Call to Freedom for Millions of Children Trapped in Child Labour as Global Conference to Comes to Africa

Child Labour, Conferences, Education, Featured, Global, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Labour

A child beneficiary holding a drawing portraying domestic violence, at the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education, Lilongwe, Malawi which partnered with the ILO/IPEC to support the national action plan aimed at combating child labour. Credit: Marcel Crozet/ILO

A child beneficiary holding a drawing portraying domestic violence, at the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education, Lilongwe, Malawi which partnered with the ILO/IPEC to support the national action plan aimed at combating child labour. Credit: Marcel Crozet/ILO

Nairobi, May 13 2022 (IPS) – Children washing clothes in rivers, begging on the streets, hawking, walking for kilometres in search of water and firewood, their tiny hands competing with older, experienced hands to pick coffee or tea, or as child soldiers are familiar sights in Africa and Asia.


Child rights experts at Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation reiterate that tolerance and normalisation of working children, many of whom work in hazardous conditions and circumstances, and apathy has stalled progress towards the elimination of child labour.

Further warnings include more children in labour across the sub-Saharan Africa region than the rest of the world combined. The continent now falls far behind the collective commitment to end all forms of child labour by 2025.

The International Labour Organization estimates more than 160 million children are in child labour globally.

How to achieve the Sustainable Development Target 8.7 and the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour that focuses on its elimination by 2025 will be the subject of the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour to be held in Durban, South Africa, from May 15 to 20, 2022.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to open the conference. He will share the stage with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairperson and President of the Republic of Malawi Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, and Argentina President Alberto Ángel Fernández Pérez (virtual).

“There are multiple drivers of child labour in Africa, and many of them are interconnected,” Minoru Ogasawara, Chief Technical Advisor for the Accelerating action for the elimination of child labour in supply chains in Africa (ACCEL Africa) at the International Labour Organization (ILO) tells IPS.

He speaks of the high prevalence of children working in agriculture, closely linked to poverty and family survival strategies.

Rapid population growth, Ogasawara says, has placed significant pressure on public budgets to maintain or increase the level of services required to fight child labour, such as education and social protection.

“Hence the call to substantially increase funding through official development assistance (ODA), national budgets and contributions from the private sector targeting child labour and its root causes,” he observes.

UNICEF says approximately 12 percent of children aged 5 to 14 years are involved in child labour – at the cost of their childhood, education, and future.

Of the 160 million child labourers worldwide, more than half are in sub-Saharan Africa, and 53 million are not in school – amounting to 28 % aged five to 11 and another 35 % aged 12 to 14, according to the most recent child labour global estimates by UNICEF and ILO.

Against this grim backdrop, keynote speakers Nobel Peace Laureates Kailash Satyarthi and Leymah Gbowee and former Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven will address the conference, which is expected to put into perspective how and why children still suffer some of the worst, most severe forms of child labour such as bonded labour, domestic servitude, child soldiers, drug trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

Satyarthi has been at the forefront of mobilising global support to this effect.

“I am working in collaboration with a number of other Nobel Laureates and world leaders. We are demanding the setting up of an international social protection mechanism. During the pandemic, we calculated that $53 billion annually could ensure social protection for all children in all low-income countries, as well as pregnant women too,” Satyarthi emphasises.

“Increased social protection, access to free quality education, health care, decent job opportunities for adults, and basic services together create an enabling environment that reduces household vulnerability to child labour,” Ogasawara stresses.

He points to an urgent need to introduce and or rapidly expand social security and other social protection measures suitable for the informal economy, such as cash transfers, school feeding, subsidies for direct education costs, and health care coverage.

The need for a school-to-work transition and to “target children from poor households, increase access to education while reducing the need to combine school with work among children below the minimum working age” should be highlighted.

In the absence of these social protection safety nets, the  International Labour Organization says it is estimated that an additional 9 million children are at risk of child labour by the end of this year and a possible further increase of 46 million child labourers.

In this context, the fifth global conference presents an opportunity to assess progress made towards achieving the goals of SDG Target 8.7, discuss good practices implemented by different actors around the world and identify gaps and urgent measures needed to accelerate the elimination of both child labour and forced labour.

The timing is crucial, says the ILO, as there are only three years left to achieve the goal of the elimination of all child labour by 2025 and only eight years towards the elimination of forced labour by 2030, as established by the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7.

The conference will also see the active participation of young survivor-advocates from India and Africa. They will share their first-person accounts and lived experiences in sync with the core theme of the discussion.

The conference will also take place within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid fears and concerns that ending child labour became less significant on the international agenda as the world coped with the impact of the pandemic. This could reverse the many gains accrued in the fight against child labour, forced labour and child trafficking.

This is the first of a series of stories which IPS will be publishing during the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour from May 15 to 20, 2022.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 

China’s Entry into the Muslim World

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

Opinion

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Apr 7 2022 (IPS) – The retrenchment of American power in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world, coupled with the war in Ukraine, has provided a geopolitical breather for China. Beijing is effectively deploying this to make strategic inroads into the region, given this vacuum and focus on Europe.


