Archive for the ‘Financial’ Category

Campaign in Turkey about Women’s paid & unpaid labor

We would like to inform you about a campaign started in Turkey, in 5 different cities including Istanbul. The campaign will take one year and will be run by Socialist Feminist Collective

Main theme of the campaign is to highlight women’s double shift between unpaid and paid labor and clarify our demands from men, capitalists and state. Below you may find the video of preparations and the public announcement in English

We want back the hours, Days and Years we have spent on housework! We want back our due in the house!

We are calling on women to stop doing any housework until we are paid back our due. We want housework to be men’s work. Cooking, laundry, ironing, dish washing… Let men do the housework, day in and day out, for hours on end.

Let the fathers care for their children: Prepare them for school in the morning, prepare their meal in the evening and help them with their homework. When the kids are ill, let the fathers leave work and run home to look after them.

On the weekend, let the fathers take the kids to their leisure activities, go searching in the markets for cheap, healthy, nourishing food, go back to pick them back with their arms loaded.

Let sons care for their elderly mothers and fathers. Let them look after their parents when they are ill; let them remember to remind them when to take their pills; let them remember to give them baths…

While we women are watching TV in the evening, let men put the kettle on, put the kids to sleep and make the necessary preparations for he next day.

Let men learn how to share other people’s problems and to establish proper relations with their own fathers and sons.

We want back our due in the house!

We are calling on women to stop doing any housework until we are paid back our due. We want housework to be men’s work. Cooking, laundry, ironing, dish washing… Let men do the housework, day in and day out, for hours on end.

Let the fathers care for their children: Prepare them for school in the morning, prepare their meal in the evening and help them with their homework. When the kids are ill, let the fathers leave work and run home to look after them.

On the weekend, let the fathers take the kids to their leisure activities, go searching in the markets for cheap, healthy, nourishing food, go back to pick them back with their arms loaded.

Let sons care for their elderly mothers and fathers. Let them look after their parents when they are ill; let them remember to remind them when to take their pills; let them remember to give them baths…

While we women are watching TV in the evening, let men put the kettle on, put the kids to sleep and make the necessary preparations for he next day.

Let men learn how to share other people’s problems and to establish proper relations with their own fathers and sons.

We demand from the bosses!

We refuse to work exclusively in low paid, insecure and flexible jobs. Women also have the right to be unionised and to have access to social security.

Are men better in weaving, cutting out, sewing and designing? We want equal pay for equal worth!

We know very well that when parental leaves are transferable and optional, men prefer not to use them. We want non-transferable leaves for fathers.

We want crèches in all work places which hire more than fifty workers irrespective of sex! We want our children to go the crèche in their father’s work place.

We also demand neighbourhood crèches. Bosses hiring less than fifty workers should make financial contributions to the neighbourhood crèches in proportion to the number of their workers.

You have been privileging men for centuries. We want positive discrimination when we apply for jobs, while we work and in professional training courses. We demand quotas in “male jobs”!

The streets are not safe for women. We want safe transportation for 24 hours to and from work.

We demand from the state!

We demand the right to retirement pension at fifty, in return for the domestic labour we have spent on our husbands and companions. Retirement pension for housewives!

Although we run our households for years on end, when we go out to look for work, we are counted as unqualified labour.

We want to be paid unemployment fees once we start looking for a job, until we get one.We are only offered training courses in “female skills”.

We demand quotas for women in technical skill courses.We refuse to be deprived of social security when we do home-based work, work as care workers or cleaning ladies, or when we work on land for practically nothing.

We don’t want to have to count on our fathers or husbands when we are ill; we do not want to live on the street with an empty stomach. The right to individual health security and a decent shelter for all women!

We work both at home and in the work place. We do double shifts. We want early retirement!

When we say “enough is enough” and want to get a divorce, we want unconditional alimony payment: We refuse to be preached on decency, virtue and morals. The state should pay the alimony when the divorced husband fails to do so.

Is it only our responsibility to care for the elderly? We want professional public care for old people if they prefer to go on living in their own homes. We also demand good quality homes for old people.

We (Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson) have just visited the Gaza Strip where we met many courageous people trying to live relatively normal lives despite the crippling effects of the illegal Israeli blockade. The blockade was imposed to punish the Hamas-led government, but it is women and children who are paying the highest price.

In our conversations with a range of women, we learned that despite the apparent “easing” of restrictions by Israel and Egypt, important socio-economic indicators such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and family violence are getting worse. Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists. These restrictions are not being imposed through the introduction of laws, but rather through party-led initiatives that are enforced without any system of accountability. For example, there is no legal decree stating that all schoolgirls must wear a headscarf, yet those who don’t wear it are harassed. Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics. In Gaza, women already struggle to be heard. The absence of women from politics in turn fuels perceptions of women as passive; they are seen as victims of the ongoing conflict, rather than active participants in shaping opinions and political processes. Despite the extremely challenging circumstances in which they live, it was therefore encouraging to meet a remarkable group of women in Gaza who are working hard to counter prevailing stereotypes. They are doing it in particular through a UN mechanism called 1325.

Ten years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which recognized that sustainable peace could not be achieved in any conflict without the full participation — and protection — of women. We were impressed to see that women’s groups in Gaza are working hard to mobilize support for the democratic principles of Resolution 1325. At the heart of this resolution is the conviction that women, like men, have a right to participate as decision-makers in all aspects of governance: Women have a right to a voice in institutions that are democratic and accountable, including those that govern peacemaking.

Women’s groups in Gaza told us that they are doing their best to raise awareness about Resolution 1325 among local leaders. They have provided training to women on the ground in how to exercise their political rights. They have documented human rights violations and violence against women, and they participated in the UN investigation, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, to establish whether war crimes were committed during the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. However, they don’t feel that there has been any positive improvement in the lives of Gazan women.

Women activists are clamoring for help from beyond Gaza: “What we do ourselves is not enough”, they told us. “We need help to make sure that our voices are heard in the outside world.” These women are very keen to join networks worldwide who are working on Resolution 1325 and women’s rights more generally; They want to stand in solidarity with women around the world and feel that they are not alone. They want to reach out to the wider international community, but they are penned in — the blockade prevents them from doing so.

This is one, largely unrecognized, price of the blockade of Gaza: It is hampering women’s efforts to cooperate and build a movement that can effectively advance gender equality. The effect extends beyond politics; the disempowerment of women hinders post-conflict reconstruction, reduces the likelihood that it will be sustainable, and prevents any meaningful progress on development.

As Elders, we call for the immediate and complete lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The ongoing siege is a denial of dignity; it is the denial of rights of a people, particularly its women, who yearn to be free.

Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson are both members of The Elders. Mary Robinson was the first woman President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Lakhdar Brahimi is a distinguished diplomat and mediator. He was Foreign Minister of Algeria from 1991 to 1993 and has led UN missions in South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Women’s health and rights advocacy groups responded immediately to the announcement that President Obama would exclude abortion coverage from the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (the temporary high-risk insurance pools created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to transition us into the new health care plan). Obama has decided that women in these pools simply don’t need insurance coverage of abortion care even though there is nothing in the new law that dictates this.

From the ACLU press release on this:

Even using their own private funds, individuals would not be able to buy policies that cover abortion in these pools. The only exemptions would reportedly be for women who have been raped, who are the victims of incest or who will likely die if they carry the pregnancy to term.

