As a Humanitarian Crisis Engulfs Afghanistan, Education Cannot Wait Makes Urgent Appeal for Access to Quality Learning for All Children

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, is welcomed by teachers and students at a girls’ primary school in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Credit: Omid Fazel/ECW

New York, Nov 5 2021 (IPS) – After leading a landmark, first-ever all-women mission to Afghanistan last week, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, says that schools must reopen for all children and that girls, in particular, must be able to return to secondary school classrooms.


Sherif visited a girls’ school in Kabul and spoke to students, female teachers, and administrators as part of her Afghan mission. She also met with the de facto education authorities at the Ministry of Education to advocate the right of all children to quality education. The ECW mission comes less than a month after ECW launched a US$4 million First Emergency Response grant to provide ‘quality, flexible learning and psychosocial support for children and adolescents caught in the escalating crisis.

“We need to act fast. When you are in the midst of a humanitarian emergency like Afghanistan, where there is no money in circulation, starvation is a very real fact and poverty is extreme,” Sherif told IPS. “Schools need to continue to reopen and education must be sustained. Not only at primary school levels but through secondary schools – and girls have to go back to secondary schools.”

Sherif, a human rights lawyer, worked in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. She was part of a mission to the country after the first Taliban takeover in 1999 and has visited the country periodically over the last 20 years. She spoke to IPS about her observations from this ground-breaking mission to Kabul a few days ago – the first of its kind since the Taliban take-over in August.

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, meets with de facto education authorities in Afghanistan.
Credit: Omid Fazel/ECW

“There are more women on the streets of Kabul today. I even saw women demonstrating for health care. I visited a girls’ primary school whose teachers and administration were all women,” Sherif said.

“The school’s headmaster is a woman, the school’s doctor is a woman, administrators and teachers are women. There are educated, strong women who are working, but they do not get salaries, because there are no salaries for basic services as a result of the funding freeze to Afghanistan.”

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union are just a few of the international bodies that have cut off Afghanistan’s access to financing. According to the World Bank, the country relies on grant funding for more than 75 percent of public spending, with expenditure of US$411 billion and government revenue of US$2.5 billion.

With that grant funding frozen, the country is on the brink of economic collapse.

Sherif is appealing for direct funding through UN agencies like ECW and UNICEF, which has the proven mechanisms in place to ensure that funds are used to support teachers and students.

“Teachers are not being paid. UNICEF has a very strong process on the ground. If money were to be given today or tomorrow to pay all teacher salaries, UNICEF has capacities in place to deliver on that funding, even if this would typically have been done through the World Bank or other development actors, but now we are in humanitarian crisis so you cannot use regular development aid approaches,” Sherif told IPS.

“The same goes for all UN agencies like the World Food Programme and UNHCR, the UN Refugees agency. Funding can be channeled through them directly to implement aid programmes. Nothing needs to, nor will go through, the de facto authorities.”

The ECW Director is cautiously optimistic following her meeting with the de facto education authorities, to whom she appealed for a return to secondary school for girls.

UNICEF Deputy Representative Alice Akunha and Chief of Education Jeannette Vogelaar greet the Education Cannot Wait all-women delegation to Afghanistan, led by Director Yasmine Sherif and her colleagues, Michelle May and Anouk Desgroseilliers.
Credit: Omid Fazel/ECW

“Primary schools have opened for girls’ education and for girls’ secondary education, the de facto authorities told us that they are developing a plan. I stressed that the girls have no time to lose and that the benefits of educating girls are crucial to the future of the country,” she said.

The ECW Director has commended international and national civil society organizations that now work with religious scholars as they negotiate the resumption of secondary school education at the grassroots level. “By bringing an Islamic scholar with them, these NGOs have actually managed to build trust. So secondary schools have opened in some provinces, a few in the north and a few in the south. It is important to stand firm on human rights and girls’ rights, but you must also have the ability to build trust as well,” she said.

ECW is already prepared to swiftly scale up its support and adapt its programming in Afghanistan. New challenges and more children in need of help demand pivoting and quick response. Sherif says ECW was created for crises like these.

