Taking Humanitarianism Hostage – the Case of Afghanistan & Multilateral Organisations

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, TerraViva United Nations


Women receive food rations at a food distribution site in Herat, Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

NEW YORK, Jan 12 2023 (IPS) – Can you imagine what it would be like if women were simply not allowed to step outside of their homes, let alone to work for a living? When women choose to do so, and they can afford it, then it is a matter of choice. When women mostly cannot, as is the case in Afghanistan now, not only is half the population imprisoned, but children go hungry, and communities sink deeper into poverty.

World Bank data (as incomplete as it is), indicates that the average number of female-headed households (i.e. households where women are the primary – if not the only – breadwinners), is around 25%.

What that means is, that on average, a quarter of all households around the world depend on women earning an income. Children, families, communities, and nations –depend on women’s work, to the tune of a quarter of their labour force.

Economists are still pointing to the obvious challenges of counting female labour, which often lies disproportionately on the frontiers of the formal economy, such that women continue to serve as reserve armies of labour and frontline workers during industrialization.

Economists who work to document these specificities, also point out that as soon as these frontiers expand or change, women are expelled or relegated to the shadows of the informal economy and piece-rate labour, identifying this as an all too frequent failure to recognize the importance of the kind of work many women engage in, which both keeps an economy running, and enables its expansion and growth.

The Covid-19 Pandemic should have resulted in a clear realisation that all hands are necessary on deck, with so many women actually needed as first responders–the backbone of the public health crisis – everywhere in the world.

As economies take a nosedive and the realities of recession hit many of us, all economies need to be kept running, if not to expand and grow.

And beyond these very real challenges to counting women’s work – and making that work count – there is another very critical reality: culture. Lest we think only of the vagaries of women who take over “men’s jobs” (whatever that means in today’s world), we need to stop being blind to the fact that women are needed to serve other women.

In fact, in many parts of the world, including the supposedly liberal and ‘egalitarian’ Western world, many women still prefer to receive life-saving direct services from other women – in public health, in sanitation, in all levels of education, in nutritional spaces, and many, many others.

Now let us pause a moment and consider humanitarian disaster zones, where women and girls often need to be cared for – and this can only be done by and through other women.

Then let us envision a reality one step further – let’s call it a socially conservative country, which is facing humanitarian disaster, and is heavily dependent on international organisations (governmental and non- governmental) for the necessary humanitarian support.

How is it conceivable that in such a context, women can be excluded from serving? And yet this is precisely what the Taliban have decreed on December 24, when it barred women from working in national and international NGOs. And this is after they banned women from higher education.

Many international NGOs halted their work in Afghanistan, explaining that they cannot work without their women staff – as a matter of principle, but also as a question of practical necessity. Yet, the United Nations – the premier multilateral entity – continues to see how they could compromise with the Taliban rule, for the sake of ‘the greater good – real humanitarian needs’.

Thank goodness they are letting the UN continue to work with their women employees, runs one way of thinking. We will not fail to deliver humanitarian needs, runs another UN way of thinking.

Of course, humanitarian needs are essential to human survival – and thus, should never be held hostage. But why is the United Nations being accountable for humanitarian needs only?

Meanwhile, the Taliban claim that these edicts about womens’ work and education are a matter of religious propriety, a claim which, as of this moment, is not strongly challenged by another multilateral entity – the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), encompassing 56 governments and members of the United Nations.

While individual governments have spoken out, this multilateral entity has remained relatively silent on the Islamic justice of such a decree. Is it because this multilateral religious entity sees no need to speak to humanitarian needs?

Or is it because it sees no value to hard economic realities where women’s agency plays a central role? Or perhaps it is because there is no unanimity on the Islamic justification behind such decrees?

In light of this hostage-taking of humanitarian relief efforts, a group of women of faith leaders, have come together to ask some simple questions of the two multilateral entities involved. They have sent a letter with over 150 international NGO sign ons.

Multilateralism is supposed to be the guarantor of all human rights and dignity, for all people, at all times. But as governmental regimes weaken, so do traditional multilateral entities heavily reliant on those governments. Time for community based transnational networks based on intergenerational, multicultural, gender sensitive leaders.