What is perhaps most perplexing about this is that this plan was created to offer temporary insurance coverage to those who cannot afford coverage due to particulary serious health conditions. Women with serious health conditions may be some of the most affected by a pregnancy – the pregnancy may not cause her death but is a woman’s life of so little consequence that it matters not to President Obama if a pregnancy bears an immense burden on her already ill body? As NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Nancy Keenan puts it, “This policy means that women who are part of these pools because they have significant health problems, such as diabetes or cancer, will not be able to access abortion care, even if their health is at further risk.”

Planned Parenthood’s press release calls the rule “harmful to women”:

“The very women who need to purchase private health insurance in the new high-risk pools are likely to be more vulnerable to medically complicated pregnancies. It is truly harmful to these women that the administration may impose limits on how they use their own private dollars, limiting their health care options at a time when they need them most. This decision has no basis in the law and flies in the face of the intent of the high-risk pools that were meant to meet the medical needs of some of the most vulnerable women in this country.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights notes:

“Contrary to assertions by the White House, there’s no current legal basis for the policy. The executive order issued by the President on abortion only addressed rules for segregating funds for abortion coverage in the healthcare exchanges and limits on community health centers. The Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan policy similarly furnishes no legal basis for exclusions in the new high risk pools.

“The proposal would not even permit policyholders to use their own private dollars to purchase coverage, as the Nelson compromise allows, and instead applies a Stupak-type ban like the one rejected by Congress. Healthcare reform was a tightly bargained piece of legislation – and with this, the White House is threatening to renege on a fundamental part of its bargain with American women and families who truly need coverage. Excluding abortion coverage from the high-risk insurance pools was not part of the negotiations during healthcare reform, and nothing in the bill compels this result.”

Kelli Conlin of the National Institute for Reproductive Health says:

Considering that the women in high-risk pools are already more vulnerable to medical complications it is outrageous that their coverage will not include – at the bare minimum – abortion care for health emergencies.

This latest ban goes even further than the objectionable Nelson provision (which became law during health care reform) in that it does not give states the option of deciding to cover abortion nor does it allow a woman to buy abortion coverage . This is not acceptable.

We all know that many things can happen in pregnancy that are beyond even the healthiest woman’s control; coverage of abortion is an important part of ensuring that all women can access and afford the health care procedures they may need.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has started a letter writing campaign to urge President Obama not to exclude abortion coverage from the high-risk pools.

The G8 and G20 Summits wrapped up after a tumultuous weekend. The protestors clashing with police got all the press but there were important developments for maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health as well.

The G8 released the details of its Muskoka Initiative for Maternal and Child Health on Saturday, a five-year, $7.3 billion package for improving maternal, newborn and child health and increasing access to reproductive health. The G8 countries have pledged US $5 billion of new money over the next 5 years and an additional $2.3 billion has been committed by non-G8 member states and foundations including the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation. The communiqué notes that the G8 countries “fully expect” to mobilize more than $10 billion between 2010 and 2015 but doesn’t provide details on where that extra money might come from.

The G8 members call this “a comprehensive and integrated approach to accelerate progress towards MDGs 4 and 5 that will significantly reduce the number of maternal, newborn and under five child deaths in developing countries.” The G8 is working with partners to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 with a particular focus on MDGs 4 (Reduce by two-thirds the under-5 mortality rate by 2015) and MDG 5 (Reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio by AND achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health). MDG 5 is farthest away from being achieved by 2015 and estimates are that another $20 billion is needed if we hope to reach those targets for reduction in maternal and child mortality and reproductive health access in time. The Muskoka Initiative doesn’t come close to meeting that $20 billion shortfall, but it is a start.

While the funds committed may not have been all we hoped for, there were some pleasant surprises in the communiqué details. The funds will support strengthened country-led national health systems in developing countries and will help them to deliver key interventions along the continuum of care from pre-pregnancy, to pregnancy, to childbirth, to infancy and early childhood. The funds can specifically be used for programs on pre-natal care; attended childbirth; postpartum care; sexual and reproductive health care and services, including voluntary family planning; health education; treatment and prevention of diseases including infectious diseases; prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; immunizations; basic nutrition and relevant actions in the field of safe drinking water and sanitation. The communiqué for the first time ever commits G8 countries to “promote integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health, rights and services within the broader context of strengthening health systems.” The mere inclusion of the phrase “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in a G8 communiqué seems like cause for celebration to me!

The G8’s recognition that there’s a need for money for a range of critical, complementary interventions is important as well. As the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health points out in its statement on the G8, “hemorrhage is the biggest reason why women die after delivery, but with HIV at the root of 20 percent of maternal deaths globally — and higher in Africa — it is clear that we must take a wider view of health, as women themselves do.” The communiqué also included a commitment to work towards universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for HIV and AIDS and to continue to support funding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. G8 governments also express support for strengthening health information systems and sharing of innovations such as using mobile phones to provide health information and task shifting to make better use of scarce health workers.

Notably missing from the communiqué, not surprisingly, was any mention of abortion. Protestors on the streets of Toronto were seen carrying a banner that read, “Maternal health includes abortion!” but this fact was not recognized anywhere in the Muskoka Initiative. Unsafe abortions account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide and complications from the 19.7 million unsafe abortions performed annually are a serious public health threat. The communiqué addresses sexual and reproductive health care and services, but fails to recognize that safe abortion, when and here legal, is a critical piece of women’s healthcare access.

As the Summits concluded, new voices were added to the call for continued support for maternal and child health including the crucial voices of youth and developing country governments (with a rock star thrown in for good measure). The delegates to the official international youth summit being held concurrently with the G-8 and G-20 summits issued a statement calling on G8 leaders to “move quickly in creating a long-term maternal and child health plan for developing countries,” and identified lack of specialist training in the developing world surrounding prenatal and newborn care, and access to essential obstetric expertise as causes they would like to see the G8 take up.

Leaders from Algeria, Ethiopia, Malawi (Chair of the African Union), Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa were invited to meet with the G8 in a special afternoon session to discuss maternal and child health, highlighting the important role of developing countries themselves in this process. The communiqué indicates that, “G8 and African leaders recognize that the attainment of the MDGs is a shared responsibility and that strategies based on mutual accountability are essential going forward.”

African Union countries have already committed to devoting 15 percent of their budgets to health and we hope that this new working relationship with the G8 will signal willingness to meet and exceed those commitments. At the G20 Summit, leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies also recognized the role that all governments, including developing country governments, must play in supporting maternal and child health initiatives. While it was disappointing that the G20 did not specifically mention the Muskoka Initiative, it did announce that it is forming a Working Group to examine how it can play a greater role in development issues-a step in the right direction.

Not be outdone, Bono, U2 lead singer and co-founder of ONE, issued a statement saying that:

Prime Minister Harper’s plan for the G8 on maternal mortality is not everything that’s needed to tackle the moral affront of millions of mothers dying in childbirth, but it is a start on a job that world leaders need to finish when they gather at the UN in September for a special session on the Millennium Development Goals.

So what can be achieved with the money and the political commitments that we did manage to get from the G8 and G20? The communiqué says that this funding will help developing countries to prevent 1.3 million deaths of children under the age of five, prevent 64,000 maternal deaths, and enable access to modern methods of family planning by an additional 12 million couples.

