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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IPS UN Bureau Report

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US to Fight Sexual Abuse in International Organizations

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Security Council members vote to adopt a resolution endorsing special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 2022 (IPS) – The United States, which recently laid down a set of guidelines to monitor sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by US citizens in international organizations, including the United Nations and its agencies worldwide, has implicitly accused the UN of faltering on a high-profile case last month.


The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Karim Elkorany, an American citizen and a former UN employee, to 15 years in prison for the drugging and sexual assault of one victim and making false statements to cover up another sexual assault.

As part of the federal investigation, Elkorany admitted that he had drugged and/or sexually assaulted 17 additional victims between 2002 and 2016.

Ambassador Chris Lu, U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform at the US Mission to the United Nations, said that consistent with State Department policies, “we have referred this matter to the Office of Inspector General for review to ensure a culture of accountability”

“We also call on the United Nations to undertake a similar review that includes a comprehensive examination of the handling of any sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment (SEAH) allegations against Mr. Elkorany during his employment with the United Nations”.

The investigation, he said, should examine whether UN officials were aware of Elkorany’s misconduct and failed to take appropriate action, including ensuring the availability and accessibility of assistance to survivors.

In line with the “Principles on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) for U.S. Government Engagement with International Organizations”, the United States said it is committed to preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the UN system.

“We strongly support the United Nations’ zero tolerance policy and the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen its implementation”.

“Protection from SEAH is the responsibility of leadership and managers at every level who have a duty to take action in response to allegations of SEAH and ensure implementation of governance policies and delivery of services in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of all personnel and communities served by our institutions.”

The critical stand against the UN comes amid “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”, beginning November 25, and billed as an opportunity to call for prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has established a Chief Executive Board Task Force to review policies to prevent sexual harassment and develop improved and consistent approaches across the UN, including a review of how the UN defines sexual harassment.

Tsitsi Matekaire, the Global Lead on Equality Now’s End Sexual Exploitation Programme based in the UK, told IPS the publication of these principles by the US government is a welcome development.

They echo similar positive initiatives by countries such as Australia and the UK, which have introduced measures following highly publicized scandals in recent years within the international aid sector.

“It is good to see more organizations introducing and extending safeguarding policies, but words must be underpinned by effective action and we need more evidence about the impact of these commitments. It is no good having protection strategies and procedures in place if they are not being well implemented and abuse continues unchecked”, said Matekaire.

“We don’t know the true scale of the problem, but we do know from frequent revelations that sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse remain a widespread problem inside the United Nations system and within other international development organizations”.

In September 2022, she pointed out, a media investigation disclosed sexual abuse by humanitarian workers at an UN-run camp in South Sudan. It was reported that abuse occurred “on a daily basis” over a number of years and aid officials were aware as early as 2015.

Although the UN did take some action, it faced criticism for failing to introduce effective strategies to end the problem, and an external review cited a lack of victim support, she noted.

“The UN and all international development agencies must enforce a zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and harassment directed at, and perpetrated by, staff. This must apply to everyone, regardless of what level their position is”.

“All staff should receive training, with policies and procedures well communicated. Reports of abuse should be taken seriously, investigations carried out swiftly and effectively, and perpetrators held fully to account”.

She also said that aid workers and other whistle-blowers need to be well protected so they are able to disclose allegations of abuses without fear of negative repercussions, including retaliation or sidelining.

And safeguarding and reporting mechanisms need to ensure sexual predators are not able to evade punishment or move to different jobs where they are able to commit further offences.”

And here is the link to the article about the South Sudan story referenced above.

Meanwhile, a Reuters report of November 1 said the World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended a senior manager at its Geneva headquarters after a British doctor publicly alleged she was sexually assaulted at a health conference last month, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Rosie James, a 26-year-old junior doctor working for England’s National Health Service tweeted last month that the assault occurred at the World Health Summit in Berlin. The event, which took place from Oct. 16-18, was jointly organized by the WHO. James said at the time that she planned to report the incident.