Rev Dr Chloe Bryer is Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York; Prof Azza Karam is Secretary General, Religions for Peace; Ruth Messinger is Social Justice Consultant, Jewish Theological Seminary; and Negina Yari is Country Director, Afghans4Tomorrow

IPS UN Bureau


Deportees Start Businesses to Overcome Unemployment in El Salvador

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Migration & Refugees

Oscar Sosa cooks roast chicken and pork on an artisanal grill set up outside his small restaurant, Comedor Espresso, in the eastern Salvadoran city of San Francisco Gotera. Like many of the returnees, especially from the United States, he set up his own business, given the unemployment he found on his return to El Salvador. More than 10,000 people were deported to this Central American country between January and August 2022. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Oscar Sosa cooks roast chicken and pork on an artisanal grill set up outside his small restaurant, Comedor Espresso, in the eastern Salvadoran city of San Francisco Gotera. Like many of the returnees, especially from the United States, he set up his own business, given the unemployment he found on his return to El Salvador. More than 10,000 people were deported to this Central American country between January and August 2022. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SAN FRANCISCO GOTERA, El Salvador, Jan 10 2023 (IPS) – While grilling several portions of chicken and pork, Salvadoran cook Oscar Sosa said he was proud that through his own efforts he had managed to set up a small food business after he was deported back to El Salvador from the United States.

This has allowed him to generate an income in a country where unemployment affects 6.3 percent of the economically active population.

“Little by little we grew and now we also have catering services for events,” Sosa told IPS, as he turned the chicken and pork over with tongs on a small circular grill.

The grill is located outside the premises, so that the smoke won’t bother the customers eating inside.

It’s not easy, he said, to return home and to not be able to find a job. That is why he decided to start his own business, Comedor Espresso, in the center of San Francisco Gotera, a city in the department of Morazán in eastern El Salvador.

“You come back wanting to work and there aren’t any opportunities. The first thing they see in you is your age; when you’re over 35, they don’t hire you.” — Patricia López

In this Central American country of 6.7 million people, “comedores” are small, generally precarious, neighborhood restaurants where inexpensive, homemade meals are prepared.

Sosa’s, although very small, was clean and tidy, and even had air conditioning, when IPS visited it on Dec. 19.

Skills and capacity abound, but opportunities are scarce

Sosa, 35, is one of thousands of people deported from the United States every year.

He left in 2005 and was sent back in 2014. He worked for eight years as a cook at a Mexican restaurant in the city of Pensacola, in the southeastern state of Florida.

A total of 10,399 people were deported to this country between January and August 2022, which represents an increase of 221 percent compared to the same period in 2021, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.

The flow of undocumented Salvadoran migrants, especially to the United States, intensified in the 1980s, due to the 1980-1992 civil war in El Salvador that left some 75,000 dead and around 8,000 forcibly disappeared.

At the end of the war, people continued to leave, for economic reasons and also because of the high levels of violent crime in the country.

An estimated 3.1 million Salvadorans live outside the country, 88 percent of them in the United States. And 50 percent of the Salvadorans in the U.S. are undocumented.

Despite the problem of unemployment, Sosa was not discouraged when he returned to his country.

“I feel that we are already growing, we have five employees, the business is registered in the Ministry of Finance, in the Ministry of Health, and I’m paying taxes,” he said.

Obviously, not all deportees have the support, especially financial, needed to set up their own business.

The stigma of deportation weighs heavily on them: there is a widespread perception that if they were deported it is because they were involved in some type of crime in the United States.

A government survey, conducted between November 2020 and June 2021, found that 50 percent of the deportees manage to open a business, 18 percent live off their savings, their partner’s income or support from their family, and 16 percent have part-time or full-time jobs.

In addition, seven percent live on remittances sent home to them, two percent receive income from property rentals, dividends or bank interests, and seven percent checked “other” or did not answer.

Apart from some government initiatives and non-governmental organizations that provide training and funds for start-ups, returnees have faced the specter of unemployment for decades.

Many return empty-handed and owe debts to the people smugglers who they hired to get into the United States as undocumented migrants.

In the case of Sosa, his brothers supported him to set up Comedor Espresso.

He also received a small grant of 700 dollars to purchase kitchen equipment.

The money came from a program financed with 87,000 dollars by the Salvadoran community abroad, through the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry.

The initiative, launched in 2019, aims to generate opportunities for returnees in four municipalities in eastern El Salvador, including San Francisco Gotera.

