For Girls, the Biggest Danger of Sexual Violence Lurks at Home

Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Gender Violence

Girls' sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru's capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Girls’ sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru’s capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Oct 22 2021 (IPS) – “During the pandemic, sexual violence against girls has grown because they have been confined with their abusers. If the home is not a safe place for them, what is then, the streets?” Mía Calderón, a young activist for sexual and reproductive rights in the capital of Peru, remarks with indignation.


The 19-year-old university student, whose audiovisual communications studies have been interrupted due to the restrictions set in place to curb the covid-19 pandemic, is an activist who belongs to the youth collective Vayamos in San Juan de Lurigancho, the district of Lima where she lives.

Located to the northeast of the capital, it is a district of valleys and highlands areas higher than 2200 metres above sea level, where water is a scarce commodity and is supplied by tanker trucks. San Juan de Lurigancho was created 54 years ago and its population of 1,117,629 inhabitants, according to official figures, is mostly made up of families who have come to the capital from the country’s hinterland.

Lima’s 43 districts are home to a total of 9.7 million people, and San Juan de Lurigancho has by far the largest population.

In an interview with IPS during a walk through the streets of her district, Calderón said she helped one of her friends during the mandatory social isolation decreed in this Andean nation between March and July 2020, which has been followed by further restrictions on mobility at times of new covid-19 outbreaks.

Since then, classrooms have been closed and education has continued virtually from home, where girls spend most of their time.

“She was in lockdown with her two sisters, her mother and stepfather. But she left before her stepfather could rape her; the harassment had become unbearable. Now she is very afraid of what might happen to her little sisters because he’s still living at home,” she said.

But not all girls and adolescents at risk of sexual abuse have support networks to rely on.

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Data that exposes the violence

Official statistics reveal a devastating reality: Between early 2020 and August of this year there have been 1763 births to girls under 14 years of age, according to the Health Ministry’s birth registration system (CNV).

All of these pregnancies and births are considered to be the result of rape, as the concept of sexual consent does not apply to girls under 14, who are protected by Peruvian law.

Looking at CNV figures from 2018 to August 2021, the total number increases to 4483, which would mean that on average five girls under the age of 14 give birth in Peru every day.

This is also the conclusion reached by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (Cladem), which in September completed a nationwide study on forced child pregnancy in Peru, published on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

For Cladem, forced child pregnancy is any pregnancy of a minor under 14 years of age resulting from rape, who was not guaranteed access to therapeutic abortion, which in the case of Peru is the only form of legal termination of pregnancy.

“These figures are unacceptable, but we know they may be even worse because of underreporting,” Lizbeth Guillén, who until August was the Peruvian coordinator of this Latin American network whose regional headquarters are in Lima, told IPS by telephone.

The activist headed up the project “Monitoring and advocacy for the prevention, care and punishment of forced child pregnancy” which was funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women between 2018 and August 2021.

An aggravating factor for at risk girls and adolescents was that during the months of lockdown, public services for addressing violence against women were suspended and the only thing available was toll-free telephone numbers, which made it more difficult for victims to file complaints.

“What we have experienced shows us once again that homes are the riskiest places for girls,” said Guillén.

The Cladem study also reveals that the number of births to girls under 10 years of age practically tripled, climbing from nine cases in 2019 to 24 in 2020. And the situation remains worrisome, as seven cases had already been documented this year as of August.

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

One district’s experience

“Sexual violence against girls has been indescribable during this period, worse than covid-19 itself. Men have been taking advantage of their daughters, they think they have authority over them,” said Julia Vargas, a local resident of Villa El Salvador.

This municipality, which emerged as a self-managed experience five decades ago to the south of the capital, offers health promotion as part of its public services to the community.

Vargas, a 61-year-old mother of four grown children, is proud to be a health promoter, for which she has received training from the Health Ministry and from non-governmental organisations such as the Flora Tristán Peruvian Women’s Centre.

“It’s hard to conceive of so much violence against girls,” she told IPS indignantly at a meeting in her district, “and the worst thing is that many times the mothers turn a blind eye; they say if he (their partner) leaves, who is going to support me.”

Studies indicate that women’s economic dependence is a factor that prevents them from exercising autonomy and reinforces unequal power relations that sustain gender-based violence.

Vargas continued: “There was a case of a father who got his three daughters pregnant and made them have clandestine abortions, and do you think the justice system did anything? Nothing! It said there was consent, how can a young girl give consent?!”