“The alleged perpetrator is on leave and the investigation is on-going,” a WHO spokesperson said in an emailed response to Reuters about James’s statements, without naming him.

The set of “Government Engagement Principles on Protection from Sexual Exploitation Abuse and Sexual Harassment within International Organizations, laid down by the US includes six key components:

Zero Tolerance

The United States will continue to promote the full implementation of policies of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment, including zero tolerance for inaction in response to allegations, across the United Nations and other International Organizations.

This includes support for policies that prioritize prevention and mitigation efforts, monitor the effectiveness of such efforts, ensure safe access to confidential SEAH reporting mechanisms and appropriate survivor support, and embed survivor-centered principles across all actions in response to reported allegations – including investigations.

The United States recognizes that an absence of reporting does not mean incidents are not being perpetrated, nor does it indicate that zero tolerance policies are being fully implemented.

A Survivor-centered Approach

The United States expects all allegations or incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment to be reviewed and addressed, while respecting principles of due process.

In its engagement with the United Nations and other International Organizations, the United States will continue to advocate for the use of survivor-centered principles and standards – an approach that recognizes and empowers survivors as individuals with agency and unique needs, safeguarding their dignity and wellbeing.

Prevention and Risk Mitigation

The United States will work with the United Nations and other International Organizations to institutionalize prevention and mitigation measures that go beyond basic awareness-raising, training, capacity-building or dissemination of codes of conduct, and include a commitment to promote adequate funding, dedicated technical staff, and meaningful risk analysis and mitigation.

The United States will hold the United Nations and other International Organizations to the highest standard, including from the onset of a crisis, conflict or emergency, to mitigate against such risk, especially with highly vulnerable populations.

Accountability and Transparency

The United States expects the leadership of the United Nations and other International Organizations to take meaningful action to support accountability and transparency through, among others, the following: the conduct of timely and survivor-centered investigations; response efforts driven by the needs, experiences, and resiliencies of those most at risk of SEAH; clear reporting and response systems, including to inform Member States of allegations or incidents; and accountability measures, including termination of employment or involvement of law enforcement, as needed.

Organizational Culture Change

The United States will work to advocate for the development by the United Nations and other International Organizations of evidence-based metrics and standards of practice in the implementation of zero tolerance policies, promote holistic approaches, empower women and girls, and reinforce leadership and organizational accountability.

Policies, statements, and training are essential, but alone are insufficient to produce lasting positive change. Systems-level change requires a shift in organizational culture, behavior, and the underlying processes and mechanisms to deliver assistance and promote internal accountability.

Empowerment of Local Communities

The United States will prioritize, in partnership with the leadership of the United Nations and other International Organizations, the critical importance of locally-led efforts, particularly those led by women and girls, who, when meaningfully supported and engaged, can inform the measures that may mitigate risks and promote safer foreign assistance programming.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Developing Countries Battle Climate Change, While the Wealthy Make Frozen Pledges: Will COP27 Usher a New Era?

Biodiversity, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

Climate change is predicted to put pressure on the Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt's population resides. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Climate change is predicted to put pressure on the Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt’s population resides. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Cairo, Oct 20 2022 (IPS) – The countdown to the UN Climate Summit COP27, which will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to November 18, has begun.

This summit has drawn the attention of world leaders, high-ranking United Nations officials, and thousands of environmental activists worldwide.


The COP27 summit is an annual gathering of 197 countries to discuss climate change and what each country is doing to limit the impact of human activity on the climate.

About 90 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, according to the special representative of the Egyptian presidency.

Amr Abdel-Aziz, Director of Mitigation at Egypt’s Ministry of Environment, noted that the central theme for COP27 is implementation.

“We hope to demonstrate what that looks like in terms of mitigation and adaptation. If the summit can address the topic of implementation in all of its discussions, it will be a sign of its success,” Abdel-Aziz said.

The primary objective of COP27 is to achieve positive results in terms of emissions reduction; on the agenda is also a discussion of financing losses and damage.