This region was chosen because most of the deportees reside here, according to Carlos Díaz, coordinator of the program on behalf of the San Francisco Gotera mayor’s office.

But the demand for support and resources exceeds supply.

“There was a database of approximately 350 returnees in Gotera, but there was only money for 55,” Díaz told IPS.

More than 200 people benefited in the four municipalities.

David Aguilar and Patricia López (right) set up their own business, El Tuco King Carwash, after they decided to return to El Salvador. Their business is located in the eastern part of the country, a region where more than 50 percent of returnees live. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

David Aguilar and Patricia López (right) set up their own business, El Tuco King Carwash, after they decided to return to El Salvador. Their business is located in the eastern part of the country, a region where more than 50 percent of returnees live. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Hope despite a tough situation

Out of necessity, David Aguilar and Patricia López, 52 and 42, respectively, also set up their own business, in their case a car wash, after deciding to return to El Salvador. It’s called Tuco King Carwash.

Like Sosa, they are from San Francisco Gotera. Aguilar left the country in November 2005 and López three months later, in February 2006.

They made the risky journey to try to give their young daughter – six months old at the time, and today 17 years old – a better future.

One leg of the trip was by sea, on the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.

“I spent 12 hours at sea, in a boat carrying about 20 people, who were all undocumented like me,” Aguilar said.

He added: “The only thing they gave us as lifesavers were a few plastic containers, in case the boat capsized.”

It was in Houston, in the state of Texas, that Aguilar found work in a car paint shop. The experience has been useful to him back in El Salvador, because in addition to washing cars, he offers paint jobs and other related services.

Aguilar and López were not deported; they decided to return because her father died in 2011. They came back in 2012, without having seen many of their dreams come true.

“You come back wanting to work and there aren’t any opportunities. The first thing they see in you is your age; when you’re over 35, they don’t hire you,” López said.

Before embarking on the trip to the United States, she had finished her degree as a primary school teacher, in 2005. But she never worked as a teacher because she left the following year.

“When I returned I applied to various teaching positions, but no one ever hired me,” she said.

Today, their carwash business, set up in 2014, is doing well, albeit with difficulties, because the couple have found that there is too much competition.

But they do not lose hope that they will succeed.

Former Salvadoran guerrilla David Henríquez, deported from the United States in 2019, shows the quality of the disinfectant he has just produced in his small artisanal workshop in San Salvador. With no chance of finding formal employment after deportation, he worked hard to set up his disinfectant business to generate an income. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Former Salvadoran guerrilla David Henríquez, deported from the United States in 2019, shows the quality of the disinfectant he has just produced in his small artisanal workshop in San Salvador. With no chance of finding formal employment after deportation, he worked hard to set up his disinfectant business to generate an income. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

An ex-guerrilla chemist

David Henríquez, a 62-year-old former guerrilla fighter, was deported in 2019.

During the civil war, Henríquez was a combatant of the then insurgent Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), but when peace came he decided to emigrate to the United States in 2003 as an undocumented immigrant.

With no hope of finding a formal sector job here, he began to make cleaning products, a skill he learned in the United States.

In the 12 years that he lived there, he worked for two years at the Sherwin Williams plant, a global manufacturer of paints and other chemicals.

“It was there that I began to discover the world of chemical compositions and aromas,” Henríquez told IPS during a visit to his small workshop in the Belén neighborhood of San Salvador, the capital.

Henríquez was producing a 14-gallon (53-liter) batch of blue disinfectant with the scent of baby powder. He also makes disinfectant smelling like cinnamon and lavender, among others. His business is called El Dave de los aromas.

His production process is still artisanal, although he would know how to produce disinfectant with high-tech machinery, if he had it, he said, “as I did at Sherwin Williams.”

He used a baby bottle to measure out the 3.5 ounces (104 milliliters) of nonylphenol, the main chemical component, used to produce 14 gallons.

Henríquez dissolved other chemicals in powder, to get the color and the aroma, and the product was ready.

He produces about 400 gallons a month, 1,514 liters, at a price of 3.50 dollars each.

“The important thing is to have discipline, work hard, to shine with your own effort,” he said.


Gender Parity at the UN Willfully Ignores the Facts

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


WASHINGTON DC, Dec 21 2022 (IPS) – There are two sides to the problem of Gender Parity at the United Nations.

