Archive for the ‘Funding’ Category

The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) today launched its annual global Call for Propoosals for programmes that support country-level efforts to end violence against women and girls. The criteria, eligibility requirements and application guidelines are available at

The deadline for application is 20 January 2011.

Civil society organizations, governments, and UN Country Teams (working in partnerships with governments and civil society) are invited to submit applications for grants of a minimum of US$100,000 up to a maximum of US$1 million for a period of two to three years.

As one of his UNiTE campaign benchmarks, the UN Secretary-General has set a target of raising a minimum of US$100 million for the UN Trust Fund by 2015, in order to realize existing commitments to ending violence against women and girls.

Established in 1996 by the UN General Assembly, the UN Trust Fund is managed by UNIFEM (part of UN Women) on behalf of the UN system. Today, the UN Trust Fund is an essential source of support and a hub of knowledge for promising approaches to address violence against women and girls. In 2009, the UN Trust Fund received a total of 1,643 proposals and awarded US$20.5 million to 26 initiatives in 33 countries and territories.

The UN Trust Fund relies on the support from governments. In 2009-2010, its donors included the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States of America.

The UN Trust Fund has also received vital support of its partners in the private sector and nonprofit organizations, including Avon and Avon Foundation for Women; Johnson & Johnson; the United Nations Foundation; UNIFEM (part of UN Women) National Committees in Austria, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom; and Zonta International and Zonta International Foundation.

UNIFEM (part of UN Women) is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality. Placing the advancement of women’s human rights at the centre of all of its efforts, UNIFEM focuses its activities on reducing feminized poverty; ending violence against women; reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls; and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war. For more information, visit

UNIFEM, 304 East 45th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10017.
Tel: +1 212 906-6400.
Fax: +1 212 906-6705.

A global campaign that aims to save the lives of 16 million mothers and children over the next five years was being launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday with as much as $40 billion in commitments from world governments and private aid groups.

The so-called Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health was being announced at the end of a three-day summit to review efforts to implement anti-poverty goals adopted at a summit in 2000. These include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and cutting child and maternal mortality.

“Women and children play a crucial role in development,” Ban said in a statement prepared for the event that was released by his office. “Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do — it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies. ”

Ban has made the reduction of maternal and child deaths a personal campaign, and it has been a key topic during the summit. Worldwide every year, an estimated 8 million children die before reaching their 5th birthday, and about 350,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth.

Even before the details were announced, the international aid organization Oxfam expressed skepticism about how much money was truly new, and how the program would be administered and held accountable.

“That kind of money would go a long way toward reaching the child and maternal health goals, but we have a big concern,” said Oxfam spokeswoman Emma Seery. “Where will that money come from?

“Half of the donors cut their aid last year” amid the global economic crisis, she said. “We’re just nervous that it will be governments bringing together a lot of previous commitments, and that won’t mean much for poor people.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected at the afternoon “Every Woman, Every Child” event, along with world leaders including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the prime ministers of Ethiopia, Norway, and Tanzania. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was also on the advance roster of speakers.

“When we first started talking about this five years ago, there didn’t seem to be any interest, very little commitment,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, a pediatrician who heads the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Geneva, Switzerland.

“But with the help of many, and the leadership of the Secretary General, this week is like a dream come true,” said Bustreo, whose organization has worked with Ban’s office on the strategy in recent months.

WHO will chair the global strategy, with a progress report delivered annually to the U.N. General Assembly, she said.

Bustreo said some money could be used to pay for simple, inexpensive tools and practices that could save millions of the world’s children each year.

She said the 1 million newborns who die each year through aspiration — literally drowning from fluid in the breathing passage — could have been saved with a tool that has a bulb like a turkey baster that uses suction to clear away liquids.

The lives of older children can be saved with re-hydration liquids to combat diarrhea, immunizations for childhood diseases like measles, and vitamin supplements to fight malnutrition, she said.

Improving maternal health is more difficult — and costly. Bustreo said half of all maternal deaths are caused by complications of delivery, such as obstructive labor, that require surgery.

In 2000, the U.N. set “Millennium Development Goals” that included reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.

The new UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women will pump the bulk of its projected US$500 million annual budget into programming to directly benefit the world’s most vulnerable women, but this unprecedented boost may still leave the agency lacking influence and impact, civil society advocates say.

The base funding for this entity, known as UN Women, more than doubles all the resources now available to the four UN gender agencies – UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). UN Women will formally come into being in January 2011.

UNIFEM Deputy Executive Director Moez Doraid says $500 million is still “miniscule, compared to our needs, and those are enormous needs.”