“We also intend to advance the agenda to double climate adaptation financing by 2025 and reach an agreement on the unfulfilled $100 billion financial pledge from developed countries,” Abdel-Aziz told IPS.

The overarching goal is to strike a balance between all parties’ interests. The mitigation program, for example, is primarily driven by developed countries and small island developing states, which are currently experiencing severe climate change impacts.

On the other hand, emerging markets are principally accountable for adjustments, losses, and damages.

“Our goal is to achieve a balanced result that meets all of these goals and objectives,” he continued

“We wanted to cover as much of Egypt’s total emissions as possible,” Abdel-Aziz explains, “So we focused on three sectors: energy, oil and gas, and transportation. We also chose the industries that are most likely to reduce emissions.”

Abdel-Aziz says he is optimistic about meeting the goals, especially in the transport sector, which could even exceed the goals as there has been significant progress including in the area of “transportation electrification and other forms of sustainable mobility.”

The summit’s top priorities are to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals and progress in the fight against climate change. According to scientific research, limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2030 requires cutting emissions in half.

“Climate finance must be available for this to occur,” COY 17 Programme Leader Hossam Imam told IPS.

COY17 is an annual event organized by YOUNGO, the Official Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year’s event will take place on the sidelines of the 27th Party Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt (COP27).

Imam will collaborate with 1,500 young people from 140 countries to draft the youth statement, which will be delivered to the presidency of the Climate Summit and discussed by high-ranking officials.

“The impact of climate change on indigenous peoples and coastal city dwellers who face flooding is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed in COY 17,” Imam said.

Environmental activist Ahmed Fathy told IPS that the most significant obstacle to developing countries achieving their climate goals is a “lack of adequate and adequate financing from developed countries. And, despite years of neglect, adaptation financing remains a top priority for developing countries. Without it, developing countries cannot combat and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt’s population resides, make up only 4% of the country’s natural area. Climate change is predicted to put pressure on these areas, particularly the Nile, and the region could experience more frequent droughts.

“Egypt is also one of the few nations that actually struggle with water scarcity,” Fathy added.

“Since the world faces several economic issues in addition to the energy crisis, we expect that the conference will produce workable proposals,” said Fathy, the founder of the ‘Youth Love Egypt Association,’ involved in organizing the COY17 conference and the promotion of the COP27. “We expect the summit to produce a workable charter and to be COP for actions rather than COP for pledges.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

 

University Outreach Project Teaching Tissue Culture to Potato Farmers

Africa, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Innovation, TerraViva United Nations

Food and Agriculture

World Food Day is celebrated on October 16, 2022, with the theme Leave NO ONE behind. During this week IPS will look at features that showcase better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.

Richard Mbaria makes a point at his potato in Kapsita village of Nakuru County, Kenya. The farmer has increased his production per acre thanks to training by a CARP+ project implemented in the area by Egerton University. Maina Waruru/IPS

Richard Mbaria makes a point at his potato in Kapsita village of Nakuru County, Kenya. The farmer has increased his production per acre thanks to training by a CARP+ project implemented in the area by Egerton University. Credit: Maina Waruru/IPS

Nairobi, Oct 11 2022 (IPS) – Until a few years ago, Kenyan potato farmer Richard Mbaria used to harvest just four tonnes of the crop from an acre of land thanks to poor quality seeds, combined with an attack on the crop by pests and diseases.


The middle-aged farmer would select seeds from his previous harvest, picking the smallest tubers that could not fetch good prices in the market. This was the practice every other smallholder farmer in his Kapsita village in Elburgon, Nakuru County in Kenya’s Rift Valley region and beyond would do too. The reason is that many rarely afford certified seeds, and those who could were unaware of the importance of using approved seeds.

“That was then and today, but today I get an average of nearly 8 tonnes of the produce from an acre of land and want to improve the harvests to 10 to 12 tonnes from the same land in the near future,” Mbaria proudly discloses.

The father of four did not transform his farming miraculously. He has been trained in better management of crops and also on the selection and preservation of healthy planting seeds, which he is now selling to local farmers.

