoha

Unsurprisingly, another theme that has emerged in SIDS international diplomacy over the years is ocean conservation. In December 2017, under Peter Thomson’s leadership, the General Assembly decided to convene negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, what is known as the high seas.

Thomson was also instrumental in developing the UN Ocean Conference that sets out to conserve and sustainably use ocean resources.

SIDS’ important endeavors during the General Assembly not only showcase the value of their contributions there, but of the GA itself, a place where all 193 UN countries, large and small, can elevate their concerns.

During the campaign for the post competing with Zalmai Rassoul, the candidate from Afghanistan, the Maldives’ Shahid launched “a presidency of hope”, noting that his priorities during the year-long presidency are to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and rebuild economies better and greener.

“The General Assembly can boost efforts towards greater climate action” and “renew momentum” on issues of energy, biological diversity, sustainable fisheries, desertification and the oceans – that are at the heart of SIDS’ concerns.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, while welcoming the new President-elect Shahid commended his “selection of hope as the central theme in his vision statement” and noted that, “coming from a small island developing state, Mr. Shahid will bring unique insights to the 76th session of the General Assembly, as we prepare for COP26 in Glasgow in November.”

Shahid’s election, as with the SIDS leaders before him, not only offers new hope for islands, but the whole international community. At this precarious moment in history, it is truer than ever that by promoting the interests of SIDS, what we are really doing is protecting the future of mankind.

Ahmed Sareer was the Ambassador/ Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations from 2012 to 2017 and chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States from 2015 to 2017. He is presently serving at the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) based in Jeddah.

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‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ Discussion Highlights Risks to Women

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Nordic Talk moderator Katja Iversen shown here with Natasha Wang Mwansa, Emi Mahmoud, Dr Natalia Kanem and Flemming Møller Mortensen during a recent Nordic Talks webinar. Credit: Shuprova Tasneem

DHAKA and NEW YORK, Jun 4 2021 (IPS) – Every two minutes, a girl or woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, including unsafe abortions. Every year, around 12 million girls are married while in their childhoods. An additional 10 million are now at risk of child marriage due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


In this context, the most recent Nordic Talk—a high-level debate on bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a cornerstone of gender equality, aptly titled “Let’s Talk About Sex” — could not have come at a better time.

Moderator Katja Iversen, Dane of the Year (2018) and former CEO of Women Deliver, kicked off the discussion by focusing on the close link between bodily autonomy, gender equality, economic growth, and a healthy planet.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Iversen said it was clear that “bodily autonomy for girls and women—in all their rich diversity—is political, social, economic and health-related.”

Women needed to have power and agency over their “bodies, fertility, and future, living a life free of violence and coercion in both the private and public sphere. It ties into norms, structure, systems – and if we want equity and health for all, we need to address all of it.”

Emi Mahmoud, two-time World Champion Poet and Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, set the tone for the Nordic Talk with her emotive poetry reflecting women’s experiences in patriarchal societies, asking: “What survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?”

The three other panellists agreed that the right to control their bodies was a fundamental aspect of women’s rights and that gender equality was an essential part of the sustainable development agenda.

As Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UNFPA, explained that “(women’s) freedom over her own body means freedom of choice”, and that all the data points towards how investment in SRHR could be the first step to empowering women to “ultimately contribute to sustainable development.”

It was critical that SRHR was adequately resourced – but warned these would be in short supply because of the COVID pandemic recovery plans.

“Part of the financing challenge is what we abbreviate as political will. It actually does not cost a lot for the agenda for SRHR to be a reality by 2030. It would take $26 billion a year to end the unmet need for contraception and to stop mothers dying at birth, many of whom were too young to be pregnant, but resources are going to be a challenge now with Covid having affected the world economies.”

While Flemming Møller Mortensen, Danish Minister for International and Nordic Development and Nordic Cooperation, expressed optimism regarding resources for SRHR now that “the US is back on track” and the global gag rule had been revoked. He was worried about a growing conservatism and pushback against women’s rights, particularly in the pandemic’s wake.

Iversen told IPS the cuts in various countries could be devastating.

“UNFPA estimates that with the $180 million the UK wants to withdraw from the Supplies Partnership, UNFPA could have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. We will need foundations and other donor countries to step up, and we will need national government step up and step in and ensure that their national budgets reflect and fill the SRHR needs.”

She expressed concern that women on COVID-19 decision-making bodies were unrepresented.