“As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, we are agile, quick, and flexible. We use decades of lessons learned across the UN system to respond to crises. Traditional development aid modalities that are not crisis-sensitive are not going to work; not in this situation,” she said.

Sherif says that an estimated $1 billion is urgently required for United Nations agencies and international and local NGOs to meet the pressing education needs across the country.

“It’s about how can we save the Afghan population from a humanitarian catastrophe. How can we ensure that every Afghan girl and boy in the country can go to primary and secondary school? It’s about how we can ensure that teachers receive their salaries, so they are able to continue to teach. It is about providing teaching and learning materials and safe learning environments. It is about ensuring that the rights of adolescent girls to access education are fulfilled. That is why it was important for us to do an all-women mission to Afghanistan and to make clear where we stand on girls’ education.”

Sherif is hoping that the visit can give the world an open window view into life in Afghanistan and provide concrete recommendations for international aid to be immediately scaled up and invested to support quality education for both girls and boys.

“Afghanistan cannot wait. The girls of Afghanistan cannot wait. Education cannot wait.”

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Bringing Quality Education to Syria’s Most Vulnerable, Crisis-Impacted Children – Their Education Cannot Wait

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Kawthar, 13, takes notes while attending Grade 3 at a UNICEF-supported self-learning centre in Al-Hasakeh, northeast Syria. She says she always wanted to be like other children and grab her bag and go to school like other children. With Education Cannot Wait assisted schooling, this dream has become a reality. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020/ Delil Souleiman

DOMINICA, Oct 21 2021 (IPS) – In war-torn Syria, the support of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – is bringing positive, life-changing educational opportunities tailored to children like 11-year-old Ali.


Ali, who lives in Raqqa with his two siblings and parents, has to work to help support his family. He and his brother did not attend school. Ali heard about registration for ECW-supported educational activities near the industrial area in which he works. They are part of courses being offered in three centres in the city – alongside psychosocial support for children who have experienced war for most of their lives.

Ali initially registered his siblings in the ECW-supported programme but held out himself for fear of losing his job. The centre proposed a flexible learning schedule – one that would allow the brothers to work and attend classes. Programme officials had to convince his family and employers at the industrial centre that school is essential for children’s development. Now he is part of a class of 16 children from the area who attend classes from 7:30 am to 10:00 am. After class, they go to work.

Ali’s story is one of the many stories of vulnerable children and adolescents embroiled in Syria’s protracted conflict that ECW’s investments are helping bring back to school in partnership with education partners on the ground. ECW’s multi-year response in Syria was initiated in 2017 through an initial investment which was further expanded into a Multi-Year Resilience Programme which will continue until 2023 with a cumulative budget of US$45 million.

Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, says too many children and adolescents in Syria have only seen the brutal reality of war, forced displacement, and the hardship of living in areas affected by armed conflict in their short lives.  Credit: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

“Too many children and adolescents in Syria have only seen the brutal reality of war, forced displacement, and the hardship of living in areas affected by armed conflict in their short lives. For them, education is a beacon of hope. It is an opportunity to thrive and become positive changemakers to rebuild their communities and ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future for all,” said Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Working together with our partners on the ground, ECW is dedicated to fulfilling the right to a quality education for the most vulnerable girls and boys in Syria.”

Save the Children has key actor status in the education sector in Syria and has been involved since the inception of ECW’s multi-year response, providing sector-specific technical expertise and guiding in the development of a programme framework that is responsive to the extensive education needs of children in Syria,” Sara Dabash, Awards Officer for the ECW programme in Syria, told IPS.

Children and adolescents already suffering from the impacts of a decade-long war are also bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to school closures and movement restrictions.

“The disruption of access to quality education for children has dramatically impacted learning and child well-being. In addition, lack of access to safe learning environments and continued isolation exposes children to higher risks of child labour, early marriage, and other negative coping mechanisms. The limited social interactions also compromise access to psychosocial support and other protection services,” Dabash said.

Emad, 9, who lives with a disability, shows his writing to his teacher to check if he is doing right in the class of Arabic subject in the ECW supported temporary learning space in Idleb, northwest Syria. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020

According to Dabash, blended learning options have been introduced, using devices such as mobile phones for remote learning. This option has its downsides as many children have limited to no access to phones or internet connections.