Even more radical transformation has happened to his farming. He’s now on the journey to becoming qualified to produce certified tissue culture planting material, thanks to the training he has received from Egerton University’s Enhancing Access to High Quality Seed Potato for Improved Productivity and Income of Smallholder Farmers in Nakuru County (HQSPIPI), implemented under the Community Action Research Programme (CARP+).

Tissue culture is the cultivation of plant tissues or organs in specially formulated nutrient solution in a lab or a controlled environment using mainly sprouts or tissue-like leaves, which are grown in a medium with nutrients and disease-killing chemicals. This way, an entire plant is regenerated from a single tissue.

This is done in a controlled environment – usually in a lab or a greenhouse to produce plantlets, also known as apical root cuttings and mini tubers (tiny-sized potato seeds), but which are clean and free of disease, explains Professor Anthony Kibe, Associate Professor of Agronomy at Egerton University.

When transplanted in the field, the result is seed potatoes which can be sold to farmers for high productivity and at relatively affordable prices.

The resulting plantlet or its small tubers at the bottom of the roots can be transplanted in the fields. The crop is usually high-yield and also free of disease when properly managed.

“Tissue culture (also known as in vitro culture) offers an excellent way for the rapid propagation of seed potato offering high yielding disease-free planting material using hydroponics or aeroponics technologies,” says Kibe.

The technique, he says, is critical in the production of disease-free and high-yielding fruits and vegetables and is widely used in bananas in East Africa. In potatoes, it is mainly practiced by large commercial farms, seed companies, and government research institutions due to the costs and complexity for an ordinary farmer.

The implication is that certified seeds are relatively expensive and out of reach of most of the nearly 1 million smallholder farmers engaged in potato farming in Kenya.

The programme is one of the activities under Transforming African Agricultural Universities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development (TAGDev), an initiative by Uganda-based Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation.

One of its aims is to train farmers to plant quality seeds, test their soils, effectively manage diseases and pests, among others, for increased productivity, and organize them in marketing cooperatives for higher incomes, explains Kibe.

“About ten years ago, the average yield for potatoes per hectare in Kenya was 22.5 tonnes; today, it has dropped to around seven tonnes a hectare due to, among others, the transmission of diseases through seeds,” he adds.

It is a concern that his farmers’ outreach project has been addressing by offering free advice, addressing the major constraints to the production of the critical food crop.

“One way of addressing the problem is by training a number of farmers to become producers of disease-free seeds for sale to their colleagues for increased yields and higher income,” he says. Sadly, he notes, only about 2% of Kenyan farmers who grow potatoes use certified seeds, compromising yields.

“This is in stark contrast with leading world producers such as the Netherlands producer, where 99% of farmers use certified seeds,” Kibe explains.

In Kenya, average yields are around 10 tonnes per hectare, while the crop’s potential is as high as 30 tonnes for the size. The lack of quality disease-free seeds of improved varieties is a major cause of this yield gap. This is in contrast to countries like Egypt and South Africa, where yields stand at 40 tonnes per hectare, he told IPS.

“The planting material many farmers use each season for a new crop is produced, stored, and traded by farmers without regulation,” says Kibe.

Farmers select the seeds from their previous harvest. Part of the challenge is that only a few privately-owned farms and a handful of state-owned seed enterprises produce certified seed potatoes.

Where new varieties have been produced and propagated under the technology, yields have been as high as 30 tons per hectare.

Potato, he notes, has been a low-priority food crop in Kenya’s research agricultural research system, despite its importance as a staple food and its potential contribution to the country’s food security.

Under his project, nearly 5,000 farmers have been reached and trained on good husbandry for higher yields since 2017.

Of the three roles bestowed on universities – teaching, research, and outreach, the latter has been the least applied, with universities doing research with the expectation that the extension arms in government would do the knowledge transfer, says Anthony Egeru, who heads TAGDeV project at RUFORUM.

“However, the universities need to have visibility and prove relevant to communities in which they operate and assert their roles as facilitators of development,” he says.