The recent invitation to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in Islamabad is a ‘historic first,’ and a significant breakthrough for Chinese diplomacy. For the first time, the foreign minister of the Peoples Republic of China was invited to address the most representative platform of the 57-member body representing the 1.5 billion Muslims.

During his speech at the OIC conference in Islamabad on the 22nd March 2022, Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked about the “long standing relationship between China and the Muslim world” and reaffirmed that China would continue supporting Muslim countries in their quest for political independence and economic development.

Historically, China has always been etched in the Muslim consciousness as a country with a great civilisation based on knowledge, learning and development. For example, there is a famous saying of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him), 1,400 years ago, which urged Muslims to “seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China,” implying that although China was physically far away from Arabia, it was a land of learning.

Soon after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, a professor of the prestigious American university Harvard, Prof. Samuel Huntington, talked of a ‘clash of civilisations’ in which he implied that Western civilization would be at odds with both the Islamic and the Confucian civilisations. Interestingly, he also talked of a united front of the Islamic and Confucian civilisations.

During his speech at the conference on Dialogue among Civilisations, held in Beijing in May 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned the contribution of the Islamic civilisation to “enrich the Chinese civilisation” and also referred to the Holy Mosque in Makkah (Mecca) as well as the travels to China of the Muslim explorer, Ibn Batuta, who wrote favourably on China and the Chinese people.

China has a longstanding relationship with the Muslim world. After the Chinese revolution in 1949, Pakistan was the first country in the Muslim world to recognise the People’s Republic of China in May 1950. The first institutional interaction between China and the Muslim countries took place at the 1955 Afro-Asian Summit in Bandung, Indonesia.

It was hosted by the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia and Pakistan and China were among the countries attending this historic summit. China shares a border with 14 countries, five of which are members of the OIC and none of these have border disputes with China.

In January 1965, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), was formed, China was among the first countries who recognised it. And in the 1960s and early 70s, China also provided material support and aid to various Muslim countries that were facing economic and political pressures, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Yemen and Egypt.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China also has been in the forefront of countries that have a proactive approach to the Muslim world. China, for example, presented a Middle East peace plan and it was unveiled during visits to China in May 2013 by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mehmood Abbas, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his meeting with the two leaders, President Xi Jinping presented the 4-point peace plan that called for an independent Palestine State alongside Israel, based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. While recognising Israel’s right to exist in security, the Chinese peace plan also called for an end to building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine, cessation of violence against civilians and termination of the Israel blockade of Gaza.

The peace plan also called for resolving the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and sought more humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians, while underlining that these are “necessary for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority.”

China also has been principled on the issue of Syria urging an end to both interference in Syrian affairs and an end to the Syrian civil war. In January 2022, China invited Syria to be part of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

China today is the largest importer of crude oil in the world and almost 50% of that oil comes from the Muslim countries of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE. Saudi Arabia has also invited President Xi Jinping to visit the Kingdom and there have been media reports that China and Saudi Arabia are engaged in discussions to have their oil trade done partially in Yuan or the RMB, the Chinese currency.

Defence cooperation between China and the Muslim world is also expanding and the Chinese advanced jetfighter J10C is now in use in countries like Pakistan and the UAE. In January 2022, China and Iran signed a comprehensive Strategic Accord which will run for 25 years, worth well over $400 billion dollars.

The centre piece of China’s relationship with the Muslim world today is the BRI. Interestingly, the BRI was launched in two phases by President Xi Jinping, with two important speeches in two different Muslim countries. In September 2013, during the speech in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

During another speech in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, in November 2013, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Maritime Silk Road, both pillars of the BRI. And during his speech at the OIC conference on the 22nd March, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that “China is investing over 400 billion dollars in nearly 600 projects across the Muslim world under the BRI.”

He underlined that “China is ready to work with Islamic countries to promote a multi-polar world, democracy in international relations and diversity of human civilisation, and make unremitting efforts to build a community with a shared future for mankind”. On the issue of Palestine and Kashmir, Wang Yi said that “China shares the same aspirations as the OIC, seeking a comprehensive and just settlement of these disputes.”

Another example of close ties between China and the Muslim world was the February 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where a majority of Muslim countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar had a high level of representation, despite the boycott called by certain Western countries. Also, only last week, on the 30th March, China hosted an important conference, the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s Neighboring Countries, which was well attended.

China has also received support from Muslim countries on the issue of Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council. In fact, in July 2019, when a group of 22 nations led by the West sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council criticising China on Xinjiang, not a single Muslim country was a signatory of that letter, while another group of 37 countries submitted a letter on the same issue defending Chinese policies.

These countries included all the six Gulf countries plus Pakistan, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan — all Muslim countries.