“Girls can’t be mistreated this way, they have rights,” she said.

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The culprit nearby

Calderón is also familiar with this situation. “The pandemic has highlighted the fact that sexual violence comes mainly from someone close to home and that many times the girls are not believed: ‘you provoked your uncle, your stepfather’, they are told by their families, instead of focusing on the abuser,” she said.

Her collective Vayamos works to help girls have the right to enjoy every stage of their lives. Due to the pandemic, the group had to restrict its face-to-face activities, but as a counterbalance, it increased the publication of content on social networks.

“No girl or adolescent should live in fear of sexual violence or should face any such risk,” she said.

However, Cladem’s research indicates that between 2018 and 2020, there were 12,677 complaints of sexual violence against girls under 14 in the country, the cause of many forced pregnancies.

But official statistics do not differentiate between child and adolescent pregnancy.

The 2019 National Health Survey reported that of the female population between 15 and 19 years of age, 12.6 percent had been pregnant or were already mothers. The percentage in rural areas was higher than the national rate: 22.7 percent.

Youth activist Mia Calderón, health promoter Julia Vargas and Cladem member Lizbeth Guillén all agree on the proposal to decriminalise abortion in cases of rape and on the need for timely delivery of emergency kits by public health services to prevent forced pregnancies and maternity.

These kits contain emergency contraceptive pills, HIV and hepatitis tests, among other components for comprehensive health protection for victims.

“There are regulatory advances such as this joint action protocol between the Ministry of Women and the Health Ministry for a girl victim of violence to access the emergency kit, but in practice it is not complied with due to the personal conceptions of some operators and they deprive the victims of this right,” explained Guillén.

She stressed that in order to overcome the weak response of the State to such a serious problem, it is also necessary to adequately implement existing regulations, guarantee access to therapeutic abortion for girls and adapt prevention strategies, since the danger often lies directly in the home.

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Winning the Human Race, Together

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Climate Change, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Environment, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration & Refugees, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

NEW YORK, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “Now is the time for a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system anchored in the United Nations,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his latest report “Our Common Agenda.” Indeed, there is a fork in the road: we can either choose to breakdown or to breakthrough.


Yasmine Sherif

Making this moral choice and adopting this legal imperative is more relevant today than ever. The estimated 75 million children and adolescents caught in emergencies and protracted crisis who suffer from disrupted education has now dramatically increased from 75 million to 128 million due to the pandemic. These vulnerable girls and boys are now the ones left furthest behind in some of the world’s toughest contexts, in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

The current education financing gap amounts to US$1.48 billion for low- and middle-income countries. A gap that is increasingly widening. In reviving the multilateralism that is so urgently needed, the UN Secretary-General will convene a crucial, timely summit on Transforming Education in 2022.

Despite all that we do, despite all our investments, we cannot win ‘the human race’ unless we invest in our fellow human beings, now. It is the children and young people impacted by armed conflicts, climate-crisis induced disasters, forced displacement and protracted crises who are in a sprint against time, with their lives and futures on the line.

We can no longer let “an entire generation facing irreversible losses be left behind in the ruins of armed conflicts, in protracted refuge, on a planet whose climate-change threatens us all,” as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Group, The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown stated at the launch of Education Cannot Wait’s Annual Results Report: Winning the Human Race, on 5 October 2021.

Education is the foundation, the DNA and the absolute prerequisite for achieving all other Sustainable Human Development Goals and Universal Human Rights. Education means investments in the limitless possibilities of human potential: the workforce, governance, gender-equality, justice, peace and security.

“Access to quality education is key to addressing 21st century challenges, including accelerating the fight to end poverty and climate change,” says The LEGO Foundation’s new CEO, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, in this month’s ECW Newsletter high-level interview.

The time has come to connect the dots between individual human beings and our collective humanity and life on this planet. We are now investing more and more in Mother Earth through significant climate change financing. We must now also invest in the human beings populating the planet. The correlation between the positive impact of education upon on all aspects of life on the planet is indispensable and inescapable.

