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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Argentina’s Small Farming Communities Reach Consumers Online

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories

Food and Agriculture

This article is part of IPS’ coverage of World Food Day, celebrated Oct. 16, whose 2021 theme is: Grow, nourish, sustain. Together.

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “The biggest problem for family farmers has always been to market and sell what they produce, at a fair price,” says Natalia Manini, a member of the Union of Landless Rural Workers (UST), a small farmers organisation in Argentina that has been taking steps to forge direct ties with consumers.


The UST, which groups producers of fresh vegetables, preserves and honey, as well as goat and sheep breeders, from the western province of Mendoza, opened its own premises in April in the provincial capital of the same name.

In addition, it has just joined Alma Nativa (“native soul”), a network created to market and sell products from peasant and indigenous organisations, which brings together more than 4,300 producers grouped in 21 organisations, and now sells its products over the Internet.

“Selling wholesale to a distributor is simple, but the problem is that a large part of the income does not reach the producer,” Manini told IPS from the town of Lavalle in Mendoza province.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country.” — Guadalupe Marín

The rural leader argues that, due to cost considerations, farmers can only access fair trade through collective projects, which have received a boost from the acceleration of digital changes generated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Alma Nativa is a marketing and sales solution formally created in 2018 by two Argentine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on socio-environmental issues: Fibo Social Impact and the Cultural Association for Integral Development (ACDI). Their approach was to go a step beyond the scheme of economic support for productive development projects.

“Back in 2014 we began to ask ourselves why small farmer and indigenous communities could not secure profitable prices for the food and handicrafts they produce, and to think about how to get farmers to stop depending on donations and subsidies from NGOs and the state,” Fibo director Gabriela Sbarra told IPS in an interview in Buenos Aires.

Sbarra was a regular participant in regional community product fairs, which prior to the restrictions put in place due to the pandemic were often organised in Argentina by the authorities, who financed the setting up of the stands, accommodation and travel costs from their communities for farmers and craftspeople.

It was only thanks to this economic aid that farmers and artisans were able to make a profit.

“The effort was geared towards finding a genuine market for these products, which could not be sold online because it is very difficult to generate traffic on the Internet and they cannot reach supermarkets either, because they have no production volume. Informality was leaving communities out of the market,” Sbarra explained.

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

E-commerce, the new market

So the founders of Alma Nativa knocked on the doors of Mercado Libre, an e-commerce giant born in Argentina that has expanded throughout most of Latin America. The company agreed not to charge commissions for sales by an online store of agroecological food produced by local communities.

Alma Nativa then set up a warehouse in the town of Villa Madero, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where products arriving from rural communities throughout the country are labeled for distribution.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity, because it helped to open a debate about what we eat. Many people began to question how food is produced and even forced agribusiness companies to think about more sustainable production systems,” said Manini.

Norberto Gugliotta, manager of the Cosar Beekeeping Cooperative, emphasised that the pandemic not only accelerated the process of digitalisation of producers and consumers, but also fueled the search by a growing part of society for healthy food produced in a socially responsible manner.

“We were prepared to seize the opportunity, because our products were ready, so we joined Alma Nativa this year,” said the beekeeper from the town of Sauce Viejo. Gugliotta is the visible face of a cooperative made up of some 120 producers in the province of Santa Fe, in the centre of this South American country, who produce certified organic, fair trade honey.

Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, is an agricultural powerhouse, with a powerful agribusiness sector whose main products are soybeans, corn and soybean oil, which in 2020 generated 26.3 billion dollars in exports, according to official figures.

Behind the success lies a huge universe of family farmers and peasant and indigenous communities. According to the latest National Agricultural Census, carried out in 2018, more than 90 percent of the country’s 250,881 farms are family-run.

But the infrastructure and technological lag in rural areas is significant, as demonstrated by the fact that only 35 percent of farms have Internet access.

The deprivation is particularly acute in the Chaco, a neglected region in the north of the country, home to some 200,000 indigenous people belonging to nine groups whose economy is closely linked to natural resources, according to the non-governmental Fundapaz.

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

New platform for indigenous handicrafts

Communities from the Chaco, a vast region of low forests and savannas and rich biodiversity covering more than one million square km in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is home to a diversity of native peoples, also began to market their handicrafts over Mercado Libre in the last few weeks.

