AFGHANISTAN: ‘The Doha Meeting Has Raised Concerns the UN Is Indirectly Legitimising the Taliban’

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Education, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Jul 10 2024 (IPS) –  
CIVICUS discusses the exclusion of women from international talks on Afghanistan currently being held in Qatar with Sima Samar, former chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). The AIHRC is the Afghan national institution devoted to the promotion, protection and monitoring of human rights. Its status is now a matter of contention: on returning to power, the Taliban decreed its dissolution, but the AIHRC refuses to abide by the decision due to the illegitimate nature of the Taliban regime.

Sima Samar

The meeting between the Taliban, envoys from up to 25 countries and other stakeholders being hosted by the United Nations (UN) in Doha, Qatar, has sparked an international outcry because Afghan women haven’t been invited. This is the third such meeting but the first to include the Taliban, who aren’t internationally recognised as Afghanistan’s rulers. Rights activists have criticised the UN’s approach, saying it gives legitimacy to the Taliban and betrays its commitment to women’s rights. They are calling for gender apartheid to be recognised as an international crime and for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible.

What’s the purpose and relevance of the third Doha meeting on Afghanistan?

The third Doha meeting was convened following a UN Security Council resolution that mandated an independent assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, with the aim of facilitating Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community and the UN. The appointed independent expert, a former Turkish diplomat, conducted a comprehensive assessment. While it acknowledged the Taliban’s human rights violations, particularly against women, it did not sufficiently address issues such as the persecution of minorities and the erosion of democratic processes.

The UN sees these meetings as part of a plan for a peaceful Afghanistan that respects human rights, particularly for women and girls, and is integrated into the global community. But the decision to exclude women from these critical discussions is deeply contradictory. By accepting the Taliban’s conditions for participation in the talks, the UN is undermining its commitment to promoting inclusivity and gender equality.

Why are rights groups criticising the meeting and what are their demands?

Rights groups have been highly critical of the UN’s approach to the meeting for a number of reasons. First, they have condemned the exclusion of women from the main discussions. This exclusion directly contradicted the UN’s commitment to gender mainstreaming and its resolutions advocating women’s participation in peace processes. Second, there was a significant lack of transparency about the agenda and proceedings of the meetings, particularly the separate women’s session that followed the main discussions. This opacity fuelled concerns about the effectiveness and sincerity of the engagement.

Critics say the meeting focused mainly on economic issues, ignoring important discussions on human rights and women’s rights. This has raised concerns the UN is indirectly legitimising the Taliban’s harsh policies. Rights groups want future meetings to be inclusive and transparent and ensure women’s voices are heard. They want the UN to stick to its rules and not agree to demands that violate human rights.

What’s the situation of Afghan women under the Taliban?

Since the Taliban came back to power, the situation for women in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically. Women have been almost completely removed from public life, allowed to work only in very limited fields such as health and primary education, and then only under strict conditions.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world that prohibits girls beyond 11 to 12 years old from receiving education. Even below that level, there are severe restrictions, including the imposition of the hijab on young girls and a curriculum increasingly focused on religious instruction, which threatens to radicalise the next generation.

Women working in any capacity face severe economic discrimination. Their salaries are capped at unsustainable levels, making it impossible for them to live independently. When female health workers went on strike over these unfair conditions, the Ministry of Public Health refused to engage in dialogue.

The Taliban’s systematic discrimination places women in an inferior position in all aspects of life, from education to employment, perpetuating a cycle of oppression and marginalisation. There is an obvious gap between the goals of the Doha meeting, which aim to achieve a peaceful Afghanistan with human rights for women and girls, and the harsh realities faced by Afghan women under Taliban rule.

What should the international community do to support Afghan women?

To support women’s rights in Afghanistan, the international community must take a firm stand against the Taliban’s policies.

First, the Taliban should not be recognised as a legitimate government until they comply with international human rights standards, including those relating to women’s rights. Second, existing sanctions against the Taliban should be strengthened to pressure them to comply with human rights norms. Third, the international community should hold the Taliban accountable for their crimes, including rights violations against women, through legal mechanisms and continuous advocacy.

The plight of Afghan women is not just a national issue, but a global one that affects the stability and peace of the entire region. Ignoring women’s suffering will only perpetuate conflict and undermine efforts to achieve sustainable peace and development. The international community has a moral obligation to ensure the protection of Afghan women’s rights and uphold the principles of justice and equality in any engagement with the Taliban.