Given the changing geopolitical scenario, where there is a shift in the global balance of economic and political power, away from West and toward the East, followed by calls for a New Cold War, China’s thrust for cooperation and connectivity, given the common threat of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for connectivity through BRI, has a broad resonance in the Muslim world.

The Muslim countries see their relations with China as a strategic bond to promote stability, security and economic development in the Muslim world and the BRI has become the principal vehicle in the promotion of such an approach.

In the coming years, China’s partnership with the Muslim world is likely to be strengthened, given the mutuality of interests and the convergence of worldviews in upholding a world order based on International Law, the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

Ironically, thirty years after enunciating the Huntington thesis on the ‘clash of civilisations,’ which talked of the Islamic and Confucian Civilisations co-existence with each other but possible confrontation with Western Civilisation, recent developments may be pointers to a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Source: Wall Street International MagazineTop of Form/OTHER NEWS
https://wsimag.com/economy-and-politics/69117-chinas-entry-into-the-muslim-world

Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee Pakistani, Senator Mushahid Hussain was Bureau Chief in Islamabad of Inter Press Service (IPS) during 1987-1997 & later in 2014. He launched the first Public Hearings on Environment & Climate Change in the Pakistan Parliament. As Senator, he chairs the Senate Sub Committee on ‘Green and Clean Islamabad’ which has launched a campaign to ban plastic use in the Pakistani capital.

IPS UN Bureau

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Ukraine Shows Why the G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda Is More Important than Ever

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines

Opinion

With the bloody war in Ukraine dragging on, can the G20 still justify procrastination on the global anti-corruption agenda?

With the bloody war in Ukraine dragging on, can the G20 still justify procrastination on the global anti-corruption agenda? Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

WASHINGTON DC, Mar 25 2022 (IPS) – The world has quickly transitioned from a global health crisis to a geopolitical one, as the war in Ukraine rages into its second month. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest in a long list of challenges that at their heart are either caused by or exacerbated by corruption.


Just this year, think of the protests in Sudan, the coup in Burkina Faso, the nationwide demonstrations in Kazakhstan, or the Portuguese elections, for example- all driven, one way or another, by graft.

While G20 countries have made progress within their national borders, there are often lax laws in offshore tax havens that are under their jurisdictions. Equally, beneficial ownership data should not just be open (to regulators and enforcement agencies), it should be public. Citizens and civil society everywhere should be able to monitor conflicts of interest or relationships between policymakers and corporations, free of charge

Now- countries including the US and Europe– are coming together to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs, but this is not just about Putin’s kleptocracy. As world leaders meet at the G20 next week, it is imperative that they step-up further to fight corruption both at home and abroad.

The Civil-20 (C20), which engages the G20 on behalf of civil society, has been calling for increased accountability from world leaders on critical anti-corruption issues for a long time. The war in Ukraine has only reinforced the need for a focus on the priorities identified by the C20 this year.

First, combating money laundering and the recovery of stolen assets. There are numerous studies that indicate that as much as 85% of Russia’s GDP is laundered into countries including the UK and the US.

There are networks of enablers in Western countries that facilitate this process- from accountants, to lawyers to real estate agents (known as Designated Non-Financial Business and Professions (DNFBPs).

But according to the data collected by Accountability Lab for the G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments Tracker, not all G20 member countries are compliant with FATF recommendations on DNFBP due diligence.

Similarly, others do not have effective frameworks to disclose information on recovered assets. Recognizing the increased risks to anti-money laundering and asset recovery efforts from such omissions, the C20 has called for verified beneficial ownership data through public registers; and the assessment of the effectiveness of measures adopted by the G20 member countries including sanctions for non-compliance.

Second, countering corruption in the energy transition. The G20 Indonesian Presidency has included a sustainable energy transition as a priority issue for 2022. More and more countries, especially in Europe, are cutting ties with Russian energy supplies, which will lead to a more rapid shift of resources towards renewables- but the potential in this for corruption is huge.

Certain countries and energy companies have a variety of incentives to maintain the status quo in corrupt ways; while the supply chains for raw materials for renewable energy are also wide-open for illicit activities. G20 countries urgently need to better understand the level and types of corruption in renewables; and commit to providing transparent data around licensing contracts and budgets.

In this, grassroots civil society groups can be valuable allies by filling information gaps and closing feedback loops in communities affected by renewable energy related projects.

Third, the transparency and integrity of corporations. The recent sanctions against Russian oligarchs have renewed focus on corporate governance and how corporate compliance on issues like foreign bribery, corruption and conflict of interests- including in state owned enterprises and public private partnerships (PPP)- are effectively enforced.

For instance, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) focuses on anti-bribery and internal controls- and is likely to be further enforced, particularly in countries with close ties to Russia.

But beyond this, G20 member countries must also live up to past commitments to strengthen transparency and integrity in business by criminalizing private sector bribery; enacting whistleblower policies in the private sector; and ensuring accounting and auditing standards to prohibit off-the-book accounts.

