South Korea’s Women Fire Back

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, KOICA President Lee Mikyung and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (from left) launched a partnership in 2018 that Ms. Lee characterized as “a key foundation and platform for solidarity and collective engagement for gender equality.” The new tripartite agreement– between UNFPA, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and UN Women—has combined the strengths of the three partners to improve the lives of women and girls and accelerate the achievement of gender equality, as expressed in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.
Credit: UNFPA/Tara Milutis

SEOUL, South Korea, Sep 1 2021 (IPS) – A strong movement of feminism is sweeping South Korea. While women feel empowered to stand their ground, the men are retaliating.

When South Korean archer An San won two gold medals in just two days during the recent Tokyo Olympics, the response the 20-year-old received at home was a mixed. Some men were angered and said her medals should be taken away. Why? Because her short hair was a sign that she was a ‘man-hating’ feminist.


As bizarre and surreal as it may sound, the attack on An is a bleak reminder of the deep-rooted gender stereotypes in the economically advanced, yet deeply sexist South Korea – and the enormous pressure on women and girls to look and act ‘feminine’. It’s also another episode of the escalating culture war between the country’s increasingly outspoken feminists – and antifeminists seeking to silence their voices.

Lowest in the ranks

South Korea is the world’s 10th largest economy, a tech giant that is home to Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, and a cultural powerhouse whose K-pop stars like BTS enjoy global followings. But despite all the economic and technological advances, the deep-seated patriarchy and gender discrimination remained little changed.

South Korea is ranked at the 102nd in the world in terms of gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum. The gender pay gap in the country is the widest among the advanced economies of the OECD member nations.

It has consistently ranked as the worst place to be a working woman in the Economist magazine’s Glass Ceiling Index. Women account for 19 per cent of parliamentary seats, almost on par with North Korea.

Hawon Jung

Women are under enormous pressure to look perfect at all times and all costs – as shown in the country’s reputation as the world’s capital of plastic surgery. On the busy streets of Seoul, it’s not difficult to find plastic surgery adverts screaming ‘being pretty is everything!’ and rail-thin K-pop starlets presented as role models for teenage girls and young women. The stars’ extreme diet regimens are widely shared on social media and avidly followed by many.

Typical beauty ideals in South Korea for women include pale yet glowing skin, a youthful ‘babyface’, long and luminous hair, wide eyes, a thin nose, and pin-thin body (nearly 17 per cent of South Korean women in their 20s are underweight, compared to less than 5 per cent for their male counterparts, according to a study in 2019).

The pressure begins early: more than 40 per cent of female elementary school students wear makeup, and the number goes up to over 70 per cent for middle schoolers.

Escape the Corset

But women started to fight back. A powerful wave of feminist movement has taken the country by storm in recent years, allowing many women to speak up against sexual discrimination, assault, and objectification like never before.

Since 2018, women have rallied together to bring down many sexual predators, including a popular presidential contender, in one of the most successful cases of #MeToo in Asia.

Tens of thousands took to the streets for months in 2018 to call for tougher crackdown on the so-called ‘spycam porn’ crimes that secretly film women in public space from workplaces to public toilets and share the footage on the internet.

They successfully campaigned to end the abortion ban. The so-called ‘Escape the Corset’ movement was part of that awakening, meant to defy the pressure to follow the rigid beauty ideals.

Women and girls who joined the campaign cut their hair short, destroyed their makeup, refused to wear tight, revealing, or uncomfortable clothes to instead opt for something more comfortable and practical. Since then, short hair has become something of a political statement among many young feminists.

The wave of awakening, however, has also drawn a strong pushback by men who thought – like many around the world – that the women had gone too far, and many labelled feminists as ‘man haters’ who should be punished.

More than 40 per cent of female elementary school students wear makeup, and the number goes up to over 70 per cent for middle schoolers.

The backlash has reached a fever pitch since May when members of many online forums popular among men started to cry ‘misandry’ over a adds that use an image of a pinching finger, a universal gesture to indicate something small.