What should be done to ensure women are included in future talks on Afghanistan?

To ensure the inclusion of women in future international talks, it is essential that their participation is mandated at every stage of the dialogue process. Women must be at the table for all discussions, as their exclusion fundamentally undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of the talks.

The international community should strongly reject any conditions set by the Taliban that violate human rights principles, particularly those that exclude women. Transparency is also crucial. Agendas and outcomes of meetings should be openly shared to ensure inclusiveness and accountability.

Civic space in Afghanistan is rated ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission through its website or Facebook page, and follow @AfghanistanIHRC and @DrSimasamar on Twitter.


Special Report: Exposing Afghanistan’s Pervasive, Methodical System of Gender Oppression

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Richard Bennett during his oral statement at the Human Rights Council on June 18, 2024. Credit: Anne-Marie Colombet/Human Rights Council

Richard Bennett during his oral statement at the Human Rights Council on June 18, 2024. Credit: Anne-Marie Colombet/Human Rights Council

NAIROBI , Jul 1 2024 (IPS) – The UN Special Rapporteur’s annual report on human rights in Afghanistan lays bare the alarming phenomenon of an institutionalized system of discrimination, segregation, disrespect for human dignity and exclusion of women and girls.

In the new report, Richard Bennett, the UN’s Special Rapporteur, provides an intersectional analysis of the establishment and enforcement of this institutionalized system of unparalleled gender oppression. It paints a picture of a worsening situation for women and girls.

“The situation is that the de facto authorities, who control the country but are not yet recognized as a government, are not just failing to implement their obligations to human rights under the human rights treaties that they’ve signed. They are deliberately implementing policies and practices that flout those policies to create a society where women are permanently inferior to men,” says Bennett in an exclusive interview with IPS.

Education Cannot Wait’s #AfghanGirlsVoices global campaign highlights real-life testimonies of hope, courage and resilience by Afghan girls denied their right to education. Credit: ECW

Education Cannot Wait’s #AfghanGirlsVoices global campaign highlights real-life testimonies of hope, courage and resilience by Afghan girls denied their right to education. Credit: ECW

“Of course, there is sexism in every country, some worse than others, but this is very different from any other country.”

Bennett is referring to the distressing pattern of large-scale systematic violations and subjugation of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights that is unfolding, abetted by the Taliban’s discriminatory and misogynist policies and harsh enforcement methods such as gender apartheid and persecution.

“Only in Afghanistan has a government shut schools for girls above the age of 13, above the sixth grade, and does not allow women to go to universities. And this, combined with segregation, means that women are really suffering. For example, women can only get treatment from doctors who are women and the same applies to teaching. It is a very segregated society as a whole. Just today, a businesswoman told me that she could only do business with female customers. This is affecting not just the current situation and the current generation, but the future as well.”

The Special Rapporteur finds that the Taliban’s institutionalized system of discrimination is most visible through its relentless issuance and enforcement of edicts, decrees, declarations and orders that in and of themselves constitute severe deprivations of human rights and violations of international law.

Between June 2023 and March 2024, they issued an estimated 52 edicts. These include banning foreign non-governmental organizations from providing educational programmes, including community-based education. The Taliban banned women from participating in radio and television shows alongside male presenters.

In July 2023, female beauty salons were forced to close. In August 2023, women were prohibited from entering Band-e Amir National Park. In October 2023, women were excluded from holding directorships within non-governmental organizations. In February 2024, women on television were required to wear a black hijab, with their faces covered, leaving only their eyes visible.

“We are concerned about intergenerational issues, but also intersectional issues. There is discrimination against women and girls who are of an ethnic or religious or linguistic marginalized groups,  or persons with disabilities, or a woman heading a household. Travel requires accompaniment by a close male relative and some women do not have such a person available. All of this is extremely restrictive and will also affect future generations as it will lead to a lack of education and professions,” Bennett says.

The report finds that “women and girls are being maneuvered into increasingly narrow roles where the deep-rooted patriarchy, bolstered and legitimized by Taliban ideology, deems them to belong: as bearers and rearers of children, and as objects available for exploitation, including debt bondage, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and other forms of unremunerated or poorly remunerated labor.”

The UN Special Rapporteur stresses that there was progress in Afghanistan before the return of the Taliban.

“It was not perfect, but for 20 years there was notable progress. As a result, there are very many professional women in Afghanistan, and women who head households as the main income earners—the main breadwinners for their families. The restrictions are having very serious negative effects.”

Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur Afghanistan, advocates for the rights of every girl to education in Afghanistan. Credit: ECW

Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, advocates for the rights of every girl to education in Afghanistan. Credit: ECW

Bennett is among the prominent supporters of the global #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign launched by Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises within the United Nations. Now in its second phase, the campaign aims to ensure unrestricted access to education for Afghan girls and young women.

After seizing power in 2021, the Taliban swiftly imposed a ban on secondary education for girls, subsequently expanding this restriction to encompass universities and, more recently, private learning centers. Young women have also been prevented from leaving Afghanistan to pursue tertiary education.

“There has never been universal education in Afghanistan, even in the 20 years preceding the return of the Taliban. However, the education system gradually improved, although not as much in remote or rural areas. Part of this was due to a lack of resources, as well as an ongoing internal conflict. So, it was insecure and difficult to maintain schools. But once the Taliban came back into power after August 2021, an education system built over two decades was quickly unraveling,” he says.

In addition to the school closures, he speaks of concerns about the quality of education from two perspectives. One is the alarm over an ongoing brain drain in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over. Many teachers and university lecturers have left the country.

The other concerns are changes to the curriculum and especially a notable increase in madrasa education. Madrasa education has always been a feature of life in Afghanistan. “But now there seems to be at least anecdotal information that the teaching is much more religious-based than a broad education. Girls can go to madrasas,” he says. 

On recommendations and urgent solutions moving forward, Bennett stresses that “no country should ban schools. We therefore continue to call for the reversal of this policy and the reopening of schools with a good quality education. My recommendations are what I call an all-tools approach, as only one approach or any one tool will not work.”

Overall, he says the report calls for justice and accountability, incorporating human rights and women’s voices in political processes and diplomatic engagement. Emphasizing that bolstering documentation of human rights abuses and violations is critical, as is reinforcing protection and solidarity for Afghan women, girls and human rights defenders.

Bennett has a direct message to the current rulers in Afghanistan, the Taliban, to reverse their policies and to comply with human rights. The second message is to the international community, urging them not to normalize or recognize Afghanistan’s unacceptable and worsening human rights situation.

Further stressing that the global community should strongly resist normalizing diplomatic relations or accepting the Taliban into the UN unless and until they meet concrete, measurable, verifiable benchmarks on human rights and the rights of women and girls.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Panama’s Elections: Has Impunity Prevailed?

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Credit: Johan Ordoñez/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 21 2024 (IPS) – Regional experts called it Panama’s most important election since the 1989 US invasion that deposed de facto president General Manuel Noriega. Panamanians went to the polls amid high inflation and unemployment, with a stagnating economy. Endemic corruption was also high on their long list of concerns, along with access to water, education and a collapsing social security system.

The winner, conservative lawyer José Raúl Mulino, was a stand-in for former president Ricardo Martinelli, disqualified from running due to a money laundering conviction. Martinelli remains popular regardless and managed to transfer his popularity to his less charismatic substitute. For those who backed Mulino, nostalgia for the economic stability and growth that marked Martinelli’s pro-business administration seemed to outweigh his proven record of corruption.

On the face of it, the election results seemed to demonstrate the primacy of economic considerations in voters’ minds, with hopes for growth trumping corruption fatigue. But that’s not the whole story.

Free, fair and uncertain

On 5 May, Panamanians went to the polls to elect a president and vice-president, 71 National Assembly members, 20 Central American Parliament deputies and local representatives.

The elections were undoubtedly clean and transparent, with integrity guaranteed by the participation of civil society in the National Scrutiny Board. Results were announced quickly and all losing candidates accepted them. But the pre-voting context was far less straightforward. Until the very last minute the now president-elect wasn’t sure he’d be allowed to run.

Mulino served as security minister in Martinelli’s government between 2009 and 2014. Ten years later, largely unknown to the electorate, he entered the race as Martinelli’s running mate for Achieving Goals (Realizando Metas, RM), a party Martinelli founded in 2021.

In July 2023, Martinelli was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to 10 years in prison, making him ineligible to run. He appealed, but the Electoral Tribunal didn’t make a final decision on his disqualification until March. To avoid jail, he sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama City. Mulino took his place, but his presidential candidacy was also challenged. For two months, he became the centre of attention as the Electoral Tribunal and Supreme Court debated whether he could ran. The positive court ruling came on 3 May, just two days before voting. Mulino also received a lot of help from Martinelli, who campaigned for him online while holed up in the Nicaraguan embassy.