Fourth, beneficial ownership transparency. The level of secrecy used by Russian oligarchs to hide assets through shell companies, trusts, partnerships and foundations has been headline news. Concerns around beneficial ownership transparency data (the data on who really owns companies) is not new (see this call to action for example).

While G20 countries have made progress within their national borders, there are often lax laws in offshore tax havens that are under their jurisdictions. Equally, beneficial ownership data should not just be open (to regulators and enforcement agencies), it should be public. Citizens and civil society everywhere should be able to monitor conflicts of interest or relationships between policymakers and corporations, free of charge.

It still costs $40 to access beneficial ownership data in Indonesia for instance- making this far too expensive for the average citizen. All G20 countries should lead by example and commit to open, public beneficial ownership registers.

Finally, Open Contracting. The recent focus on how the Russian military may have misused procurement processes has sadly highlighted again the importance of due diligence and open data. Civil society has unequivocally called on G20 member countries to proactively disclose information at every step of public procurement processes, in line with Open Contracting Data Standards as well as the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard, and to increase audit and citizen oversight in public procurement.

These reforms are past due. At the same time, successful initiatives like Opentender.net in Indonesia show how civil society can partner with governments to ensure citizen led oversight and the transparency of public procurement.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis is a stark reminder of how corruption issues must be central to any discussion about the causes and solutions to geo-political problems. The C20 has already outlined for G20 leaders how to address these issues- they now have the responsibility to implement these reforms.

Even in peace-time, the economic and human costs of corruption are massive. With the bloody war in Ukraine dragging on, can the G20 still justify procrastination on the global anti-corruption agenda?

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab and is the International Co-Chair of the Civil 20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in 2022.

Sanjeeta Pant is a Programs and Learning Manager at Accountability Lab and leads the G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments Tracker. Follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab and the C20 @C20EG

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How Collective Action Can Move the Needle on Gender Equality

Active Citizens, Conferences, Development & Aid, Education, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women’s Health

Opinion

Delegates take a group photo at the Young Leaders & Alumni Workshop at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Credit: Isabella Sarmiento

NEW YORK, Mar 18 2022 (IPS) – During this year’s sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), we are eager to see the global community pivot towards more inclusive approaches to advocacy. It’s imperative to put the spotlight on women’s rights and youth-led organizations in communities that are often left out of key discussions. By handing the mic over to advocates across all backgrounds and ages, we can shift to a model that enables all advocates to take a lead role in policy-making and ultimately translate promises and rhetoric into real impact and accountability.


Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways that the global community works together to push for inclusive progress toward gender equality — progress that fully and effectively engages and equally benefits everyone — are fundamentally changing. Private conversations between the organizations and people with the resources and privilege to access the halls of power have given way to hybrid events and videoconferences that are open to a more diverse, intergenerational set of stakeholders than ever before. This significant shift began to open the doors to more inclusive partnerships.

Also, during these past two years, a global reckoning called on us all to meaningfully transform our advocacy, practices, and programs. International development organizations, including our own, took a long, overdue look in the mirror, and in some cases, began the deep learning and unlearning needed to acknowledge the persistent power imbalances that plague our sector at large. It’s a first step in living up to the values of equity and inclusion — not just on paper, but in practice.

As the world as we know it changed, we were hard at work changing, too. We began actively leveraging our power and influence more intentionally than ever before to center the work and expertise of women’s rights and youth-led organizations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Now, we are digging deeper to find and use new tools that enable advocates to co-create and co-lead by themselves so that our work and the Women Deliver 2023 Conference (WD2023) is more inclusive, diverse, consultative, and accessible than ever before.

Young gender equality advocates kick off the Youth Zone at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Credit: This Is It Studios

In “calling us in” and championing our ability to foster more inclusive partnerships across all of our programs, we are taking action to effectively and authentically advocate for, with, and alongside girls and women everywhere, in all their intersecting identities, to catalyze lasting progress on gender equality.

Transforming ourselves is of course a continuous process. Each day, we are learning to do better and to be better. We hope that our key learnings, below, can support our development colleagues, wherever they find themselves on their journey.

1. Accessibility and inclusion must lead the way — in-person and virtually.

    According to expert studies, organizations and individuals from LMICs are often under-represented at global health convenings. From day one, it’s urgent to intentionally engage those who have historically been excluded. In planning WD2023, we have leveraged the lessons of the past two years and from prior Women Deliver Conferences. We used an open application to select one-third of our Conference Advisory Group — a diverse panel with a balance of technical expertise. Our advisors represent 30 organizations — 10 individuals are from youth or youth-led organizations and 35 are from LMICs. We have done this to ensure that the Conference is co-created from the start by organizations and individuals representing the intersectional identities of the girls and women we work with and for.

    We meet regularly via videoconference with our Advisory Group to co-create the Conference’s Global Dialogue, theme, programming, and more, with support from social impact design experts at IDEO.org. IDEO also supports us as we carry out targeted discussions with specific stakeholder groups, including Women Deliver Young Leaders and Alumni, Deliver for Good Country Coalitions, and Conference Sponsors and Funders.