“This initiative originated in Brazil with the ‘Amazonia em Pé’ programme and today we are replicating it in Argentina, in the Gran Chaco area. It seeks to build bridges between local artisans and consumers throughout the country,” explained Guadalupe Marín, director of sustainability at Mercado Libre.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country,” she told IPS in Buenos Aires.

On Sept. 27, Mercado Libre launched the campaign “From the Gran Chaco, for you”, which offers for sale more than 2,500 products in 200 categories, such as baskets, indigenous and local art, decorative elements made with natural fibers, honey, weavings and handmade games.

It includes not only Alma Nativa, but also Emprendedores por Naturaleza (“entrepreneurs by/for nature”), a programme launched by the environmental foundation Rewilding Argentina, which works for the conservation of the Chaco and now promotes the sale of products made by 60 families living in rural areas adjacent to the El Impenetrable national park, the largest protected area in the region.

“The idea for the project arose last year, after we conducted a socioeconomic survey among 250 families in the area that found that the only income of 98 percent of them comes from welfare,” said Fatima Hollmann, regional coordinator of the Rewilding Argentina Communities Programme.

She told IPS that “people raise livestock for subsistence and sometimes work on fencing a field or some other temporary task, but there are no steady sources of employment in El Impenetrable.”

“That is why we are trying to generate income for local residents,” Hollmann explained in an interview in Buenos Aires. “Our production lines are focused on ceramics, since most people have built their houses there with adobe. Many also know how to make bricks and we have held trainings to teach people to turn a brick into an artistic piece, inspired by native fauna, which transmits the importance of conserving the forest.”

According to the figures released by the expert during the first week of the programme “From the Gran Chaco, for you” in early October, 644 products were offered for sale, of which 382 were sold to buyers from more than 10 Argentine provinces, including 100 percent of the textiles available and 76 percent of the wooden handicrafts.

“The alternative is to cut down the native forests,” Hollmann says. “We are proposing a transition from an extractivist economy to a regenerative one, which contributes to the reconstruction of the ecosystem, and gives consumers in the cities the chance to contribute to that goal.”

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Winning the Human Race, Together

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

Opinion

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


Yasmine Sherif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multilateralism through the United Nations works.

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

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

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

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Rural Communities in El Salvador United to Supply Water for Themselves – VIDEO

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Multimedia, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Video, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador, Oct 8 2021 (IPS) – As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall, hundreds of families in rural communities in El Salvador are standing together to gain access to drinking water.


The Salvadoran state fails to fulfill its responsibility to provide the resource to the entire population, and the families, faced with the lack of service in the countryside, have organized in “Juntas de Agua”: rural water boards that are community associations that on their own manage to drill a well and build a tank and the rest of the system.

It is estimated that in El Salvador there are about 2,500 rural water boards, which provide service to 25 percent of the population, or some 1.6 million people, according to data from the non-governmental Foro del Agua (Water Forum), which promotes equitable and participatory water management.

One of those community systems has been set up in the small village of Desvío de Amayo, in the canton of Cangrejera, part of the municipality and department of La Libertad, on the central coastal strip of El Salvador.

[embedded content]

The system provides water to 468 families in Desvío de Amayo and eight other nearby villages.

“Governments have the constitutional obligation to provide drinking water in each country, but when they are not able to do it, as it happens here, the families decided to meet to take decisions and seek support either from NGOs or municipal governments to set up drinking water projects”, José Dolores Romero, treasurer of the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association, told IPS.

Created in the 1980s, this board finally obtained in 2010 a contribution of US$ 117,000 from the National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (Anda), the sector’s authority, for the expansion and improvement of its network infrastructure, he explained.

For more information, you can read an article on the subject of this video here.

As agreed by those involved in this effort, each family pays seven dollars for 20 cubic meters a month. If they consume more than that, they pay 50 cents per cubic meter.

“We benefit from the water, it is a great thing to have it at home, because we no longer have to go to the river, remember that we cannot go there because it overflows during the rainy season, so this community system benefits us a lot”, María Ofelia Pineda, from the village of Las Victorias, told IPS, while washing a frying pan and other dishes.

“Before, we had two or three hours of water during the day, and now we have it all day long, I am very happy for that, because I have it all day and all night,” said Ana María Landaverde.

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

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

Opinion

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Global Health 50/50 (globalhealth5050.org)

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COVID-19 Recovery Requires Justice Beyond Rhetoric

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

Opinion

Credit: Global Policy Forum

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insufficient responses to the global health crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More transformational steps are needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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