A fragmented vote

Eight candidates contested the presidency, a five-year position with no possibility of a second consecutive term. With no runoff, a fragmented vote was likely to produce a winner with far less than half the vote. Mulino’s winning total of 34.2 per cent wasn’t unusual: two previous presidents received similarly low shares, including the outgoing centre-left president, Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD).

Mulino’s closest competitor, on 24.6 per cent, was Ricardo Lombana, a centre-right anti-corruption outsider. In third place was Martin Torrijos, another former president and Martinelli’s immediate predecessor, now distanced from his original party, the PRD, and running on the ticket of the Christian democratic People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP). Fourth was Rómulo Roux, of the centre-right Democratic Change (Cambio Democrático, CD), the party Martinelli founded and used as a vehicle for the presidency, but which he abandoned in 2020 amid leadership disputes.

The parties that once dominated the political landscape fared badly. The Panameñista Party didn’t even have a presidential candidate; instead, its leader joined Roux as his running mate. The PRD, which led three of the last six governments, fell below six per cent.

Independents on the rise

In 1998, Martinelli’s CD was the first to challenge the dominance of traditional parties. Later changes to the electoral law allowed independent candidates to stand. Their growing prominence reflects widespread dissatisfaction with traditional parties and the political class.

In the 5 May congressional elections, independent candidates won more seats than any political party – 20, up from just five. Mulino’s new RM party took 14 seats. The PRD lost a whopping 22, retaining only 13. The new composition of the National Assembly speaks of a thirst for renewal that doesn’t match the choice for corruption and impunity the presidential results might suggest.

Spotlight on the economy

For the three decades before the pandemic, the Panamanian economy grew by around six per cent a year, helped by income from the Panama Canal and construction and mining booms. But then challenges started piling up. The economy slowed down. Jobs disappeared. Inflation rose.

Activity in the Panama Canal has been severely affected by the impacts of climate change, with a drop in water levels. Drought has also reduced access to drinking water in some regions. Meanwhile an unprecedented rise in the numbers of migrants travelling through the Darién Gap, the treacherous stretch of jungle at the border with Colombia, has stretched the resources of the humanitarian assistance system.

Mulino campaigned on promises to improve the economy by attracting investment, developing infrastructure and creating jobs. He pledged to improve access to safe water and promised to ‘shut down’ the Darién Gap.

Mulino’s voters may have accepted the bargain he appeared to offer – prosperity in exchange for impunity – but many more people voted against him than for. He was able to win because the vote against was so fragmented. The number of independents who entered Congress is just one of many indicators of widespread dissatisfaction with politicians like him.

Mulino will have to deliver on his promises to attract investment and create jobs. He’ll need to reduce inequalities and deal with growing insecurity, the situation in the Darién Gap and a pensions system on the brink of insolvency. Last but not least, he’ll need to strengthen institutions and tackle corruption – which begs the question of what he’ll do about Martinelli.

The challenges are many and great, and Mulino won’t have anything close to a legislative majority. The National Assembly is so fragmented that a high-level deal with one or two parties won’t be enough. Mulino seemed to recognise this on election night when he called for national unity and said he was open to dialogue and consensus. This was a first step in the direction he should keep following.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Working to Keep Náhuat, the Language of the Pipil People, from Vanishing in El Salvador

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Regional Categories

Indigenous Rights

Elena López (left), one of two teachers who teach Náhuat to children in Nahuizalco, in western El Salvador, leads one of the morning's learning practices, in which the children, walking in circles, sing songs in the language of their ancestors, the Pipil people. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Elena López (left), one of two teachers who teach Náhuat to children in Nahuizalco, in western El Salvador, leads one of the morning’s learning practices, in which the children, walking in circles, sing songs in the language of their ancestors, the Pipil people. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

NAHUIZALCO, El Salvador , May 6 2024 (IPS) – A group of children participating in an immersion program in Náhuat, the language of the Pipil people and the only remaining pre-Hispanic language in El Salvador, are the last hope that the language will not die out.

“This effort aims to keep Náhuat alive and that is why we focus on the children, for them to continue and preserve this important part of our culture,” Elena López told IPS during a short snack break for the preschoolers she teaches.

“This effort aims to keep Náhuat alive and that is why we focus on the children, for them to continue and preserve this important part of our culture.” — Elena López

López is part of the Náhuat Cuna project, which since 2010 has sought to preserve and revive the endangered indigenous language through early immersion. She is one of two teachers who teach it to children between the ages of three and five at a preschool center in Nahuizalco, a municipality in the department of Sonsonate in western El Salvador.

