Reclaiming Our Future

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, COVID-19, Education, Headlines, Inequality, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

BANGKOK, Thailand, May 23 2022 (IPS) – The Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads today – to further breakdown or breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future.

Since the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) was established in 1947, the region has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a pacesetter of global economic growth that has lifted millions out of poverty.


Yet, as ESCAP celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we find ourselves facing our biggest shared test on the back of cascading and overlapping impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, raging conflicts and the climate crisis.

Few have escaped the effects of the pandemic, with 85 million people pushed back into extreme poverty, millions more losing their jobs or livelihoods, and a generation of children and young people missing precious time for education and training.

As the pandemic surges and ebbs across countries, the world continues to face the grim implications of failing to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C – and of continuing to degrade the natural environment. Throughout 2021 and 2022, countries across Asia and the Pacific were again battered by a relentless sequence of natural disasters, with climate change increasing their frequency and intensity.

More recently, the rapidly evolving crisis in Ukraine will have wide-ranging socioeconomic impacts, with higher prices for fuel and food increasing food insecurity and hunger across the region.

Rapid economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has come at a heavy price, and the convergence of these three crises have exposed the fault lines in a very short time. Unfortunately, those hardest hit are those with the fewest resources to endure the hardship. This disproportionate pressure on the poor and most vulnerable is deepening and widening inequalities in both income and opportunities.

The situation is critical. Many communities are close to tipping points beyond which it will be impossible to recover. But it is not too late.

The region is dynamic and adaptable.

In this richer yet riskier world, we need more crisis-prepared policies to protect our most vulnerable populations and shift the Asia-Pacific region back on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as the target year of 2030 comes closer — our analysis shows that we are already 35 years behind and will only attain the Goals in 2065.

To do so, we must protect people and the planet, exploit digital opportunities, trade and invest together, raise financial resources and manage our debt.

The first task for governments must be to defend the most vulnerable groups – by strengthening health and universal social protection systems. At the same time, governments, civil society and the private sector should be acting to conserve our precious planet and mitigate and adapt to climate change while defending people from the devastation of natural disasters.

For many measures, governments can exploit technological innovations. Human activities are steadily becoming “digital by default.” To turn the digital divide into a digital dividend, governments should encourage more robust and extensive digital infrastructure and improve access along with the necessary education and training to enhance knowledge-intensive internet use.

Much of the investment for services will rely on sustainable economic growth, fueled by equitable international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). The region is now the largest source and recipient of global FDI flows, which is especially important in a pandemic recovery environment of fiscal tightness.

While trade links have evolved into a complex noodle bowl of bilateral and regional agreements, there is ample scope to further lower trade and investment transaction costs through simplified procedures, digitalization and climate-smart strategies. Such changes are proving to be profitable business strategies. For example, full digital facilitation could cut average trade costs by more than 13 per cent.

Governments can create sufficient fiscal space to allow for greater investment in sustainable development. Additional financial resources can be raised through progressive tax reforms, innovative financing instruments and more effective debt management. Instruments such as green bonds or sustainability bonds, and arranging debt swaps for development, could have the highest impacts on inclusivity and sustainability.

Significant efforts need to be made to anticipate what lies ahead. In everything we do, we must listen to and work with both young and old, fostering intergenerational solidarity. And women must be at the centre of crisis-prepared policy action.

This week the Commission is expected to agree on a common agenda for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, pinning the aspirations of the region on moving forward together by learning from and working with each other.

In the past seven-and-a-half decades, ESCAP has been a vital source of know-how and support for the governments and peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We remain ready to serve in the implementation of this common agenda.

To quote United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “the choices we make, or fail to make today, will shape our future. We will not have this chance again.”

