UNFPA Calls for Protection & Justice for Women & Girls in Tigray

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. Credit: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The 2018 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist celebrated for his work with survivors of sexual assault in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Panzi Hospital once said: “Rape is a strategy of war – it is meant to destroy women and communities physically and mentally”.


Sadly, this destruction has become a daily reality for women and girls in the Tigray region in Ethiopia.
In recent weeks, women have come forward with the most devastating stories of sexual violation and physical abuse. Selam, 22, who found shelter in a safe house, is one of the survivors.

She recalls “running from place to place without food or shelter” and “constantly living in fear” after being displaced from her home and repeatedly facing harrowing incidents of sexual violence.

Persistent fighting, forced displacement, and dire living conditions over the past eight months in Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara in northern Ethiopia, have created one of Africa’s most pressing humanitarian crises.

More than 5.2 million people in Tigray alone require humanitarian assistance; among them are 118,000 pregnant women and 1.3 million women of reproductive age. Amid the crisis, gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported.

The health and well-being of women and adolescent girls are further threatened by food insecurity that is expected to worsen. The destruction and looting of health facilities – around a third are partially functioning, and a mere one per cent are offering clinical management of rape services – further complicates the situation amidst the threat of COVID-19.

Julitta Onabanjo

Selam’s experience is just one of the stories captured by health officials and UN agencies, but these testimonies likely represent only a fraction of the real prevalence.
Even under normal circumstances, given the high levels of stigma, among other factors, gender-based violence is largely unreported in Ethiopia. Only 24 per cent of survivors ever seek assistance, according to the 2016 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey.

Devastating impact

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have a devastating impact on women’s physical and mental well-being, rights and choices, and affect their ability to care for their children, support their families and contribute to their societies.

A social worker at the UNFPA-supported safe house where Selam now resides described the women as arriving “traumatized and depressed due to prolonged suffering, distress and horrendous violence”.

Even when women have not experienced sexual violence, the fear of rape or insecurity prevents them from accessing food distributing centres, critical health-care services for themselves or their children, and adolescent girls may stay away from school.

In the long-run, hiding from potential attacks contributes to malnutrition, poor health outcomes, and a lack of educational attainment among women and girls.

UN Member States have recognized the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. The UN Security Council-adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, calls on all parties in hostilities to take special measures to “protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict”.

The African Union also committed to “Silencing the Guns” by “ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide on the continent by 2020”.

Women’s bodies must not be the object of war or the collateral in conflict. Rather women must be the central subject and partner in peacebuilding.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. These serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be swiftly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Call to end hostilities

We urge the government of Ethiopia and the international community to step up efforts to end hostilities and all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence, to ensure the health and safety of women and girls.

As part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) system-wide scale up for the Tigray region activated in April 2021, UNFPA is expanding and accelerating support in its areas of responsibility — protection, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) and delivering quality sexual and Reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Safe houses

Women-friendly spaces, safe houses and one-stop centres in the conflict-affected regions have been set up to provide clinical management of rape and psychosocial counselling. These spaces connect women to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services and legal services.

What transforms a rape victim into a rape survivor is justice. UNFPA is working with partners to ensure effective referral and prosecution systems are available.

We are working with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth of Ethiopia to enable the capacity-building of armed personnel and the constitution of a Gender-Based Violence Task Force, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Police University and the Federal Police Commission.

UNFPA is also providing medical supplies, helping to restore health system services, and cumulatively, has distributed hundreds of Emergency Reproductive Health kits and thousands of Dignity Kits.

Additionally, to prevent COVID-19 infections among key staff providing SRH and GBV services and information in government and partner-run health facilities and one-stop centres, nearly 11,000 Personal Protective Equipment items have been distributed since November 2020.

Funds needed urgently

Providing adequate levels of these kinds of life-saving services requires urgent funding. We are calling on all that can help, including government and development partners, to assist us in addressing the immediate needs of women and girls and help us avert the medium to long-term repercussions of sexual violence. The immediate funding requirements for the next six months is $15 million.

The women and girls of Tigray have told us their stories, and we continue to hear them out. Our actions to deal with their trauma and rebuild their lives must be our urgent response.

For women to participate equally in society, they need to make decisions about their bodies freely and without fear. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence destroy the ability of women and girls to make choices and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Even in times of conflict, we must continue to defend and protect the rights of women and girls and devote the necessary attention and resources to prevent sexual violence and decisively ensure justice.

Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations

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UN Ready for Breakaway Nations but the Pace Remains Slow

Africa, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Armed Conflicts

South Sudan’s independence from the rest of Sudan was the result of a January 2011 referendum held under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the decades-long civil war between the North and the South.

South Sudan’s national flag (centre) flies at UN Headquarters following its admission as the 193rd Member State. Credit: UN/E. Schneider

South Sudan’s national flag (centre) flies at UN Headquarters following its admission as the 193rd Member State. Credit: UN/E. Schneider

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 5 2021 (IPS) – When the United Nations renovated its building at a cost of over $2.1 billion, as part of a seven-year refurbishing project back in 2014, the seating in the cavernous General Assembly hall was increased from 193 to 204—primarily in anticipation of at least 11 new member states joining the world body sooner or later.


But the pace of new member states joining the UN, primarily from half a dozen breakaway regions dominated by separatist movements, has remained slow.

East Timor, described as the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, broke away from Indonesia and joined the UN in May 2002.

The UN played a significant role in supporting the democratic process in the country, now known as Timor-Leste. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was deployed from 1992 to 2002 to administer the territory, exercise legislative and executive authority during the transition and support capacity-building for self-government.

Meanwhile, the Republic of South Sudan (population: 11.3 million), which seceded from Sudan, was the last of the 193 UN member states, joining the world body in July 2011.

But at least one potential member state— Kosovo– has been knocking at the door trying to seek admission rather unsuccessfully primarily because of opposition from one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The UN’s relatively new member states, beginning in the 1960s, included Singapore (1965), Bangladesh (1971) and six republics, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, resulting from the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Still, if political fantasies become realities, a lineup of new U.N. member states may include potential breakaway regions, including Kurdistan, Western Sahara, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Catalonia, Scotland and Palestine—not forgetting Tibet and Taiwan whose membership will be shot down by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UNSC.

But currently the most likely candidate is Tigray which is moving towards an independent state after nearly eight months of fighting against Ethiopian military forces, described as one of Africa’s most powerful, this time backed by Eritrea.

If it does happen, Ethiopia would have generated two breakaway states: first Eritrea which became independent of Ethiopia in 1993, and now Tigray, with a population of 7.1 million.

The Tigray Independence Party (TIP) has long campaigned for secession from Ethiopia which it described as an “empire”.

Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of Tigray, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “even if the conflict ends soon, Tigray’s future, as part of Ethiopia, is in doubt”.

In the Times report on July 4, Gebremichael said “The trust has broken completely. If they don’t want us, why should we stay?”. Still, he added, nothing has been decided because “It depends on the politics at the centre”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, told reporters on July 2 the Security Council has held six closed-door meetings “and the situation in Tigray has not improved.”

She said the open meeting last week was the first opportunity to show that African lives matter as much as other lives around the world.

“But an open meeting is not enough,” she said, pointing out that “what we need to see is action on the ground.”

“We need to see a ceasefire that is permanent; that all of the parties agree to. We need to see the Eritrean troops return to their own border. We need to see unfettered access for humanitarian workers. “We need to see accountability for the atrocities that have been committed.”

“And at this moment I just want to express, again, our sympathy for the many losses of lives, including for MSF (Doctors Without Borders) staff who were killed recently,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) says the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is in control of most of the Tigray region, including major towns.

William Davison, ICG’s Senior Analyst, said the Front has achieved these gains “mainly through mass popular support and by capturing arms and supplies from adversaries.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week he is deeply concerned with the present situation in Tigray.

“It is essential to have a real ceasefire paving the way for a dialogue able to bring a political solution to Tigray.” He said the presence of foreign troops is an aggravating factor of confrontation.

“At the same time, full humanitarian access, unrestricted humanitarian access must be guaranteed to the whole territory. The destruction of civilian infrastructure is totally unacceptable,” he declared. 

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Flaws in Asia’s Pearl

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

In March 2021, the UN Human Rights Council was given a mandate to collect and preserve information and evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s 27-year long civil war that ended in 2009. Meanwhile, Western nations taking a cue from the Human Rights Council’s highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka appear to be tightening the noose. Credit: UN Photo / Violaine Martin. 43rd session of the Human Rights Council.