Along with the G8’s stated new focus on accountability, the funding targets and promises to monitor progress towards achieving reductions in maternal and child mortality and expanded access to reproductive health services will also give advocates specifics that we can hold the G8 accountable for. Finally, as we move towards the September 2010 UN High-Level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs where governments will be asked to make additional renewed commitments to achieve the MDGs by 2015, this focus on maternal and child health is important. The Secretary General of the UN has launched a Joint Action Plan to Improve the Health of Women and Children, and advocates are pressing for the serious financial and political commitments that will be needed to achieve the goals.

The G8 and G20 have helped put maternal and child health on the map at this critical time. But awareness raising and promises are not enough. The protestors on the streets were yelling, “Whose streets? Our streets!” We must take up the call, “Whose lives? Women’s lives!” No woman should have to die giving life. We know what to do to improve maternal and child health. The governments of the G8 and G20 put themselves forward as the richest and most powerful leaders in the world. But that leadership won’t mean anything if they won’t commit to saving women and children’s lives.

A group of women in the fishing village of Thantirayankuppam in India are members of a self-help group, a cooperative that gathers regularly to arrange loans for members in distress and provide counselling to one another.

The biggest problem the group faces is the high number of female suicides. A woman had been driven to suicide by her husband. He drank and gambled; he beat her. Such behavior was the cause of virtually all the recent suicide attempts in the village.

It’s a familiar story around here, and it’s one of the reasons almost all the self-help groups in this area are aimed solely at women. Talk to development workers involved in the groups, and they’ll list all the reasons men are difficult to work with: they drink, they gamble, they fight, they bring politics into the groups, and they spend loans intended for the family on alcohol or entertainment.

In the 1990s, it became popular to talk about “engendering development.” The stated goal was to include more women in the development process, to right historical gender inequalities and make sure that aid money flowed equally to both sexes.

These are laudable goals. But what often goes unspoken in the practice of engendered development is that aid agencies want to work with women not just because they have traditionally been excluded, but also because men are harder to work with.

Indeed, in many ways, and in striking contrast to women, men often represent something of an impediment to development. Jerald Moris, has been working in rural development for more than 20 years: “Working with women’s groups is more efficient.” He added that a rupee spent on women goes further than on men.

Such talk isn’t politically correct, of course. The literature on engendered development is full of pieties about the need to include both men and women, and about the vital partnering role that men play in fostering economic and social progress.

Men generally earn more than women, but they tend to spend much of their income outside the household. Women, aid workers say, are far more likely to spend their meager incomes or loans received through self-help groups on the family.

Men are more likely to discriminate against female children, pulling them out of school early and marrying them off at a young age.

In many village households, fathers will insist that they and male children are fed first. If there is, for example, a limited quantity of meat, it might be reserved for male members of the family.

These are just some of the reasons that aid groups find it more productive to work with women than men. Their preferences are backed up by empirical studies. The economist Amartya Sen, for instance, has often drawn attention to the fact that women’s education and employment levels are among the best determinants of child mortality, fertility and other development indicators.

In other words, focusing resources on women is, to use Mr. Moris’s phrase, a “more efficient” way of spurring general development.

They cited the usual list of difficulties in working with men — alcoholism, irregular attendance at meetings, poor loan repayment rates, violence.

Men, Mr. Moris said, were more likely to discuss and argue over politics, creating friction within groups and sometimes leading to their dissolution.

Mr. Moris explains why, despite the difficulties, he had been interested in men’s groups. He said that he had been struck by a sense of exclusion and discrimination felt by many men he came across in the villages. They complained that they were being left out of the development process. Some worried they were losing their status at home because it was easier for their wives to get loans.

It is perhaps hard to feel sorry for men: they drink, beat their wives, neglect their families.

But if the goal of development is to overcome obstacles to progress, then, precisely because they are often difficult and obstructionist, it would seem that men have to be part of the process.

The idea comes from the governor of the Lombardy region, Roberto Formigoni, who says no woman should end a pregnancy because of economic difficulty.

The women would have to prove they are in financial hardship in order to qualify for the 18 monthly payments.

The policy has been welcomed by anti-abortion campaigners, but critics have condemned the move as propaganda.

Mr Formigoni, a political ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he wanted to support “the family, motherhood and births”.

A spokesman for the Italian Bishops’ Conference responded to the new policy by saying: “Anything that respects life is to be applauded.”

Lombardy has set aside 5m euros ($6.1m, £4.2m) for the scheme, officials say. The women will receive 18 monthly payments of 250 euros.

But the policy has also been criticised as a short-term solution to a life-long responsibility.

Writing on the Italian paper La Repubblica’s website, Cinzia Sasso questioned what mothers would do after the first 18 months, and said the number of people that could receive aid under the money allocated was “laughable”.

Sara Valmaggi, an opposition politician, said volunteers who are to work on the project could not act as a substitute for public sector health workers.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978.

After improving lives of many women in Gujarat and other parts of the country, the National Insurance VimoSEWA Co-operative of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has taken a big leap — all the way to Namibia.

VimoSEWA is assisting the Namibian government’s financial services authority, Namfisa and Fides Bank, a micro finance institution in the country. A team from SEWA, including Mirai Chatterjee, the director of SEWA Social Security, has visited Namibia and SEWA will be submitting the action plan soon.

“The need for micro-finance and micro-insurance is vital in upgrading the living standards of women. The major problems in Namibia that we realised are high mortality rate due to HIV/AIDS, alcoholism and the fact that the population is spread in a vast area making the distribution extremely difficult,” said Chatterjee.

Talking about VimoSEWA, the chief operating officer (COO) of the co-operative said, “The first insurance co-operative owned and run by women workers in the informal economy, VimoSEWA has combination insurance products and services – life, health and assets. The premium paid by the women range between Rs 400 to Rs 1,000 annually. VimoSEWA has 10,000 shareholders from five states – Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Prodesh.”

Amar Oza, chief executive officer of vimoSEWA, while addressing the media on Thursday said, “The penetration of an important and simple thing like life insurance is only about 25 per cent. The penetration of health insurance is less than five percent. In the next phase of VimoSEWA, we are looking at business development, stronger after-sales service and deeper penetration.”

Caritas Internationalis is calling on governments and the international community to protect migrants who work in people’s homes as maids, nannies and carers from exploitation. These workers are mostly women.

Domestic workers are frequently trafficked and exploited. They rarely benefit from any form of legal protection. Abuse can be difficult to detect because the workplace is in private homes.

Caritas asks that domestic workers have the same legal protection in the workplace as others workers do.

‘Apart from the risk of abuse, domestic workers may have no social security protection, can be overworked and underpaid. Many fear their employers’ reprisals if they complain to the authorities and thus continue to live as modern day slaves,’ says Martina Liebsch, Director of Policy for Caritas Internationalis.

The International Labour Organziation is the UN body responsible for international employment standards.The ILO will consider a draft convention to protect the rights of domestic workers in June 2010. Caritas is asking for specific provisions for migrant domestic workers that includes that their work or residence permit is not tied to one employer.

Caritas is calling for the creation of a complaints mechanism and a compensation scheme for migrant domestic workers that is independent of their legal status.

Domestic work should be regulated through the creation of employment agencies which act as intermediaries between employers and migrant workers. Agencies should ensure compliance with labour standards and the quality of the work performed.