At risk of disappearing

“When a language dies, the basis of indigenous cultures and territories becomes extinct with it,” says the report Revitalization of Indigenous Languages, according to which the 500 Amerindian languages still spoken in Latin America are all in a situation of greater or lesser threat or risk.

In Mesoamerica, which includes Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, 75 indigenous languages are spoken, says the study by the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC).

With the exception of Mexico, Guatemala is the most linguistically diverse in this group of countries, with 24 native languages. The most widely spoken is K’iche’, of Mayan origin, and the least is Xinca, of unknown origin.

Brazil is the most ethnically and linguistically diverse country in Latin America, with between 241 and 256 indigenous peoples and between 150 and 186 languages.

A picture of some of the children learning Náhuat in the town of Nahuizalco, in western El Salvador, through an early language immersion program, in an effort by Don Bosco University to keep the endangered language alive. Teacher Elsa Cortez sits next to them. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

A picture of some of the children learning Náhuat in the town of Nahuizalco, in western El Salvador, through an early language immersion program, in an effort by Don Bosco University to keep the endangered language alive. Teacher Elsa Cortez sits next to them. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Around 25 percent of these languages are at risk of extinction unless something is urgently done, the report warns. It is estimated that Latin America is home to more than 50 million people who self-identify as indigenous.

“These languages are losing their usage value…families are increasingly interrupting the natural intergenerational transmission of the languages of their elders, and a slow but sure process of moving towards the hegemonic language is observed, with speakers making Spanish or Portuguese their predominant language of use,” the report states.

The causes of the danger of the disappearance of these Amerindian languages are varied, the report points out, such as the interruption of intergenerational transmission, when the language is no longer passed on from generation to generation.

And that is exactly what the Náhuat Cuna project aims to revert by focusing on young children, who can learn from Náhuat speakers who did receive the language from their parents and grandparents and speak it fluently.

Two children pretend to purchase and sell fruits and vegetables speaking in Náhuat, as part of the teaching exercises at Náhuat Cuna in western El Salvador, a preschool for new generations of Salvadorans to learn the nearly extinct Amerindian language. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Two boys pretend to purchase and sell fruits and vegetables speaking in Náhuat, as part of the teaching exercises at Náhuat Cuna in western El Salvador, a preschool for new generations of Salvadorans to learn the nearly extinct Amerindian language. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

López is one of these people. She belongs to the last generation of speakers who acquired it naturally, as a mother tongue, speaking it from a very young age with her parents and grandparents, in her native Santo Domingo de Guzmán, also in the department of Sonsonate.

“That’s how I was born and grew up, speaking it at home. And we never stopped speaking it, among my sisters and brothers, but not with people outside the house, because they discriminated against us, they treated us as Indians but in a derogatory way, but we never stopped speaking it,” said Lopez, 65.

Indeed, for reasons of racism and classism, indigenous populations have been marked by rejection and contempt not only from the political and economic elites, but also by the rest of the mestizo or mixed-race population, which resulted from the mixture of indigenous people with the Spaniards who started arriving in Latin America in the sixteenth century.

“They have always looked down on us, they have discriminated against us,” Elsa Cortez, 43, the other teacher at the Nahuizalco Náhuat Cuna, told IPS.

And she added: “I feel satisfied and proud, at my age it is a luxury to teach our little ones.”

Both López and Cortez said they were grateful that the project hired them as teachers, since they had no prior teaching experience, and in a context in which discrimination and social rejection, in addition to ageism, make it more difficult to find formal employment.

Before joining the project, Cortez worked full time making comales, which are circular clay griddles that are placed over a wood fire to cook corn tortillas. She also sold baked goods, and continues to bake bread on weekends.

López also worked making comales and preparing local dishes, which she sold in her neighborhood. Now she prefers to rest on the weekends.

All is not lost

When IPS visited the Náhuat Cuna preschool in Nahuizalco, the three-year-olds were performing an exercise: they stood in front of the rest of the class of about ten children and introduced themselves by saying their first name, last name and other basic greetings in Náhuat.

Later they identified, in Náhuat, pictures of animals and elements of nature, such as “mistun” (cat), “qawit” (tree) and “xutxit” (flower). The students started their first year in the center in February, and will spend two years there.

The five-year-olds are the most advanced. Together, the two groups totaled about twenty children.