Figures provided by Save the Children put almost 7 million people in need of humanitarian education assistance. Children make up 97 percent of that number. Dabash says, however, that in the “determined locations of implementation within the ECW Programme in northeast Syria, Save the Children, with the support of its partners, has identified around 15,000 children as the most vulnerable and in need of education assistance.”

Since 2017, ECW is also partnering with UNICEF to provide quality education services for the most vulnerable children in the country.

“With funding from ECW, UNICEF provides children across Syria with opportunities to continue their learning through a holistic package of activities tailored to the needs of the children. To support learning, the package of activities generally includes providing learning supplies and psychosocial support through recreational activities. Where classrooms do not exist or continue to be unsafe or overcrowded, we establish new classrooms and rehabilitate existing ones,” Karen Bryner, Education Specialist and ECW Programme Manager in Syria, told IPS.

Bryner says the partnership provides training, teaching supplies and stipend payments to teachers.

The goal is to get as many girls and boys as possible enrolled and attending school regularly. According to UNICEF, ‘children have experienced psychological distress due to violence and instability. Many have missed years of education, with over 2.4 million currently out of school.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged that goal with intermittent school closures. However, Bryner says when face-to-face instruction was not an option, the ECW-supported students transitioned to electronic and paper-based distance education.

“Various modalities were used over the last year, including WhatsApp groups by teachers to deliver daily instruction where connectivity allowed; blended learning with face-to-face instruction two days a week and home-based learning (worksheets and assignments) for the other days, conducting lessons in smaller groups closer to children’s homes, and home delivery of biweekly learning packs and retrieval of students’ work by teachers,” she told IPS.

Kawthar, 13, hangs out with her cousin Juhaina outside her house in Ghwairan neighbourhood, Al-Hasakeh. Since 2019, she has benefitted from the self-learning programme, helping her catch up on the education she had missed due to displacement, her disability, and the financial challenges her family had. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020/ Delil Souleiman

The story of 13-year-old Kawthar is a testament to the positive impact of ECW’s support for the most marginalised children Displaced five times and suffering from growth-related issues due to stunting, she could not walk to school, and her family could not afford transportation. Two years ago, Kawthar, originally from Al-Hasakeh City, enrolled in the ECW-supported self-learning programme implemented by UNICEF– a course that gives out-of-school children the tools to catch up to their peers. She also receives transportation to classes.

“I always wanted to be like all other children; to grab my bag and head to school; to read, write and learn,” says Kawthar. “I wish for all children to be able to go to school. And I certainly hope that nobody gets displaced anymore and that we all remain safe.”

According to UNICEF, with ECW funding, since November 2020, the self-learning programme has been able to reach 2,600 out-of-school children in Al-Hasakeh. Despite this progress, challenges remain to fulfil the right to inclusive, quality education for every child in Syria.

UNICEF states that there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance, and agencies will need scaled-up support as they continue to bring hope to Syria’s children.

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Biden’s Opportunity To End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU) and teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies

Time is running out fast. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) doesn’t improve promptly, says Philippe Lazzarini, the organization’s commissioner-general. Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Dec 7 2020 (IPS) – Recently I had an opportunity to brief a group of European diplomats and journalists on a variety of conflicts, with a focus on the Middle East. During the Q&A I was asked which of the region’s conflicts Biden should tackle first.


Without much hesitation I said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only because it is over seven decades old, but because it is an increasingly intractable, explosive, and destabilizing situation, which reverberates throughout the Mideast, and several regional powers are exploiting it to serve their own national interests, which sadly contributes to its endurance.

It is expected that Biden will support a two-state solution given his past position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians no longer believe that such an outcome remains viable.

I disagree with this belief: the Palestinians will never give up their right to establish an independent state of their own, and the one-state solution, which is being floated as an alternative, will never be accepted by the Israelis, because that would compromise the Jewish national identity of the state and undercut its democratic nature.