Under the initiative, farmers such as Mbaria are reached by the universities and benefit from the knowledge in their possession, which largely remains stored in journal publications. On their side, universities fulfill their obligation of giving back to society.

While hydroponics is a technology out of reach of many growers, it is essential for the fast multiplication of seeds, according to Michael Cherutich, a potato expert at Kenya’s Agriculture Development Corporation.

The seed producers, including the state corporation, can hardly meet the demand for certified seeds. One way of ensuring affordability has many seed producers in the villages in potato farming areas.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Women Advocates for Harvesting Rainwater in Salinity-Affected Coastal Bangladesh

Asia-Pacific, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Innovation, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Humanitarian Emergencies

Lalita Roy now has access to clean water and also provides a service to her community by working as a pani apa (water sister), looking after the community's rainwater harvesting plants. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Lalita Roy now has access to clean water and also provides a service to her community by working as a pani apa (water sister), looking after the community’s rainwater harvesting plants. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

KHULNA, Bangladesh, Sep 23 2022 (IPS) – Like many other women in Bangladesh’s salinity-prone coastal region, Lalita Roy had to travel a long distance every day to collect drinking water as there was no fresh water source nearby her locality.


“In the past, there was a scarcity of drinking water. I had to travel one to two kilometers distance each day to bring water,” Roy, a resident of Bajua Union under Dakope Upazila in Khulna, told IPS.

She had to collect water standing in a queue; one water pitcher was not enough to meet her daily household demand.

“We require two pitchers of drinking water per day. I had to spend two hours each day collecting water. So, there were various problems. I had health complications, and I was unable to do household work for lack of time,” she said.

After getting a rainwater harvesting plant from the Gender-response Climate Adaptation (GCA) Project, which is being implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Roy is now collecting drinking water using the rainwater harvesting plant, which makes her life easier.

“I am getting the facilities, and now I can give two more hours to my family… that’s why I benefited,” she added.

Shymoli Boiragi, another beneficiary of Shaheber Abad village under Dakope Upazila, said women in her locality suffered a lot in collecting drinking water in the past because they had to walk one to three kilometers every day to collect water.

“We lost both time and household work. After getting rainwater harvesting plants, we benefited. Now we need not go a long distance to collect water so that we can do more household work,” Boiragi said.

Shymoli revealed that coastal people suffered from various health problems caused by consuming saline water and spent money on collecting the water too.

“But now we are conserving rainwater during the ongoing monsoon and will drink it for the rest of the year,” she added.

THE ROLE OF PANI APAS

With support from the project, rainwater harvesting plants were installed at about 13,300 households under 39 union parishads in Khunla and Satkhira. One pani apa (water sister) has been deployed in every union from the beneficiaries.

Roy, now deployed as a pani apa, said the GCA project conducted a survey on the households needing water plants and selected her as a pani apa for two wards.

“As a pani apa, I have been given various tools. I go to every household two times per month. I clean up their water tanks (rainwater plants) and repair those, if necessary,” he added.

Roy said she provides services for 80 households having rainwater harvesting plants, and if they have any problem with their water tanks, she goes to their houses to repair plants.

“I go to 67 households, which have water plants, one to two times per month to provide maintenance services. If they call me over the cellphone, I also go to their houses,” said Ullashini Roy, another pani apa from Shaheber Abad village.

She said a household gives her Taka 20 per month for her maintenance services while she gets Taka 1,340 (US$ 15) from 67 households, which helps her with family expenses.

Ahoke Kumar Adhikary, regional project manager of the Gender-Response Climate Adaptation Project, said it supported installing rainwater harvesting plants at 13,300 households. Each plant will store 2,000 liters of rainwater in each tank for the dry season.

The water plants need maintenance, which is why the project has employed pani apas for each union parishad (ward or council). They work at a community level on maintenance.

“They provide some services, and we call them pani apas. The work of pani apas is to go to every household and provide the services,” Adhikary said.

He said the pani apas get Taka 20 from every household per month for providing their services, and if they need to replace taps or filters of the water plants, they replace those.