    Higher education levels lead to higher concern for the environment, and adaptation to climate change. If education progress is stalled, it could lead to a 20% increase in disaster-related fatalities per decade.
    Education is the one unique investment that can prevent conflict and forced displacement. High levels of secondary school enrollment have been shown to be associated with an increase a country’s level of stability and peace and reduce crime and violence.
    Every additional year of schooling reduces an adolescent boy’s risk of becoming involved in conflict by 20 percent. This effect reflects both education’s economic benefits and its role in social cohesion and national identity.
    Conversely, lack of education often leads to political disempowerment and regression to group allegiances. Across 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, sub-national regions with very low average education had a 50 per cent probability of experiencing the onset of conflict within 21 years, while the corresponding interval for regions with very high average education was 346 years.
    Education is also the most secure means of ending extreme poverty. For nations, each additional year of schooling can add up to 18 per cent to GDP per capita. For individuals, one more year of education brings a 10 per cent increase in personal income. If all children were to learn basic reading skills, the impact would be 171 million fewer people living in extreme poverty. *Footnotes below.

Education Cannot Wait is a multilateral global UN fund. Our Annual Results Report of 2020, Winning the Human Race, launched at the UN in Geneva this month, testifies to what we can achieve when we think and act multilaterally: when we connect the dots, become one, and act for all.

Through multilateralism, we reached more than 29 million crisis-affected girls and boys in 2020 alone through ECW’s COVID-19 emergency response, working with our strategic partners, including host governments, our 21 donors, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNESCO, UNDP, WFP, our civil society partners, such as INEE, Jesuit Refugee Service, AVSI, Save the Children, Plan International, Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and numerous local civil society organizations across 34 countries. Through joint programming, we were also able to jointly deliver quality education to more than 4.6 million children and youth, of whom 51% were girls and adolescent girls, 38% were refugees – all while we increased ECW allocations to children and youth with disabilities.

This is made possible because ODA governments, private sector and philanthropic partners are scaling up their support for the catalytic ECW global fund whereby their investments are part of multilateral efforts that work as closely as possible to those we serve, establishing links conducive to numerous, diverse SDGs and human rights. The full list of our 21 generous donor partners can be found at the end of this Newsletter.

In connection with the UNGA week this year, ECW strategic donors advancing multilateralism, such as Germany, the United States, the European Union/European Commission, France, The LEGO Foundation and Porticus took giant steps and committed $138.1 million to ECW, bringing the total resources mobilized thus far in 2021 alone to $156.1 million and the total since ECW’s inception to $1.85 billion ($827 million mobilized for the Trust Fund; and, over $1 billion worth of programmes aligned with ECW MYRPs, as leveraged by ECW with partners).

Furthermore, the Global Hub for Education in Emergencies celebrated its new collective space under the ECW umbrella in Geneva, thanks to Switzerland which is the second biggest UN capital for humanitarian and development actors after New York City. The Global Hub brings together NGOs, the UN, academia, foundations, and governments to inspire more commitment and resources to quality education for those left furthest behind in emergencies and protracted crisis.

Multilateralism through the United Nations works.

Still, this is just the start of a major global effort to work through the multilateral coordination system to reach those left furthest behind and bring education from the margins to the center. Based on empirical evidence, ECW calls for an additional $1 billion to contribute to an innovative model that has proven to work.

Political leaders, governments, private sector, UN and civil society – all part of ECW’s multilateral UN system – recognize that education is a precondition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Human Rights. Together, we think long-term and act now. Together, we connect the dots and see things from afar and within. Together, we work on what the world needs most right now: A Common Agenda to Win the Human Race.

Yasmine Sherif is Director,
Education Cannot Wait
The UN Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises

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Leprosy has a Cure, so has Prejudice, says Miss Universe for Brazil

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations

Human Rights

Julia Gama, Miss Brazil Universe working with Morhan to deliver food baskets to people affected by Hansen’s disease, with support from the Sasakawa Health Foundation. Credit: Morhan

NAIROBI, KENYA, Sep 29 2021 (IPS) – A new dawn has come, and it was through the work of Yohei Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, that those affected by leprosy now had a voice to speak for themselves.


So said Faustino Pinto, a person affected by leprosy and Vice National Coordinator of Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s disease (Morhan), at a webinar with the theme ‘Hansen’s Disease/Leprosy as Human Rights issue’.

Sasakawa, who is also the chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, and Dr Alice Cruz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy, addressed the webinar. Guests included Caroline Teixeira, Miss World Brazil 2021 and Julia Gama, Miss Universe Brazil 2020. The Sasakawa Health Foundation, in collaboration with Morhan, were co-conveners. The event forms part of a 10-month-long campaign dubbed ‘Do not Forget Leprosy’.

The celebrity guests applauded his sentiments.