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

IPS UN Bureau

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Call to Freedom for Millions of Children Trapped in Child Labour as Global Conference to Comes to Africa

Child Labour, Conferences, Education, Featured, Global, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Labour

A child beneficiary holding a drawing portraying domestic violence, at the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education, Lilongwe, Malawi which partnered with the ILO/IPEC to support the national action plan aimed at combating child labour. Credit: Marcel Crozet/ILO

A child beneficiary holding a drawing portraying domestic violence, at the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education, Lilongwe, Malawi which partnered with the ILO/IPEC to support the national action plan aimed at combating child labour. Credit: Marcel Crozet/ILO

Nairobi, May 13 2022 (IPS) – Children washing clothes in rivers, begging on the streets, hawking, walking for kilometres in search of water and firewood, their tiny hands competing with older, experienced hands to pick coffee or tea, or as child soldiers are familiar sights in Africa and Asia.


Child rights experts at Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation reiterate that tolerance and normalisation of working children, many of whom work in hazardous conditions and circumstances, and apathy has stalled progress towards the elimination of child labour.

Further warnings include more children in labour across the sub-Saharan Africa region than the rest of the world combined. The continent now falls far behind the collective commitment to end all forms of child labour by 2025.

The International Labour Organization estimates more than 160 million children are in child labour globally.

How to achieve the Sustainable Development Target 8.7 and the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour that focuses on its elimination by 2025 will be the subject of the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour to be held in Durban, South Africa, from May 15 to 20, 2022.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to open the conference. He will share the stage with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairperson and President of the Republic of Malawi Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, and Argentina President Alberto Ángel Fernández Pérez (virtual).

“There are multiple drivers of child labour in Africa, and many of them are interconnected,” Minoru Ogasawara, Chief Technical Advisor for the Accelerating action for the elimination of child labour in supply chains in Africa (ACCEL Africa) at the International Labour Organization (ILO) tells IPS.

He speaks of the high prevalence of children working in agriculture, closely linked to poverty and family survival strategies.

Rapid population growth, Ogasawara says, has placed significant pressure on public budgets to maintain or increase the level of services required to fight child labour, such as education and social protection.

“Hence the call to substantially increase funding through official development assistance (ODA), national budgets and contributions from the private sector targeting child labour and its root causes,” he observes.

UNICEF says approximately 12 percent of children aged 5 to 14 years are involved in child labour – at the cost of their childhood, education, and future.

Of the 160 million child labourers worldwide, more than half are in sub-Saharan Africa, and 53 million are not in school – amounting to 28 % aged five to 11 and another 35 % aged 12 to 14, according to the most recent child labour global estimates by UNICEF and ILO.

Against this grim backdrop, keynote speakers Nobel Peace Laureates Kailash Satyarthi and Leymah Gbowee and former Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven will address the conference, which is expected to put into perspective how and why children still suffer some of the worst, most severe forms of child labour such as bonded labour, domestic servitude, child soldiers, drug trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

Satyarthi has been at the forefront of mobilising global support to this effect.

“I am working in collaboration with a number of other Nobel Laureates and world leaders. We are demanding the setting up of an international social protection mechanism. During the pandemic, we calculated that $53 billion annually could ensure social protection for all children in all low-income countries, as well as pregnant women too,” Satyarthi emphasises.

“Increased social protection, access to free quality education, health care, decent job opportunities for adults, and basic services together create an enabling environment that reduces household vulnerability to child labour,” Ogasawara stresses.

He points to an urgent need to introduce and or rapidly expand social security and other social protection measures suitable for the informal economy, such as cash transfers, school feeding, subsidies for direct education costs, and health care coverage.

The need for a school-to-work transition and to “target children from poor households, increase access to education while reducing the need to combine school with work among children below the minimum working age” should be highlighted.

In the absence of these social protection safety nets, the  International Labour Organization says it is estimated that an additional 9 million children are at risk of child labour by the end of this year and a possible further increase of 46 million child labourers.

In this context, the fifth global conference presents an opportunity to assess progress made towards achieving the goals of SDG Target 8.7, discuss good practices implemented by different actors around the world and identify gaps and urgent measures needed to accelerate the elimination of both child labour and forced labour.

The timing is crucial, says the ILO, as there are only three years left to achieve the goal of the elimination of all child labour by 2025 and only eight years towards the elimination of forced labour by 2030, as established by the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7.

The conference will also see the active participation of young survivor-advocates from India and Africa. They will share their first-person accounts and lived experiences in sync with the core theme of the discussion.