Jorge Lemus  (blue shirt), director of El Salvador’s Náhuat/Pipil Language Revitalization Program and the driving force behind the Náhuat Cuna project, which teaches the language to children between the ages of three and five, is photographed with indigenous women of the Pipil people in Nahuizalco in western El Salvador. CREDIT: Don Bosco University

At the end of their time at the Cuna, they will go to regular school in Spanish, with the risk that they will forget what they have learned. However, to keep them connected to the language, the project offers Saturday courses where they begin to learn grammar and how to write the language.

There is a group of 15 teenagers, mostly girls, who started at the beginning of the project and speak the language fluently, and some even teach it online.

The initiative is promoted by the Don Bosco University of El Salvador, and supported by the municipalities where they operate, in Nahuizalco and Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The Santa Catarina Masahuat branch will also be reopened soon.

Santo Domingo de Guzmán is home to 99 percent of the country’s few Náhuat speakers, who number around 60 people, Jorge Lemus, director of El Salvador’s Náhuat/Pipil Language Revitalization Program and main promoter of the Náhuat Cuna project, told IPS.

“In three decades I have seen how Náhuat has been in decline, and how the people who speak it have been dying out,” stressed Lemus, who is also a professor and researcher of linguistics at the School of Languages and Education at Don Bosco University, run by the Salesian Catholic order.

According to the academic, the last three indigenous languages in El Salvador in the 20th century were Lenca, Cacaopera and Náhuat, but the first two disappeared by the middle of that century, and only the last one survives.

“The only one that has survived is Náhuat, but barely, as there are perhaps just 60 speakers of the language. When I started working on this there were about 200 and the number continues to shrink,” said Lemus.

The only way to keep the language alive, he said, is for a new generation to pick it up. But it will not be adults, who could learn it as a second language but will continue speaking Spanish; it must be a group of children who can learn it as native speakers.

The expert clarified that, although they come from the same linguistic trunk, the Náhuat spoken in El Salvador is not the same as the Nahuatl spoken in Mexico, and in fact the spelling is different.

In Mexico, Nahuatl has more than one million speakers in the Central Valley, he said.

In El Salvador, in 1932, the Pipil people stopped speaking their language in public for fear of being killed by the government forces of General Maximiliano Hernández, who that year brutally cracked down on an indigenous and peasant uprising demanding better living conditions.

At that time, society was dominated by aristocratic families dedicated to coffee cultivation, whose production system plunged a large part of Salvadorans, especially peasants and indigenous people, into poverty.

Lemus argued that for a language to make a decisive comeback and become a vehicle for everyday communication would require a titanic effort by the State, similar to the revival of the Basque language in Spain, Maori in New Zealand or even Israel’s resuscitation of Hebrew, which was already a dead language.

But that is not going to happen in El Salvador, he said.

“The most realistic thing we want to achieve is to keep the language from disappearing, and for the new generation of Náhuat-speaking people to grow and multiply. If we have 60 speakers now, in a few years we will hopefully still have 50 or 60 speakers, from this new generation, and they will keep it alive in the communities and continue speaking it,” he said.

For her part, López wants to continue working towards this goal in order to leave the country her legacy.

Speaking in Náhuat, the preschool teacher said: “I really like teaching this language because I don’t want it to die, I want the children to learn and speak it when I am dead.”


Abandoned Children Growing Problem in Northern Syria

Active Citizens, Aid, Armed Conflicts, Child Labour, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Human Trafficking, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Youth

Humanitarian Emergencies

Children eating and drinking at the Children's House in Idlib. Abandoned children is a growing issue in the region. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS

Children eating and drinking at the Children’s House in Idlib. Abandoned children is a growing issue in the region. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS

IDLIB, Syria, Mar 27 2024 (IPS) – Wael Al-Hassan was returning from work in the Syrian city of Harim when he heard the sound of a baby crying.

He was returning from work on December 10, 2023. He stopped momentarily, turned on his mobile phone flashlight to investigate, and spotted a baby girl, around one month old, wrapped in a white blanket, lying by the roadside.

He felt saddened by the infant’s condition and said, “She was crying loudly, and I saw scratches on her face from cat or dog claws. I then carried her in my arms and took her home, where my wife breastfed her, changed her clothes, and took care of her.”

The phenomenon of abandoning newborns is increasing in northern Syria, where individuals leave their newborns in public parks or alongside roads, then leave the area. Passersby later find the infants, some of them dead from hunger or cold.

Al-Hassan said that the next morning, he handed the baby girl over to the police to search for her family and relatives.