Faustino Pinto, a person affected by leprosy and Vice National Coordinator of Morhan. Credit: Joyce Chimbi

Gama, also working with Morhan, told IPS: “Hansen’s disease has a cure, and I believe so does prejudice. I will use my voice to ensure that those who were silenced are heard. I believe togetherness is our strength, and together we can eradicate Hansen’s disease.”

Pinto praised Sasakawa for his lifelong commitment to improving the lives of those affected by the disease.

“We were taught to just accept what we were told: Take the medicine, keep the appointments, open your mouth to check if you did take the medicine, do not abandon the treatment,” says Pinto. This changed when Sasakawa became involved.

Pinto appealed for those affected by leprosy to be heard, seen, and involved in efforts towards zero leprosy.

He lauded the Sasakawa and the Foundation “for always talking about us and including us in the debate” and for “truly listening to us and giving us a voice”. It is this voice that Pinto used to appeal to the global community, saying, “Don’t Forget Hansen’s Disease. Don’t Forget Us.”

At the heart of discussions was the bid to draw the world’s attention to a disease in equal measure, a medical and social problem. Furthermore, the meeting was a key platform where participants were urged to approach leprosy as a human’s rights issue.

While concerted efforts have today led to less than one case of leprosy in a population of 10 000 people as per WHO estimates, with at least 200 000 new cases reported annually, experts say leprosy is still very much a concern.

“There are more than one billion people in the world living with disabilities, including persons affected by leprosy. We need to create an inclusive society where everyone can have an education, find work, and get married if they want to. People have passion and motivation. Often, all they lack is opportunity,” says Sasakawa.

Governments efforts to respond to COVID-19 is believed to have setback the progress towards zero leprosy.

“Persons affected by leprosy face multiple discrimination. They are often discriminated against on various grounds – like leprosy, but also gender, age, poverty, disability, sexuality, and race. They also struggle with violence from the State and society and with interpersonal violence,” says Cruz.

Caroline Teixeira, Miss World Brazil, with Morhan’s national coordinators Artur Custódio (centre) and Lucimar Batista (right), and the director of the National Beauty Contest and Morhan volunteer, Marina Fontes (left). Credit: Morhan

“There is such ability and potential in the world, and to have everyone participate in society will create a truly wonderful future. That is why it is important for persons affected by leprosy to have confidence and speak out,” Sasakawa emphasises.

“To support them, Sasakawa Health Foundation and The Nippon Foundation are helping them to build up their organisational capacity. I would like to see a society in which everyone is active, able to express their opinions to the authorities with confidence, and their contribution is valued,” he adds.

Over ten months, the campaign, which leverages Sasakawa’s 20th anniversary as Goodwill Ambassador, will raise awareness of why the world should stay focused on leprosy.

“It was a great honour to be chosen Miss World Brazil and thus become an ambassador of the fight against Hansen’s disease in Brazil, the country with the highest incidence of the disease in the world,” Teixeira told IPS.

“In the coming days, I will be part of a Morhan delegation visiting several cities in the north of the country, sensitising governments to action in defence of the rights of persons affected. We will certainly unite many voices so that Hansen’s disease is not forgotten,” she says.

Nevertheless, left untreated, leprosy can result in permanent disability. Worldwide, three to four million people live with some form of disability due to leprosy, as per WHO estimates.

There is growing concern that COVID-19 and the fear of discrimination could further prevent people from visiting hospitals, leading to diagnosis and treatment delays.

As it is, WHO’s 2020 statistics show an estimated 40 percent drop in the detection of new leprosy cases, which, experts warn, will lead to increased transmission of leprosy and more cases of disability.

Discrimination and stigma remain a primary concern for Sasakawa. He decries that “people who should be part of society remain isolated in colonies facing hardships. The more you look into it, the more you see the restrictions they live under, including legal restrictions in some cases. Is it not strange that someone cured of a disease cannot take their place in society?”

“I belatedly realised that if the human rights aspect wasn’t addressed, then elimination of leprosy in a true sense would not be possible. I would like to create a society where everyone feels fully engaged, able to express their opinions, and appreciated. The coming era must be one of diversity, and for that, we need social inclusion.”