The conference will also take place within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid fears and concerns that ending child labour became less significant on the international agenda as the world coped with the impact of the pandemic. This could reverse the many gains accrued in the fight against child labour, forced labour and child trafficking.

This is the first of a series of stories which IPS will be publishing during the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour from May 15 to 20, 2022.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 

Can Legal Action Alone Put an End to Child Marriage?

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Education, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Population, Poverty & SDGs

Opinion

In India, nearly one-fourth of women aged between 20 and 24 were reported to have been married before 18. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS even when the legal age was set at 18, child marriages continued to take place without any fear of the law. This begs the question: Can legislation alone possibly curb child marriage?

In India, nearly one-fourth of women aged between 20 and 24 were reported to have been married before 18. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

NEW DELHI, Apr 1 2022 (IPS) – On December 22, 2021, the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, was sent to a parliamentary standing committee for further discussion.


The bill is built on the assumption that raising the age of marriage will eradicate the practice of child marriage. However, this rationale doesn’t have any prior evidence to support it, because even when the legal age was set at 18, child marriages continued to take place without any fear of the law. This begs the question: Can legislation alone possibly curb child marriage?

Prevalence of child marriage

In a patriarchal society such as India, girls are often raised with the ultimate goal of marriage. They are confined to the household and not educated or expected to enter the workforce. Thus, until they are married, they are seen as a financial burden by the families, and marrying them off early is not only consistent with tradition but also more economically feasible

Child marriage, according to UNICEF, is defined as “a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18, and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married”. It is a consequence of deep-rooted socio-cultural norms and entrenched gender inequalities, which end up disproportionately impacting girls.

In a patriarchal society such as India, girls are often raised with the ultimate goal of marriage. They are confined to the household and not educated or expected to enter the workforce. Thus, until they are married, they are seen as a financial burden by the families, and marrying them off early is not only consistent with tradition but also more economically feasible.

The risk of an extramarital pregnancy—which can endanger marriage prospects and make the girl a financial liability for an indefinite period—also makes child marriage seem to be a solution instead of a problem for many Indian communities.

Thus, even though they’re illegal, child marriages have wide societal sanction. This is evident from the recently released fifth round of the National Family Health Survey, according to which nearly one-fourth of women aged between 20 and 24 were reported to have been married before 18.

The decrease is marginal from the last round of the survey conducted in 2015–16, despite the fact that the existing child marriage law has been in place for over four decades. While there was an impressive drop in child marriages from 2005–06 and 2015–16, this might be attributable to better educational opportunities and other factors rather than the law.

Concerns about the proposed legislation

The proposed legislation to raise the legal marriage age for girls to 21 can have several harmful consequences.

1. Possible misuse of the law

According to a survey by Partners for Law in Development, 65 percent of the cases under the existing child marriage law were in response to elopement (not necessarily involving marriage) and were filed by disapproving parents or families.

These cases would be wrongfully filed to harass the couple, their age or legality of the marriage notwithstanding. Increasing the age to 21 will bring more consenting adults who choose to marry under the threat of such harassment, and could become a tool for people to oppose inter-religious and inter-caste marriages.

2. Disempowerment of women
A 2008 Law Commission report on reforming family law recommended a uniform age of marriage for boys and girls at 18 years and not 21. The reason: If all citizens can vote, enter contracts, be guardians, tried as adults for crimes they commit at 18, why shouldn’t they be allowed to get married as well, regardless of their gender? The new law could curtail the freedom of choice of a greater number of women.

3. Possible increase in sex-selective practices
The current socio-economic system makes people want to marry their daughters as soon as they can or choose not to have a daughter at all. Increasing the legal marriage age without changing patriarchal social norms can result in parents feeling even more ‘burdened’ by what they view as additional responsibility of the girl child, which in turn could lead to an increase in sex-selective practices.

Recommendations

There are several strategies that have worked globally in reducing the incidence of child marriages. Some solutions that might work in the Indian context are discussed below.

1. Bringing about parity in the legal age of marriage

We endorse the recommendation of the 2008 Law Commission to make the legal age of marriage for boys and girls uniform at 18 years and not 21. When individuals can vote at 18, they should also be allowed to choose their partners at this age.