“The purpose [of UN Women] is to expand and strengthen UNIFEM’s activities, to broaden them so that they may benefit more women in more countries,” Doraid told IRIN. “It gives us so much hope that it will help overcome these weaknesses that have plagued our work for so long, including problems of under-sourcing, a lack of authority and positioning within the UN system, and a need to achieve key coordination as a whole.”

UN Women’s creation marks a watershed in gender mainstreaming at an internal UN level, but it is unclear how this achievement will ultimately translate into a safer, better life for vulnerable women: globally more than six out of 10 women experience physical violence, including sexual violence, during their lifetime.

“Of course, actions are louder than words and UN Women remains very much a promise of action,” said Elisabeth Roesch, gender-based violence advocacy director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). “The coming months and years will be a crucial period to see if this agency lives up to that promise and is able to make a difference. Two things that will certainly be essential are strong leadership and resources.”

UN Women’s proposed $500 million annual budget is intended to increase within five years to $1 billion – an amount the Gender Equality Architectural Reform (GEAR) campaign, an international civil society movement that has been advocating UN Women’s creation since 2006, says is required to sufficiently scale up programming and resources for women.

“In 2008 we found that the existing gender equality bodies at the UN had $221 million, and compare that to $27 billion, the expenditure of the entire UN that year, and it’s less than even one percent,” said Daniela Rosech, the leading gender justice policy adviser for Oxfam International. “This $500 million is still too little, and with the UN’s own working group proposing that by 2015, 15 percent of overall development assistance will be allocated toward gender, why is that not happening?”

Doraid says UN Women’s budget increase will be dependent on member-nation contributions. Several UN countries, including the UK and Norway, have expressed commitments to “double or considerably increase their contributions” to UNIFEM, soon to be morphed into UN Women, in the past few years. Spain donated about $42 million to UN Women on 2 July, the day the General Assembly approved its creation, marking the “largest single” contribution any UN gender entity has received.

As it stands, however, UN Women will still absorb UNIFEM’s country programme offices, which will be better resourced, staffed and widespread than UNIFEM’s were, said Charlotte Bunch, one the GEAR campaign’s co-founders.

“Long term programming comes with a kind of funding that allows you to not have one gender equality programme office with someone in the back of the building, as we see now, but expert staff that can travel the country,” said Oxfam’s Rosech.

UNIFEM’s largest programme in Afghanistan is “generally well funded”, Doraid says, but its capacity has remained limited in other conflict and post-conflict zones, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where “a crucial missing link in the chain has been the [functioning] instruments that allow persecution of perpetrators of rape.”

“This has not materialized and it would be a high priority to ensure such tools and instruments are there when they are needed,” he said.

Working to enact gender-based violence laws is another major goal for UN Women, Doraid says, noting that more than 100 countries lack specific legislation prohibiting and protecting women from domestic violence.

UN Women’s leadership by an under-secretary general to be appointed this autumn, will “certainly contribute to the status and positioning of this organization” in and out of the Secretariat, Doraid said. Its chief’s “very senior level” will elevate UN Women’s status, granting gender equality programmes and issues an unparalleled level of visibility.

UN Women offices’ many facets “are still being worked out,” said Bunch, who noted that their influence will also expand to UNICEF offices and to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

As UN Women solidifies within the next five months, it will ideally bridge the gap between abstract dialogue at the UN Secretariat about fostering a “global voice” for women, and action on the ground, says Rosech.

“We do need a global voice but it’s not just a question of that, because a global voice can be limited to the Secretariat and that isn’t where our main challenges are,” she said. “We also need a strong country-by-country presence and it’s a question of how do we get that done.”

There’s also the risk of a “fragile and difficult political dynamic” that contributed to the four-year lag in UN Women’s creation, weakening its charter’s wording on sexual violence and on reproductive and sexual health, Rosech said. That could make some leading donor countries less willing to support an agency they see as compromised.

“We aren’t naïve enough to think that a women’s structure is going to be free of the pressures that all the UN agencies work with vis-à-vis donors,” Bunch echoed. “The first obstacle will be getting the money and the second will be facing governments with a limited commitment for this entity.”

“Things don’t just happen because it’s a good idea. They happen because people keep putting pressure and monitoring so structures like these can have legs.”

The US Health and Human Services Department has announced that it is making $25 million available to states to support pregnant women and teen parents, in an initiative that the White House is framing as a way to find common ground on abortion.

The new federal Pregnancy Assistance Fund will award grants to states aimed at providing pregnant women and teen parents support for completing high school or college degrees and for getting health care, child care and housing, HHS said in a news release Friday.

The grants can also be used to combat violence against pregnant women, the release said.

In an e-mail announcing the initiative to nonprofit groups on Friday, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at HHS tied the new fund to the abortion issue.

“It was only a year ago that President Obama gave a seminal speech at Notre Dame urging our nation to find common ground on the issue of abortion and unintended pregnancies,” said the e-mail, which was obtained by CNN.