The pani apas charge for the replacements of equipment of the water plants, he added.

NO WATER TO DRINK

The coastal belt of Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change as it is hit hard by cyclones, floods, and storm surges every year, destroying its freshwater sources. The freshwater aquifer is also being affected by salinity due to rising sea levels.

Ullashini Roy said freshwater was unavailable in the coastal region, and people drinking water was scarce.

“The water you are looking at is saline. The underground water is also salty. The people of the region cannot use saline water for drinking and household purposes,” Adhikary said.

Ahmmed Zulfiqar Rahaman, hydrologist and climate change expert at Dhaka-based think-tank Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), said if the sea level rises by 50 centimeters by 2050, the surface salinity will reach Gopalganj and Jhalokati districts – 50 km inside the mainland from the coastal belt, accelerating drinking water crisis there.

PUBLIC HEALTH AT RISK

According to a 2019 study, people consuming saline water suffer from various physical problems, including acidity, stomach problems, skin diseases, psychological problems, and hypertension.

It is even being blamed for early marriages because salinity gradually changes girls’ skin color from light to gray.

“There is no sweet water around us. After drinking saline water, we suffered from various waterborne diseases like diarrhea and cholera,” Ullashini said.

Hypertension and high blood pressure are common among coastal people. The study also showed people feel psychological stress caused by having to constantly collect fresh water.

Shymoli said when the stored drinking water runs out in any family; the family members get worried because it’s not easy to collect in the coastal region.

SOLUTIONS TO SALINITY

Rahaman said river water flows rapidly decline in Bangladesh during the dry season, but a solution needs to be found for the coastal area.

The hydrologist suggested a possible solution is building more freshwater reservoirs in the coastal region through proper management of ponds at a community level.

Rahaman said low-cost rainwater harvesting technology should be transferred to the community level so that coastal people can reserve rainwater during the monsoon and use this during the dry season.

He added that the government should provide subsidies for desalinization plants since desalinizing salt water is costly.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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The Politics of the Hangman’s Noose: Judge, Jury & Executioner

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Young people take part in a pro-democracy demonstration in Myanmar. Credit: Unsplash/Pyae Sone Htun

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2022 (IPS) – A spike in state-sanctioned executions worldwide – including in Iran, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and more recently Myanmar – has triggered strong condemnations from the United Nations and several civil rights and human rights organizations.


As Covid-19 restrictions that had previously delayed judicial processes were steadily lifted in many parts of the world, says Amnesty International (AI), judges last year handed down at least 2,052 death sentences in 56 countries—a close to 40% increase over 2020—with big spikes seen in several countries including Bangladesh (at least 181, from at least 113), India (144, from 77) and Pakistan (at least 129, from at least 49).

Other countries enforcing the death penalty, according to AI, include Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Belarus, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), China, North Korea, Viet Nam and Yemen.

In military regimes, such as Myanmar, the armed forces play a triple role: judge, jury and hangman.

Dr Simon Adams, President of the Center for Victims of Torture, the world’s biggest organization that works with torture survivors and advocates for an end to torture worldwide, told IPS the recent execution of four pro-democracy activists by Myanmar’s military junta represents a sickening return to the “politics of the hangman’s noose”.

Arbitrary detention and torture have also been committed on an industrial scale, he said.

The military regime has detained over 14,000 people and sentenced more than 100 to death since the (February 2021) coup. While many governments around the world have condemned the recent hangings, it is going to take more than words to end atrocities in Myanmar, he pointed out.

“People are crying out for targeted sanctions on the Generals, for an arms embargo, and for Myanmar’s torturers and executioners to be held accountable under international law”, said Dr Adams, who also helped initiate the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where The Gambia is trying to hold Myanmar accountable for the genocide against the Rohingya.

The London-based Amnesty International (AI) said last May that 2021 “saw a worrying rise in executions and death sentences as some of the world’s most prolific executioners returned to business as usual and courts were unshackled from Covid-19 restrictions.”