“Less than 25% of national COVID-19 decision-making bodies have women included. It is too easy to cut resources from people who are not at the decision-making tables,” she said. “We urgently need to get a lot more women into leadership, including of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. All evidence shows that when more women are included in decision-making, there is a more holistic approach and both societies and people fare better.”

This call for inclusivity, not just for women but for the youth, was strongly echoed by adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights expert Natasha Wang Mwansa.

“So many commitments have been made by so many countries, yet there is no meaningful progress or accountability, and young people are not involved when making these decisions,” Mwansa said. “Young people are here as partners, but we are also here to take charge. From making choices over our own bodies to choices on our national budgets, we are ready to be part of these decisions.”

To deal with challenges in providing access to SRHR, Kanem stressed the importance of gender-disaggregated data for planning. She added that despite the hurdles, she was hopeful about the future because “young people and women are not waiting to make the case and show solidarity and understanding when it comes to racism or issues of discrimination and equity that divide us.”

Iversen echoed this optimism in her IPS interview.

“It gives me hope that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services are included in the roadmap for Universal Health Coverage, in the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being, and latest in the Generation Equality Forum blueprint,” she said.

“Civil society has played a key role in ensuring this with good arguments, data and a lot of tenacity. But words in the big global documents about Health For All is one thing; gender equality and women’s rights, if it has to matter, it has to manifest in concrete action.”

The conversation rounded off with recommendations and commitments from the panellists: Mwansa stressed more investments in youth-run organisations and more social accountability from decision-makers; Mortensen asked for governments to be held accountable and for youth voices to be heard; and Kanem reaffirmed the UNFPA’s goal to put family planning in the hands of women as a means of empowerment, to end preventable deaths in pregnant women and girls, and change fundamental attitudes to end gender-based violence.

In her final comments to IPS, Iversen also stressed the importance of SRHR as a means of empowerment.

“Study after study shows that it pays to invest in girls, women and SRHR – socially, economically and health-wise. But we cannot look at SRHR alone; we need a full gender lens to the COVID response and recovery and development in general,” she said.

“And if we want to see positive change, we have to put girls and women front and centre of coronavirus response and recovery efforts, just as we, in general, need to see many more women in political and economic leadership.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers supports the Nordic Talks, and “Let’s Talk about Sex” was organised in partnership with UNFPA, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Generation Equality, the Danish Family Planning Association, and Mind your Business, as a lead up to the Paris Generation Equality Forum.

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From Non-aligned to One Aligned

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The implications of Colombo’s foreign policy shift under Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from a time-honoured adherence to non-alignment to a clear affiliation with Beijing. Former minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said Colombo Port City (above) might turn out to be a ‘colony’ of China.

LONDON, Jun 4 2021 (IPS) – June 4, 2021 marks 30 years since the killings of an undisclosed number of Chinese protestors at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. For many years, the Chinese government and its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with characteristic understatement, called it the ‘June Fourth incident’.


It was the hardliners in the CCP who forced the ouster of its general secretary Hu Yaobang, a party moderate who had encouraged democratic reform, and eventually ordered the military crackdown on the protestors at Tiananmen – perhaps the blackest day in the history of post-revolutionary China.

Sri Lankans should recall the central role of the Chinese Communist Party in turning Tiananmen Square into a horrendous killing field that provoked an unprecedented outpouring of public grief and condemnation from neighbouring Hong Kong, in light of the apparent reverence that Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appears to pay to the CCP’s style of governance.

And he has done so more than once, even telling China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, during his visit to Colombo in April, that he hoped to ‘learn from the governance experience’ of the CCP in poverty alleviation and rural revitalisation.

While the CCP’s role in poverty alleviation might be conceded, the same cannot be said of corruption elimination. It was growing corruption among those in the Chinese government and Communist Party that triggered the massive student protest, which demanded an end to the burgeoning graft and lack of accountability by officialdom, and collectively called for democratic reform in China’s politically regimented society.

Critics say Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and its ‘India First’ declaration are mere geopolitical window dressing.

While President Rajapaksa, who has been invited to China, might pick up a thing or two about the success of the CCP in alleviating poverty, there is little he could learn about ridding society of other malaise prevalent in China – a pity, as such knowledge might help to eliminate Sri Lanka’s own political viruses that are causing serious concern, not only in Sri Lankan society but also in the region.

From the early years of Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule, Ceylon (as it was then known) had followed a policy of peaceful co-existence, articulated earlier by India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as the five principles of ‘Panchaseela’, deriving from Buddhist Thought.