LONDON, Jul 5 2021 (IPS) – For well over a century Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, has been known to the world as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ for its multifaceted attractions. That is until blurb writers ruined it all with hyperbolic epithets that obscured the country’s magnetic charms, which attracted visitors from around the globe.


But one particular epithet has lived up to its name. Called ‘a country like no other’, Sri Lanka is increasingly beginning to prove this true – though not for the reasons that originally prompted it.

Over the years, groups of professional politicians and those drawn to the sphere, not to serve the public but by thoughts of self-aggrandisement and avarice, have dragged this once prosperous country, with its many natural resources and strong democratic institutions, towards its nadir.

From being Asia’s first democracy, with universal franchise granted in 1931– even before independence from Britain in 1948– political commentators and increasingly the public now fear that the country is teetering on the brink of militarism, with retired and serving senior officers in key positions in the civil administration, and others appointed to virtually oversee Sri Lanka’s 25 administrative districts.

While there is both international and local disquiet over the deterioration of democratic values, of more immediate concern is the country’s dire economic state. The situation is so critical that less than two weeks ago, the respected Sunday Times wrote that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government is ‘steps away from bankruptcy’.

At the same time, well-known economists were pressing alarm bells, warning about the possible breakdown of the banking system ‘causing a collapse of the economy’. The direct cause of the current crisis was the sudden hike in fuel prices in late June, which is bound to have a ripple effect on other commodities and services.

Bakers are already threatening to raise their prices, which could well have happened by the time this article appears.

A thermometer gun is used to take a boy’s temperature in Sri Lanka. Credit: UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

With the prices of staples such as rice and vegetables unbearably high, the average consumer, already burdened by the steepening cost of living, is being pushed to the wall by a government that came to power some 20 months or so ago promising to reduce poverty and improve living standards.

Rising living costs are compounded by a still uncontrollable Covid pandemic. This has compelled the government to impose lockdowns and curb travel – restrictions which are haphazardly lifted and re-imposed, despite the best medical advice – as daily wage earners run out of cash to buy food for their families and meet other domestic needs.

Political commentators and increasingly the public fear that the country is on the brink of militarism

Last month, the Sri Lanka Medical Association urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to continue lockdown restrictions without interruption–”considering that over 2,000 Covid 19 cases and over 50 deaths are being reported daily” and also the detection of the highly dangerous Indian variant’.

At the time of writing, health authorities reported another 52 fatalities and put the daily count of positive cases at 2,098. But such statistics seems to matter little to politicians and their military and medical cohorts, tasked with combating the spreading pandemic but ignoring the accumulating data and the advice of specialist medical professionals.

Meanwhile, the vaccination of the population, according to a pre-determined programme, has been disrupted by politicians who have drawn up their own priority lists and even threatened doctors and health workers who refused to accept their dictates, raising law enforcement issues and public criticism.

Those with power and influence find backdoor means to gain access to vaccinations, at the expense of an increasingly frustrated and angry public, who stand in long queues for hours awaiting their turn.

While the overall Covid containment programme is reportedly in a mess, along with an economy going steadily downhill, another pearl turned up in the Indian Ocean close to Colombo port. The X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered container ship, was carrying noxious cargo, including a leaking nitric acid container. With Qatar and India refusing to admit the vessel for repairs, it turned up in Colombo

That poisonous pearl spewed nitric acid into the ocean and then self-immolated, burning for days before part of it went down on June 2. As a result of the incident, more than 150 marine animals, including 100 turtles, 15 dolphins, three whales and scores of birds and fish beached in various parts of the country, not to mention the kilometres of beach covered with plastic pollutants, leading a UN representative in Colombo to describe the episode as a ‘significant damage to the planet’.

Meanwhile, the original pearl of the Indian Ocean is struggling to keep its head above water. The Sunday Times’ economics columnist Dr Nimal Sanderatne, an agricultural economist, former central banker and academic, painted a bleak picture in his weekly column in late June: ‘The external finances of the country are in a perilous state. External reserves have fallen, the trade deficit is widening, the balance of payments deficit is increasing and there are foreign debt repayments of about US$4 billion during the rest of the year.’

His views about the parlous state of the economy were echoed by several other economists, including the spokesman of Sri Lanka’s main opposition party SJB, Dr Harsha de Silva, and Dr Anila Dias Bandaranaike, a former assistant governor of the Central Bank.