“The Pregnancy Assistance Fund is a competitive grant program established by the Affordable Care Act to assist women who have decided to carry their pregnancies to term and those who are parenting,” the e-mail continued. “…This funding is another critical step in the President’s vision for common ground.”

HHS did not mention abortion in its news release on the establishment of the fund, which was created by the health care bill that Obama signed in March.

“The opportunity created by the Affordable Care Act will provide States and Tribes needed assistance to support vulnerable teens and women who are pregnant and parenting,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the news release.

“The Pregnancy Assistance Fund provides States the opportunity to link these families to health, education, child care, and other supports that can help brighten the futures of parents and their children,” she said.

Moderate religious groups hailed the measure as an important way for the White House to deliver on its goal of reducing the need for abortion, which Obama articulated last year in establishing the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Pro-life and pro-choice people have gotten behind it so it’s a good first step at reducing abortion and providing support for healthier babes and mothers,” said Kristen Day, executive director of the antiabortion group Democrats for Life of America. “Once we show how effective this is we can go back and expand this program.”

Day, who has consulted with the White House on reproductive health issues, said the new fund also had political benefits for Democrats. “We’ve been working on common ground around abortion for a long time because we want to take it away as a wedge issue,” she said.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America also indicated that it supported the measure.

But conservative anti-abortion groups greeted the announcement of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund more skeptically.

“This money is mandated for services for pregnant teens and women – violence prevention, vocational training,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for CitizenLink, the public policy arm of the evangelical group Focus on the Family. “It would be inaccurate to characterize it as ‘abortion common ground’ since it doesn’t specifically address abortion.”

The new health care law appropriates $25 million for the Pregnancy Assistance Fund each year through 2019, according to HHS. The grants will be awarded competitively.

When Obama established the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2009, the White House said that “it will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.”

The Muskoka Initiative, formally announced Friday, has largely failed to inspire both at home and abroad. Despite the $2.85-billion, five-year commitment of Canadian taxpayer money, the initiative is high on rhetoric but short on detail.

Buzzwords — like voluntary family planning, country ownership, health workers, information systems, continuum of care, accountability and effectiveness — are abundant. But the details are missing. How will the initiative be co-ordinated with existing global health activities, particularly the Global Fund? Will the initiative promote universal access to health care for women and children, and if so, how will this be financed? While named in the communiqué, it is not clear how the initiative fits in with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the UN Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The G8 communiqué claims the initiative will prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children five years and under and 64,000 maternal deaths while enabling 12 million couples to access family planning. Yet no information is provided on how these goals will be achieved. Perhaps this lack of specificity is the reason that matching contributions from other G8 countries were disappointingly low. A request for billions of dollars is normally accompanied by a strategic plan.

The lack of enthusiasm abroad is met with skepticism at home. This government recently cut funds to organizations working for the rights of women in Canada and abroad. It also decimated Status of Women Canada, and shut down gender equality units at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canada to contribute to reducing maternal mortality, he must recognize that maternal health is not a one-off, stand-alone issue.

Improving maternal health depends on the protection, promotion and advancement of the rights and freedoms of women and girls. Canada needs to push countries to fully respect these rights and support programs at home and abroad that allow women and girls to realize them.

Such rights include the ability to access affordable, appropriate and effective health care, as well as the right to clean water and sanitation. Women have a right to be educated, deserve equal opportunities for employment and credit, as well as protection of their property and inheritance rights. The right of women to mobilize as members of civil society and to seek political office must be supported. Voluntary family planning is only voluntary if women’s rights are respected and if they have choice. To quote from the Beijing Platform, women must “have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

The Muskoka Initiative also needs to be closely linked to Canadian engagement in broader global health initiatives. In advance of the UN’s September MDG Summit, experts are debating how to generate more resources while ensuring that global health interventions are better co-ordinated and managed at the country level. Despite its G8 focus on maternal health, Canada has been largely silent on these debates, nor are they reflected in the G8 communiqué.

This silence is not new. Canada’s response to global health challenges has been largely reactive, driven by public policy issues such as the threat of H1N1, or by international processes at the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies. This policy vacuum is accompanied by institutional fragmentation. Global health responsibilities are dispersed among CIDA, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. CIDA does not even list health as one of its three priorities, while Health Canada has few resources for international programming.

Canada, with its expertise in public health and its experience delivering universal health care to a dispersed and diverse population, should be a natural leader in global health. To realize this leadership potential, the government should articulate a bold Global Health Strategy — like the U.S. and British strategies — that identifies how Canada’s global health engagement will protect and improve the health of Canadians and of people around the world. This vision would articulate how best to marshal Canadian government, civil society and academic resources, and clearly delineate institutional responsibilities to implement global health initiatives.