Due to the inter-dispersement of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the two independent states, however, will have to fully collaborate in many areas, especially on security and economic development. This will lead to the establishment of the framework for a confederation, which will be the final outcome after several years of peace and reconciliation.

For Biden to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians’ confidence in a new negotiation that could, in fact, lead to a permanent solution.

To that end, he must take specific measures before the start of the talks and establish rules of engagements to which both sides must fully subscribe to demonstrate their commitment to reaching an agreement.

Preliminary Measures

Reestablish the PLO mission in DC: Biden should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its mission in DC. This would immediately open a channel of communication which is central to the development of a dialogue between the US and the PA and to clear some of the initial hurdles before resuming the negotiations.

Resuming financial aid: It is essential that Biden restore the financial aid that the Palestinians had been receiving from the US. The Palestinian Authority is financially strapped and is in desperate need of assistance. The aid given should be monitored to ensure that the money is spent on specific program and projects.

Prohibiting territorial annexation: The Biden administration should inform the Israeli government that it will object to any further annexation of Palestinian territories. It will, however, keep the American embassy in Jerusalem and continue recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, leaving its final status to be negotiated.

Freezing settlement expansion: Given the intense controversy about the settlements and their adverse psychological and practical effect on the Palestinians, Biden should insist that Israel impose a temporary freeze on the expansion of settlements. This issue should top the negotiating agenda to allow for a later expansion of specific settlements in the context of land swaps.

Invite Hamas to participate: The Biden administration should invite Hamas to participate in the negotiations jointly with the PA or separately, provided they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If they refuse, they should be left to their own devices and continue to bear the burden of the blockade.

Appoint professional and unbiased mediators: Unlike Trump’s envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians’ aspirations, Biden’s envoys should be known for their integrity, professionalism, and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution.

Invite Arab and European observers: The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.

Rules of engagement

Establishing the end game: No negotiations succeed unless the parties involved agree on the nature of their desired outcome. For the Palestinians it is establishing an independent Palestinian state, and for Israelis it is maintaining the security and independence of a democratic Jewish state. Before embarking on new negotiations, the Biden administration should insist that both sides unequivocally commit to a two-state outcome.

Acknowledging historical and psychological impediments: Both sides have paid little heed in the past to the need to understand each other’s historic experiences—the Holocaust for the Israelis and the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians—which they subconsciously use as protective shields. Acknowledging each other’s respective traumatic experiences would help mitigate the psychological impediments which continue to feed into the mutual distrust and hatred.

Ending public acrimony: No negotiations can be conducted in good faith in an atmosphere of mutual public acrimony, as had been the case in all prior peace talks. An integral part of any negotiating process is to build trust, which cannot be nurtured while denouncing each other publicly. Leaders on both sides must end acrimonious statements, as their respective publics will have no faith in negotiations under such an atmosphere.

Renouncing and preventing violence: Both sides must commit not only to renouncing violence but to doing everything in their power to prevent acts of violence against one another. To be sure, nothing is more disruptive to the negotiations than a wanton act of violence.

To that end, both sides need to fully collaborate on all security matters and send a clear massage, especially to extremists on both sides, that violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators will suffer severe consequences.

Delinking and “banking” agreed-upon issues: What will be necessary in future talks is to commit to “bank” any agreement reached on a specific issue, delink it from all others, and not subject it to renegotiations should the talks stall or collapse. This would prevent the resumption of negotiations from ground zero and allow for the building blocks that could eventually lead to an agreement.

In that regard, five critical issues—the settlements, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, national security, and borders—have been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum in past negotiations. The Biden team should identify any common denominator on these issues to prevent renegotiating certain elements over which both sides have already agreed.

Establishing a process of reconciliation: The negotiating process must simultaneously be accompanied by a process of reconciliation. Both sides must initiate widespread people-to-people interactions to gradually mitigate the deep animosity and distrust between them which cannot simply be negotiated away.

Israelis and Palestinians should engage in many activities, including sports, performing arts, tourism, development projects, and student interactions, to foster trust and confidence that peaceful coexistence is possible.

Keeping the public informed: Given that both sides will be required to make significant concessions, it will be imperative to keep their respective publics informed about the progress being made in the negotiations to engender support.