Online crusade

In a campaign likened by many as a McCarthyian witch-hunt, they claimed whoever created the image must be feminists and out to ridicule the size of their genitals. Despite having no possibility of any political plot, many of the accused companies and government institutions – including the national police agency and the defense ministry – bent down quickly, apologized for hurting the men’s feelings and removed the images from their posters.

These online mobs even enjoyed political backing; Lee Jun-Seok, a young member of the rightwing People’s Power Party, rose to prominence by amplifying the conspiracy theory over the ‘misandrist’ finger gesture, and eventually became the leader of the party in July.

Feeling supported by a powerful politician and emboldened by groveling apologies from companies and the government, the online mobs moved on to their next target—the star Olympian whose appearance didn’t fit into their ideal of traditional femininity.

‘Why did you cut your hair?’ An was asked on her social media, to which she replied, ‘’coz it’s convenient’. The answer was not enough.

A campaign to extract an apology from An for being a feminist began, with some even demanding that the Korea Archery Association take away the gold medals from the ‘man hater’.

But women fought back again. Lawmakers, activists, entertainers, and thousands of ordinary women rallied behind An, many sharing the photos of their short hair on social media as a show of support.

And as the cyber-bullying targeting An raged on, many women across the country watched as An won yet another gold – becoming the first archer in Olympic history to win three golds at a single Game.

Hawon Jung is a journalist and former Seoul correspondent for the AFP news agency. She is the author of ‘Flowers of Fire,’ a book about South Korea’s #MeToo campaign.

Source: International Politics and Society (IPS), published by the Global and European Policy Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

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‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ Discussion Highlights Risks to Women

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Nordic Talk moderator Katja Iversen shown here with Natasha Wang Mwansa, Emi Mahmoud, Dr Natalia Kanem and Flemming Møller Mortensen during a recent Nordic Talks webinar. Credit: Shuprova Tasneem

DHAKA and NEW YORK, Jun 4 2021 (IPS) – Every two minutes, a girl or woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, including unsafe abortions. Every year, around 12 million girls are married while in their childhoods. An additional 10 million are now at risk of child marriage due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


In this context, the most recent Nordic Talk—a high-level debate on bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a cornerstone of gender equality, aptly titled “Let’s Talk About Sex” — could not have come at a better time.

Moderator Katja Iversen, Dane of the Year (2018) and former CEO of Women Deliver, kicked off the discussion by focusing on the close link between bodily autonomy, gender equality, economic growth, and a healthy planet.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Iversen said it was clear that “bodily autonomy for girls and women—in all their rich diversity—is political, social, economic and health-related.”

Women needed to have power and agency over their “bodies, fertility, and future, living a life free of violence and coercion in both the private and public sphere. It ties into norms, structure, systems – and if we want equity and health for all, we need to address all of it.”

Emi Mahmoud, two-time World Champion Poet and Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, set the tone for the Nordic Talk with her emotive poetry reflecting women’s experiences in patriarchal societies, asking: “What survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?”

The three other panellists agreed that the right to control their bodies was a fundamental aspect of women’s rights and that gender equality was an essential part of the sustainable development agenda.

As Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UNFPA, explained that “(women’s) freedom over her own body means freedom of choice”, and that all the data points towards how investment in SRHR could be the first step to empowering women to “ultimately contribute to sustainable development.”

It was critical that SRHR was adequately resourced – but warned these would be in short supply because of the COVID pandemic recovery plans.

“Part of the financing challenge is what we abbreviate as political will. It actually does not cost a lot for the agenda for SRHR to be a reality by 2030. It would take $26 billion a year to end the unmet need for contraception and to stop mothers dying at birth, many of whom were too young to be pregnant, but resources are going to be a challenge now with Covid having affected the world economies.”

While Flemming Møller Mortensen, Danish Minister for International and Nordic Development and Nordic Cooperation, expressed optimism regarding resources for SRHR now that “the US is back on track” and the global gag rule had been revoked. He was worried about a growing conservatism and pushback against women’s rights, particularly in the pandemic’s wake.