Social Rejection

Social worker Abeer Al-Hamoud from the city of Idlib, located in northern Syria, attributes the primary reason for some families abandoning their children to the widespread poverty and high population density in the province. Additionally, there is fear of the security situation (the area is not in the control of the Syrian regime and is often under attack), the prevalence of divorces, and spouses abandoning their families after traveling abroad.

Al-Hamoud also points out another reason, which is the spread of the phenomenon of early marriage and marrying girls to foreign fighters who came from their countries to Syria to participate in combat. Under pressure from their families, wives often have to abandon their children after their husband’s death, sudden disappearance, or return to their homeland, especially when they are unable to care for them or provide for them financially. Moreover, these children have no proper documentation of parentage.

Furthermore, Al-Hamoud mentions another reason, which is some women are raped, leading them to abandon their newborns out of fear of punishment from their families or societal stigma.

Al-Hamoud warns that the number of abandoned children is increasing and says there is an urgent need to find solutions to protect them from exploitation, oppression, and societal discrimination they may face. She emphasizes that the solutions lie in returning displaced persons to their homes, improving living conditions for families, raising awareness among families about the importance of family planning, and launching campaigns to integrate these children into society.

Alternative Families

It’s preferable for members of the community to accept these children into their families, but they face difficulties in registering the births.

Thirty-nine-year-old Samaheer Al-Khalaf from the city of Sarmada in northern Idlib province, Syria, sponsored a newborn found abandoned at a park gate, and she welcomed him into her family.

She says, “After 11 years of marriage to my cousin, we were not blessed with children, so we decided to raise a child found in the city at the beginning of 2022.”

Al-Khalaf observes that the Islamic religion’s prohibition on “adoption” prevents her from registering the child under her name in the civil registry. Additionally, she cannot go to areas controlled by the Syrian regime to register him due to the presence of security barriers.

She says, “I fear for this child’s future because he will remain of unknown lineage. He will live deprived of his civil rights, such as education and healthcare, and he won’t be able to obtain official documents.”

Children’s House Provides Assistance

With the increasing numbers of children of unknown parentage, volunteers have opened a center to receive and care for the children abandoned by their families.

Younes Abu Amin, the director of Children’s House, says, “A child of unknown parentage is one who was found and whose father is unknown, or children whose parentage has not been proven and who have no provider.”

“The organization ‘Children’s House’ opened a center to care for children separated from their families and children of unknown parentage in the city of Sarmada, north of Idlib,” says Abu Amin. “The number of registered children in the center has reached 267, ranging in age from one day to 18 years. Some have been placed with foster families, while others currently reside in the center, receiving all their needs, including shelter, food, education, and healthcare.”

Upon arrival at the center, Abu Amin notes that the center registers each child in its records, transfers them to the shelter department, and makes efforts to locate their original family or relatives and send them to them or to find a foster family to provide them with a decent life.

Abu Amin explains that the center employs 20 staff members who provide children with care, psychological support, and education. They work to create a suitable environment for the children and support them psychologically to help with emotional support.

He emphasizes that the center survives on individual donations to cover its expenses – which are scarce. There is an urgent need for sufficient support, as the children require long-term care, especially newborns.

A young girl Marah (8) and her brother, Kamal (10), lost their father in the war. Their mother remarried, leaving them to live in a small tent with their grandfather, who forces them to beg and sell tissues, often leaving them without food for days.

Consequently, they decided to escape from home. Kamal says, “We used to sleep outdoors, overwhelmed by fear, cold, and hunger, until someone took us to the child center.”

Upon reaching the center, they returned to their studies, played with other children, and each other, just like children with families.

Kamal expresses his wish, “I hope to continue my education with my sister so we can rely on ourselves and escape from a life of injustice and deprivation.”

These children, innocent of any wrongdoing, are often left to fend for themselves, bearing the brunt of war-induced poverty, insecurity, homelessness, instability, and early marriage.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Hindu Woman Doctor Confident of Election In Pakistan Polls

Asia-Pacific, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Freedom of Expression, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Population, Religion, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Women in Politics

On the campaign trail: Dr Saveera Parkash, a nominee for the Pakistan People’s Party. She is the first Hindu woman to run in Pakistan's general election Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

On the campaign trail: Dr Saveera Parkash, a nominee for the Pakistan People’s Party. She is the first Hindu woman to run in Pakistan’s general election Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

PESHAWAR, Jan 18 2024 (IPS) – A woman medical graduate from the Hindu community is making waves, as she is the first minority woman to contest the Pakistan Parliamentary election for a general seat, and she does so in the face of deep-rooted religious traditions and wealthy political opponents.