Caritas recognises an increasing demand for domestic workers and home care providers, yet legal migratory channels don’t existent in many countries. Caritas calls on governments to create channels for legal labour migration for people wishing to leave their own countries.

Women in the Asia-Pacific region are lagging behind most of the world with little economic power, political voice and legal rights, while their reduced status is depressing economic growth prospects in developing nations.

Those are the conclusions of the U.N.’s Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, which was published on Monday to mark International Women’s Day.

The report ranked the region near the worst in the world — often lower than sub-Saharan Africa — on issues related to women’s employment, parliamentary participation and property ownership.

“The key message (of the report) is that to meet any development goals that a society sets, you need the full participation and involvement of women,” Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) told AlertNet.

“The fact is that when women do have equal rights, it is very good for the society they live in and it is very good for the economy they live in, so there are many levels on which we should be promoting equal rights for women.”

Asia-Pacific is currently losing an estimated $89 billion every year due to the lack of women in the workforce, according to the report titled: “Power, rights and voice.”

Clark said raising the rates of women in the workforce to levels in developed countries would certainly raise the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of many of the countries in the region.

In countries like India, Indonesia and Malaysia, conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by two to four percent if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent — comparable to the United States, the report said.

While many women in the Asia-Pacific region have benefitted from improved education, health and prosperity, they continue to face barriers to the same opportunities available to men.

Almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, more than any other region in the world, and women in this region can expect to live five years less than the world average of 71 years, the report said.

Asia-Pacific women also hold only a handful of legislative seats — fewer than anywhere else in the world except the Arab region — with the Pacific sub-region accounting for four of the world’s six countries with no women parliamentarians.

Those who do manage to gain a voice at local or national level face trouble.

“Women politicians, particularly those with extra vulnerabilities of poverty or association with marginalised groups, have been killed, raped or faced physical threats for challenging the status quo,” the report said.

It cited an example of a village council in India where male members spread stories that female members were sexually promiscuous, harassed them with obscene phone calls and made sexual innuendoes during meetings.

The report added that legal rights of women were also lacking with laws related to property and assets biased in favour of men.

While agricultural jobs account for more than 40 percent of women’s jobs in East Asia, and 65 percent in South Asia, only 7 percent of farms in these regions are controlled by women, compared to 20 percent in most other regions of the world.

It said that the lack of property and asset ownership left women in vulnerable to poverty, with no control over household finances.

Few countries have also adopted laws prohibiting violence against women and nearly half of the countries in South Asia and more than 60 percent of those in Pacific have no laws against domestic violence.

UNDP’s Clark called on policymakers to make it a priority to correct gender imbalances.

“Human development cannot be achieved if 50 percent of the population is excluded,” she said.

Despite the lack of gender issues on past agendas, ironically the forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report has become a trusted source of information on progress made – or the lack thereof – by the world’s nations towards gender parity. Its premise is that a nation’s well-being is correlated to the status of women. One has only to look at the top of the report’s rankings, dominated by Scandinavian countries, to see the connection. At the bottom of the 2009 list: Yemen.

The discourse at the forum itself, however, hasn’t been focused enough on the undervalued asset, in terms of human capital, represented by women and girls. Last year, during a Davos conversation on the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, it was agreed that the 2008 economic crisis might have been averted had the firm been “Lehman Brothers and Sisters.”

Start of a longer article at

See also: The Gender Agenda: Putting Parity into Practice
And video on YouTube:

Plus: Microfinance Could Be Hazardous For Teenage Women

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Nicole Johnston reports on the formidable Women’s Forum not accepting the status quo in Malawi.

As the world’s decision makers embark on the road to Copenhagen, the oft-repeated refrain is that climate change will hit Africa “first and worst”. What we don’t hear enough about is the enormous additional burden it is already placing on rural African women.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Add climate change to the mix and the combination is deadly – particularly for women.

“Poverty is the cause of HIV here,” says Maria Gondwe of the Karonga Women’s Forum. “If the rains are too heavy or if they don’t come, then the yield is poor. Since 2001 we have noticed the weather changing. Floods come and wash our rice away and because we are farmers we don’t have the money to buy more seed. We are already in poverty, then that adds hunger.”

“It is getting hotter so we have to work shorter hours, which means we cultivate a smaller area and can grow less food,” adds Rachel Kasambara. “It is harder to live by farming than it was 10 years ago. I have grandchildren as well as orphans living in my house so there is a shortage of food. Maybe we will get a meal once a day. Sometimes we just eat a sweet potato and drink water before we sleep.”

It is considered the responsibility of women and girls to ensure there is food in the house, and as it becomes increasingly difficult to survive on agriculture, many women are forced to sell sex. “Some parents tell their daughters ˜there is no food, go find some money to eat’,” explains Forum chairperson Caroline Malema. “Then the girls come home with money and with sugar and the parents are happy. But once she is infected they chase her and say ˜go back with this thing to where you got it’. Or they marry a 14-year-old girl to an old man in his fifties because he has cattle. If she refuses they throw her out and she ends up as a prostitute.”

And women with husbands and children are also often unable to protect themselves from the virus: “The men say condoms are for prostitutes. If you insist, they will accuse you of having other men and divorce you. But they are the ones who go out and act carelessly and bring this [HIV] home with them,” says Gondwe angrily.

“Women in the more remote villages don’t have money to get to the clinic to get ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] so sometimes they will walk 50km to get the drugs.”

And double standards are rife says Malema: “Many men are HIV positive but don’t tell their wives. They will hide their pills and take them in secret. But if she finds she is HIV positive and wants to take ART he will chase her and accuse her of being a prostitute.”

But the Women’s Forum is not accepting the status quo, and is fighting a formidable battle on a number of fronts – from seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence to challenging gender dynamics. “We as women are not counted in Malawi,” says Malema. “They say a woman cannot be above a man. We aim to empower women – especially the younger generation – whether they are discriminated against for being HIV positive or have been raped, or want to go into politics.” The forum has successfully campaigned for a local woman, Beatrice Nyankonde, who is now running for election as a member of parliament.

The courage and generosity displayed by the members of the forum is astounding, particularly as they have no funds except those they raise from doing yet more work. What they do have is human capital, and a deep sense of solidarity with other women. “We make mats and knit baby jackets and sell them,” says Eliza Mbale, the forum’s treasurer. “With that money we are able to buy soap for orphaned children and widows. We help them with household chores and work in their fields so they will be able to grow some food. We have no finance or other way of helping so the little we have we try to share.”

Queen Kayira’s story

“My name is Queen Kayira and I am from Malawi, which you know is a poor country. I am a widow with five children and my husband died in 2000 leaving me with nothing. This changing of the climate is giving us a lot of troubles, because we can no longer make small businesses like selling bananas and cassava.

I decided to go the bottle store to find a man so I could find money to support my family. Instead, I found HIV. Men refuse if you want to use a condom; they say it is like eating a sweet with the plastic wrapper still on it.

I stopped doing sex work two years ago. I changed my behaviour because I learned I was HIV+ and I didn’t want to infect other people. I know if men sleep with me without a condom they will take that virus back to their wives.

Now I am a volunteer at the Karonga Women’s Forum. I sell tomatoes and bread to feed my children and I also knit things to sell, but I am still suffering.