    In planning how to shape the dialogue, foster collaboration, and drive collective action before, during, and after the Conference, we’re working with our partners to ensure that all Conference advocacy spaces, be they digital or physical, are accessible to all. This includes low-bandwidth options, closed captioning, interpretation in multiple languages, and International Sign Language. On-site, we will also provide trauma-informed specialists, breastfeeding/nursing stations, child safeguarding support, and mental health specialists.

Mme Safiétou Diop, President of Réseau Siggil Jigeen speaking at a press conference during the launch of the Deliver for Good Senegal Campaign in Dakar, Senegal in 2019.

2. Move from meaningful youth engagement to co-leadership and intergenerational action.

    It’s time to follow the lead of young people, shift away from top-down approaches, and actively provide resources for robust youth co-leadership. According to global consensus, young people have a fundamental right to actively and meaningfully engage in all matters that affect their lives. For international development organizations, this means offering space, support, and compensation that youth need and deserve to co-create a more-gender equal future — a future from which they have the most to gain and to lose.

    We created the 14-person Young Leaders Program Alumni Committee, with an honorarium for their valuable expertise, to advise us on strategy and implementation of the Young Leaders Program and ideate youth co-creation opportunities. This committee provides invaluable guidance to ensure the Young Leaders Program models meaningful youth engagement and co-leadership, and effectively meets the needs of Young Leaders on the ground.

    Women Deliver also hosts Multi-Country Workshops to foster capacity strengthening, knowledge sharing, and coordinated advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender equality. Starting in 2021, these workshops are now designed and led by a Young Leader Planning Committee representing the regions where the workshops take place. They are in the driver’s seat as they craft workshop content and programming, while Women Deliver provides logistical support and the virtual space to gather. This co-created process has led to more targeted — and impactful — workshops that cater to Young Leaders’ specific needs and build capacity in the issue areas where it’s most needed.

Delegates taking a group photo on stage at the Deliver for Good Campaign side event “Leveraging National Movements for Global Change” at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

3. Elevate diverse voices and support organizations working on the ground.

    Incusion and participation have to be integrated into the mission of development work, not a one-off tactic or strategy. Diverse, resilient feminist and women’s rights organizations and movements are – and must always be positioned as – the key drivers of change for gender equality and women’s rights across the globe.

    Over the past two years, we have stepped back to shift power across every aspect of our organization’s activities, policies, programs, and behaviors, into the hands of the youth and women’s rights groups most impacted by our work. For example, in 2020, in partnership with Girl Effect, as well as with young people themselves, we worked to understand how youth in India, Malawi, and Rwanda use digital platforms to learn about their sexual and reproductive health (SRHR). This project was designed and executed by more than 160 adolescent girls and young women, who worked hand in hand with researchers on the ground in India, Malawi, and Rwanda to conduct interviews within their own communities, as well as to design questions, discuss results, and generate recommendations. Moving forward, we must involve girls and women in all aspects of data collection and evidence generation that impacts them. This will ensure that the local knowledge and skills needed to drive sustainable change in their own communities, regions, and countries are an integral part of effective advocacy and decision-making.

    We’re now handing the pen directly to Young Leaders and spotlighting the work of youth-led organizations during key advocacy moments. Last year, the Deliver for Good Campaign organized its first ever Continental Conversation — an idea conceived by partners in Kenya and Senegal — as a way to work together towards gender equality in the region. What was first envisioned as a one-off peer-to-peer sharing opportunity via videoconference became understood as a vital, first-of-its-kind Continental Conversation to bridge divides — some of which had never been crossed. Together, the Campaign’s country partners shared their own experiences, lessons, challenges, and successes in advancing gender equality, laying the groundwork for a cross-regional peer-to-peer learning model with the power to accelerate progress on girls’ and women’s health and rights in Kenya, in Senegal, and around the world.

    Over the past year, we have also co-convened multi-sectoral coalitions with diverse partners representing the intersectional identities of girls and women. For example, as part of the SRHR & Climate Justice Coalition, we’re working on collective action and coordinated advocacy in partnership with more than 60 representatives from a wide range of civil society organizations. The Coalition is working to advance SRHR and gender equality in the context of climate change from an intersectional and climate justice approach.

    The Coalition emerged from the need to break down silos between the SRHR and Climate Justice organizations and movements, facilitate knowledge sharing, jointly mobilize, and amplify the voices and priorities of grassroots organizations. These organizations are led by girls and women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and Indigenous people from LMICs, particularly those most affected by climate change and without continuous access to high-quality SRH services. The Coalition is currently raising awareness of the interlinkages of SRHR and climate change in order to ensure SRHR is a key part of climate change conversations and action strategies ahead of key policy moments, such as CSW66 and COP27.