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Delivering On the Promise of Health For All Must Include Gender Equality and SRHR

Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Health workers are at the frontlines in the fight against the new Corona Virus. Credit: John Njoroge

NEW YORK, Sep 29 2021 (IPS) – Gender-responsive universal health coverage (UHC) has the proven potential to transform the health and lives of billions of people, particularly girls and women, in all their intersecting identities. At tomorrow’s kick-off to the 2023 UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on UHC, Member States and stakeholders will review progress made on the 2019 HLM’s commitments and set a roadmap to achieve UHC by 2030. We, as the co-convening organizations of the Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, call on Member States to safeguard gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as part of UHC implementation, especially in light of the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.


To move forward, it is crucial to remember our cumulative past promises. In 2019, Member States adopted a Political Declaration that contained strong commitments to ensure universal access to SRHR, including family planning; mainstreaming a gender perspective across health systems; and increasing the meaningful representation, engagement, and empowerment of all women in the health workforce. Further, 58 countries put forward a joint statement that argued that investing in SRHR is affordable, cost-saving, and integral for UHC. These commitments were the result of the advocacy and hard work of civil society organizations, including members of the Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, and set out a clear path on the steps needed to make gender-responsive UHC a reality.

However, following the 2019 HLM, the deadly and devastating COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how individuals around the globe could access essential health services. Fundamental human rights, including hard-won gains made for UHC, SRHR, and gender equality, are now at risk as health and social services are strained and political attention is diverted. The protracted pandemic underscores how gender-responsive UHC is more important than ever.

We call on Member States to renew the commitments made in 2019 and affirm that delivering on the promise of health for all is only possible by way of gender-responsive UHC.

To truly deliver gender-responsive UHC, we offer the following five recommendations:

1. Design policies and programs with an intersectional lens that places SRHR and girls and women — in all their diversity — at the center of UHC design and implementation. To be effective, UHC must recognize and respond to the needs of women in all their intersecting identities, including by explicitly addressing the ways in which race, ethnicity, age, ability, migrant status, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, and caste multiply risk and impact health outcomes. What’s more, COVID-19 has deepened inequalities for marginalized populations, and special attention is needed, now more than ever, to deliver UHC for those pushed furthest behind.

2. Ensure UHC includes comprehensive SRH services, and provide access to SRH services for all individuals throughout the life course. These services must be free of stigma, discrimination, coercion, and violence, and they must be integrated, high quality, affordable, accessible, and acceptable. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides guidance in the UHC Compendium of interventions and supporting documents for what this can look like. The pandemic has given way to multiple interruptions to SRHR care. For example, an estimated 12 million women may have been unable to access family planning services due to the pandemic. COVID-19 response and recovery and UHC implementation must address these issues.

3. Prioritize, collect, and utilize disaggregated data, especially gender-disaggregated data. UHC policy and planning can only be gender-responsive when informed by data that are disaggregated by gender and other social characteristics. In the current pandemic, not all countries are reporting disaggregated data on infections and mortality from COVID-19 to the WHO, and most countries have not implemented a gendered policy response. In June 2021, only 50% of 199 countries reported data disaggregated by sex on COVID-19 infections and/or deaths in the previous month.1 The number of countries reporting sex-disaggregated statistics has also decreased over the course of the pandemic. Without this information, decision-makers are unable to base policies on evidence affirming how to address the health needs of all genders — a critical lesson for UHC.

4. Foster gender equality in the health and care workforce and catalyze women’s leadership. The approach to the health and care workforce in the pandemic has frequently not applied a gender lens, ignoring the fact that women are 70% of the global health workforce and powerful drivers of health services. Gender inequities in the health workforce were present long before the pandemic, with the majority of female health workers in lower-status, low-paid roles and sectors, often in insecure conditions and facing harassment on a regular basis. Moreover, although women have played a critical role in the pandemic response — from vaccine design to health service delivery — they have been marginalized in leadership on pandemic decision-making from parliamentary to community levels. In fact, 85% of national COVID-19 task forces have majority male membership. Urgent investment in safe, decent, and equal work for women health workers, as well as equal footing for women in leadership and decision-making roles, must be central to the delivery of UHC.

5. Back commitments to advancing SRHR, gender equality, and civil society engagement in UHC design and implementation with necessary funding and accountability. Now is the time to invest in health and the care economy, particularly in UHC. Governments everywhere are facing fiscal constraints from the pandemic. UHC is a critical part of investing in and building back resilient health and social systems to avoid catastrophic spending on future pandemics and global health emergencies. UHC must be designed intentionally, with appropriate accountability mechanisms, to reduce inequalities between and within countries — and especially gender inequality, which undermines social and economic rights and resilience.