I am afraid that other women, especially young girls will turn to sex work to feed their families. Because we are not getting good crops any more girls are under pressure to find food. This pressure is only on girls, not boys, because girls are seen as useless and we are not valued. While girls are selling themselves, the boys are going to school or being taught skills like carpentry.”

See also:
* Trying to give sex workers safer alternatives in Malawi
* Project to help Malawi’s sex workers – BBC audio

Women bear the disproportionate burden of climate change, but have so far been largely overlooked in the debate about how to address problems of rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather, concludes The State of World Population 2009, released today by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

“Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it,” says UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women. The poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living and therefore risk going hungry or losing their livelihoods when droughts strike, rains become unpredictable and hurricanes move with unprecedented force. The poor tend to live in marginal areas, vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms.

The report draws attention to populations in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to climate change and calls on governments to plan ahead to strengthen risk reduction, preparedness and management of disasters and address the potential displacement of people.

Research cited in the report shows that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters — including those related to extreme weather — with this gap most pronounced where incomes are low and status differences between men and women are high.

The State of World Population 2009 argues that the international community’s fight against climate change is more likely to be successful if policies, programmes and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potential of women.

The report shows that investments that empower women and girls — particularly education and health — bolster economic development and reduce poverty and have a beneficial impact on climate. Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults. Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.

“With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world’s 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim,” Ms. Obaid says. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?”

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

More than half of Ugandan girls who enrol in grade one drop out before sitting for their primary school-leaving examinations.

The fact that girls are dropping out between age 11 and 13 is being linked to the beginning of the menstruation cycle and its associated challenges.

Research conducted by a non-government organisation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE), reveals that the lack of sanitary pads, coupled with other factors like the absence of water or separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools, is responsible for the drop-out rate.

Despite tax waivers introduced to reduce the cost of sanitary pads, finding money to buy them each month is a challenge for many grown women, never mind pre-teen girls.

A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda – for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household. Girls whose parents can’t afford to give them the money improvise with strips of toilet paper or old cloth. “Sometimes you buy two packets depending on the flow,” says Florence Kanyike, national coordinator of FAWE in Uganda. “For some girls the flow is heavy and they will need to change pad in the course of the day.”

In their study of challenges to girl child education, FAWE researchers found that taboos and silence associated with menstruation in many communities mean some girls are in any case unable to ask their parents for money to buy pads, and forced to find ways of getting money on their own.

Raising the subject can put unwanted pressures on a young girl. Kanyike says that for some parents, when a girl starts menstruating, it’s a sign that she is mature enough for marriage. This is the age at which many girls in rural areas are sent into forced marriages.

Maimuna Kagoya has just started secondary school. She’s fortunate that her aunt, Aisha, buys pads for her. In her Muslim family, Maimuna will be assumed to be ripe for marriage once she’s known to be menstruating.

Speaking to IPS in the presence of her aunt, Maimuna says many of her friends dropped out of school although she is not sure if it was related to menstruation.

One risky means girls less fortunate than Maimuna turn to to raise the money on their own is through sexual relationships with much older men who can provide the cash; one consequence of this is a large number of unwanted pregnancies, which then force girls to drop out of school.

Dropping out of school affects girls in the long-term by limiting their future earning potential.

FAWE has launched a campaign to de-stigmatise menstruation through “girl education movement” clubs in schools, where girls are taught to treat their periods as a normal occurrence not to be scared of.

The campaign to dispel silence around menstruation and advocate for affordable sanitary pads to be made available in local markets across the country piloted in five districts earlier this year.

The project is dealing with twelve primary schools in each district, conducting workshops with pupils to open up dialogue on the topic of menstruation. The pupils discuss anything from lack of sanitary pads, poor facilities for menstruation at school and in the community, as well as try to find solutions.

Fatuma Wamala, programme officer at FAWE, says through the workshops they found that poor menstrual hygiene on the part of adolescent girls stem from beliefs, myths and attitudes within the community coupled with poverty.

“Many parents do not allocate any budget to sanitary materials for the girls especially in day schools,” says Wamala.

She says FAWE’S advocacy has led to lower prices for sanitary towels on the open market and increased demand for sanitary towels in rural areas, where local shops are beginning to stock them.

It was FAWE’s workshops with members of parliament and government officials which led to tax waivers on sanitary pads being announced by the finance minister in the 2006 national budget.

Now the lawmakers want government to go further and buy sanitary pads for female pupils in primary schools. Nabilah Sempala, a woman member of parliament for Kampala Central constituency, says government should include the cost of sanitary pads in the budget of the universal primary education.

Most counsellors in NZ rape crisis centres and other non-medical work have been shut out of fast-track claims for sexual abuse victims under the final version of new rules.

As indicated in earlier drafts by the Accident Compensation Corporation, it will pay for counselling for sexual abuse victims from Monday only when they have a mental illness listed in the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Version 4 – abbreviated to DSM-IV.

Unexpectedly, the final version of the new “clinical pathway” sent to counsellors this week also says that the only people qualified to give a DSM-IV diagnosis are psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists and medical practitioners – suchas GPs – who have a a DSM-IV qualification”.

This definition appears to exclude all 272 ACC-registered counsellors who belong to the Association of Counsellors and work in rape crisis centres, church and other community agencies and in private practice.

Susan Hawthorne of the Psychotherapists Association, said it was also likely that only a minority of New Zealand’s 450 psychotherapists had a “DSM-IV qualification”.

“We haven’t heard of such a thing,” she said.

She said ACC had told her it meant “a tertiary-level paper where DSM-IV is explicitly taught as part of the qualification, followed by continuing use in practice”.

Associate Professor Stephen Appel of Auckland University of Technology, which teaches the country’s only masters-level psychotherapy course, said use of DSM-IV had been part of that course since it started 20 years ago.

But Ms Hawthorne said many psychotherapists had trained before the AUT programme started, or trained overseas.

“If they [ACC] had said, ‘We are going to organise training courses,’ that would be more credible,” she said.

“I feel quite devastated, to tell you the truth, quite stunned.

“It’s incredibly disrespecting that they haven’t taken on board many of the points that we’ve made, and that in this final version there are some things that they hadn’t even forewarned us that they were thinking about.”

The new pathway still allows any counsellor to lodge claims for sexual abuse counselling.

Bit it says only those with a diagnosis from someone with a “DSM-IV qualification” will be “fast-tracked” to a decision within a week.

All other claims will require a second assessment by someone with a DSM-IV qualification and will be decided within six weeks.

The pathway also provides that funding will start from the date a claim is approved, with no backdating for the waiting period.

Elayne Johnston of the Association of Counsellors said a six-week delay would harm many victims.

“What we can see happening is that they are going to be exposing their story and then left high and dry while someone else makes a decision on whether their claim is upheld or not.

“If that takes some weeks, we could well see an increase in suicides,” she said.

But Dr Lyndy Matthews of the College of Psychiatrists said there was no evidence that long-term counselling was an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder – the most common DSM-IV diagnosis given to sexual abuse victims.

“While more generic forms of counselling can be a very reparative form of therapy, and healing in terms of providing long-term relationships, that is not the same as effective evidence-based treatment.”

Sexual abuse claims

ACC receives 550 claims a month for sexual abuse counselling.

It spends $56 million a year on sexual abuse claims.

Tighter rules for counselling took effect on Monday.