On the one hand, member states need to appoint more women to their senior ambassadorial ranks. There is always tremendous competition for the post of UN ambassador, especially if a member state is on the UN security Council.

It’s a pipeline question for the member states. To reach that level of seniority, a diplomat has to have the years of service. It will likely take time for countries to have the flow through of women ambassadors. So, the UN Secretary-Genera (SG) is correct in putting the onus on member states to change or accelerate their systems.

That said, there is still a problem within the UN itself.

In the last 5 years, many governments notably the UK, Italy, the Scandinavians have sponsored the regional women’s mediation networks. For example. I’m a member of the Women Mediators Across the Commonwealth (WMC).

The vision was to identify women with the requisite skills and experience in mediation efforts and provide a new pathway into senior UN positions particularly as Envoys and mediation work. In the WMC we have 50 amazingly experienced women from across Commonwealth nations.

Similarly, the Mediterranean Women’s Mediation Network has members from that region. For senior positions, our governments have to support our candidacy, and they have done so.

But the UN system is a blockage, because when it comes to determining eligibility, their criteria still include things like ’15 years of UN experience’. Well, the whole point is that most of us have gained experience outside of the UN bureaucracy or as expert consultants with the UN, but not as UN staff.

We bring a wealth of other valuable expertise, yet the skill and knowledge that outsiders might bring seems of less value to the recruiters, than then traditional institutional knowledge. As a result, the female candidates that member states might endorse, are blocked by the UN.

If they are serious about having more women in the peace and security sector, particularly women with the relevant experience in inclusive and gender responsive peacemaking, security humanitarian work, they need to look for us in civil society. This is where most of the innovation has happened and is happening.

The work being done by women on the ground and lessons sharing that goes on through our networks is invaluable. It is exactly what the UN needs to be more fit for purpose. It is also the path towards actual reform and renovation of the UN architecture and practice.

But it can only happen if the member states and the UN leadership and bureaucracy have the vision, political will and willingness to change their recruitment priorities and practices.

Anyone claiming they can’t find the women, is willfully ignoring the facts.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, MBE, Founder & CEO, International Civil Society Action Network in Washington DC.

IPS UN Bureau


Gender Inequality: A Question of Power in a Male-Dominated World, Declares UN Chief

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

While women have come a long way since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action nearly 25 years ago, they still lag behind on virtually every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Credit: UN Women, India

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 21 2022 (IPS) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has singled out Gender Parity as one of his key priorities in his second term in office, beginning 2023.

Describing it as “a strategic goal of the Organization,” he pointed out some of the “notable advances achieved in the past five years.”

Gender parity, he said last week, has been reached among the UN’s senior leadership two years ahead of the target date; along with parity among heads and deputy heads of peace operations; as well as parity among the 130 Resident Coordinators.

The number of UN entities, with at least 50 percent women staff, has also risen from five to 26.

But, the Secretary-General added, gaps remain. In the field, “progress has been slow, and in some cases, we have gone backwards”.

“Therefore, the next phase of implementing the Gender Parity Strategy will focus on advancing and sustaining progress in the field.”

He pointed out that gender inequality is essentially a question of power.

“Our male-dominated world and male-dominated culture damage both men and women. And to transform power relations, we need equality between men and women in leadership, decision-making and participation at all levels. “

Still, the 193 member states lag far behind in promoting gender parity and gender empowerment.

There have been nine secretaries-generals over the last 77 years—all men.

Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, U. Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea and, currently, Antonio Guterres of Portugal.

The male-female ratio for the Secretary-General stands at 9 vs zero. And the Presidency of the General Assembly (PGA), the highest policy-making body at the UN, is not far behind either.

The only four women elected as presidents were: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969), Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006) and Maria Fernando Espinosa Garces of Ecuador (2018).

The score stands at 73 men and 4 women as PGAs– even as the General Assembly elected another male candidate, as its 77th President, and who serves his one-year term, beginning September 2022.

The 15-member Security Council’s track record is probably worse because it has continued to elect men as UN Secretaries-General, rubber-stamped by the General Assembly, – despite several outstanding women candidates.

Purnima Mane, a former Deputy Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), with the rank of UN Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG), told IPS the UN Secretary General’s recent remarks on gender empowerment in the UN evoke a mixed reaction.

