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

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

Opinion

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Julitta Onabanjo

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

Devastating impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call to end hostilities

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

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

Safe houses

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

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

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

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

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

Funds needed urgently

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

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

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

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

Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations

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Conceptual Advances for United Nations 2.0

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is a Research Analyst at Stimson Center

WASHINGTON DC, Jul 20 2021 (IPS) – The forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report, to be released before this year’s UN General Assembly High-Level Week, is expected to offer ambitious recommendations to accelerate the realization of the UN75 Declaration as the world comes to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Promote Peace & Prevent Conflicts. Credit: United Nations

While the report’s ideas are still undisclosed, three notions are likely to represent conceptual building blocks: a “new social contract,” a “new global deal,” and “networked and inclusive multilateralism” have each permeated current high-level discussions at the United Nations, especially in speeches of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

While these three concepts are not mentioned explicitly in the UN75 Declaration, they are implicit in the framing of the declaration’s twelve commitments. Building on perspectives from past and present scholars, world leaders, policymakers, and practitioners, these powerful notions are each unpacked in Stimson Center’s recent report, “Beyond UN75: A Roadmap for Inclusive, Networked, and Effective Global Governance.”

Critics, including the United Nations, argue that the present state of the social contract is outdated and incapable of meeting the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. The UN Secretary-General himself emphasized that a new social contract is “an opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world” from COVID-19.

A new, modernized social contract could, indeed, help advance a more just post-COVID-19 recovery and economic policies that consider the realization of human rights as an end in itself—rather than as one more channel to achieve high economic growth levels under outdated metrics.

It could include a global political commitment to securing social protection floors and universal access to educational systems, among other initiatives that seek to respond to the major economic, technological, and societal shifts now underway.

Similarly, an equitable, resilient, and sustainable social contract should rebuild people’s trust in governance institutions. Trust is a prerequisite that offers legitimacy to those governing, and it permits the existence of a contract in the first place.

With the “new social contract” being the vision and long-term goal for weaving a new normative fiber binding states and peoples together, the world also needs a more operational “new global deal.”

The UN Secretary-General suggested that a new global deal would entail a redistribution of power, wealth, and opportunities, and global political and economic systems that deliver critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, and peace.

This echoes long-standing discussions about representativeness in the current system of global governance, considering, for example, the distribution of special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund, which gives the United States a blocking minority share, or the setup of the Security Council with its five permanent, veto-wielding powers and ten non-permanent members.

Resource redistribution and redirection also need to be seen in light of calls for a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic and of the need to recalibrate the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Advancing a new social contract and new global deal further require a more networked and inclusive multilateralism. This would entail a paradigm shift from the state-centric international world order to one where myriad actors, beyond nation-states (especially traditional major powers), can collaboratively share and implement solutions to complex problems.

Delivering the future we want will not come from “polarized member states or politicized UN secretariats.” It will result from collaborations between international civil servants, Member States, and progressive networks of non-state actors—including scholars, academics, media, businesses, philanthropies, and other stakeholders.

In this spirit, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations must update their rules of engagement with non-state actors, to facilitate networked and inclusive multilateralism. There is no dearth of institutional innovation ideas that can help build inclusive multilateralism.

For instance, the Call for Inclusive Global Governance, released in April 2021 and endorsed by over 150 civil society organizations worldwide, provides three recommendations for promoting greater inclusion and participation of civil society at the UN: first, the creation of a formal instrument—a World Citizens’ Initiative—to enable individual citizens to influence the UN’s work; second, a UN Parliamentary Assembly to allow for the inclusion of elected representatives in agenda-setting and decision-making at the UN; and third, the appointment of a UN Civil Society Envoy to support greater civil society engagement at the UN.

Networked and inclusive multilateralism, going beyond classic intergovernmentalism, provides a platform and framework to carry out a new global deal (operational plan) in the service of establishing a new social contract (vision).

What is needed now is enlightened leadership, combined with a well-designed strategy for reform for channeling these ideas in support of a more interlinked and participatory global governance system.

Guided by these three powerful concepts, the Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” can generate political momentum for a potential 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance for truly innovating the United Nations system to keep pace with present and future challenges and opportunities.

The 75th anniversary of the United Nations was believed to be a moment for laying the foundations for a new kind of multilateralism. Although adoption of the UN75 Declaration represents an important milestone, its vision is yet to be matched by a commensurate global plan for action.

Bouncing back now from the COVID-19 presents an opportunity to also rebuild a global system that can help all nations and peoples effectively overcome current global inequalities, injustices, and insecurity. It is incumbent on all of us to make 2021 a turning point for multilateralism.

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The New Social Contract: an Opportunity for Deliberative Participation

Civil Society, Democracy, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A woman, accompanied by a child, casts her vote during the general elections in Mozambique. Credit: UNDP/Rochan Kadariya

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jul 9 2021 (IPS) – These days there hasn’t been certainly a shortage of reports portraying the decline of liberal democracy around the world.

With rising popularism and a divisive use of social media, we should not be surprised about a general malaise taking roots in most advanced liberal democracies.


From the Freedom in the World 2021 report published by the Freedom House to the Democracy Index 2020 released by the Economist Intelligence Unit to the IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indices there is more and more evidence that liberal and representatives’ democracies are under duress.

Could the ongoing debate about a New Social Contract, a concept launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, help revive one of the essential elements of any democratic society, people’s interest and participation in the civic life?