Iversen told IPS the cuts in various countries could be devastating.

“UNFPA estimates that with the $180 million the UK wants to withdraw from the Supplies Partnership, UNFPA could have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. We will need foundations and other donor countries to step up, and we will need national government step up and step in and ensure that their national budgets reflect and fill the SRHR needs.”

She expressed concern that women on COVID-19 decision-making bodies were unrepresented.

“Less than 25% of national COVID-19 decision-making bodies have women included. It is too easy to cut resources from people who are not at the decision-making tables,” she said. “We urgently need to get a lot more women into leadership, including of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. All evidence shows that when more women are included in decision-making, there is a more holistic approach and both societies and people fare better.”

This call for inclusivity, not just for women but for the youth, was strongly echoed by adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights expert Natasha Wang Mwansa.

“So many commitments have been made by so many countries, yet there is no meaningful progress or accountability, and young people are not involved when making these decisions,” Mwansa said. “Young people are here as partners, but we are also here to take charge. From making choices over our own bodies to choices on our national budgets, we are ready to be part of these decisions.”

To deal with challenges in providing access to SRHR, Kanem stressed the importance of gender-disaggregated data for planning. She added that despite the hurdles, she was hopeful about the future because “young people and women are not waiting to make the case and show solidarity and understanding when it comes to racism or issues of discrimination and equity that divide us.”

Iversen echoed this optimism in her IPS interview.

“It gives me hope that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services are included in the roadmap for Universal Health Coverage, in the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being, and latest in the Generation Equality Forum blueprint,” she said.

“Civil society has played a key role in ensuring this with good arguments, data and a lot of tenacity. But words in the big global documents about Health For All is one thing; gender equality and women’s rights, if it has to matter, it has to manifest in concrete action.”

The conversation rounded off with recommendations and commitments from the panellists: Mwansa stressed more investments in youth-run organisations and more social accountability from decision-makers; Mortensen asked for governments to be held accountable and for youth voices to be heard; and Kanem reaffirmed the UNFPA’s goal to put family planning in the hands of women as a means of empowerment, to end preventable deaths in pregnant women and girls, and change fundamental attitudes to end gender-based violence.

In her final comments to IPS, Iversen also stressed the importance of SRHR as a means of empowerment.

“Study after study shows that it pays to invest in girls, women and SRHR – socially, economically and health-wise. But we cannot look at SRHR alone; we need a full gender lens to the COVID response and recovery and development in general,” she said.

“And if we want to see positive change, we have to put girls and women front and centre of coronavirus response and recovery efforts, just as we, in general, need to see many more women in political and economic leadership.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers supports the Nordic Talks, and “Let’s Talk about Sex” was organised in partnership with UNFPA, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Generation Equality, the Danish Family Planning Association, and Mind your Business, as a lead up to the Paris Generation Equality Forum.

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International Women’s Day, 2021Women’s Leadership in the Global Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic

Civil Society, Education, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

UN Women China Qinghai programme beneficiaries. Credit: UN Women

BEIJING, Mar 6 2021 (IPS) – Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), and the theme for this year’s celebration is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We recognize the tremendous contribution and leadership demonstrated by women and girls around the world in shaping our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and a more sustainable future.


A global review of the progress achieved towards commitments made at the Fourth World Conference on Women 25 years ago in Beijing, conducted by UN Women in 2020, reveals that no country has fully delivered on the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. Globally, women currently hold just one-quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board and are absent from some key decision-making spaces, including in peace and climate negotiations.

This reality is despite the advances that we can see globally: there are now more girls in school than ever before, fewer women are dying in childbirth, and over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support women’s equality.

However, progress has been too slow and uneven.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains from decades of collective effort – with data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line globally.