“While one can certainly celebrate the progress made by the UN in this area, one would also regret the lack of it in many areas that have proven resistant to change. As SG Antonio Guterres stated, gender parity has been achieved for the first time in the UN in 2020 and two years ahead of the target date, to boot”.

The SG gave several examples among senior leadership in the Organization, including Resident Coordinators, where gender parity has grown significantly. But he admitted that gaps remain, and mentioned the slow progress in the field.

However, one of the most difficult areas to change has been one over which the member states exercise control, she noted.

“As many have repeatedly said over the last several years is that there has not been a single woman SG in the history of the UN and only 4 women have been presidents of the General Assembly, the UN’s highest policy-making body, as compared to 73 men.”

To date, it has also been difficult to raise the number of women UN ambassadors, which remains regrettably low. And this despite the significant number of resolutions supporting gender empowerment which have been adopted by the GA and key UN committees, said Mane, a former President and CEO of Pathfinder International.

At the current rate of progress, Guterres said, the Secretariat as a whole is forecast to be close to parity in professional staff in 2025 – three years before the deadline.

“But this aggregate figure disguises the fact that in the field, we are unlikely to reach parity at any level by 2028”.

So, the next phase of implementing the Gender Parity Strategy must therefore focus on advancing and sustaining progress in the field.

He said he was also pleased to see positive changes to support gender parity in the wider working environment.

“I welcome the decision of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to recommend 16 weeks of parental leave for all parents, and to provide an additional 10 weeks to birth mothers to meet their specific needs.

These recommendations are now under consideration by the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee. “And once again I ask for the support of the members of this group.”

Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director, Women in Global Health (WGH), told IPS: “We applaud the statement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week — and the progress made within the UN system towards reaching gender parity in leadership.”

“We agree with the Secretary-General that there remain gaps and areas where progress is still lacking. Women in Global Health remains committed to supporting the UN, particularly in the health sector, to achieve equality and leadership in the UN which will be a game changer not only for women but also for achieving the UN‘s mission,” she said.

“We have campaigned for equal leadership for women in global health since we were launched in 2015. Women are 70% health workers but hold only 25% senior leadership roles. So, the issue is not attracting women into the health sector, the issue is addressing the barriers that keep women out of leadership”.

WGH tracks the percentage of women in global governance in health.

“Our data shows that women are seriously underrepresented, especially women from the Global South. It also shows that women have lost ground in health governance since the start of the pandemic”, she declared.

Mane said it is truly regrettable that when it comes to acting on their good intentions and rhetoric on gender empowerment, the member states do not seem to indicate a sense of urgency.

One cannot say that there is lack of global pressure and support to take the necessary steps. For example, before every election of the UN SG over the last several years, the need to seriously consider a woman candidate has been raised by different UN stakeholders, not just civil society, and with every year, this advocacy has grown substantially, she argued.

Having a woman in the role of the SG was raised to a critical level of discussion at the last election of the SG when there were several female candidates who were being considered but business went on as usual.

“We are fortunate to have a strong SG in Guterres and one who values gender parity and empowerment. With the help of continued and heightened advocacy from all quarters, the strong examples of stellar female leadership especially in relation to the efforts to work on the multiple crises the world is facing (including the COVID pandemic and areas like climate change), and the UN’s repeated calls for gender empowerment, a strong case has already been made for the member States to act on areas that are not progressing in gender empowerment within the UN – by electing a woman in the role of the SG, increasing the proportion of women in the role of the President of the General Assembly and building up the number of women UN ambassadors”.

By taking on their own calls for gender empowerment, the member States would thereby show that they are serious about translating the rhetoric of gender empowerment into concrete action, even in areas which have earlier proven difficult to change, she declared.

Meanwhile, A study published in April this year by the WGH network on gender representation in World Health Assemblies (WHA) (from 1948-2021) found that 82.9% of delegations were composed of a majority of men, and no WHA had more than 30% of women Chief Delegates (ranging from 0% to 30%).

At the current rate, some countries may take over 100 years to reach gender parity in their WHA delegations. In January 2022 WGH calculated that only 6% of members of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board were women, down from an all-time high of 32% in 2020 .

WGH’s research in 2020 showed that 85% of national covid-19 task forces had majority male membership. The extraordinary work by women in the pandemic right across the health workforce has not translated into an equal seat at the decision-making table.