We, along with our civil society partners in the Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, stand ready to work hand-in-hand with governments, the UN, and all stakeholders to act on these recommendations on the road to the 2023 HLM on UHC. At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no time to waste in making the promise of health for all a reality, and this can only be achieved through gender-responsive UHC that centers gender equality and SRHR.

The authors are Ann Keeling of Women in Global Health, Divya Mathew of Women Deliver, Deepa Venkatachalam of Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, and Chantal Umuhoza of Spectra Rwanda. These four organizations are the co-conveners of the Alliance for Gender Equality and Universal Health Coverage.

1 Global Health 50/50 (globalhealth5050.org)

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If Women Farmers were Politicians, the World Would be Fed, says Danielle Nierenberg

Biodiversity, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Food Sustainability

Women produce more than 50 percent of the food in the world but are disadvantaged when it comes to access to resources such as land and financial services. Credit: Busani Bafana, IPS

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 17 2021 (IPS) – Women, key contributors to agriculture production, are missing at the decision table, with alarming consequences, says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg in an exclusive interview with IPS.


Giving women a seat at the policymaking table could accelerate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and keep the world fed and nourished. This necessitates a transformation of the currently lopsided global food system, she says.

Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.

Nierenberg, a top researcher and advocate on food systems and agriculture, acknowledges that women are the most affected during environmental or health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global food production, affecting women farmers and food producers who were already excluded from full participation in agricultural development.

“We still have a long way to go in making sure that policies are not gender blind and include the needs of women at the forefront when mass disasters occur,“ Nierenberg told IPS, adding that policymakers need to understand the needs of farmers and fisherfolk involved in food systems.

“I think it is time we need more people who are involved with agriculture to run for political office because they understand its challenges,” she said. “If we had more farmers in governments around the world, imagine what that would look like. If we had women farmers running municipalities, towns and even countries, that is where change would really happen.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women contribute more than 50 percent of food produced globally and make up over 40 percent of the agricultural labour force. But while women keep families fed and nourished, they are disadvantaged in accessing critical resources for food production compared to men. They lack access to land, inputs, extension, banking and financial services.

“Until we end the discrimination of women around the globe, I doubt these things will change even though women are in the largest part of the world’s food producers,” said Nierenberg, who co-founded and now heads the global food systems think tank, Food Tank.

Arguing that COVID-19 and the climate crisis were not going to be the last global shocks to affect the world, Nierenberg said women and girls had been impacted disproportionately; hence the need to act now and change the food system. Women have experienced the loss of jobs and income, reduced food production and nutrition and more girls are now out of school.

“It is not enough for me to speak for women around the globe. Women who are actually doing the work need to speak for themselves; they need to be included in these conversations,” Nierenberg said.

“What happens is that in conferences, there are a lot of white men in suits talking on behalf of the rest of the world. But we need the rest of the world, and women included, to be in the room.”

A food system is a complex network of all activities involving the growing, processing, distribution and consumption of food. It also includes the governance, ecological sustainability and health impact of food.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted invisible issues, like the interconnectedness of our food systems, she said it was urgent to invest in regional and localized food systems that included women and youth. Food Tank and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) work collaboratively to investigate and set the agenda for concrete solutions for resetting the food system.

Divine Ntiokam, Food Systems Champion and Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network Global (GCSAYN), agrees. While youth are ready to engage in promoting a just and inclusive transformation of rural areas, it was unfortunate they were rarely involved in decision-making, she said. They are excluded from the household level to larger political institutions and companies and need better prospects of financial security to remain in the farming sector.

“Young men and women need to be given special attention in formulating legislation to purchase land and receive proper land rights,” Ntiokam told IPS.

“International donors and governments need to invest in youth, particularly young women and girls, for their meaningful participation along with the food systems value network,” he said.

“Youth need to have a ‘seat at the table’, as they have at the Summit, in terms of decision-making on where governments and international donors invest their resources to make agriculture and food a viable, productive and profitable career.”

Researchers say current food systems are unfair, unhealthy, and inequitable, underscoring the urgency to transform the global food system. According to the FAO, more than 800 million people went to bed hungry in 2020, and scores of others are malnourished.

Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

For food systems to be just, there is an urgency to close the gender resource gap, says Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, on September 23, 2021 host the UN Food Systems Summit during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. The Summit is billed as a platform to push for solid support in changing the world food systems to help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while spurring the achievement of the SDG by 2030.

The Summit, the UN says will “culminate in an inclusive global process, offering a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take the food system agenda forward”.