ACC says the changes are not about cost-cutting but aim to give survivors treatment reflecting the latest evidence.

Campaigners say practice of detaining people for unpaid medical bills is widespread

Cash-strapped state and private hospitals in Kenya are routinely locking up patients to press family members and friends to pay up – and to send a message to poor people to stay away.

In May, the scandal received national prominence when a local television station used a hidden camera to show how 44 new mothers were being held in a locked room at the Kenyatta National hospital. A shocked viewer paid nearly £10,000 to clear their bills, but the exposé did little to change practices. While Pumwani publicly denies detaining patients, the Kenya Network of Grassroots Organisations (Kengo) found 34 mothers being held there against their will on Monday in “inhuman” conditions.

In government and council-run hospitals social workers are meant to waive the bills for the poorest patients, but the policy is rarely applied properly – even in the case of a child dying. A recently detained mother, Aisha Munyira, 25, said she was held in a guarded ward at Pumwani with about 60 other women and their babies for more than a month after her child died soon after birth in March. She said that she had no choice but to allow the hospital to bury the body anonymously.

“These detentions are a form of psychological torture,” said Evelyn Opondo, senior programme officer at the Federation of Women Lawyers, in Nairobi, who has documented a case of a mother being held with her baby at a private hospital in western Kenya for more than two years due to non-payment. The hospitals do not publicly declare it, but the practice is widespread.”

Despite pledges by the main political parties before the last election to introduce free maternity care, state hospitals have continued a 20-year policy, originally pushed by the World Bank, that requires “cost-sharing” for all public services.

In Nairobi’s slums, where the majority of people live below the poverty line, most mothers give birth at home in potentially dangerous conditions, or, if they can afford the transport, in cheap government clinics, where the delivery fee is less than 20p. But pregnant women with complications have little choice but to seek hospital admission.

According to mothers who have been locked up, the security is tight – guards control access to the wards, the patients’ civilian clothes are taken away and visitors are discouraged. The food is poor – mostly rice and cabbage and one portion of fruit a week. Sending babies home with relatives is forbidden. Even those who manage to clear their original bills are not released if they cannot also pay the additional charges of up to £3.60 a day.

Wangui Mbatia, the executive director of the Kengo, said her organisation was going to ask western donors to stop funding health programmes in Kenya until the hospitals changed their practices. She is also exploring ways to help patients who have been detained to sue for compensation.

“This policy is illegal, unnecessary and nonsensical because there’s no way that most of these women can settle their bills. It’s a government working against its people,” she said.

When asked about the detentions, Dr Charles Wanyonyi, medical superintendent of Pumwani hospital, said: “I am not aware of any of these cases. We have a very nice waiver committee, so I don’t think it is possible that people have been detained.”

A spokesman for Kenyatta National hospital, which is currently holding about 400 patients – not only women – for non-payment of bills, defended the policy and said that all of the people detained had the ability to pay.

“We are unable to procure new equipment and drugs because of the problems of bad debt,” said Simon Githai, chief public relations officer for the hospital. “The culture of not planning for unforeseen circumstances in this country needs to change.”

Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, the medical services minister, has announced plans for a national heath insurance scheme, funded by a new tax on workers, to help the poor get access to hospital care. During a parliamentary debate he expressed sympathy for the detained patients – but also for the hospitals.

He said it was an “inhuman situation” for mothers to be locked up “but also absolutely out of order for a patient to be treated and expect not to pay his medical bill”.

Extracts from a longer article at

Many more women than men are in vulnerable employment, working without pay for a member of their household or self-employed.

A public presentation of the “Progress of the World’s Women” report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Pretoria, South Africa this week suggests that one of the most powerful constraints on realising women’s rights and achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a lack of accountability to women’s needs.

The report sets out a gender-responsive definition for accountability: the capacity of women to get information and explanations of government actions, initiate investigations or be compensated where necessary, and to see officials sanctioned where women’s needs are ignored or women’s rights not protected.

Poor women in particular are affected by weak accountability, and if they are to gain a voice in corporate and civic governance in spite of unequal gender relations, the report recommends that the number of women in decision-making posts be increased and, equally importantly, institutions be transformed to be more responsive to women’s needs.

The Pretoria presentation focused on women’s rights in the context of powerful global market forces.

“We see the economic and financial crisis as an opportunity to reconsider our economic models in terms of gender equality and achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),” said UNIFEM’s deputy executive director, Joanne Sandler, at the launch Monday.

Drawing on figures produced by the International Labour Organisation, UNIFEM’s Progress report shows how more women than men are in vulnerable employment, working without pay for a member of their household or self-employed. Over 60 percent of unpaid family workers are women.

In formal employment, hundreds of thousands of the jobs created in Africa during the economic growth period following the turn of the millennium – many of which were filled by women – are proving to be extremely vulnerable in the downturn.

UNIFEM Executive Director Ines Alberdi, who was addressing the Fifth Annual Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament in Vienna on Monday, said that in Africa, where a booming export apparel industry has provided thousands of new jobs for poor women since 2002, including over 100,000 in Kenya, Lesotho and Swaziland, falling holiday sales are destroying the industry’s viability.

Morocco’s textile industry, including carpets, knitwear and garment manufacturing, where women constitute up to 79 percent of workers, has already lost 10,000 jobs due to the crisis.

According to Alberdi, statistics from the 1997 Asian financial crisis show that increased violence and abuse against women and a rise in infant and child deaths are some of the possible detrimental effects of the present crisis.

She added that girls in poor countries with low education attainment rates are more likely to be pulled out of school as households cope with declining resources; by 2007, girls already accounted for 54 percent of the world’s out-of-school population, a percentage likely to rise higher.

“…it is now a truism that in every crisis there is an opportunity. Global crises such as this one, which can define a generation, can upset the business-as-usual way the world operates, which makes it so hard to bring about change,” said Alberdi.

Business-as-usual, according to the report, has seen governments try to attract investment by, for example, weakening labour and environmental standards in special Export Processing Zones (EPZs).

UNIFEM is sharply critical of this approach in terms of accountability, pointing out that what attracts investment to these zones is the low cost of labour – mostly female. The often-secret deals reached between governments and companies in these zones place huge obstacles in the way of millions of women demanding fair wages and working conditions.

The report evaluates several voluntary or consumer-driven corporate social responsibility initiatives, before making recommendations which may not be welcome reading for transnational business owners: gender equality must become an explicit part of national legislation and international trade policy (and gender disaggregated data will be needed to guide this); women should be involved in national economic planning and the negotiation of trade agreements; and special – though temporary – measures to increase the number of women in decision-making are needed, including quotas for women on the boards of publicly-listed companies.

In a nutshell, governments must hold market institutions accountable.

This will require powerful mobilisation of women. Pointing to the role played by women’s movements around the world in challenging authoritarian governments, pressing for peace, and promoting legislative changes to laws governing marriage, inheritance and harmful traditional customs, the UNIFEM report’s authors are optimistic that governments can be made to answer to women.

World Bank: plus ça change

Contrast UNIFEM’s recommendations with those found in a recent policy document written by the World Bank’s senior spokesperson on gender and development issues, Mayra Buvinic.

Buvinic believes that women and girls in the developing world will be disproportionally affected by the global economic crisis. She suggests that responses that build on women’s roles as economic agents can go a long way towards mitigating negative effects.