If his recent re-election at the helm of the United Nations might have dissipated doubts that this new idea was just a fad, what are the chances for this debate surrounding the New Social Contract to become an opportunity to enhance public engagement at local levels without further dividing the gulf between classic liberal democracies on one side and other nations adopting less democratic, more authoritarian political systems?

Provocatively, could such debate instead help nearing such the gap?

To set aside any doubts, inevitably, the New Social Contract is not about enhancing democracy around the world.

This would clearly a utopian proposition for the Secretary General to embrace but rather an attempt to rethink and improve, regardless of the political system being adopted, the norms between citizens and the state.

Initially coined during the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in 2020, Guterres made the case for a more just and inclusive society centered around the fights against inequalities and discriminations because, he said, “People want social and economic systems that work for everyone”.

Members of the Madheshi community of Biratnagar attend a political rally to demand autonomous federal regions and greater representation in parliament. Credit: UN Photo/Agnieszka Mikulska

“The New Social Contract, between Governments, people, civil society, business and more, must integrate employment, sustainable development and social protection, based on equal rights and opportunities for all”.

As vague as it is in terms of boundaries and ultimate goals, the New Social Contract can be seen as a framework that can, not only revitalize our societies but also build a fairer, cleaner and just economy able to overcome the multiple challenges created by the pandemic.

The Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals attached to it, offer the blueprint upon which such idea can be built locally.

Being still a working in progress, the New Social Contract can offer an impetus not only at re-designing the relationships between social partners, governments, unions and businesses but it can also be a source to generate more interest among the population about public life.

Making sense of it especially from the perspective of youth can be challenging but it is essential doing so because we cannot imagine a renewed citizenry without including youth whose vast majorities are uninterested and disenchanted from the public discourse.

A possible pathway to generate new passions for civic life among youth would start from helping them being more informed about what is happening at local and national levels, something that can evolve to higher forms of deep interests.

The last stage of this continuum would be supporting them into embracing forms of direct engagement.

Engagement is driven by a strong interest for the public life and the willingness to turn such desire to know more into contributions, actions on the grounds.

Last year, UNV came up with a new volunteering framework that fully captures the different features and characteristics of giving your time, energies and skills for the public good.

Indeed, volunteerism with its different forms and dimensions, is one of the best tools to involve people and youth in particular in the public life.

That’s why it is not surprising that the upcoming UNV’s State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, is going to explain how volunteerism can be a true enabler for determinant for the New Social Contract.

More opportunities for public engagement will also generate more trust, an essential trait of any healthy and cohesive society and it is here where the ongoing efforts to localize the SDGs can make the difference by bringing people together for the common good, for achieving the goals at grassroots levels.

Achieving the SDGs at this level is not about just actions, about mobilization of resources of human, in kinds or financial nature. It is also about deliberation and here, after this long detour, I am reconnecting with the issue of democracy.

The design of a New Social Contract as a conducive platform to achieve the SDGs locally by involving people on the ground, can be a tool to elevate the quality of democratic discourse, generating platforms for a new form of shared decision making or shared governance.

Interestingly, while political parties wherever they operate, might become a hindrance to such change because their role as gatekeeper of public participation would be eroded, this conceptualization of shared governance might become of interest to nations not adhering to representative, parties dominated liberal systems.

In the field of political science there is a dynamic movement of social scientists exploring the concept of deliberative democracy that would allow, through different means, including sortition, to have new forms of real, rather than token, forms of public involvement and participation in the decision making.

It’s true that so far, most of the attempts putting in practice deliberative democracy have been applied in the contexts with solid liberal democratic traditions.

A diverse range of “experiments” have been carried out with the most successful probably being the Ostbelgien Modell adapted by the Parliament of the German-speaking Community of Belgium where there is a permanent Citizens’ Council that enable an ecosystem of Citizen’s Assemblies.

Ireland in the past used successfully some aspects of deliberative democracy to involve the general public in discussing and debating key constitutional issues that also helped generating consensus on gay marriage gender equality.

This legacy continues with a Citizens’ Assembly that recently submitted a report, after prolonged consultations and deliberations, on the issue of gender equality.

Iceland has been using a hybrid form of public deliberation, though led by a small number of elected citizens but with ample opportunities for people to crowdsource the nation’s constitution.

Other forms, with vary degree of success and with different level of inclusivity and decision-making power, were tried in two provinces of Canada, British Columbia and Ontario.

Within the growing area of deliberative democracy studies, there is now a great interest on the so-called “deliberative micro public” where a limited number of citizens gather to decide on certain issues of common interest.

If you have seen The Best of Enemies, a movie portraying an exercise of public deliberation about segregated learning in the Jim Crow’s United States in the early seventies, you get the idea about what these might look like.

Many of these lessons learned might also be of interest to policy makers whose political systems have not embraced democracy.

With the discussions still going on how the New Social Contract should look like at local levels and with the agenda of SDGs localization being recognized as instrumental to achieve the Agenda 2030, we could have an opportunity to advance stronger forms of public participation in the decision making locally and everywhere.

This would strengthen the meaning of good governance around the world while also creating new space for deliberations in contexts that normally shut them.

Perhaps deliberative participation, a term that might be easier to sell globally, if properly carried out at local levels, could become a cornerstone of the New Social Contract, reinvigorating classic democracy where already exists while creating space for others political systems to evolve and be more inclusive.

The Author, is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not for profit in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.

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UN Ready for Breakaway Nations but the Pace Remains Slow

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

Armed Conflicts

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stopping Marine Plastic Pollution: A Key IUCN Congress Goal

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Towards an Equal Future in Parliaments

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

Opinion

Women’s Political Network, Credit: UNDP Montenegro

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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