4. Collect and present data that accurately represents the diverse needs of all girls and women.

    Sustainable progress — and lasting change — will take all of us. Over the past two years, we’ve focused on connecting advocates working across different issue areas and collecting gender-disaggregated data. The data is broken down into the many factors that shape people’s lives, including race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and socioeconomic class in order to drive collective action, the mainstay of transformative change. We also need to engage with data scientists from regions most impacted by this research.

    Last year, we partnered with Focus 2030 to carry out a survey of 17 countries on six continents — representing half of the world’s population. An overwhelming majority said they support gender equality, believe that women should be fully engaged in charting our path forward, and expect leaders – political and in business – to take meaningful action to bridge the gender divide. In centering the voices of citizens, we were able to effectively advocate for bigger, bolder commitments by governments and the private sector, ahead of the Generation Equality Forum.

As Women Deliver evolves and grows, we will continue to call upon our partners and funders, including in the private sector, to ensure that the international development world champions and secures robust, feminist funding and resources for women’s rights organizations, youth, and other marginalized communities. We hope you will join us in leveraging the changes set into motion during the pandemic and the global reckoning in our sector. Let’s work together to bridge existing divides and form inclusive partnerships — between countries, sectors, and generations.

The authors are Kathleen Sherwin (CEO/President), Divya Mathew (Director, Policy & Advocacy), Julia Fan (Senior Manager, Youth Engagement), Gretchen Gasteier (Manager, Conference), Rachel Elliott (Senior Associate, Communications) of Women Deliver

IPS UN Bureau

 

Youths Trailblazing Paths in Sexual and Reproductive Health Ahead of ICFP Family Planning Conference

Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health, Youth Thought Leaders

Youth Thought Leaders

Youth activists Peace Umanah, from Nigeria and Aurelia Naa Adjeley Sowah-Mensah from Ghana ensure that young people are made aware of their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. Credit: ICFP

Nairobi, Kenya, Mar 16 2022 (IPS) – Travelling in northern Nigeria, Peace Umanah noticed teenage girls with multiple children – they would be walking with one strapped to their back, holding another by hand and with a protruding belly.


“These were worrisome sights that got me thinking about whether these young girls knew about contraceptive choices or if they were not given information to make beneficial decisions.”

The same question weighed heavily on young Aurelia Naa Adjeley Sowah-Mensah from Ghana, who grew up in a community where teenage pregnancies are common – mirroring the situation in many developing countries.

These questions set the young women on a trailblazing path to change the trajectory of adolescent and teenage pregnancies in their countries.

The pair have joined forces with other young people, world leaders and actors in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) to give young people in every corner of the world much-needed tools to navigate their sexuality. They hope to remove SRHR-related challenges to enable young women to benefit from socio-economic growth and development opportunities.

“Through the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) Youth Trailblazer Award, young leaders in the field of family planning and SRHR aged 18-35 years old were invited to submit creative short videos that integrate this year’s conference theme,” says Jose G Rimon II, director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Jose G Rimon II, director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Credit: ICFP

Rimon II, who is also the chair of ICFP’s International Steering Committee, tells IPS the videos “also highlighted youth perspectives, experiences, and voices in family planning and SRHR”.

The videos reflected the conference’s theme: ‘Universal Health Coverage and Family Planning: Innovate, Collaborate, Accelerate’.

Sowah-Mensah and Umanah were among 50 youth leaders working in family planning and SRHR awarded scholarships to attend ICFP this year in Pattaya City, Thailand, on November 14-17, 2022.

Other award winners include Tanaka Chirombo from Malawi, Alison Hoover from Atlanta, USA, and Muhammad Sarim (Saro) Imram from Pakistan.

Awardees are from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, selected from a pool of more than 300 youth worldwide who applied for the Youth Trailblazer Award. The award recognises youth leadership and innovation in family planning and SRHR.

“Selected youth demonstrated strong ideas and commitment, creative thinking that pushed the field forward and challenged norms, and successfully conveyed a clear and powerful message,” says Rimon II.

Youth Trailblazer Award winners will be integrated throughout the ICFP, the world’s largest scientific conference on family planning and reproductive health, to amplify and highlight the voices of young leaders globally, he adds.

“Awardees will actively participate in planning activities for the ICFP, including integral participation on the ICFP subcommittee(s) of their choice, engagement as speakers and moderators at sessions, as well as other conference engagement opportunities that will magnify the voices, perspectives, and experiences of the youth.”

Youth participation will bring to life ICFP’s stance that countries’ universal health coverage packages should include youth-friendly family planning and SRH products and services.

“As of 2021, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate shows only 17 percent of all women of reproductive age in Nigeria use contraceptives,” Umanah says.

In the absence of youth-friendly services, myths and misconceptions influence young people’s understanding of contraceptives. She says they sometimes use lime, soda, antibiotics, and salt to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Adolescent and teenage pregnancies are the most pressing issues. Consequences include life-threatening health complications and the risk of missing out on lifelong learning and earning opportunities.