In a desperate bid to boost reserves, Sri Lanka went for a currency swap of US$200 million with Bangladesh, once a struggling new nation in South Asia. Prudent economic policies and management, and national interest, brought Bangladesh to its current flourishing status.

When the currency swap was announced, one Sri Lankan wag remarked that it would have made more sense if Sri Lanka had swapped its advisors for those from Bangladesh, and the swap should be permanent to protect the country’s self-respect

Only a country that has lost its political sense and perceptiveness, or has abandoned all concern for its struggling people, could seek government sanction to import nearly 300 vehicles costing Rs 3.7 billion for its 225 parliamentarians and unnamed others, in the midst of a severe foreign currency crisis, when begging and borrowing seem the only options.

What is even worse, Sri Lanka’s premier state bank was ordered to open letters of credit one month or so before cabinet approval had been sought. Whoever ordered this remains unknown to the public at the time of writing.

Critics of the government say it is fast losing its one-time popularity as ill-considered and sudden policy decisions are heaped on existing economic and health problems, such as the snap decision to ban chemical fertiliser and pesticides, so essential right now for agriculture and export crops such as tea.

Scant wonder the government is being assailed by even close associates of the Rajapaksa family. One such is the head of the Catholic Church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who, in a strongly critical statement recently said that ‘even nature seemed to be turning against the rulers’.

Meanwhile, western nations taking a cue from the UN Human Rights Council’s highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka last March appear to be tightening the noose.

At the end of June, the European Parliament moved a resolution, with almost 90 per cent voting for it, urging the EU authorities to consider suspending the Generalised System of Preference (GSP Plus) trade concessions to Sri Lanka, which would be a serious blow to exports.

Later the Core Group of Western nations that sponsored the UNHRC resolution issued a statement condemning Sri Lanka’s human rights situation and new changes to the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Bleak times lie ahead.

Source: Asian Affairs Magazine

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

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Stopping Marine Plastic Pollution: A Key IUCN Congress Goal

Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Plastic bags may remain intact for years in the marine environment. Plastic products certified to be industrially compostable are no solution for littering, as they do not degrade efficiently in the environment and continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they break down. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

St David’s, Wales, Jul 1 2021 (IPS) – Documented images of albatross chicks and marine turtles dying slow deaths from eating plastic bags and other waste are being seared into our consciences. And yet our mass pollution of Earth’s seas and oceans, fuelled by single-use plastics and throw-away consumerism, just gets worse.


Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless sea turtles every year. Plastics, with all their benefits and promises, have revolutionised societies and economies since their development in the 1950s, but now some 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans every year.

Waste plastic, making up to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, breaks down into micro-plastics which enter the digestive systems of sea and land animals and humans. Invisible plastic is in the water we drink, the salt we eat and the air we breathe. Experts are still working out the long-term impacts, such as cancer and impaired reproductive systems.

The fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture also leave a massive legacy in terms of ocean waste, poisoning and ensnaring sea life.

Hasna Moudud heads a small NGO in Bangladesh, working to protect coastal areas where vast rivers pour into the Indian Ocean, providing livelihoods and food for millions.

Her NGO, Coastal Area Resource Development and Management Association (Cardma), plants coastal trees, protects olive ridley sea turtles in a conservation hatchery in the Bay of Bengal, and helps women in cottage industries, using cane grass to make mats instead of plastic.

“Oceans are always neglected,” she tells IPS. “Small NGOs like myself take risks to save whatever we can of the fragile ecosystem that is left for our future generations.”

Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

But to combine her NGO’s efforts with those of others, Moudud says she is “praying” to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille this September where government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations from around the world will join discussions to set priorities and drive conservation and sustainable development action.

Meeting every four years – with this Congress delayed by the Covid pandemic – member organisations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vote on major issues to shape humanity’s response to the planet’s conservation crises. This particular Congress in Marseille is offering both in-person and virtual participation options, allowing those unable to make the trip to Marseille for the full Congress the opportunity to join discussions and provide their feedback.

Moudud’s NGO is a co-sponsor of Congress Motion 022: “Stopping the global plastic pollution crisis in marine environments by 2030.”

The broad resolution goes to the heart of the waste plastics issue. It notes that global production is due to increase by 40% over the next 15 years from current levels of around 300 million tonnes and that the world’s “predominant throwaway model” means that over 75% of the plastics ever produced to date are waste, “notably because the price of plastic on the market does not represent all of the costs of its lifecycle to nature or society”.