WGH has campaigned for senior leadership posts in the UN and other multilaterals in health to have equal representation of women.

To date, eight of the 13 Global Action Plan agencies in health (WHO, International Labour Organization, Global Fund Financing Facility, United Nations Development Programme, Unitaid, Global Fund, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and World Bank), the most influential in policy and spending, are headed by men from high income countries.

Only one – UNAIDS – is headed by a woman from a low-income country.

“We commend Dr Tedros, Director General of the World Health Organization, for his efforts when he took up office in 2017 to appoint a majority (60 percent) of women to the senior leadership team”, said Dhatt.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Thoughts for 2023: Promoting Innovation & New Technologies

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


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

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

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

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

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

Barriers to Governance and Rule of Law

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

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

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

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

Quest for New Ideas …

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

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

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

Innovation and New Technologies for Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

IPS UN Bureau


Biodiversity Agreement Historic But Difficult to Implement

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Government delegations celebrate the close of the historic negotiation at COP15 of the New Global Framework on Biodiversity in the early hours of the morning on Monday Dec. 19, at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal, Canada. CREDIT: Mike Muzurakis/IISD

MONTREAL, Dec 19 2022 (IPS) – The pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), which takes its name from its shape, is found throughout the Caribbean Sea, but its population has declined by more than 80 percent since 1990. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed it as “critically endangered” due to the effects of the human-induced climate crisis.

Its fate now depends on the new Kunming-Montreal Global Framework on Biodiversity, which was agreed by the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on Monday Dec. 19, at the end of the summit held since Dec. 7 at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal.

Now, the world’s countries must translate the results into national biodiversity strategies, to comply with the new accord. In this regard, David Ainsworth, spokesman for the CBD, in force since 1993 and based in Montreal, announced the creation of a global accelerator for the drafting of national plans, with the support of U.N. agencies.

COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity approved a new program to protect the world's natural heritage for the next 10 years during the summit held in the Canadian city of Montreal. The picture shows a statue of a polar bear, whose species is threatened by melting ice and habitat loss, on a street in Montreal. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity approved a new program to protect the world’s natural heritage for the next 10 years during the summit held in the Canadian city of Montreal. The picture shows a statue of a polar bear, whose species is threatened by melting ice and habitat loss, on a street in Montreal. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The menu of agreements

COP15, whose theme was “Ecological Civilization: Building a shared future for all life on earth”, approved four objectives on improving the status of biodiversity, reducing species extinction, fair and appropriate sharing of benefits from access to and use of genetic resources, and means of implementation of the agreement.

In addition, the plenary of the summit, which brought together some 15,000 people representing governments, non-governmental organizations, academia, international bodies and companies, agreed on 23 goals within the Global Framework, for the conservation and management of 30 percent of terrestrial areas and 30 percent of marine areas by 2030, in what is known in U.N. jargon as the 30×30.

This includes the complete or partial restoration of at least 30 percent of degraded terrestrial and marine ecosystems, as well as the reduction of the loss of areas of high biological importance to almost zero.

Likewise, the agreement reached by the 196 States Parties at COP15 includes the halving of food waste, the elimination or reform of at least 500 billion dollars a year in subsidies harmful to biodiversity, and at least 200 billion dollars in funding for biodiversity by 2030 from public and private sources.

It also endorsed increasing financial transfers from countries of the industrialized North to nations of the developing South by at least 20 billion dollars by 2025 and 30 billion dollars by 2030, and the voluntary publication by companies for monitoring, evaluation and disclosure of the impact of their activities on biodiversity.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) will manage a new fund, whose operation will be defined by the countries over the next two years.

With regard to digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources, the Global Framework stipulates the establishment of a multilateral fund for benefit-sharing between providers and users of genetic resources and states that governments will define the final figure at COP16 in Turkey in 2024.

The Global Framework also contains gender and youth perspectives, two strong demands of the process that was initially scheduled to end in the city of Kunming, China, in 2020. But because that country was unable to host mass meetings due to its zero-tolerance policy towards COVID-19, a first virtual chapter was held there and another later in person, and the final one now took place in Montreal.

The states parties are required to report at least every five years on their national compliance with the Global Framework. The CBD will include national information submitted in February 2026 and June 2029 in its status and trend reports.