Harper can take this opportunity to frame the maternal health initiative as a key component of Canada’s larger engagement on global health, and accompany the initiative by championing the rights of women and girls. Doing so will not only allay the cynics, it will provide a more inspirational, successful and sustainable foundation for the Muskoka Maternal Health Initiative.

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.

Women’s civil society groups were noticeable by their absence from the landmark Haiti donor conference on 31 March, which secured pledges of US$5.3 billion over the next two years to support the country’s post-quake recovery.

Their lack of a presence at the meeting was indicative of a broader missing voice in Haiti’s long-term reconstruction prospects, gender activists argued.

“Why are we not there right now, where are the women at this conference?” questioned Marie St. Cyr, a Haitian human rights advocate. “We still don’t have full participation and we certainly don’t have full inclusion. Haitian women are still being raped…they are supporting more than half of the households, and yet they are not being heard.”

More than 100 women’s groups attended an alternative conference hosted by MADRE, a New York-based organization. St. Cyr said she had lobbied for the past month to join the donor meeting, but had not received a response from any of the various co-hosts, including the United Nations, the Haitian and the US governments.

Haitian-born Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur, who represented the diaspora community at the main conference, said she was not surprised to look across the room and see few other female faces. The text of the Haitian government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), a blueprint plan for recovery, offered a similar lack of gender diversity, she explained.

“There needs to be a bolder vision for reconstruction, and right now, there isn’t a very clear place for women within that,” St. Fleur told IRIN. “But I think we make a mistake when we say that we have to have a place for women, because they must not placed in a corner like that. Women and girls must be integrated throughout this plan. And that doesn’t exist, right now.”

The PDNA report divides reconstruction into eight main themes, including governance, infrastructure sectors, and environmental and disaster risk development. Women gain inclusion only in the “cross-cutting sector,” which also addresses youth and culture.

The Haiti Gender Equality Collaborative, a coalition of civil society organizations, placed its own spin on the document, issuing a modified “gender shadow report” at the MADRE conference, hosted across the street from the United Nation Secretariat. It highlights the gender concerns absent from Haiti’s PDNA, and offers recommendations for gender-sensitive plans of action.

Enabling the participation of gender equality experts in all sectors of reconstruction, and ensuring that funding streams include gender-specific allocations are among the alternative report’s proposals, according to Kathy Mangones, UNIFEM’s Haiti office representative.

Women in Haiti, however, do not have the luxury of waiting for action, St. Cyr noted. Before the earthquake, they were running half the households – and those numbers have now risen, with women taking in children from other families.

The issue of sexual violence also remains an enormously grave, though largely undocumented one.

Edmond Mulet, the acting head of the UN Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, said at a press conference last week that while the numbers are unknown, reports of sexual violence and rape are on the rise. The UN considers the matter “urgent,” he said, and plans on deploying an all-female Bangladesh Formed Police Unit (FPU) of military peacekeepers imminently. It will be the second-ever all-female FPU the UN has deployed, and Mulet anticipated their presence in the often cramped and poorly-lit displaced camps “would be extremely helpful.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted in a closing press conference at the main donor meeting that he remained “painfully aware, in particular, of reports of sexual violence”. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, among others, also spoke of the need to prioritize the needs of women.

Yet without women at the table, the sentiment fell short, said St. Cyr.

“We need to be heard because the system has failed us so miserably. These systematic failures have shown that our voices have not been taken into consideration or prioritized,” she said. “This is beyond words. It’s beyond laws that are not being implemented. It’s beyond dollars. It’s a country in degradation that is progressively being buried. The earthquake didn’t bury Haiti, Haiti has been continuously buried for years, and it’s time we help dig it out.”

Giving sex workers condoms and advice will not bring down HIV rates, says Elena Reynaga, general secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Sex Workers Network. But giving them their rights will.

It is of little use giving condoms and HIV prevention advice to women who are harrassed by the police and abused and cheated by their clients because of their illegitimacy, she says. If you want sex workers to negotiate with their clients, you have to give them status. They have to have some rights.

She does not see why this, the oldest profession, should not be treated like any other. Everybody has to work for a living, she says. Some women, brought up in poverty, have nothing else to offer.

But the network, which now has 17 member organisations across Latin America, has begun to challenge attitudes. “We now say what we think – not what society wants to hear from us. We are trying to get out of the role of the victim to say ‘this body is mine – why do I have to ask the permission of society to do what I want to do with it? It is the only thing that is mine. If I want to make money from that, it is my right’.

“We have rights as women and we need to fight for that – to have the same benefits that all workers have to get out of the darkness.”

Society is two-faced, she says. There is demand for commercial sex, but discrimination against those who provide it. Her argument is that sex workers should be treated like any other kind. And yes – they need pensions. “We want to contribute to the national security for when we are old,” she says.