Keeping the public in the dark, as was the practice in past, prevented the public from developing any vested interest in the negotiating process and its successful outcome.

The failure of both sides to agree in the past to establish and be governed by the above rules of engagement clearly suggests that neither side negotiated in good faith. The Biden administration must insist that Israelis and Palestinians accept the above rules if they want to resume the negotiations in earnest. Otherwise, the new talks will be nothing but an exercise in futility.

Sadly though, the current leaders in Israel and Palestine are not in a position to enter into serious negotiations, and must leave the political scene before Biden resumes new talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on record opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state; he is also facing three criminal charges of corruption, and in spite of his impressive accomplishments, he may well have outlived his usefulness.

President Abbas too has taken a hard position in connection with the settlements, Jerusalem, and the refugees, and it will be nearly impossible for him to make any significant concession and survive politically.

He is also “too comfortable” in his position and does not want to leave the political scene accused of having sold the Palestinian cause. In the interim, Biden should reiterate the US commitment to Israel’s national security and his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, giving a clear signal that only moderation will win the day.

The US remains the indispensable power that can bring both sides to an enduring peace, because no other power can exert the kind of influence needed to reach a breakthrough.

For the Biden administration to bring this about, it must play an active role by advancing its own ideas and put its foot down when necessary because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can have it only their way, and certainly not without direct US involvement.

As president, Biden has a momentous opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both sides will do well to grasp the moment.

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Coronavirus Worsens Yemen’s Long Tale of Woe

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Abdul Mohammed is a humanitarian worker for Oxfam Yemen

Credit: United Nations

SANA’A, Yemen, Mar 26 2020 (IPS) – In every room in Yemen’s Al-Saba’een hospital, patients in critical condition waited on chairs, and still others laid on the bare ground. I saw women and girls sharing beds in pairs, and children laying close together being treated.


This is Sana’a, Yemen’s best-supplied and capital city, on what has become an ordinary day. Coronavirus hasn’t arrived in Yemen yet.

As I watch the destruction that the novel coronavirus is wreaking on wealthy and peaceful countries with developed health systems, I fear for Yemen. If cholera, diphtheria, and malnutrition can overwhelm our war-stricken health system, I can only imagine the devastation that this fast-spreading, uncurable virus could unleash.

The impact of COVID-19 would mirror the impact of the war to date: no one would be safe, but the most vulnerable would bear a disproportionate share of the burden.

Credit: UNOCHA

The world is now getting a glimpse of the reality we have faced in Yemen for the past five years since war here escalated: life-threatening illness, deepening economic pressure, fewer and worse options for parents and caregivers, and a dizzyingly constant change in routine.

Millions now live in overcrowded shelters, without safe water, proper nutrition or proper health care. The basic steps others are taking to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are virtually impossible here. Should it take hold, the results would be unthinkable.

Public health crises don’t just threaten the well-being of the afflicted; their impacts ripple widely across families and societies. I think about Ahmed, a young man from Ibb, who lost his father to cholera, and then was suddenly thrust into the role of sole provider and caregiver for his entire family.

“I am not ready for this,” he shared in desperation. Feeling ill-equipped but required to take on extraordinary responsibilities – and with little time for grief or sentiment – is one that most Yemenis can identify with.

As we mark five years since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened and escalated the war in our country, we find ourselves defenseless against even basic maladies like diphtheria and cholera. These stone-age pathogens are held at bay in most societies by taking basic public health measures, drinking safe water, and eating nutritious food.

But parties to this on-going fighting since 2015 – have damaged or destroyed more than half of Yemen’s hospitals and other health facilities through bombing and shelling. The fighting has destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure in an already water-poor country, leaving more than two-thirds of the country with only unsafe water to drink.

As a result, Yemen now has the unenviable distinction of having experienced the world’s worst diphtheria outbreak in 30 years and the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded.

Even when it comes to critical patients who can be saved, this protracting war shown no mercy. Tens of thousands of Yemenis with life-threatening but manageable conditions have sought medical treatment abroad.