Siddharth Chatterjee

We also witness new global challenges emerging from the pandemic, such as the increased reports of violence against women trapped in lockdown throughout the world, forming a Shadow Pandemic. Women with disabilities facing further obstacles in accessing essential services. Women have lost their livelihoods faster, being more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors as they make up the majority of informal sector workers. Access to technologies have become a necessity, but the gender digital divide lingers, particularly in the least developed countries.

But in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, women have stood tall at the frontlines, serving as health workers and caregivers, where they make up 70% of the global workforce. Women also lead in their capacities throughout government and civil society to give vital assistance, bringing their irreplaceable perspectives and skills to the table.

Answering these complex global challenges while tearing down the barriers to women’s participation and leadership now requires bolder political commitment backed up by adequate resources and targeted approaches to accelerate progress towards parity through legislation, fiscal measures, programmatic change, and public-private partnerships.

China has made progress in safeguarding women’s rights and promoting gender equality. Notably, China’s poverty alleviation achievements have had a multiplier effect on advancing women’s empowerment beyond alleviating poverty among women. Advances in girl’s education, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, social protection and assistance are admirable – and important not just for the advancement of women’s rights – but in creating a “moderately prosperous” Chinese society with a “bright shared future” for all. Yet, as in many countries, there are still challenges that persist across the course of women’s lives.

Like elsewhere, systemic issues remain in equal pay for equal work and promotion opportunities for decent work in China. Under-representation of women in senior leadership roles impacts many sectors, with less than 10% of board members of listed companies in China being women.

Smriti Aryal

Disproportionate sharing of unpaid care work leaves women in China carrying 2.5 times the burden of men, all of which impacting the female labour force participation rate. The shadow pandemic of gender-based violence, like anywhere else, continues to be a concern for women and girls in China as widely reported and discussed in media already.

The newly enacted Civil Code offers opportunities to strengthen legislation, including judicial mechanisms, law enforcement and service delivery for addressing sexual harassment, sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. Robust implementation of the provisions for ending sexual harassment and abuse will be a step towards China’s demonstration of “Zero Tolerance” towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

The 14th Five-Year National Development Plan, 2021-2025 and the new 10-Year Plan on Development of Women and Children, 2021-2030, also present opportunities for China to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the centre of the development agenda and address the remaining gender gaps and challenges in the country. The world now looks to China for continued leadership on the SDGs and the Beijing Platform for Action.

We welcome the Government of China’s recent commitment to prioritizing women’s empowerment in its future development cooperation and global engagement. This comes at a time, when we need stronger global action and multilateralism to alleviate the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 and accelerate actions towards the achievement of the SDGs. As we look at women’s rights issues that many countries are grappling with – poverty, maternal health, livelihood and food security, access to continued education, to name a few – are also the areas where China has seen the most progress domestically. South-South cooperation enables China to share its lessons and continue learning from others, to achieve genuine empowerment for women and girls around the world.

We recognize that gender equality and women’s empowerment are drivers for transformative change and a prerequisite for the achievement of all SDGs. The UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, 2021-2025, signed between the United Nations System in China and the Government of China, is underpinned by this principle and prioritizes the advancement of women’s rights as a key programming area of its own. As the UN Country Team (UNCT), we stand ready to support and continue to work with the Government of China and all national actors for our concerted efforts towards advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

2021 is only the beginning of our journey on the Decade of Action for the SDGs. We have an unprecedented opportunity to do things differently for current and future generations of women and girls. On International Women’s Day, we call upon our partners and supporters to celebrate the leadership and contribution of China’s women, and become advocates, champions, and influencers that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment today, and every day.

Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in China & Smriti Aryal, Head of Office, UN Women in China
On behalf of the UN Country Team in China for International Women’s Day 2021

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International Women’s Day, 2021To Lead is to Serve — A Pacific Woman’s Perspective

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day March 8.

SUVA, Fiji, Mar 1 2021 (IPS) – An often quoted indigenous reference in the Samoan language is, O le ala i le pule o le tautua, literally translated, “the pathway to leadership is through service” because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve.