According to government statistics, one in every five girls in Kenya between the ages of 15 to 19 is either pregnant or already a mother. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls in this East African nation.

As a youth champion engaging adolescents and young people, Umanah says the cohort needs safe spaces free of stigma and judgment, where they can find answers and solutions to their SRHR needs.

“For young women and girls, being able to speak up and be heard is critical. Social media tools, such as 9ja Girls Now, gives girls a platform to get connected across distances,” Umanah observes.

“9ja Girls is a Facebook platform and a safe space where girls learn and ask questions about love, life and health and find answers.”

Sowah-Mensah is an SRHR mentor of adolescent girls and young women under the Girl Boss initiative with the Youth Action Movement (YAM) of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana.

Without support, Sowah-Mensah says, “some girls exchange sex for food or money, ending up in unplanned pregnancies. To avoid stigma, they turn to unsafe ways (to terminate the pregnancy), such as grinding and consuming glass bottles or drinking a mixture of sugar and alcohol. Some lose their lives.”

A dedicated ICFP Youth Pre-conference will take place November 11-13 to support youth leaders and their programmatic work, advocacy, and research.

Rimon II says youth involvement is the “best way to ensure diverse voices are heard and strategies are developed that are sustainable, inclusive, culturally competent and representative of sexual and reproductive health and rights at the global level.”

SRHR youth experts such as Sowah-Mensah and Umanah agree.

Sowah-Mensah says young people are the demographic majority and a powerful instrument for development because they have many innovative ideas.

“But a large percentage of our leaders are not young and are thus unable to address young people’s most pressing needs for SRHR services. You have one generation making bodily autonomy decisions on behalf of a totally different generation,” she says.

The awardees assert that the status quo must change to achieve a desirable outcome. Umanah says, “In designing solutions to challenges that face adolescent girls and young women, their concerns and voices should be the loudest. They should lead conversations towards desired solutions.”

ICFP is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University and more than two dozen other public, private, and non-profit sponsors, including the World Health Organization and United Nations Population Fund.

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IPS UN Bureau Report

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A Tale of Two Refugee Crises

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Families carry their belongings through the Zosin border crossing in Poland after fleeing Ukraine. Credit: UNHCR/Chris Melzer

GENEVA, Mar 7 2022 (IPS) Russia’s brutal and devastating invasion of Ukraine has triggered the largest and fastest refugee movement in Europe since World War II. After only a single week, more than one million people had already fled the country.


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) initially predicted that as many as four million people would flee; the UN now thinks that some 10 million will eventually be displaced.

While the EU calls this the largest humanitarian crisis that Europe has witnessed in “many, many years,” it is important to remember that it was not so long ago that the continent faced another critical humanitarian challenge, the 2015 refugee “crisis” spurred by the conflict in Syria.

But the starkly different responses that Europe has directed at these two situations—in addition to its draconian response to ongoing African migration across the Mediterranean—provide a cautionary lesson for those hoping for a more humane, generous Europe.

These differences also help explain why some of those fleeing Ukraine—in particular, nationals from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East—are not receiving the same generous treatment as the citizens of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s neighbours have thus far responded with an outpouring of public and political support for the refugees. Political leaders have said publicly that refugees from Ukraine are welcome and countries have been preparing to receive refugees on their borders with teams of volunteers handing out food, water, clothing, and medicines.

Slovakia and Poland have said that refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine will be allowed to enter their countries even without passports, or other valid travel documents; other EU countries, such as Ireland, have announced the immediate lifting of visa requirements for people coming from Ukraine.

Across Europe, free public transport and phone communication is being provided for Ukrainian refugees. On 3 March, the EU voted to activate the Temporary Protection Directive, introduced in the 1990’s to manage large-scale refugee movements during the Balkans crisis.

Under this scheme, refugees from Ukraine will be offered up to three years temporary protection in EU countries, without having to apply for asylum, with rights to a residence permit and access to education, housing, and the labour market.

The EU also proposed simplifying border controls and entry conditions for people fleeing Ukraine. Ukrainian refugees can travel for 90 days visa-free throughout EU countries, and many have been moving on from neighbouring countries to join family and friends in other EU countries. Throughout Europe, the public and politicians are mobilizing to show solidarity and support for those fleeing Ukraine.

This is how the international refugee protection regime should work, especially in times of crisis: countries keep their borders open to those fleeing wars and conflict; unnecessary identity and security checks are avoided; those fleeing warfare are not penalized for arriving without valid identity and travel documents; detention measures are not used; refugees are able to freely join family members in other countries; communities and their leaders welcome refugees with generosity and solidarity.

But we know that this is not how the international protection regime has always operated in Europe, particularly in those same countries that are now welcoming refugees from Ukraine.

Public discourse in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania is often tainted by racist and xenophobic rhetoric about refugees and migrants, in particular those from Middle Eastern and African countries, and they have adopted hostile policies like border push-backs and draconian detention measures.