But the Saudi-led coalition, which has controlled Yemeni airspace on behalf of Yemen’s recognized government, has shut down commercial air traffic in and out of Sana’a. Only this year did the government and coalition consent to allow a long-promised medical air bridge to Cairo. 24 patients have been transported thus far. Tens of thousands have died waiting.

Credit: United Nations

Millions of Yemenis have already been forced from their homes, some of them multiple times to escape violence or pursue scarce opportunities for work. But even basic sanitation and health care in camps for displaced people are often unavailable.

Even with a massive aid response, as the conflict continues, we are fighting a rising tide. It goes without saying that in these cramped quarters, where social distancing is a fanciful notion and suppressed immunity the norm, a single infection would lead to countless deaths. The coronavirus epidemic would write new stories of suffering in Yemen’s already long tale of woe.

The conflict in Yemen must end before it claims any more lives. Yemen’s military and political leaders have shown too often these past five years that they are not willing to make even small compromises for the sake of their country and its people.

And the international community, so far, has failed to muster the resolve to demand the ceasefire and political settlement that can bring the life-saving peace that Yemen’s people demand.

With coronavirus knocking on Yemen’s door, we need humanitarian aid to restore our health systems, tackle the diseases currently ravaging our people, and prevent a new catastrophe. We cannot afford to wait for the next crisis to hits.

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What’s Needed for Real Changes for Women in Lebanese Politics?

Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics

International Women’s Day, March 8 2020
 
The year 2020 began with a shock report, Mind the 100 Year Gap, from the World Economic Forum which projected that gender equity would take at least 100 years to realise. Women and girls play a crucial role in society. However, they bear the brunt of patriarchy, their needs often unmet by traditional humanitarian responses and their health and education needs not prioritised. In the run-up to International Women’s Day with its theme, “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights” IPS is publishing a series of features, opinion and editorials from experts and affiliated journalists around the world on women.

Lebanese women in politics. Credit: Eliane Eid

KESERWAN, Lebanon, Mar 2 2020 (IPS) – Women were at the forefront of Lebanon’s 2019 ‘October Revolution’. Beyond the iconic images of their participation, it seems that by women linking equity in politics to the broader issues of mismanagement of corruption paid off – although activists say there is a long road ahead.


In May 2018 saw the election of six Lebanese women to parliament from 86 female candidates. Following the October 2019 uprising, that started to change the equation within the political system and under the continued pressure of the civil society, a new cabinet was formed. It included six female ministers out of 20.

From a general perspective, this seems like a win for achieving gender equality, considering that 30% of the actual cabinet is female. Lebanon, a democratic republic in the Middle East, is deemed to have acknowledged the role of women and started to include them in the political field.

However, from a Lebanese perspective, questions arise whether this achievement is a veneer to please the streets and Western donors in a crumbling country?

Rouba El Helou-Sensenig, coordinator of the gender, communications and global mobility studies at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, is not convinced this change is enough.

“Even though the Lebanese government signed international agreements related to advancing women’s rights and their participation in political life, I believe that the Lebanese government is not serious about reaching gender equality,” she says.

“What has been achieved so far is the result of a combination of pressure from civil society and international bodies,” she added, citing a list of reasons why women’s rights within the country are flawed.
“Today, the Lebanese people, whether they are with or against gender equality, are aware that Lebanese women do not have the right to give their citizenship to their children; that the religious courts do not rule in favour of a mother most of the time.”

She says the Kafala system promotes more injustices in Lebanese society and “family friendly-policies should be drafted and implemented” as a matter of urgency.

El Helou-Sensenig explained to IPS that Lebanon still has a labour code with a long list of articles which prohibit women from working in certain fields. Gender-based violence and sexual harassment are still not appropriately criminalised.

Two young women rest in the morning of a new day during the October 2019 Revolution, Lebanon. Credit: Blanche Eid

Historically, Lebanese women waited until 1953 to vote and run for elections – and their fundamental rights undermined until Lebanon signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997.

Most of the women in parliament have been elected based on their political affiliations or even traditional ones. Lebanese society has rarely seen any organic approach to promote female candidates in any election.