Since world leaders endorsed the blueprint for gender equality in Beijing 1995, women in leadership has dominated in numerous conversations and forums in terms of the need to increase women in leadership as a critical factor to achieve gender equality. Many of the perspectives shared, are about facilitating opportunities for women, advancing women in fields dominated by men, particularly in the sciences, and achieving equality in decision-making. Women in leadership has become a popular discourse from development, to academia, to politics, to science and innovation; and organisations across all sectors are recognizing the importance of inclusivity and equity for achieving sustainable development.

The 2020 Pacific review of the Beijing Platform for Action, 25 years after Beijing, highlighted that Pacific states still have a long way to go in achieving balanced representation of women in national parliaments. With the exception of the French Territories where equitable representation of women in their legislative assemblies is ensured by the French ‘parity law’, women’s representation in national parliaments across the region is shockingly low and temporary special measures (TSMs) are only used in a few states. At all levels, and across all nations, gender power dynamics disadvantage women as decision makers; and socio-cultural norms in the Pacific see men as the ‘natural’ spokespeople for families, communities and governments. That said, the report also noted an increase in women’s participation in all levels of decision-making at community levels, in public service and in civil society organisations. This raises a number of challenging questions.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara

Where does this lead us in a pandemic environment? COVID-19 has exacerbated existing and ongoing inequalities in the Pacific, hindering what is already very slow progress for achieving gender equality. The evidence is quite clear as to where these inequalities are found and policy dialogues and talanoa sessions held within the region over the last two and a half decades, have generated a multitude of recommendations on what can be done by governments and as a region. What then is the problem, we ask ourselves? It’s the resourcing, the response, the lack of political will and commitment, and the list goes on, that women leaders and women engaging in the gender space, know all too well.

So, what can we do and what does this mean for Women in Leadership? The answer lies in our ongoing concerted efforts to have women at the table with an equal voice to speak for the 50% of our population. We will keep pushing to have women leaders at the table who understand women’s lived experiences and needs, and that these are translated into decision-making on resource allocation and prioritisation. We need women who lead, knowing that they have families and communities to attend to after work, and appreciate the value of unpaid care work. More importantly, we need the same women leaders at the table to share those perspectives with their men counterparts, to affect change that will transform societies and enable positive and inclusive change for gender equality at all levels in society and across all locations – urban, rural and remote.

Our unprecedented experience with COVID-19 has changed the way we live, the way we work and certainly the way we exercise leadership and deliver service. It has reminded us that with border closures and travel restrictions, we need to be searching within our own borders and within our own societies for solutions. One of these solutions is for us to utilize and capitalize on the often-untapped skills, knowledge and expertise of women, to generate solutions for our development challenges. The role of women, as we are seeing in recovery efforts across the Pacific, is a testament to the service they continue to provide for our families and our communities. It is evidenced in women’s resilience and their significant capabilities in managing our communities and societies through multiple disasters and climatic events over the years, and through the multitude of cultural and customary obligations that we have all lived through, and will continue to live through. It is a reflection of women’s knowledge of our Pacific ways of knowing and ways of being, gathered and passed down from generation to generation.

The impacts of COVID-19 are huge and as a region and as a people, it will take some time to navigate our way through these impacts towards full recovery. However, if there is one learning that I take away from this crisis, it is our ability to remain resilient and to continue to serve each other and our people, with our women holding the fort in all our societies and communities across the Pacific Ocean, through their ongoing service. It is a manifestation and a living example of leadership through service, because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve, and being able to serve is being able to lead, and such is the spirit of Pacific women in leadership.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara is Acting Regional Director, Polynesia Regional Office Pacific Community (SPC)

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Empowering Women through Wisdom

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Caryll Tozer* is engaged in social upliftment of women headed-households, and advocates conservation and women and child rights. She is a co-founder of Women In Need crisis center providing refuge for abused women.
 