With some differences, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples gave a nod to the Global Framework, but issued warnings. Viviana Figueroa, representative of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, and Simone Lovera, policy director of the Global Forest Coalition, applauded the agreement in conversations with IPS, while pointing out its risks.

“It’s a good step forward, because it recognizes the role of indigenous peoples, the use of biodiversity and the role of traditional knowledge,” said Figueroa, an Omaguaca indigenous lawyer from Argentina whose organization brings together indigenous groups from around the world to present their positions at international environmental meetings.

“It has been a long process, to which native peoples have contributed and have made proposals. The most important aspects that we proposed have been recognized and we hope to work together with the countries,” she added.

But, she remarked, “the most important thing will be the implementation.”

Goal C and targets one, three, five, nine, 13, 21 and 22 of the Global Framework relate to respect for the rights of native and local communities.

Lovera, whose organization brings together NGOs and indigenous groups, said the accord “recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and of women. It also includes a recommendation to withdraw subsidies and reduce public and private investments in destructive activities, such as large-scale cattle ranching and oil palm monoculture.”

But indigenous and human rights organizations have questioned the 30×30 approach on the grounds that it undermines ancestral rights, blocks access to aboriginal territories, and requires consultation and unpressured, informed consent for protected areas prior to any decision on the future of those areas.

Discussions at the Convention on Biological Diversity summit intensified in the last few days of COP15 and ran late into the night, as in this session on health and biodiversity. But in the end, agreement was reached on a new Global Framework on Biodiversity, which will be binding on the 196 states parties. CREDIT: IISD/ENB

Discussions at the Convention on Biological Diversity summit intensified in the last few days of COP15 and ran late into the night, as in this session on health and biodiversity. But in the end, agreement was reached on a new Global Framework on Biodiversity, which will be binding on the 196 states parties. CREDIT: IISD/ENB

Major challenge

While the Global Framework has indicators and monitoring mechanisms and is legally binding, it has no actual teeth, and the precedent of the failed Aichi Targets casts a shadow over its future, especially with the world’s poor track record on international agreements.

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets, adopted in 2010 in that Japanese city during the CBD’s COP10 and which its 196 states parties failed to meet in 2020, included the creation of terrestrial and marine protected areas; the fight against pollution and invasive species; respect for indigenous knowledge; and the restoration of damaged ecosystems.

Several estimates put the amount needed to protect biological heritage at 700 billion dollars, which means there is still an enormous gap to be closed.

In more than 30 years, the GEF has disbursed over 22 billion dollars and helped transfer another 120 billion dollars to more than 5,000 regional and national projects. For the new period starting in 2023, the fund is counting on some five billion dollars in financing.

In addition, the Small Grants Program has supported around 27,000 community initiatives in developing countries.

“There is little public funding, more is needed,” Lovera said. “It’s sad that they say the private sector must fund biodiversity. In indigenous territories money is needed. They can do much more than governments with less money. Direct support can be more effective and they will meet the commitments.”

The activist also criticized the use of offsets, a mechanism whereby one area can be destroyed and another can be restored elsewhere – already used in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

“This system allows us to destroy 70 percent of the planet while preserving the other 30 percent,” Lovera said. “It is madness. For indigenous peoples and local communities, it is very negative, because they lose their own biodiversity and the compensation is of no use to them, because it happens somewhere else.”

Figueroa said institutions that already manage funds could create direct mechanisms for indigenous peoples, as is the case with the Small Grants Program.

Of the 609 commitments that organizations, companies and individuals have already made voluntarily at COP15, 303 are aimed at the conservation and restoration of terrestrial ecosystems, 188 at alliances, and 159 at adaptation to climate change and reduction of polluting emissions.

The summit also coincided with the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the 4th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits from their Utilization, both components of the CBD.

Images of the planet’s sixth mass extinction reflect the size of the challenge. More than a quarter of some 150,000 species on the IUCN Red List are threatened with extinction.

The “Living Planet Report 2022: Building a nature-positive society”, prepared by the WWF and the Institute of Zoology in London, shows that Latin America and the Caribbean has experienced the largest decline in monitored wildlife populations worldwide, with an average decline of 94 percent between 1970 and 2018.

With a decade to act, each passing day represents more biological wealth lost.

IPS produced this article with support from InternewsEarth Journalism Network.