“They (food systems) must also transform in ways that are just and equitable, and that meaningfully engage and benefit women and girls,” Njuki told IPS. She added that harmful social and gender norms creating barriers for women and girls by defining what women and girls can or cannot eat, what they can or cannot own, where they can go or not go should be removed.

“This transformation has to be driven from all levels and all sectors in our food systems: global to local, public to private, large scale producers to smallholder farmers and individual consumers,” Njuki said.

Leaders should enact policies that directly address injustices – such as ensuring women’s access to credit, markets, and land rights, Njuki said, noting that individual women and men need to confront social norms and legal prejudices and demand changes.

Njuki believes that current food systems have contributed to wide disparities among rich and poor.

“These negative outcomes are intimately linked with many of the biggest challenges facing humanity right now – justice and equality, climate change, human rights – and these challenges cannot be addressed without transforming how our food systems work,” Njuki told IPS.

“We are at a pivotal moment on the last decade before the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This must be the decade of action for food systems to end hunger.”

 

COVID-19 Recovery Requires Justice Beyond Rhetoric

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Education, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy

Opinion

Credit: Global Policy Forum

BONN, Germany, Sep 16 2021 (IPS) – Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have exacerbated rather than reduced global inequalities. On the one hand, the net wealth of billionaires has risen to record levels since the outbreak of the pandemic (increasing by more than US$ 5 trillion to US$ 13.1 trillion from 2020 to 2021), on the other hand, the number of people living in extreme poverty has also increased massively (by approx. 100 million to 732 million in 2020).


These contrasts alone show that something is fundamentally wrong in the world.

In response to the disastrous effects of the pandemic, there was much talk of solidarity with regard to health support, including access to vaccines. But the brutal national competition for vaccines shows that solidarity is embraced by many world leaders merely as a rhetorical flourish.

The World Health Organization (WHO) made an early appeal to countries to agree on a coordinated distribution of vaccines, with available doses distributed fairly according to the size of each country’s population. This has not happened.

By the end of August 2021, more than 60 percent of the people in high-income countries had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but less than 2 percent have done so in low-income countries.

The European Commission, the USA, the UK, and numerous other countries have signed bilateral COVID-19 Vaccine Agreements with pharmaceutical producers to secure vaccine quotas. By the end of August 2021, more than 400 agreements were concluded, securing over 18 billion doses of vaccine.

The European Commission has so far negotiated supply agreements for 4.3 billion doses of vaccine, equivalent to 8 vaccine doses per capita of the EU population. The UK could vaccinate its population 9 times with the contracted doses, the USA 10 times and Canada as many as 16 times.

Exacerbating the problem for many countries in the global South is the enormous cost of vaccines. The producers do not charge standard prices, but vary their prices depending on the quantity purchased and the bargaining power of the purchaser.

Occasionally, they grant preferential terms to rich countries, while countries in the global South sometimes have to pay higher prices. For example, the European Commission received a batch of AstraZeneca vaccine for US$ 2.19, while Argentina had to pay US$ 4.00 and the Philippines US$ 5.00. Botswana had to pay US$ 14.44 million for 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, or US$ 28.88 per dose, while the USA got Moderna’s vaccine at almost half the price (US$ 15.00).

While the vaccine pharmaceutical oligopoly makes exorbitant profits, countries of the global South are confronted with falling government revenues and rising debt burdens. The situation will worsen as regular vaccine boosters become necessary in the coming years.

What is tantamount to a license to print money for the pharmaceutical companies is a massive burden on public budgets. In view of this dramatic disparity, the promise to “leave no one behind” of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains an empty slogan.

Insufficient responses to the global health crisis

As an immediate response to the global health crisis, the People’s Vaccine Alliance has formulated “5 steps to end vaccine apartheid“. These are in line with the demands derived from the analyses in the Spotlight Report 2021.

Increasing global vaccine production capacity, lowering market prices, and substantially increasing public financial support are vital, especially for the poor and disadvantaged people in the global South.

One way to overcome the vaccine shortage is to accelerate technology transfer. In May 2020, WHO established the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), designed to pool voluntary licenses, research and regulatory data. But most countries with large vaccine production capacity, such as the USA, Germany, China and India, do not support the initiative. Thus, it has so far remained without any noticeable impact.

Faced with scarce global production capacity, India, South Africa, Kenya and Eswatini applied for a waiver under the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO to temporarily remove patent protection for COVID-19-related vaccines, medicines and devices.