2. Investing in girls’ education

There is clear evidence that allowing girls to complete their education delays marriage and provides them with the opportunity of being financially independent. According to the NFHS-4, the median age of marriage increases from 17.2 years for women with no schooling to 22.7 years for women with 12 or more years of schooling. Education enables them to fulfil their aspirations and live a life of dignity, and affords them the agency to uphold their sexual and reproductive rights in their choice to marry.

Child marriages are closely tied to low levels of education, poverty, and rural residence. The NFHS-4 reveals that girls living in rural areas with little or no education and belonging to the lowest wealth quintile are more likely to be married before they turn 18.

The government must address the barriers to girls’ education by providing a safe environment, improving the quality of education, and making girls’ education a more useful investment for parents.

3. Economic and social empowerment of girls

Investing in the capacity and skill building of adolescent girls is critical for them to realise their economic potential. Financial empowerment often gives individuals a greater say in their households and their own future. It can give girls the ability to say no to early marriage, and the family won’t see them as a liability. Greater attention to creating safe opportunities for paid work among women and girls is also required.

4. Targeted social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) campaigns

To end child marriage, we must make investments in targeted SBCC. Social norms that exclude girls and boys from marriage-related decision-making need to change.

Evaluation findings from the Population Foundation of India’s flagship SBCC initiative ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’ showed that reinforced messaging brought about increased awareness of the perils of child marriage and a positive shift in the attitude of girls and parents exposed to the programme.

We need more comprehensive SBCC initiatives that are supported by local leadership—including elected representatives, community, and religious leaders—to transform gender stereotypes of submissiveness and institutional discrimination that denies women agency.

5. Policies and programmes that reach the most marginalised

Marginalised communities are more vulnerable to early marriages. According to the NFHS-4, general category women tend to get married at a later age, with the median age of marriage for women aged 25–49 being 19.5 years. This figure is 18.5 years for women from other backward castes, 18.4 for scheduled tribes, and 18.1 for scheduled castes.

We need more policies and programmes that connect girls and young women, and their families, especially from marginalised communities, to financial institutions, education, information, health (including sexual, reproductive, and mental health), and nutrition services.

6. Ensuring registration of marriages

Despite a Supreme Court ruling making registration of marriages mandatory, state governments have done little to implement the verdict. The governments must develop a mechanism to ensure that all marriages (including civil, religious, and customary unions), births, and deaths are mandatorily registered through a system, as a means to track marriages and the age of marriage.

Moreover, action should be taken against those authorising and facilitating child marriages in rural areas.

Any approach to end child marriage needs to be geared towards securing the rights of girls, especially those vulnerable to early marriage. We have to think beyond punitive measures and legislations and transform the patriarchal socio-economic system that fosters child marriages.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Martand Kaushik works as a media and communications specialist at the Population Foundation of India.

Alok Vajpeyi is the lead for knowledge management and core grants at the Population Foundation of India.

Poonam Muttreja is the Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India

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

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How Collective Action Can Move the Needle on Gender Equality

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

Opinion

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IPS UN Bureau

 

School Meals Coalition Hopes to Provide a Meal to Every Child

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

Food Security and Nutrition

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As a Humanitarian Crisis Engulfs Afghanistan, Education Cannot Wait Makes Urgent Appeal for Access to Quality Learning for All Children

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, is welcomed by teachers and students at a girls’ primary school in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Credit: Omid Fazel/ECW

New York, Nov 5 2021 (IPS) – After leading a landmark, first-ever all-women mission to Afghanistan last week, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, says that schools must reopen for all children and that girls, in particular, must be able to return to secondary school classrooms.


Sherif visited a girls’ school in Kabul and spoke to students, female teachers, and administrators as part of her Afghan mission. She also met with the de facto education authorities at the Ministry of Education to advocate the right of all children to quality education. The ECW mission comes less than a month after ECW launched a US$4 million First Emergency Response grant to provide ‘quality, flexible learning and psychosocial support for children and adolescents caught in the escalating crisis.