Soraya M. Deen* is a lawyer, interfaith consultant and award-winning international activist and community organizer. She divides her time between Sri Lanka and Los Angeles and has written extensively on the plight of minorities and minority women.

Credit: Oxfam.org

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec 22 2020 (IPS) – During the COVID 19 lockdown in Sri Lanka, seven women from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds came together to deliver Wisdom and their message that women must be empowered and their voices for national unity must be heard through this movement.


We called ourselves the Wisdom Women and named the online program we created, “Wisdom Wednesdays”. The program airs every fortnight and since its inception in March 2020, we have hosted 21 stimulating shows, with thousands of people watching from across the world.

https://youtube.com/channel/UC28pnsQlhE1Y5BtYOSU6ZMQ

As co-founders, a Muslim and a Christian, we are determined to continue with the show until enough number of women stand up and say, “our country and the next generations deserve better and therefore we must speak up as a movement of women and work for national unity and reconciliation.”

A thirty-year bloody war has left Sri Lanka divided. One might expect our governments to move forward with a robust agenda for peace building. But nothing has improved, not even a tourniquet to arrest the bleeding. Successive governments have not spelt a serious agenda,

As conservation and environmental activists, we have worked to co-found an organization to support and eradicate abuse through the organization: One Home at a Time, which has built 17 homes for women-led households and wells for villages that need water. We believe that each individual can make a difference, and we have raised money, built homes, for these women and their family that lack basic housing. We have seen what happens when you support a woman who then can raise her family.

Whether we show up in NE Nigeria, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, women have been dealt a raw hand. Patriarchy and misogyny are institutionalized, structural, interpersonal and intra personal.

An incredible team of powerful women, each one more powerful in their experience and individual body of work comprise the team. The group represents the various ethnicities, religions and gains strength from each other. We have an incredible team.

Along with us there is Selvi Sachithanandam who through her foundation helps peace building and social transformation through spirituality; Kamani Jinadasa who is the founder of a center for troubled youth and works extensively against gender-based violence.

We also have Farzana J. Khan who helps through her foundation supporting education, and works on small and medium enterprise; Ven. Tenzin Leckdron a Bikkuni who belongs to a monastery in Tibetan Buddhism and currently works in remote areas in Australia; and, Ameena Hussein who is engaged in various social work and is a publisher and writer.

All power houses in their own field. Having gone through life’s tremendous challenges and hardships, we know very well what it takes to uplift women and give them the skills to thrive.

Our mission is to educate and inspire women. Teach women some basic skills, but first to let them know they are POWERFUL. The work at Wisdom Wednesdays has just begun.

We are taking our show and our gifts on the road. We have structured workshops to suit one day and residential programs for women. We want to bring them together; inspire them to build power, and organize the community.

Sri Lanka has a female population of 52%, with an abysmal parliamentary representation. Less than 12 % of the representatives are women. COVID has sent a powerful message to the strong-willed women of Sri Lanka. It is a time for reflection and for change.

Women have risen to the challenge to keep their home fires burning, care for their children, face abuse and violence undeterred. Our goal is to tap into that strength and resilience.

We also believe that at a national level, a woman’s voice must be heard at every negotiating table in order to bring in a balanced and cohesive response to issues.

We are subtle activists, not armchair program designers. When we get to the river if we find the water muddy and dirty, we get into the river and clean the water. Our deepest concern now is funding to take this movement to the next level.

Bringing together 35 women to a residential workshop from Friday afternoon to Sunday is costly. But we see something beyond, that when love, expertise and commitment come together, magic can happen. There will be enablers, and there will be minority rights and women’s rights which are in great jeopardy.

The UN has established gender equality as both a stand-alone goal and a central tenet to achieving an inclusive and sustainable development agenda by 2030. We must promote participation. Promoting participation – means recognising we each have something unique and important to contribute to society.

We want to promote two more concepts through our work. Subsidiarity, and ending future conflict. We have not witnessed subsidiarity in the context of social theory, premised upon empowering individuals to resolve issues that affect them without interference from larger, and often more centralised, social, private, religious or government bodies.