Reynaga has the backing of the International HIV/Aids Alliance for her demand that Global Fund money should be channelled through sex workers’ organisations, and not NGOs that think they know what is best for them.

“Remember all the millions of dollars that the Global Fund has spent in our region. Very little has reached us,” she says. In only three countries – Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay – have any grants gone to sex workers organisations. Out of $170 million spent in Latin America, according to an report by the Alliance, only 4.6% went directly to be managed by key populations. Yet where it has, she says, there have been significant achievements. In Ecuador, they advocated for the end of a compulsory card that each sex worker had to keep with her, listing the sexually transmitted infections she had suffered. Each woman had to pay a doctor $26 a week for a check-up. “The doctors always invented STIs to sell medicines to them,” says Reynaga, “and they were also victims of the doctors.” But now, she says, sex workers are now far more readily seeking healthcare when they need it.

And they need and want education, she says. Reynaga, brought up in dire poverty in Argentina, went to school so that she could run the network and speak on equal terms with politicians and officials. She was 47 at the time. Learning to read and write has transformed her life. Education opens horizons and for many – although not all – it shows a path out of sex work altogether.

Part of a longer article at

The solidarity camp is named after Myriam Merlet, a feminist activist who was killed in the earthquake last week. As an outspoken activist, Merlet helped draw international attention to the use of rape as a political weapon.

A Feminist International Solidarity Camp to help mobilize and transfer resources, and to open channels of communications directly with Haitian women will open next week on the frontier Jemaní between the Dominican Republic & Haiti. As a project organized by women’s groups in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America & the Caribbean and beyond, the Camp will be eventually handed over to Haitian women.

The international solidarity camp is named after Myriam Merlet, It is organized as a Resource Center for international solidarity efforts to send resources directly to the women of Haiti, and also work with Human Rights defenders from Haiti to monitor, denounce and demand legal action regarding violations of human rights including women’s human rights during the earthquake and the aftermath.

Also to be included is a Health Center to help deal the grief, injuries, illnesses and traumas of the earthquake.

Coordinators of these efforts include the Women & Health Collective (COMUS) a women’s human rights and health NGO, and CIPAF, a feminist NGO of the Dominican Republic that works in building social/political movement.

The space will also serve as a Communications Center to include radio transmissions via Internet by FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavour), as well as blogs, and electronic networks organized by women’s communication networks throughout the region. FIRE was the first international internet radio created and run by women from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Participation is needed, particularly to find resources, share information from the Camp and develop solidarity in your place. .

For more information in English about the Myriam Merlet Feminist International Solidarity Camp and other ways to participate go to: (webpage of FIRE radio) as of Febrary 1st.

Write in English to

Or write in Spanish to: Colectiva Mujer y Salud in the Dominican Republic at

Centro de Investigación para la Acción Femenina CIPAF also in the Dominican Republic at:

See also: “Myriam Merlet, Anne Marie Coriolan & Magalie Marcelin Feminist International Camp”

and: UNIFEM Mourns the Deaths of 4 Women’s Rights Activists in Haiti

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has issued a call for close to US$2 million to provide urgently needed services for the protection of women and their families. In particular, UNIFEM seeks to rebuild women’s shelters and expand the provision of emergency services for women.

The call for funding is made through the system-wide flash appeal for US$562 million that was issued by the United Nations on 15 January 2010. In order to meet the urgent need for the protection of women and their communities, UNIFEM is also calling upon its National Committees and supporters worldwide to strengthen these fund-raising efforts and boost UNIFEM programming in Haiti.

As part of the overall UN effort in the country, the UNIFEM team in Haiti will work alongside NGO partners to strengthen services to victims of gender-based violence and their families in women’s centres and temporary shelters in Port au Prince and Jacmel. The money raised will go towards a range of efforts from emergency community-based violence prevention programmes to repairing damage of existing centres and providing humanitarian aid like emergency supplies, staff and counselling services in communities most affected. UNIFEM will also focus on coordination efforts to ensure that emergency and early recovery assessment and assistance incorporate a gender perspective to adequately address the differentiated needs of women, men and children.

UNIFEM’s work on the ground shows that too often natural disasters result in greater household and institutional instability and to increasing women’s vulnerability to violence, abuse and sexual exploitation. “This terrible humanitarian disaster is likely to impact girls, boys, women and men in different ways,” UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi said. “UNIFEM is committed along with its partners and the UN system to working to ensure that attention is given to addressing these differential impacts and in particular for ensuring the personal security of women and girls.”