Recalling previous international efforts to set goals for ending marine plastic litter, the motion calls on the international community to reach a wide-ranging global agreement to combat marine plastic pollution. This would entail, among other measures, eliminating unnecessary plastic production, in particular single-use plastic waste; recycling and proper prevention of leakage into the environment; and public awareness campaigns.

Sunlight, salt and pounding waves grind marine litter down to plastic grains. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

Activists say previous international efforts to curb plastic pollution have been toothless. Moudud is among many who want mandatory and enforceable measures, accusing big business of what she calls “manipulative practices through sponsorship and malpractice without helping build the natural world”.

“No one is looking or holding the polluters responsible,” she says, calling for a toughening up of the resolution. “I am deeply involved in everything IUCN does to help save the natural world and sustainable living.”

Steve Trott, project manager for IUCN-member Watamu Marine Association which is tackling plastic pollution in their Marine Protected Area in Kenya, says Motion 022 clearly sets out the threats posed by plastic waste to marine and coastal environments, economies and human health and well-being.

“Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Recycling based on the Kenya coast embrace the IUCN call for action,” Trott told IPS.

Pushing circular economy initiatives, their NGO has created dynamic plastic value chains through partnerships between the hotels industry and local communities, sponsoring beach clean-ups and collecting plastic waste for recycling. This provides a second source of income for community waste collectors while local artists are also up-cycling plastic waste.

Reflecting one of the main themes of IUCN’s membership structure bringing together civil society and indigenous peoples and government authorities, Trott says Watamu is following a “win-win model which can be replicated and up-scaled, sending out an ‘Act Local, Think Global’ message to inspire others”. He hopes to attend the Congress in Marseille if all goes well.

Single Use items are littering the world’s oceans. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

The Plastic Waste Makers index, a study by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, identifies 20 companies producing more than half of all single-use plastic waste in the world. Some are state-owned and multinational corporations, whose plastic production is financed by major banks. The report notes that nearly 98% of single-use plastic is made from what is called virgin fossil fuels — plastic created without any recycled materials.

Single-use plastics explain why fossil fuel companies are ramping up their production as their two main markets of transport and electricity generation are being decarbonised. By 2050 plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Humankind possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge but also the accompanying responsibility, knowing that oceans are in the poorest health since humans started exploiting them.

Single use plastics – and the estimated 130 million tonnes that are dumped each year around the world – have dominated studies and discussions on waste. Plastic bottles, food containers and wrappers, and single-use bags are the four most widespread items polluting the seas.

One element woven into similar narratives of how to tackle the world’s burning environmental issues – such as carbon emissions, species loss, and plastic waste – is the potential fix offered by technology. Motion 022 refers to the need for more investment in environmentally sound plastic waste collection, recycling and disposal systems as well as forms of recovery.

A study led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon institute focuses on inventive sea-cleaning solutions to date, including floating drones. But her paper suggests that it could take about a century to remove just 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using clean-up devices because plastic production and waste are accumulating so fast.

Activists welcome IUCN’s intervention on plastic waste pollution and the strong mandate a successful and unanimous motion can convey to governments and international institutions. But they also caution against taking too narrow an approach towards tackling marine pollution at the September 3-11 Congress.

Eleonora de Sabata, spokesperson for the Clean Sea Life project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, told IPS that the narrative needs to shift away from single-use plastic to single-use everything. “Technology” has come up with so-called ‘bio’ plastics as a replacement for some plastics but only to create a whole suite of problems of their own.

“It’s the throwaway culture that creates problems, whether plastic or not. Green washing and sloppy leadership are filling our world of single use,” she argues. Washing our consciences by simply substituting single-use plastics with other single-use items, such as supposedly biodegradable bags and cutlery, are not the answer.

 

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

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

Opinion

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


Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

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

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

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

Kanni Wignaraja

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

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

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

Omar Abdi

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

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

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

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

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

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Towards an Equal Future in Parliaments

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Women’s Political Network, Credit: UNDP Montenegro

The Women’s Political Network was established in Montenegro in November 2017 to promote equal political and economic rights and to combat gender-based-violence. The initiative was funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro and implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights.

Meanwhile the UN will be commemorating International Day of Parliamentarism on June 30.

NEW YORK, Jun 28 2021 (IPS) – In elections last October in Georgia, women’s share of seats in parliament went up by nearly seven percent, following the enforcement of a 25 percent quota for women candidates.