The TRIPS waiver is intended to enable manufacturers in the global South in particular to produce medicines and vaccines more quickly and at lower cost. More than 100 countries support this initiative, including the USA as of May 2021.

The EU, the UK, Switzerland and the pharmaceutical companies and lobby groups based in these countries are particularly opposed and have so far blocked an agreement.

In this context, the more fundamental question arises as to whether medicines vital to realize the human right to health should be patented at all. Should they not in principle be considered global public goods, especially when, as in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, billions of dollars of public money have gone into research and development?

In another initiative, the WHO and several partners—including France, the EU and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation –launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX initiative.

This has shifted the centre of the global COVID-19 response from WHO to a multi-stakeholder initiative with its own governance and decision-making structure, thereby further weakening WHO’s role in the global health architecture.

But with the unilateral approach of the rich countries to vaccine procurement, COVAX has failed in its claim to serve a global coordination function. Its primary task is now to provide COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries with the objective to provide at least 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

By 14 September 2021, just 270 million doses have been delivered. To date, COVAX has received pledges of US$ 9.825 billion, nowhere near enough to provide sufficient vaccines for about 4 billion people in the 92 countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully demonstrated the absence of a functioning global health system. This reality has led to the proposal to create a Pandemic Treaty – a legally binding framework and improved global governance structures for pandemic preparedness and response.

Whether it can actually overcome structural weaknesses of the global health architecture, such as the underfunding of the WHO, is very unclear. Depending on its design, it could lead to an actual strengthening of the WHO, or to its further weakening by outsourcing pandemic preparedness and response to multi-stakeholder bodies with limited public accountability.

More transformational steps are needed

Beyond responding to the global health crisis, far more fundamental transformational steps are needed.

An essential aspect of an agenda for change is the shift toward a rights-based economy and a concept of human rights that forms the basis of our vision of economic justice.

To make this systemic shift happen, the trend towards privatization, outsourcing and systematic dismantling of public services must be reversed.

To combat rising inequality and build a socially just, inclusive post-COVID world, everyone must have equitable access to public services, which must be reclaimed as public goods and run in the common interest, not for profit.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly emphasized that human rights must guide all COVID-19 response and recovery measures. This should also mean strengthening the rights of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

First and foremost, that means the millions of workers in the healthcare sector, 70 percent of them women. Most of them experience poor work conditions, low wages and job insecurity.

The situation is similar in the education sector. Research by Education International shows that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers’ workloads have steadily worsened, while salaries have remained the same or even decreased.

The situation has continued to deteriorate as a result of the pandemic. The global teacher shortage, which the UN estimated at 69 million even before the pandemic, will continue to grow so long as teaching remains to be “an overworked, undervalued, and underpaid profession”.

A basic precondition for the adequate provision of public goods and services is that States have sufficient resources. To prevent the COVID-19 pandemic being followed by a global debt and austerity pandemic, governments must be enabled to expand their fiscal space and to implement alternatives to neoliberal austerity policies.

This includes implementing a progressive tax reform, which prioritizes taxes on wealth and high earners.

Over the past year, many UN officials, human rights activists and civil society groups (like in the Spotlight Report 2020) have demanded that the resources of the COVID-19 recovery and economic stimulus packages should be used proactively to promote human rights and the implementation of the SDGs.

During that time, initial studies show that this is rarely the case. A report of the Financial Transparency Coalition that tracked fiscal and social protection recovery measures in nine countries of the global South found that in eight of them a total of 63 percent of announced COVID-19 funds went to large corporations, rather than small and medium enterprises or social protection measures.

Particularly poorer countries, some of which were already facing massive budget shortfalls before the pandemic, need substantial external support to finance additional healthcare and social spending and measures to overcome the economic recession.

In this regard, the general allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) equivalent to US$ 650 billion in August 2021 – the largest distribution ever made by the IMF – has been heralded as a major achievement. However, its distribution will not benefit the countries most in need without rechanneling measures and again illustrates existing imbalances in the global economic architecture.

Only if the world collectively embarks on the path toward transformational policies is there a chance to reduce global inequalities, protect our shared planet and make the proclaimed goal of solidarity a political and institutional reality.

Jens Martens is Director, Global Policy Forum, Bonn, Germany

The Spotlight Report is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

The report will be published on 17 September 2021, 9am EDT and will be available at www.2030spotlight.org

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