A case in point is Hungary: The country has refused to admit refugees from non-EU countries since the 2015 “refugee crisis.” Prime Minister Victor Orbán has described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and migrants as “a poison,” claiming that Hungary should not accept refugees from different cultures and religions to “preserve its cultural and ethnic homogeneity.”

In May 2020, The European Court of Justice found that Hungary’s arbitrary detention of asylum seekers in transit zones on its border with Serbia was illegal.

Hungary was not alone in its harsh response to the 2015 “crisis.” In their book Immigration Detention in the European Union: In the Shadow of the “Crisis” (Springer 2020), Global Detention Project (GDP) researchers detailed the evolution of the detention systems of all EU Members States before, during, and after the 2015 refugee crisis.

Among their key findings: During the years leading up to 2015, migration-related detention had largely plateaued across the EU, but refugee pressures spurred important increases in detention regimes across the entire region, which remained in place long after the “crisis” had subsided.

Fuelling these increases was anti-migrant rhetoric that spread from Brussels across the entire continent, abetted by EU-wide migration directives that allowed for lengthy detention periods. Then-European Council President Donald Tusk argued at that time that all arriving refugees could be detained for up to 18 months, in line with the limits in EU directives, while their claims were processed.

More recently, in late 2021, the terrible treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Afghanistan, trapped on Belarus’s borders with Poland and Lithuania sparked outrage across Europe. Belarus was accused of weaponizing the plight of these people, luring them to Belarus in order to travel on to EU countries as retaliation against EU sanctions.

Polish border guards were brutal in their treatment of these refugees and migrants, many of whom sustained serious injuries from Polish and Belarussian border guards. Thousands were left stranded in the forests between the two countries in deplorable conditions with no food, shelter, blankets, or medicines: at least 19 migrants died in the freezing winter temperatures.

In response to this situation, Poland sent soldiers to its border, erected razor-wire fencing, and started the construction of a 186-kilometre wall to prevent asylum seekers entering from Belarus. It also adopted legislation that would allow it to expel anyone who irregularly crossed its border and banned their re-entry.

Even before the stand-off between Poland and Belarus, refugees in Poland did not receive a warm welcome. Very few asylum seekers were granted refugee status (in 2020 out of 2,803 applications, only 161 were granted refugee status) and large numbers of refugees and migrants were detained: a total of 1,675 migrants and asylum seekers were in detention in January 2022, compared to just 122 people during all of 2020.

With this recent history as backdrop, the double standards and racism inherent in Europe’s refugee responses are glaring. There are no calls from Brussels today to detain refugees fleeing Ukraine for up to 18 months.

Why? Because, as Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said recently about people from Ukraine: “These are not the refugees we are used to. … These people are Europeans. … These people are intelligent, they are educated people. … This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.”

Similarly, Hungary’s Orban has said that every refugee coming from Ukraine will be “welcomed by friends in Hungary,” adding that one doesn’t have to be a “rocket scientist” to see the difference between “masses arriving from Muslim regions in hope of a better life in Europe” and helping Ukrainian refugees who have come to Hungary because of the war.

Sadly, these double standards have reared in the response to non-Ukrainians fleeing the war in Ukraine. There are a growing number of accounts of students and migrants from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia who have faced racist treatment, obstruction, and violence trying to flee Ukraine.

Many described being prevented from boarding trains and buses in Ukrainian towns while priority was given to Ukrainian nationals; others described being aggressively pulled aside and stopped by Ukrainian border guards when trying to cross into neighbouring countries.

There are also accounts of Polish authorities taking aside African students and refusing them entry into Poland, although the Polish Ambassador to the UN told a General Assembly meeting on 28 February that assertions of race or religion-based discrimination at Poland’s border were “a complete lie and a terrible insult to us.”

He asserted that “nationals of all countries who suffered from Russian aggression or whose life is at risk can seek shelter in my country.” According to the Ambassador, people from 125 different nationalities have been admitted into Poland from Ukraine.

Several African leaders have strongly criticized the discrimination on the borders of Ukraine, saying everyone has the same right to cross international borders to flee conflict and seek safety.

The African Union stated that “reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of international law,” and called for all countries to “show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity.”

Similar messages were shared by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who said in a Tweet: “I am grateful for the compassion, generosity and solidarity of Ukraine’s neighbours who are taking in those seeking safety. It is important that this solidarity is extended without any discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity,” and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who stressed that “it is crucial that receiving countries continue to welcome all those fleeing conflict and insecurity—irrespective of nationality and race.”

The Ukraine refugee crisis presents Europe with not only an important opportunity to demonstrate its generosity, humanitarian values, and commitment to the international refugee protection regime; it is also a critical moment of reflection: Can the peoples of Europe overcome their widespread racism and animosity and embrace the universalist spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention?

As Article 3 of the Convention holds, all member states “shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.”

Rachael Reilly and Michael Flynn are based at the Global Detention Project in Geneva.

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