See also:
* After the Quake, Depend on Women
* Work in Haiti/Work with Women. A gender responsive approach
* Why “women and children first” persists – We talk to experts about painful choices in the Haiti relief effort
* Peril Or Protection: The Link Between Livelihoods and Gender-based Violence in Displacement Settings
* Meeting Haitian Women’s Specific Needs
* Providing Gender Responsive Aid in Haiti
* Haiti’s Quake Will Disproportionately Impact Women and Girls

Nearly 90,000 women reported they were raped in the United States last year.

It’s estimated another 75,000 rapes went unreported. But while rape convictions are up – a five month CBS News investigation raises questions about just how many rapists are actually being brought to justice.

Rape in this country is surprisingly easy to get away with. The arrest rate last year was just 25 percent – a fraction of the rate for murder – 79 percent, and aggravated assault – 51 percent.

“When we have talked to victims, they very much so doubt that it was worth it for them to go to the police,” said Sarah Tofte, US Program Researcher for Human Rights Watch. “They’re incredibly disillusioned with the criminal justice system, and that sends a terrible message.”

The suspect’s attorney told police his client never had sex with Valerie. Yet an exam revealed “evidence of forced sexual penetration.” Semen found on her underwear. Nurses took a rape kit- a collection of swabs and clothing that provide DNA evidence. The suspect provided a sample. But the DNA was never tested.

“Testing the kit is one way to affirm a victim’s story,” Tofte said, “and discredit the suspect’s story.”

A five month CBS News Investigation has found a staggering number of rape kits — that could contain incriminating DNA evidence — have never been sent to crime labs for testing.

Many untested for years. And that’s not all. At least twelve major American cities: Anchorage, Baltimore, Birmingham, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Oakland, Phoenix, San Diego said they have no idea how many of rape kits in storage are untested.

Police departments told us rape kits don’t get tested due to cost – up to $1,500 a kit — a decision not to prosecute, and victims who recant or are unwilling to move forward with a case.

Psychologist David Lisak from the University of Massachusetts has spent twenty years studying the minds of rapists.

“Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim. Take the statement from the alleged perpetrator and then throw up our hands because they are saying conflicting things,” he said. “That’s not how we investigate other crimes.”

Valerie was told her rape kit wasn’t tested because they didn’t have the money. But when we caught up with Kenton County prosecutor, Rob Sanders, he told us something else. “The results of the DNA test would not have made the case one way or another,” Sanders said.

Sanders said his office made a “judgment call” the case was unwinnable in court — claiming there were issues with Valerie’s memory and the alcohol involved. A practice, says Lisak that often plays right into the hands of rapists.

“Predators look for vulnerable people and they prey on vulnerable people,” Lisak said. And if, as a criminal justice system, we’re going to essentially turn from any victim who was drinking or any victim who was in some way vulnerable – we’re essentially giving a free pass to sexual predators.”

Worried they were doing just that, CBS News has learned the Oakland California Police Department is now plowing through 489 untested rape kits from stranger rapes dating back six years, looking for evidence in what they believe to be “solvable cases.”

The Los Angeles Police Department is testing a backlog of nearly 3,000 rape kits. LAPD’s new Chief Charles Beck says efforts to reduce the backlog have “resulted in 405 hits” in the FBI DNA database.

In New York City, prosecutors are even more aggressive – testing every rape kit, even in cases of acquaintance rape – over 1,300 last year alone.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” said Mecki Prinz of the NY Medical Examiners Office.

The results are stunning. Today New York City’s arrest rate for rape is 70 percent – triple the national average.

Prinz says testing kits in acquaintance cases can tie suspects to other attacks, “We have lots of situations where a domestic situation or an acquaintance situation is actually an indication of the male involved responsible for other rapes,” she said.

“I feel like they didn’t do their job to protect me and to protect everyone else,” Valerie said. “I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever forget. I don’t think it’s something you can forget.”

For full story and links including helplines in the US go to

See also:
* The introduction in the Senate of the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 is a significant step toward eliminating the backlog of evidence in rape cases – Human Rights Watch.

While medical and psychological care are being provided to survivors of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 7,000 women and girls have been raped this year alone, UN and aid workers on the ground say the funding response has been too narrow, leaving key issues inadequately addressed.

“Increased international attention to sexual violence in DRC has led to a substantial increase of funding, accompanied by a disproportionate lack of evaluations of the real needs on the ground and lack of understanding of the complexity of the issues,” notes the Comprehensive Strategy on Combating Sexual Violence in the DRC – – released in 2009 by the Office of the Senior Adviser and Coordinator for Sexual Violence in the DRC.

“Efforts are unevenly distributed […] The programmatic focus is essentially on two sectors: medical and judicial support to sexual violence survivors, while the remaining sectors show very few interventions,” according to the strategy.

The sectors receiving proportionally less funding and attention include prevention and reintegration.