Currently, Wisdom Wednesdays is being watched in over 8,000 homes across the world. We receive encouraging comments from diverse audiences. In a divided world hearing a positive message is like a drop of water in the ocean.

There is no good news anymore. People who watch TV know this. Feeding the spiritual is as important as feeding the hungry. People are hungry for hope and a new way forward.

Individual transformation, focused and committed action leads to community transformation. This time we want to mobilize women to take that action. We need women to speak out against divisiveness and bring a stop to racism and bigotry. We want to address these issues through experiences and wisdom of the women. Unified we will be that much stronger.

*Caryll Tozer is a committee member of The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, the third oldest conservation organization in the world. She lives by the premise that “to remain silent when there is injustice makes one culpable”.

*Soraya M. Deen travels across Sri Lanka mobilizing women, men and interfaith groups to understand and explore contextual realities for the problems they face by bringing together like-minded community members to solve – urgent, relevant, winnable action. She is the Founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, inspiring voices of change. Soraya serves as a resource person and women’s outreach coordinator for the Omnia Institute of Contextual Leadership, a think tank in Chicago that addresses religious based oppression, dominance and violence.

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Reduce Military Spending – the Much-Needed Response to Violence Against Women

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Maria Victoria (Mavic) Cabrera Balleza is Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

The United Nations is conducting a 16-day social media campaign from 25 November to 9 December for its 2020 Campaign: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 16 Days of Activism is a worldwide campaign calling for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Credit: International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA)

NEW YORK, Dec 10 2020 (IPS) – The COVID-19 pandemic is NOT the biggest pandemic the world confronts at the moment, despite over 69 million cases and 1.5 million deaths worldwide.1 If it’s not COVID, what is it then? It is violence against women!


Globally, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the past 12 months alone.2 The figure increases by 30 per cent if the violence experienced by women and girls in their lifetime is added.3

These numbers are likely underestimates, since many women do not report sexual and intimate partner violence due to stigma associated with it. The UN Women policy brief on COVID-19 and VAW points out that less than 40 per cent of the women who have experienced violence seek help.

Those who do, often turn to family and friends, and less than 10 per cent report to the police. This perpetuates a culture of impunity as perpetrators go unpunished.

The data clearly shows that violence against women and girls is a global emergency, which requires urgent action. It can take many forms, from human trafficking and sexual slavery, through rape and forced sexual acts, to bettering and sexual harassment—on the street, at workplace, school and online.

Harmful cultural practices – such as female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage are also forms of violence against women and girls. The list goes on.

Gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. However, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Some of them are young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrant, refugee and displaced women and girls, indigenous women and girls, women and girls from ethnic and religious minorities, women and girls with disabilities, and those living in situations of conflict and humanitarian crises.

The threat of violence faced by millions of women and men around the world has been compounded by the security, health, and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are trapped at home with their abusers, while women’s shelters and domestic violence hotlines are struggling to meet demands.

As the world grapples with COVID-19, it is also past time to take concrete action to address the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls.

United Nations response

There is no shortage in UN campaigns, programs, task forces and initiatives that all aim to end violence against women and girls

Groups such as the Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and the Action Coalition for Gender-based violence bring together civil society, Member States, UN agencies, international organizations, and philanthropies provide space for sharing lessons learned, coordinating action and mobilizing resources to end violence against women and girls.

The Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations launched in 2019 has committed a record €500 million to end violence against women and girls.

Advocacy and communications campaigns such as the UNiTE by 2030 campaign managed by UN Women, call on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media, and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.

There is also the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), all of which have specific but related mandates that address violence against women and girls.

How effective is the UN response to violence against women and girls? The effectiveness of the UN response was put to a major test by the outbreak of COVID-19. The massive increase in the incidence of violence against women and girls is an indication that the response is ineffective—or at best—insufficient.