This year the World Economic Forum (WEF), in its 2020 report Mind the 100 Year Gap, noted that gender parity would not be attained for 99.5 years – meaning that none of the current generations will witness it. WEF’s even more sobering analysis puts the gap in the Middle East, and North Africa is 140 years. This is a challenge to NGOs and institutions fighting gender discrimination.

Once such a global advocate for gender equality and health and rights of girls and women, Women Deliver is working with five civil society organisations (CSOs) to breach the gender inequity gap in Lebanon. Its Humanitarian Advocates Program, along with the CSOs, is working toward meeting the needs of the women and children who make up 80% of the country’s more than 1 million registered refugees.

In the broader society equality will take time, but many countries still lack fundamental human rights, including Lebanon.

In February Notre Dame University held a seminar on women pursuing peace and justice and being politically active. During the seminar, Cedar Mansour, dean of the faculty of law and political science, explained that for Lebanon to make changes, women need to be more involved in policymaking and participation.

“In order to make a real difference, the change should start in the institutions. Equality should be paramount, inherited discrimination that is infesting our laws should be revolted against,” Mansour said.

By making laws and creating opportunities for women to become more involved, only then, Lebanon will have a chance to stay in the race.

Many factors stand in the way of achieving these goals, the seminar heard.

Lea Baroudi, the founding member and director of March, Lebanon, told IPS has personal experience of many of these challenges and what it takes to be successful.

“What made me continue is what I saw I was capable of doing. I had this belief that I can change. There are two struggles that affect us as women: the patriarchal attitude and the older generation mentality. The attitude of ‘you cannot do it’,” she said.

“But, to succeed, you have to fail many times, and that’s what kept me going”.

Baroudi explained that no matter what a woman will do, she will always be questioned and evaluated every step of the way. She always has to be number one in every field; otherwise, she is considered weak and powerless.

“As long as we cannot change the laws, we have a problem” she adds. Lebanon needs a shift in the understanding of gender equality and its implementation. Many factors play an essential role in shaping this culture, especially patriarchal power rooted in the Lebanese mindset.

In 2016, Lebanon created the first ministry of women’s affairs; this initiative was supposed to be a step forward to achieve political empowerment and gender equality. In the case of Lebanon, the minister of women’s affairs was a man. The idea of creating this ministry was to promote political empowerment, but a female figure in Lebanese politics is known to be more of a mediator than an action taker.

Four months have passed since the revolution started – women have taken a critical role in keeping this uprising safe and its agenda in the spotlight.

One of the current demands is to have an early election with more women involved.

Lebanon might witness a new era of female leaders, but the key issue is whether create a safe environment for Lebanese women by changing policies or they would fall in the trap of being the winning ticket for political parties.

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US Mideast Peace Plan: from a Paper Pharaoh & a Fake Moses

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 3 2020 (IPS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was slapped corruption charges last week while he was hobnobbing with US President Donald Trump in Washington. Bibi has, apparently, done his homework in psychology. He knew the quickest way to get around Trump was to flatter him.


Addicted to praise, Trump is incapable of understanding that there is a great deal of deception if someone praises him too much. In a June 16, 2017 article, USA Today opinion columnist Windsor Mann wrote, “Flattery is Trump’s cocaine — he’s addicted to it — and, like cocaine, it’s not always genuine.”

Rarely does he get sincere praises from honest people. So, Trump often self-praises himself.

On Tuesday, when Trump announced his Middle East peace plan, Bibi was superlative in his praises. As the drama unfolded in a White House room full of sycophants ready with applauses to ego massage praise-addict Trump and insincere Netanyahu, it became obvious that the peace plan was not worth the paper it was written on.

It also became clear that Trump did not have a thorough knowledge of the Middle East, for he failed to identify a typo in the text on the teleprompter. He read al-Aqsa as al-Aqua.

Many believe that the timing of the announcement was aimed at bolstering the political base of both Trump and Netanyahu – Trump embroiled in an impeachment battle was trying to appease pro-Israeli evangelical Christian voters, a key component of his support base, while Netanyahu used the occasion to go one-up over his political rival Benny Gantz in Israel’s election battle of the right-wings.

When Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives, and Netanyahu, an indicted suspect in a corruption case — a paper pharaoh and fake Moses – make a plan, it will be far from being value-based.

No wonder, the peace plan they unveiled promotes anything but peace and is an agenda to legalise Israel’s illegal land grab on the West Bank. No wonder peace analysts are unanimous in condemning the Trump plan as ‘dead on arrival’. (DOA)

It is one-sided and a travesty of justice in breach of the hallowed legal principle Audi alteram partem —which requires that the other side also be listened to. There was no Palestinian side in this ex-parte ruling that Trump’s pro-Israeli son-in-law Jared Kushner was instrumental in drafting.

If there is one US president who cares no two hoots about the Palestinians, it is Trump. He stopped aid to Palestine and his country’s annual US$ 360 million contribution to the United Nations Relief Work Agency which cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees.

Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu could not find a single Palestinian to endorse the plan made by Zionists for Zionists to continue their crimes in Palestine. Pro-American Arab states, however, have welcomed the peace effort but avoided extending support for the content of the plan.

Key regional powers Turkey and Iran, meanwhile, have given an outright thumbs-down to Trump’s plan, which declares Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, thus ignoring the Palestinians’ aspiration of making East Jerusalem their future capital. The Palestinians are condescendingly told they can have their capital anywhere east of Jerusalem.

Rejecting the Trump plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Jerusalem and “all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain.”

The Palestinians have dismissed the plan as Balfour 2.0, whereby one country (the United States) is trying to hand over chunks of another’s country (Palestine) to a third country (Israel) just as Britain in 1917, through an atrocious colonial act of injustice, allowed the Zionist movement to set up a homeland in Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted a partition plan that unfairly divided historic Palestine, giving the Jews who were a little more than 30 percent of Palestine’s population, 55 percent of the land. Most of them were European migrants who came to Palestine following the 1917 Balfour declaration. The indigenous Palestinians who were about 67 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land.

The Trump plan will leave the Palestinians with a mere 15 percent of historic Palestine. In other words, 85 percent of Palestine will come under Israel’s sovereignty while the balance to be declared as the State of Palestine will be bits and pieces of territory – or Bantustans connected by tunnels and roads guarded by the Israeli military.

Trump’s plan was unofficially conveyed to Arab leaders more than two years ago. This came after the Trump administration on December 6, 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

At the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain in June last year, the plan was partially unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Kushner. The Palestinians boycotted the event where they were promised billions in development aid if they accepted the plan.

To promote the plan, Kushner partnered Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. On December 3, 2017, a New York Times report said the Saudis had summoned Palestinian President Abbas to force him to accept Trump’s plan, where, instead of Jerusalem, the neighbouring town of Abu Dis that overlooks the Dome of the Rock mosque, was offered as the Palestinian capital.

When news leaked out that the Saudis were backing Trump’s plan and had no qualms over al-Aqsa– Islam’s third holiest site –being placed under Israeli sovereignty, the Saudi royals became jittery, fearful of the reaction on the Arab streets.

King Salman invited Abbas to Saudi Arabia again and assured his support for the Palestinians’ stand. Abbas’ Saudi visits indicated that the Saudi establishment is divided over the Palestinian issue. Once the old king becomes history, the kingdom is likely to endorse Trump’s plan.

In December 2017, after Trump misused the US veto to quash yet another United Nations mechanism to bring peace to Palestine, the world community overwhelmingly passed a UN General Assembly resolution asking nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem.

They did so, defying Trump’s threat to developing nations that they would face an aid cut if they voted for the Jerusalem resolution. Just as the then US president George W. Bush’s 2003 Middle East peace roadmap, Trump’s plan, touted as the deal of the century, is bound to collapse, because it is not founded on justice. It is the fraud of the century.

It ignores international law, numerous UN resolutions, principles of justice, and norms of decency. Sri Lanka, as a true friend of Palestine, should not endorse Trump’s plan which promotes chaos and conflict instead of peace.

*Ameen Izzadeen is Editor International and Deputy Editor, Sri Lanka Sunday Times

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