Iran accounted for the biggest portion of this rise, executing at least 314 people (up from at least 246 in 2020), its highest execution total since 2017.

This was due in part to a marked increase in drug-related executions—a flagrant violation of international law which prohibits use of the death penalty for crimes other than those involving intentional killing, said AI.

Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, said last week the United States condemns in the strongest terms the Burma military regime’s executions of pro-democracy activists and elected leaders Ko Jimmy, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms.

“These reprehensible acts of violence further exemplify the regime’s complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law.’

Since the February 2021 coup, he pointed out, the regime has perpetuated violence against its own people, killing more than 2,100, displacing more than 700,000, and detaining thousands of innocent people, including members of civil society and journalists.

The regime’s sham trials and these executions are blatant attempts to extinguish democracy; these actions will never suppress the spirit of the brave people of Burma, (Myanmar), he added.

“The United States joins the people of Burma in their pursuit of freedom and democracy and calls on the regime to respect the democratic aspirations of the people who have shown they do not want to live one more day under the tyranny of military rule,” Blinken declared.

Condemning the execution of the four democracy activists by the military regime in Myanmar, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last week: “I am dismayed that despite appeals from across the world, the military conducted these executions with no regard for human rights. This cruel and regressive step is an extension of the military’s ongoing repressive campaign against its own people.”

“These executions – the first in Myanmar in decades – are cruel violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of a person, and fair trial guarantees. For the military to widen its killing will only deepen its entanglement in the crisis it has itself created,” she warned.

The High Commissioner also called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained, and urged the country to reinstate its de-facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty, as a step towards eventual abolition.

Meanwhile, in a statement released August 2, Liz Throssell, a Spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva said : “We deplore the hanging today of two men in Singapore and are deeply troubled by the planned execution of two others on 5 August.

The two, a Malaysian and a Singaporean, were hanged at Changi Prison this morning after they were convicted in May 2015 of drug trafficking and their appeals subsequently rejected.

Two other men, Abdul Rahim bin Shapiee and his co-accused Ong Seow Ping, are currently expected to be executed on Friday after Bin Shapiee’s family was notified of his fate on 29 July.

They were both convicted in 2018 of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and their sentences upheld on appeal. In the past, co-accused persons have almost always been executed on the same day.

“We urge the Singapore authorities to halt all scheduled executions, including those of Abdul Rahim bin Shapiee and Ong Seow Ping. We also call on the Government of Singapore to end the use of mandatory death sentences for drug offences, commute all death sentences to a sentence of imprisonment and immediately put in place a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty”, the statement said.

“The death penalty is inconsistent with the right to life and the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and there is growing consensus for its universal abolition. More than 170 States have so far abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice,” she noted.

Agnes Callamard, AI Secretary-General, said that “China, North Korea and Viet Nam continued to shroud their use of the death penalty behind layers of secrecy, but, as ever, the little we saw is cause for great alarm.”

The known number of women executed also rose from nine to 14, while the Iranian authorities continued their abhorrent assault on children’s rights by executing three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, contrary to their obligations under international law.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia more than doubled its number of executions, a grim trend that continued in 2022 with the execution of 81 people in a single day in March, according to AI

As well as the rise in executions seen in Saudi Arabia (65, from 27 in 2020), significant increases on 2020 were seen in Somalia (at least 21, from at least 11) South Sudan (at least 9, from at least 2) and Yemen (at least 14, from at least 5). Belarus (at least 1), Japan (3) and UAE (at least 1) also carried out executions, having not done so in 2020.

Significant increases in death sentences compared to 2020 were recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (at least 81, from at least 20), Egypt (at least 356, from at least 264), Iraq (at least 91, from at least 27), Myanmar (at least 86, from at least 1), Viet Nam (at least 119 from at least 54), and Yemen (at least 298, from at least 269), AI said.

In several countries in 2021, AI said, the death penalty was deployed as an instrument of state repression against minorities and protestors, with governments showing an utter disregard for safeguards and restrictions on the death penalty established under international human rights law and standards.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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