“In Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya and South Africa, among other countries, rigorous studies unequivocally show that children’s welfare (nutritional status, schooling attendance) in poor households improves more when income is in women’s hands rather than in men’s,” she writes.

So economic opportunities for poor women should be at the heart of designing safety nets, employment creation projects and financial sector operations.

“In particular, micro-finance institutions should be capitalised so that they continue to offer credit and other financial services to poor borrowers, the majority of whom are women. The development payoffs of these investments should be large – both in terms of mitigating current hardships and preventing future ones, and are a smart use of development assistance.”

Public works programmes targeting women are praised; limited fiscal ability to provide social safety nets by governments deplored.

But no mention of a role for improved regulation of the market forces which have delivered food and financial crises or the vulnerable employment that is evaporating so rapidly.

(Reminder: We now have the rss feed from Genderwire – IPS News – displayed in the column to the right.)

Rwandan refugee women in Uganda face particular hardships under a repatriation push that started in April, with a July 31 target date for completion, a local advocacy group finds. Second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.

Rwanda’s post-conflict recovery has a number of impressive signposts.

One is the economy, which grew at an annual rate of about 11 percent last year, according to the country’s national bank.

Another is the political empowerment of its women. In 2008, Rwanda elected the world’s first majority-female parliament and today a woman leads the country’s Supreme Court. One third of the cabinet of President Paul Kagame is female.

Most recently is the April agreement–among Rwanda, Uganda and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees–to target July 31 as a date to repatriate over 30,000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda. It’s a sign that the three authorities consider Rwanda sufficiently stable and prosperous enough to begin closing the country’s post-genocidal chapter.

But Moses Crispus Okello, head of research and advocacy at the Refugee Law Project, a nongovernmental organization in Kampala, finds little consolation is these milestones, particularly not the new repatriation target date.

Okello says repatriation is alarming for refugees and that women have special economic, health and safety concerns.

Most Rwandan refugees live in four large settlement camps in southwestern Uganda. However, others have made lives for themselves in Uganda’s urban centers, such as Kampala.

The repatriation process began in 2003, but was not taken seriously, according to Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister. Now the Office of the Prime Minister has said that transportation to Rwanda will not be guaranteed for refugees who leave after the July 31 target deadline. The U.N. will also begin withdrawing support for Rwandan refugees in the camps in August, according to the Tripartite Agreement, which means a disruption in routines that many refugees have been following for years.

Okello says domestic violence could rise and women will lose financial security as they leave the land they have been farming at the camps, which gave their families a source of income.

During the transition back to Rwanda, they could be particularly vulnerable to high rates of poverty, since many women returning to Rwanda have described difficulty in accessing the land their families left behind, he says.

Another major concern is that Rwandan women–disproportionately vulnerable to HIV in the camps due to sexual violence–might lose access to the free antiretroviral drugs the Ugandan government provides through public hospitals and clinics.

Although Rwanda runs public programs that distribute the drugs free of charge, many women fear that their access to the medication will be interrupted as they move through the transit camps and back to their former homes.

Clarifications Sought on Repatriation Process
The Refugee Law Project recommends that the Ugandan government and U.N. clarify the voluntary nature of the repatriation and inform refugees about alternative options if they are unwilling to return to Rwanda.

Despite the general prevalence of peace in Rwanda–and diplomatic assurances of protection for those returning–individual refugees have legitimate concerns about their safety, the project said in a recent press statement.

It also pressed the U.N. to continue assistance for refugees who decide to stay, particularly since all Rwandan refugees in the camps have been advised to stop farming.

Over 2,800 Rwandan refugees were repatriated as of July 10, according to the country’s Office of the Prime Minister.

But the Refugee Law Project and news reports say that many of those have reversed course and come back to Uganda, citing poverty, loss of their families’ land and fear of being wrongly accused of genocide.

Most of the refugees in the Ugandan camps are Hutu, the ethnic group whose leadership helped plan and execute a genocide that killed between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

“In the past, the Rwandan government has accused the refugees in Uganda of being genocidaires,” said Okello. “Some unscrupulous people also used the courts that were trying genocide suspects to amass property of those who had left Rwanda, linking them to the genocide. When they returned, they would accuse them of genocide in order to possess their land.”

Return should be voluntary, according to Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act.

Individuals who fear ethnic or political persecution back in Rwanda may appeal their cases to the U.N. and the Refugee Eligibility Committee, based in Kampala, which has representatives from the two countries.

H.E. Kamali Karegasa, Rwanda’s ambassador to Uganda, acknowledges that refugees are fleeing the camps and doing what they can to avoid repatriation.

Press reports describe people posing as refugees from the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, while others try to bribe local Ugandan officials to pass as Ugandan citizens. According to some reports, up to 20 people a day have been fleeing the Nakivale refugee camp, anticipating the July 31 deadline.

“We are aware of these people, but we are encouraging them to go home,” Karegasa said. “For many who have gone back, they have been welcomed by their communities.”

This is the second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.

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Governments need to provide social protection and promote green jobs for women through alternative investments that provide decent employment, such as public-private and community-related partnerships, according to representatives from governments, the United Nations, civil society and academia, who met in New York today to discuss how to respond to the impacts of the economic crisis addressing gender issues.

The panel Economic Recovery and Sustainable Development with Gender Equality was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the Permanent Missions of Australia, Finland and Nicaragua to the UN. It addressed strategies to soften the impact of the economic crisis on women, who are at risk of being hit harder than men. In developing countries, when families can only send one child to school, girls are generally kept home; when families have only limited money and food, girls tend to be fed fewer meals, panelists said.

“There cannot be economic recovery or sustainable development without the full empowerment and integration of women in all levels of economic, social and cultural activities,” said Alberto José Guevara Obregón, Nicaragua’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit.

Panelists also raised concerns about an increased number of girls dropping out of school, higher levels of violence against women and girls, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and HIV and AIDS prevalence rates.

“Violence against women is a serious global problem, and severely limits women’s contribution to social and economic development,” said Gary Quinlan, Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN. “We fear the economic crisis will worsen the problem of violence against women — so tackling violence and investing in women need to be given priority in our response to the crisis.”

Participants also encouraged governments to provide job training and access to finance to women, in addition to promoting green jobs as a means of enabling women to enter male-dominated sectors that offer decent employment. Such jobs relate to women working on climate change adaptation: new and renewable energy sources, energy conservation, disaster prevention and reforestation.

“Women’s contribution and participation are needed in tackling the economic and financial crises. We need to ensure that actions related to economic recovery are inclusive and geared towards more equal societies,” said Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN.

As more people lose their jobs, salaries and remittances slump, and as the cost of living increases, poor families are at risk of falling deeper into poverty.

“Women are watching. The challenge is to make sure they do not bear the brunt of this crisis, making up for lost income and public services by taking on a greater burden of unpaid care work,” said Ines Alberdi, UNIFEM Executive Director.

“It is always poor women and men who are paying the heaviest price of the bad governance and greed that has led to the ongoing economic and financial crisis,” said Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Director of UNDP’s Democratic Governance Group. “This crisis presents an opportunity that we cannot fail to seize in creating decent jobs, social safety nets, and a space where poor women and men can become victors and agents of change in the transformation of the current financial architecture.”