Dr Saveera Parkash, a nominee of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for the February 8 polls, is sure of her victory despite her religion.

“I have been witnessing the support that I am getting from the Muslim-dominated district of Buner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province,” Parkash told IPS in an interview. 

“My slogan is addressing issues of pollution, women’s empowerment, gender equality, female representation, and their health issues, in addition to ensuring respect for all religions,” she elaborated.

Born to a Christian mother and Hindu father, she has lived in a Muslim-dominated community; therefore, interfaith harmony is on her wishlist.

“Interfaith harmony is extremely significant because we have seen enmity among different religious sects on flimsy grounds.”

“We have to inculcate a sense of brotherhood among all schools of thought and pave the way for lasting peace in the area. We have to respect our religious places and shun differences, as all religions advocate peace and harmony,” she says.

Candidates in Buner, one of the 36 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that remained thick with militants from 2007 to 2010, are likely to witness a hard contest as the women and youngsters have shown support for the first-ever minority female candidate.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, has 145 elected members, 115 regular seats, 26 reserved for women, and 4 for non-Muslims.

Pakistan is home to 4.4 million Hindus, which is 2.4 percent of the total population.

Her father, a medical doctor and late leader of the PPP and twice Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by militants in December 2007 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, inspire her, she says.

“While my ideal is Mother Teresa, my main focus will be women’s education. The overall literacy rate is 48 percent, but only 25 percent of females are literate; therefore, I want to spread awareness about the importance of women’s education,” she says.

Additionally, it is very important to end favoritism and nepotism and ensure merit in the appointment of teachers, especially women.

After completing medical education in July 2022, she saw the issues women visiting hospitals faced and decided to enter politics instead of continuing her career as a doctor, as she believed issues needed to be resolved at the policy level.

“We need more women doctors, nurses, and paramedics to encourage female patients to visit hospitals. Currently, the number of female health workers is extremely low, due to which most of the women don’t come to hospitals because they don’t want to be seen by male doctors,” she says.

“My big advantage is that I belong to a middle-class family, and the people will vote for me because I am approachable to my electorate.”

The promotion of women’s rights is her main objective.

“We have to scale up awareness regarding women’s rights to property inheritance and their right to education. I sense victory in the polls, as I know the people listen to me and would reject opponents for their bright future.”

So, how does she feel the run-up to the election is going?

“In our district, 75 percent of voters are under 30, and they are well-informed about the issues they are facing. I may be lacking wisdom and knowledge compared to senior politicians, but my sincerity will lead to my success,” says the 25-year-old, who routinely wears a headscarf.

Because she is trying to reach a young electorate, her campaigning includes the wide use of social media, apart from the traditional approaches of public meetings and house-to-house canvassing.

Highlighting corruption is also part of her election campaign.

At the moment, she is concentrating on a smooth run-up so she can win popular support in her constituency

“Voters in my constituency call me ‘sister’ and ‘daughter,’ which gives me immense strength,” she said.

Parkash said she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, Oam Prakash, a retired doctor, and serve the people.

Securing a space for women is vital for development, as they have been suppressed and neglected in all areas.

She said “serving humanity is in my blood” due to her medical background, highlighting that her dream to become an elected legislator stemmed from having experienced poor management and helplessness in government hospitals as a doctor.

Most people in the area endorse her candidacy, regardless of her Hinduism or political affiliation. Voters appreciate her bravery for challenging traditional policies

The Election Commission of Pakistan makes it mandatory for all political parties to award 5 percent of seats to women in general seats.

Political analyst Muhammad Zahir Shah, at the University of Peshawar, said that Parkash has created history by contesting the general election.

“We have been seeing women becoming members of the assembly on reserved seats. They don’t contest elections but are nominated by parties on the basis of the seats they win in the election,” Shah said.

In the past, some women have fought elections, but they were Muslim; therefore, they don’t draw as much media and public attention, but the case of Parkash is unprecedented.

She is well educated and belongs to the Hindu community while standing for vote in an area where 95 percent of the voters are Muslims.

“She is contesting on the PPP’s ticket, which isn’t a popular political party, but it seems that she will make her presence felt during the electioneering,” Shah said. Already, she has hit headlines, and if the election takes place in a fair and transparent manner, there is a greater likelihood that she will emerge victorious,” he said.

IPS UN Bureau Report