“Just treating the results of sexual violence is a catastrophe. No one is really treating the root or the entirety of the situation. If you just care for the raped women, you will be caring for them up until infinity,” said Butros Kalere of Women for Women –

Among those feeling the funding pinch is Heal Africa – – a Goma-based NGO that provides medical and social care in the region.

“Sexual violence is not just a physical problem, but we often don’t have enough funding and thus, we are limited to real work only for the immediate victims,” the organization’s community health coordinator, Jean Robert Likofata Esanga, told IRIN, adding that its programmes that focus on prevention, rehabilitation and re-integration continually suffer under-funding.

Effective prevention programming, according to Tasha Gill, child protection officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the DRC, “employs advocacy and awareness to mobilize the communities through community leaders, identifying the issues and working towards longer-term changes within local social norms, while alternately working towards protecting those who are most vulnerable”.

Gill also noted that the UN planned over the next few years to better direct funding so that “funding for this sort of prevention programming no longer falls through the cracks”.

Even organizations that specialize in protection are feeling the pinch. “We usually try to reduce vulnerability and protect 1,000 women in the communities on the outskirts of Goma by providing them with skills training, literacy and financing a portion of their activities,” explained an employee of one such NGO. “Now that our donor wants us to work more in an ’emergency’ setting and we are confined to working in the IDP camps, it is very difficult as the population is always in flux. It’s hard to keep track of them and be consistent with the training.”

The UN’s goals for re-integration include “ensuring victims’ satisfaction and guaranteeing non-recurrence of sexual violence” as well as ongoing psycho-social care. However, the services are fragmented due to minimal funding, complicated coordination and the distances to be covered for transportation and service provision. Even in Goma’s Kibati I IDP camp in July, women were returning without access to further counselling, education or skills-building.

As Constance, a Heal Africa counsellor, said: “We would like to help each victim reintegrate smoothly and carry on with counselling sessions, but we are limited to having a clinic or a skill centre nearby. We do not have the funds to help every woman through her return.”

The UN’s ideal plan for re-integration also includes a “survivor-centred skill approach”. While some NGOs have funding to provide women with the opportunity to learn skills during their hospital stays, their use of those skills upon their return can be restricted by location and availability of material. For example, women are restricted in practising their sewing skills by lack of access to a sewing machine, while literacy skills are restricted by the lack of schools.

“Medical, protection, and legal/justice services and psycho-social care are part of treating sexual violence, but these services also need to include enabling women to be able to provide for their families… for them to feel like they can move on and take care of their children,” Mendy Marsh, an independent expert on sexual violence, told IRIN.

Until funding for programmes addressing sexual violence in the DRC makes this a priority, prevention and rehabilitation funding and programming will continue to have to make do with a small percentage of current funding.

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

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog has demanded that the Finance Ministry immediately release some NIS 16 million in left-over funding for an already approved initiative aimed to both improve treatment for victims of rape and sexual assault and to assist those wanting to escape the sex industry.

Speaking at a session of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, he called to examine the achievements of the two-year-old program, which has been touted by the previous government as a “completely new way for treating rape victims.”

Herzog said a large portion of funds promised for the work had not yet been used and he urged the Treasury to immediately release the money so that his ministry could continue developing the initiative.

“We are talking about a program that is at the heart of our office and which offers all female victims the assistance they need,” said Herzog, highlighting that the program’s budget was only designed to last until 2010. “Releasing the funds for this program will allow us to create new methods to deal with this sensitive issue.”

Split into two sections, one dealing with victims of rape and sexual assault and the other designed to provide rehabilitation services for people who worked in prostitution, those who have been working on the project said great strides had been made in the past two years.

For rape victims, three new crisis centers are under development in Jerusalem, Beersheba and Nazareth, while three existing places in Haifa, Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv have already been renovated and expanded.

In addition, the program aimed at assisting sex industry workers has established a successful mobile unit in Tel Aviv providing medical care and advice, as well as an emergency hot line, a daycare center and a hostel for those who want to break free.

“This program literally saves lives,” said Committee on the Status of Women chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud). “It is aimed at helping some of the weakest people in the population who in the past did not receive any kind of assistance.”

However, there was still a very long way to go in terms of improving the program’s overall results, she added.

Yael Ballas-Avni, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, Jerusalem branch, who was present at Monday’s hearing, said that even though she was buoyed by the dedication of government professionals to improve services for rape victims and former sex industry workers, greater investment was still needed.

“If one in three women in this country is a victim of sexual assault, then it is clear that six centers treating 100 women each is not enough,” she said, quoting her organization’s statistics.

A Finance Ministry spokesman said the budget for the program was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office and that left-over funds from the 2007 state budget had already been added to that of 2008.

He added that additional funding left over from 2008 had not yet been transferred to this year’s budget, because that was only approved by the Knesset last week.