In North Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia, which apply a 40 percent legislated gender quota, women exceeded 30 percent in parliament. And in Kosovo*, women won more seats in parliament during the 2021 February election than in any previous year, gaining a 40 percent share.

But, as heartening as these results are, they are rare stars for women in the political firmament.

Women worldwide hold just over a quarter of all seats in parliaments and all positions of speakers in 2020, with 53 countries having at least one woman speaker.

At this rate it will take 50 years for parliaments to reach gender parity. Other estimates lead to gloomier forecasts – such as 145.5 years to reach gender parity in legislative and executive branches of the government.

If recent electoral trends are any indication, parliaments in most countries covered by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) will not reach gender parity by 2030.

Among countries that are likely to reach gender parity, more than half have adopted gender quotas. One of the most widely applied tools to accelerate progress on women’s political representation, legislated quotas allow more women to get elected and have a shot at changing gender social norms.

A 2017 survey conducted among top and middle management of parliamentary political parties in Georgia – complemented with the reports and personal experiences of female politicians and activists – highlighted the obstacles faced by Georgian women striving for a political career. Credit: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP Georgia

Numbers matter. Part of the solution to increasing women’s political participation lies in the ability to track progress and comparing data across countries. For example, legislated quotas – despite being a somewhat contested phenomenon – were applied last year in 81 states globally, including 25 countries and territories represented on UNDP’s recently updated Equalfuture platform.

Launched in 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, this online portal showcases progress in women’s participation in national parliaments in 57 countries and territories in the Europe and Central Asia region over the past 26 years.

Equalfuture now features updated data on women’s presence in electoral politics.

It shows that, despite progress, women in the ECA region have just over a fourth of seats in national legislatures. In only six countries in the region are women speakers of parliament – Azerbaijan elected a woman speaker for the first time in 2020 – while there are women speakers in just 20 of the 57 countries in the UNECE region.

To argue that there have never been so many opportunities open to women as there are today is to ignore the powerful hold of gender bias in society. Nearly half of the population in Europe and Central Asia (ECA) believe men make better political leaders than women. The bias ranges from more than 60 percent in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan supporting this view to less than 30 percent in Croatia and Montenegro.

This could be one of many reasons why young women in 2020 made less than one percent of all parliamentarians worldwide.

Gender bias is just one in a constellation of factors in the slow crawl in women’s political representation.

Violence against women in politics is a formidable obstacle to women’s entry to the political sphere. This increasingly recognized phenomenon is alarmingly pervasive: in 45 UNECE countries, most women parliamentarians have suffered psychological violence or been the target of online sexist attacks on social media during their mandate. Almost half received death threats or threats of rape and beating, and a quarter suffered sexual violence.

Women aspiring to politics are also subject to vicious forms of cyberviolence not foreseen in the Beijing Platform for Action which called on parliaments to have no less than 30 percent of women in their ranks. Abusive online comments aimed at women politicians are inversely proportional to the number of women in political office. During the parliamentary elections campaign in Georgia in 2020, 40 percent of the abusive comments on Facebook targeted women candidates, who comprised only 22 percent of the monitored profiles. Most comments called on them to stay home and give up their political ambition.

Given the many gender fault lines laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is little surprise that women make up only 24 percent of the COVID-19 task force members worldwide. With its profound impacts on women’s paid and unpaid work, the pandemic has set back decades of hard-won gains in gender equality.

More women than men lost their jobs while their care burdens intensified during the pandemic. With fewer resources and less time to spend on the activities outside the household, fewer women are likely to engage in politics.

However, without women’s input, countries risk making poor decisions at a pivotal moment of recovery from crisis.

On the upcoming International Day of Parliamentarism (June 30), let us celebrate not only parliamentarians but gender-equal parliaments as a cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy. And let us redouble our efforts to dismantle the barriers and dislodge the biases that hold women back from an equal future in political decision-making.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Assistant Administrator of UNDP, and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS. She was appointed to this position by the UN Secretary-General in August 2018 and assumed duties in October 2018. She oversees UNDP operations in 18 countries and territories of Europe and Central Asia: https://www.eurasia.undp.org/content/rbec/en/home/about-us/about-the-region.html

Learn more about the progress of women’s participation in politics in 57 countries and territories over the past 26 years through UNDP Eurasia’s online platform Equalfuture.

* References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999)

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