It was this Nehruvian Panchaseela that eventually formed the bedrock of the foreign policy of most newly independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America, under the banner of non-alignment.

Under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman prime minister, Ceylon was among founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) when 25 countries met in Belgrade at NAM’s first summit in 1961

It was a foreign policy that most Ceylon/Sri Lanka governments were wedded to, except perhaps the pro-western United National Party (UNP) government under President Junius Richard Jayewardene, who cynically told me there were only two non-aligned countries in the world: the USA and the USSR.  

This was in 1979 and, ironically, he was then the Chairman of NAM having taken over the chairmanship from Sirimavo Bandaranaike who lost the 1977 general election having hosted the NAM summit in Colombo in 1976.

President Jayewardene was very much pro-American. Still, he went to Communist Cuba, an arch enemy of the US to pass on the baton to President Fidel Castro who was hosting the next NAM summit in Havana in 1979.

Then, with the advent of another Rajapaksa, Gotabaya, as president, Sri Lankan foreign policy was redefined. He said at his inauguration in November 2019 that it was now one of ‘neutrality’, dropping any reference to the long-standing policy of non-alignment.

Though never clearly defined, to Rajapaksa junior this meant staying aloof from Big Power conflicts. By that time, the Indian Ocean had perceptibly turned into a conflict zone as China’s push into this vital maritime international sea route led to counter responses from other major powers, namely the US, Japan, Australia and India.

Moreover, New Delhi saw the growing Chinese naval and economic presence in the region under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Maritime Silk Route as an intrusion into its sphere of influence, raising strategic security concerns.

So, there was a congruence of interest among other major powers and users of the Indian Ocean in challenging what was perceived as Beijing’s expansionism, that is, asserting its own presence in the region and the freedom of navigation for all.

Shortly after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, he made a dramatic shift in India’s own foreign policy, turning from a ‘Look East’ policy to an ‘Act East’ one. This implied a more conscious and determined involvement in South East Asia, particularly ASEAN.

If Modi enunciated a ‘Neighbourhood First’ doctrine, Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed his to be ‘India First’, perhaps in an attempt to balance the elder Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s, pro-China predilections as president. It was during Mahinda’s nine years at the helm, from 2005, that bilateral relations were at their strongest, perhaps not without cause.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with brother Gotabaya as his defence secretary, was at war with the ruthless separatist Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), popularly known as the Tamil Tigers.

The only country at the time ready to help the Rajapaksas defeat the separatists, with substantial finance and arms aid, was China, which it did in May 2009.

Mahinda returned the favour by contracting China for some major infrastructure projects, including the new Hambantota port in the deep south some 15 nautical miles or so from vital international sea lanes. This port, which is now on a 99-year lease to China because Sri Lanka could not meet its loan repayments, has turned out to be a serious strategic concern to India and other major trading nations.

Last month another major Chinese project Colombo Port City (CPC), some 270 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea close to the capital’s principal port, came alive after the Supreme Court approved the Bill to set up the managing commission after the Court called for several changes to clauses that were inconsistent with the constitution.

The CPC, in which the Chinese development holds 43 per cent of the land (also for 99 years) is intended to be a huge investment and business centre for foreign investors. This made the US ambassador in Colombo, among others, reach for the panic button for fear that the CPC could be a source of money laundering and other ‘dirty’ money.

A former minister in the previous government and a member of the ruling party, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, even warned that the Port City might well turn out to be a ‘colony’ of China, given the exclusion of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs from investing there, even if they had foreign currency to do so.

Critics of the Rajapaksa government’s policies – including the militarisation of the civil administration and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that is still surging in the country – say that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and its ‘India First’ declaration are nothing more than geopolitical window dressing.

They claim it is unsupported by fact and is meant to cover the government’s strong pro-China commitments. They also point to a media release by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, following Defence Minister Wei Fenghe’s April visit, in which President Rajapaksa is quoted as telling the visiting minister that Sri Lanka ‘has prioritised developing relations with China and firmly supports China’s positions on issues concerning its core issues’.

If, by jettisoning non-alignment and embracing ‘neutrality’, Sri Lanka means it is following an equidistant foreign policy, it has not shown so by its actions. China obviously knows best. In its statement on the defence minister’s visit, the Chinese embassy says: ‘China appreciates Sri Lanka’s independent and non-aligned foreign policy.’

Scant wonder many are puzzled by the nomenclature.

Source: Asian Affairs

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in London

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