“We need to act fast. When you are in the midst of a humanitarian emergency like Afghanistan, where there is no money in circulation, starvation is a very real fact and poverty is extreme,” Sherif told IPS. “Schools need to continue to reopen and education must be sustained. Not only at primary school levels but through secondary schools – and girls have to go back to secondary schools.”

Sherif, a human rights lawyer, worked in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. She was part of a mission to the country after the first Taliban takeover in 1999 and has visited the country periodically over the last 20 years. She spoke to IPS about her observations from this ground-breaking mission to Kabul a few days ago – the first of its kind since the Taliban take-over in August.

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, meets with de facto education authorities in Afghanistan.
Credit: Omid Fazel/ECW

“There are more women on the streets of Kabul today. I even saw women demonstrating for health care. I visited a girls’ primary school whose teachers and administration were all women,” Sherif said.

“The school’s headmaster is a woman, the school’s doctor is a woman, administrators and teachers are women. There are educated, strong women who are working, but they do not get salaries, because there are no salaries for basic services as a result of the funding freeze to Afghanistan.”

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union are just a few of the international bodies that have cut off Afghanistan’s access to financing. According to the World Bank, the country relies on grant funding for more than 75 percent of public spending, with expenditure of US$411 billion and government revenue of US$2.5 billion.

With that grant funding frozen, the country is on the brink of economic collapse.

Sherif is appealing for direct funding through UN agencies like ECW and UNICEF, which has the proven mechanisms in place to ensure that funds are used to support teachers and students.

“Teachers are not being paid. UNICEF has a very strong process on the ground. If money were to be given today or tomorrow to pay all teacher salaries, UNICEF has capacities in place to deliver on that funding, even if this would typically have been done through the World Bank or other development actors, but now we are in humanitarian crisis so you cannot use regular development aid approaches,” Sherif told IPS.

“The same goes for all UN agencies like the World Food Programme and UNHCR, the UN Refugees agency. Funding can be channeled through them directly to implement aid programmes. Nothing needs to, nor will go through, the de facto authorities.”

The ECW Director is cautiously optimistic following her meeting with the de facto education authorities, to whom she appealed for a return to secondary school for girls.

UNICEF Deputy Representative Alice Akunha and Chief of Education Jeannette Vogelaar greet the Education Cannot Wait all-women delegation to Afghanistan, led by Director Yasmine Sherif and her colleagues, Michelle May and Anouk Desgroseilliers.
Credit: Omid Fazel/ECW

“Primary schools have opened for girls’ education and for girls’ secondary education, the de facto authorities told us that they are developing a plan. I stressed that the girls have no time to lose and that the benefits of educating girls are crucial to the future of the country,” she said.

The ECW Director has commended international and national civil society organizations that now work with religious scholars as they negotiate the resumption of secondary school education at the grassroots level. “By bringing an Islamic scholar with them, these NGOs have actually managed to build trust. So secondary schools have opened in some provinces, a few in the north and a few in the south. It is important to stand firm on human rights and girls’ rights, but you must also have the ability to build trust as well,” she said.

ECW is already prepared to swiftly scale up its support and adapt its programming in Afghanistan. New challenges and more children in need of help demand pivoting and quick response. Sherif says ECW was created for crises like these.

“As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, we are agile, quick, and flexible. We use decades of lessons learned across the UN system to respond to crises. Traditional development aid modalities that are not crisis-sensitive are not going to work; not in this situation,” she said.

Sherif says that an estimated $1 billion is urgently required for United Nations agencies and international and local NGOs to meet the pressing education needs across the country.

“It’s about how can we save the Afghan population from a humanitarian catastrophe. How can we ensure that every Afghan girl and boy in the country can go to primary and secondary school? It’s about how we can ensure that teachers receive their salaries, so they are able to continue to teach. It is about providing teaching and learning materials and safe learning environments. It is about ensuring that the rights of adolescent girls to access education are fulfilled. That is why it was important for us to do an all-women mission to Afghanistan and to make clear where we stand on girls’ education.”

Sherif is hoping that the visit can give the world an open window view into life in Afghanistan and provide concrete recommendations for international aid to be immediately scaled up and invested to support quality education for both girls and boys.

“Afghanistan cannot wait. The girls of Afghanistan cannot wait. Education cannot wait.”

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