The time is now for all partners in human development to live up to their commitments to the poorest and most vulnerable in order to ensure that the global crisis of today does not hamper the development prospects of tomorrow.

Shabnam had dreamed of owning a home for years, but with few prospects for her husband, she followed the lead of many poor women in her town in western India: she signed up to carry a baby for another couple.

At the clinic of Nayna Patel, perhaps India’s best-known “surrogate doctor” who delivered Anand town’s first surrogate baby, more women are signing up to be surrogates, with even nurses and teachers lining up, as their husbands lose their jobs.

“The women who come here usually want the money to buy a home, pay off loans, or for their childrens’ college education,” said Patel in her small clinic, the walls of which are covered With clippings and pictures of Patel with babies and parents.

A surrogate is generally paid about 250,000-400,000 rupees ($4,000-$8,000), a huge sum of money in a country where many live on less than $2 a day.

Doctors with a western education, top-notch facilities and lower prices have already made India an attractive destination for procedures ranging from bypass surgery to liposuction.

Lax legislation and an entrepreneurial streak in Gujarat state have helped make Anand a last stop for many childless couples at home and abroad, after its first surrogate baby five years ago.

In this bustling town known for India’s best-known brand of butter, Patel has delivered more than 100 surrogate babies, 40 percent for Indians living abroad and 20 percent for foreigners.

It all began with a grandmother surrogate for a UK couple five years ago that pitched Anand and Patel into the spotlight.

Following their lead, locals and foreigners began to flock to Patel’s clinic, drawn by the lower costs, relaxed attitude toward surrogates and lack of legislation.

A draft bill on surrogacy is pending before parliament, and meanwhile, hundreds of clinics have mushroomed across the country, with critics saying touts promoting this “reproductive tourism” care little for the health or rights of the surrogates.

Patel, who was featured on a special show on Oprah Winfrey two years ago, raises her voice in defence.

“My argument is: the surrogate is not killing anyone, not committing an illegal or immoral act. And if a surrogate’s child is able to get an education, if one family is able to buy a home — and help a needy couple in the process, where is the harm?”

Not everyone sees it that way.

Patel and the couples, more than half of whom are either non-resident Indians or foreigners, have come under a barrage of criticism for “exploiting” surrogates and for glossing over the ethical debate.

Many surrogates themselves do not tell their parents or in-laws for fear of being ostracised, and several of Patel’s surrogates live in a Surrogate House to ensure they have a proper diet, and are safe from drunken husbands and nosey neighbours.

Shabnam, 26, has not told her two older daughters or her in-laws that she is a surrogate; she lives with a few other surrogates at the hospital with her youngest child, while her husband, who is out of work, cares for the two others at home.

“I don’t think I can ever tell them; I don’t think they’ll understand,” she said, insisting on using just one name. Her husband used to earn less than $1 a day washing dishes.

Some experts say surrogates, who are often barely literate, do not understand all that the process entails, and are putting themselves at physical and emotional risk but have few rights.

“The primary concern is the physical and mental health of the surrogate: there are several risks, including maternal mortality, associated with assisted reproductive technologies,” said Preeti Nayak at Sama Resource Group for Women and Health.

India’s maternal mortality ratio is 301 in 100,000 births, the highest in south Asia after Bangladesh, the World Bank says.

For Chris McDaniel and his wife Shannon, who came to Anand last April from San Diego after having tried every option in the United States, where hiring a surrogate can take months and cost up to $100,000, the decision to go to Patel was clear.

“It wasn’t in our life plan to fly half-way around the world to a country we barely knew about to have our child,” said Chris, who is writing a book on their experience.

It is hard to come by numbers of surrogates in the country, but Patel has a list of nearly 200 and is seeing more women walk in everyday because they are feeling the pinch of the slowdown.

In the absence of legislation, Patel sticks to guidelines of apex body Indian Council of Medical Research, which say a surrogate may only be implanted with the egg and sperm of the couple or anonymous donors, and that she must be below 45 years.

Patel also insists couples seeking surrogates must have a medical condition that makes child bearing impossible or risky, and draws the line at gay couples and single parents.

The surrogate, who must have her husband’s consent, has no rights over the baby, but feels empowered nevertheless, she said. “Until then, they have felt powerless, helpless; now, they feel like they can be of some use to their family,” she said.

Shabnam’s ambition is far more modest.

“I was very scared thinking of our situation, thinking how will we manage?” said Shabnam, who is eight months pregnant with the baby of an Indian couple living in the United States. Now I feel a bit more confident. At least if we can buy a house, then things will get better.” ($1 = 50 rupees)

Emanuela Heyninck, pay equity commissioner of Ontario, speaks out against a threatened erosion of wage rights for Canadian women in traditionally female occupations.

Canadians have President Barack Obama to thank for raising awareness about equal pay and gender wage discrimination.

By passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act early in his administration, Obama extended the period during which an employee may file pay discrimination claims. That should strengthen the anti-discrimination provisions of the Equal Pay Act, which says female workers should be paid the same as male workers for the same work.

In Canada, we have a different wage-justice standard. It’s called pay equity, which is equal pay for work of equal value. Pay equity recognizes that women and men tend to work at different jobs, and that women’s work has historically been undervalued.

However, it is worrisome that Canada’s support for pay equity may be eroding with the introduction of a recent law, just as the United States is doing more for equal pay.

Ontario’s Pay Equity Act, passed in 1987, goes far beyond laws such as the Equal Pay Act in many ways.

It requires that jobs traditionally done by women, such as secretaries, be evaluated and compared to jobs usually done by men, such as service technicians, using a gender-neutral comparison system. If the value of the secretary and the service technician job classes are about the same, the jobs must be paid the same.

There is no federal pay equity law in the United States even though all developed countries are signatories to pay-equity conventions that, since the 1950s, have called it a human right. Gender-equity advocates in the United States are beginning to raise the banner of pay-equity.

But here in Canada, the federal government may be weakening its commitment to female wages with its recent law to “modernize” pay equity for public sector employees.

Several key aspects and mechanisms of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act–part of the government’s 2009 budget implementation bill–fuel our concern.

First, the act never uses the words “pay equity” nor does it talk about systemic discrimination. Instead, it refers to an unknown and undefined concept of “equitable compensation.”

Second, pay equity works by comparing the value of female dominant jobs to male dominant jobs — yet there is no definition of male dominant jobs in the proposed act.

Finally, the bill introduces “market forces” as a basis for job assessment.

From an anti-discrimination point of view, this is not good news. Market forces have tended to undervalue women’s labor force activities. Gender segregation of women in “pink” collar jobs, and the arrangement of paid employment and care-giving work–inside and outside of the market–contribute to this undervaluation. Introducing market forces may reinforce rather than challenge gender-based inequalities that arose from the market in the first place.

Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of one of the most progressive laws on pay equity in the country.

Our law covers all public employers and all private employers with more than 10 employees. In other provinces, only the public sector is covered, or non-legislative approaches are applied. The exception is Quebec, where the pay equity legislation is similar to that of Ontario.

Our office investigates and resolves complaints of alleged contraventions and we routinely monitor businesses for compliance. We also conduct free seminars and provide extensive educational materials for employers, unions and employees. Quebec provides similar functions.

Hopefully, the government’s “modernization” law won’t turn the clocks back on all of this.

Emanuela Heyninck is Ontario’s Pay Equity Commissioner.

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