While one could argue that the weakness of individual Member States both in managing the pandemic and addressing violence against women and girls cannot be attributed to the UN, the shortcomings brought to light by the pandemic beg the question: how can the UN improve Member States’ compliance with and implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Labour Organisation’s Violence and Harassment Convention, and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its supporting resolutions?

All of these are powerful international laws that call on the UN and Member States to take concrete actions on this issue. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that actions taken to date have barely scratched the surface of the complex and pervasive issue of violence against women and girls. An effective and sustainable response requires structural changes, and a re-evaluation of global priorities!

The UN Secretary-General’s call

The current global priorities are most clearly visible if we follow the money. USD $1.9 trillion! This is how much the world spent to run military institutions in 2019, the largest annual increase in military expenditure since 2010.4 Let that sink in!!!

Meanwhile, women’s shelters are underfunded, many women—including victims of sexual violence—do not have access to quality healthcare, including maternal and reproductive health, and many women’s rights organizations are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To end violence against women, Member States and donors need to put their money where their mouths are. It is not only the right and necessary choice—it is also a smart investment.

According to the World Bank, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—more than double what most governments spend on education.5

UN Women estimates that cost to be approximately $1.5 trillion6 – almost at the level of the record-high military expenditures. Preventing violence against women and girls first and foremost saves lives—but it can also save money.

In his 2020 report on Women and Peace and Security, the Secretary-General drew attention to the stark difference between soaring rates of military spending and the strains in social protection systems including the unavailability of necessary health care that disproportionately impact women and girls. It also underlined how bilateral aid to women’s organizations in fragile or conflict-affected countries has stagnated at 0.2 per cent of total bilateral aid ($96 million on average per year).

The Secretary-General’s report marks the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1325, arguably the most important international law that address violence against women and girls in conflict situations. It presents five goals for the next decade.

It called on the international community to “Reverse the upward trajectory in global military spending with a view to encouraging greater investment in the social infrastructure and services that buttress human security.”

Moreover, the Secretary-General urged Member States to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, control the availability of armaments; to promote the participation of women in all arms control and disarmament processes and forums; and to reduce excessive military expenditures.

The current context calls for renewed efforts to curb military spending, which has been a chief strategic objective of the women’s movement for peace, he further stressed.

Complementing his call for reduced military spending, the other goal presented by the Secretary-General is to galvanize the donor community for universal compliance with a minimum of 15 per cent of ODA to conflict-affected countries dedicated to advancing gender equality, and the remaining 85 per cent to integrate gender considerations, including multiplying by five the direct assistance to women’s organizations.

The reduction of military spending does not only represent the possibility of financial resources that could support women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence as well as predictable core funds to women’s rights organizations.

It is also an opportunity to generate stronger political commitment to disarmament and arms control and eliminate the threats posed by the estimated one billion small arms that are circulating globally. It can also lead to preventing the use of arms to commit or facilitate serious acts of violence against women and girls.

We, in the women, peace and security community as well as all actors working on gender equality, human rights, and the elimination of violence against women and girls must waste no time.

Let us all come together and seize the moment to present our evidence-based analysis, and policy recommendations in order to influence policy outcomes and decisions that divert weapons spending to fund civil society’s initiatives to end violence against women and girls, and COVID-19 response and recovery.

1 Worldometer, “COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic”, Updated 9 December 2020. Accessed from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
2 UN Women, “COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls”, 2020. Available at: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/issue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5006
3 World Health Organization, “Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence”, 2013. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/85239
4 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Global military expenditure sees largest annual increase in a decade—says SIPRI—reaching $1917 billion in 2019”, 27 April 2020. Available at: https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2020/global-military-expenditure-sees-largest-annual-increase-decade-says-sipri-reaching-1917-billion
5 World Bank, “Gender-Based Violence (Violence Against Women and Girls)”, 25 September 2019. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/socialsustainability/brief/violence-against-women-and-girls
6 UN-Women, “COVID-19 and ending violence against women and girls”, 2020. Available at: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/issue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5006.

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