Calls from rape and sexual assault victims seeking help and counselling from a NSW crisis centre have more than doubled in three years.

The State Government will now provide an extra $616,000 to expand the NSW Rape Crisis Centre after calls jumped from 2927 in 2004/05 to 6730 in 2008/09.

It provides 24-hour, seven days a week crisis intervention, counselling, information, referral and support for adult and child victims of sexual assault and their supporters.

“Sexual assault is an extremely distressing crime against women and it is important victims get the appropriate support and professional counselling services they need to help rebuild their lives after such a traumatic experience,’’ Health Minister John Della Bosca said.

The funding will help to expand the service which will now will be able to provide services for adult survivors of child sexual assault.

Details: 1800 424 017 or visit

See press release at

Also Causes Delays for Many Who Do Obtain the Procedure

Approximately one-fourth of women who would obtain a Medicaid-funded abortion if given the option are instead forced to carry their pregnancy to term when state laws restrict Medicaid funding for abortion, because they lack the money to pay for the procedure themselves. According to a new report, “Restrictions on Medicaid Funding for Abortions: A Literature Review,” by the Guttmacher Institute and Ibis Reproductive Health, Medicaid funding restrictions also delay some women’s abortion by 2–3 weeks, primarily because of difficulties women encounter in raising funds to pay for the procedure.

Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow Medicaid funds to be used for an abortion only in cases of rape and incest, or if the woman’s life is endangered, in accordance with the federal Hyde Amendment; only 17 states have policies to use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions. Lacking insurance coverage, some poor women need a considerable amount of time to come up with the money to pay for an abortion, and may have to pull resources from other family necessities, like food or rent, if they are able to find the funds at all. As the cost of the procedure increases with gestation, many poor women become trapped in a vicious cycle of scrambling to raise enough money before the cost—and risk—increase further, while others are left with no recourse but to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

“The research literature clearly shows that restricting Medicaid funding for abortion forces many poor women—already at greatest risk of unintended pregnancy—to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term,” says Stanley Henshaw, Guttmacher Institute senior fellow and the study’s lead author. “Antiabortion advocates are using these restrictions in a misguided attempt to reduce the nation’s abortion rate. Instead, we should be focusing on reducing the underlying cause of abortion—unintended pregnancy—by ensuring better access to and use of contraceptives.”

The Hyde Amendment allows federal funding for abortion only in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. In addition, Congress has enacted legislation essentially banning coverage of abortion for women whose medical insurance is provided by the federal government, including federal employees, military personnel, women in federal prisons and low-income residents of the District of Columbia, which does not have a state funding option. The issue of federal funding goes to the heart of who has access to abortion in the United States and under what circumstances.

“In his recent budget proposal, President Obama had the option of calling on Congress to end the funding restrictions imposed by the federal Hyde Amendment. We are disappointed that he did not do so,” says Heather Boonstra, a Guttmacher senior public policy associate. “It is time for Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment and restore Medicaid coverage for abortion so that every woman, regardless of her economic circumstances, has the right to decide when and whether to have a child.”

Click here for the full report “Restrictions on Medicaid Funding for Abortions: A Literature Review,” by Stanley K. Henshaw, Theodore J. Joyce, Amanda Dennis, Lawrence B. Finer and Kelly Blanchard.

The Guttmacher Institute – – advances sexual and reproductive health worldwide through research, policy analysis and public education.

A dramatic plunge in international donor funding for family planning is threatening to undermine other humanitarian goals such as fighting poverty and hunger, as well as efforts to counter global warming, according to the UN and other specialists.

An estimated 200 million women lack contraception; the potential surge in the world’s population could well reverse humanitarian gains, experts say.

The largest amount earmarked for family planning since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo was in 1995, with US$723 million committed, remaining above $600 million for all but one year to 1999. The latest estimate, for 2007, is about $338 million.

“That’s a hell of a decline,” UN Population Fund (UNFPA) senior demographer Stan Bernstein told IRIN. Nor does it take account of inflation, making the drop even sharper in 1994 dollars. The word disaster is “entirely appropriate”, he said, noting that the issue seemed to have been pushed to the backburner by donors and media alike.

Akinrinola Bankole, director of international research at the US-based Guttmacher Institute, an NGO focused on reproductive health research and policy analysis, said: “Unless there is a renewed attention on population and funding for family planning, high fertility, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, in spite of desires for smaller families and high unmet need for contraception will aggravate the negative consequences, some of which are already horrendous.”

UNFPA executive director Thoraya A Obaid is calling for an increase in funding regardless of the financial crisis. “We have to protect the gains made and ensure that these gains do not slip back as more and more people are slipping back to poverty.”

In an effort to push the issue up the development agenda ahead of World Population Day on 11 July, UNFPA convened 30 leading family planning experts in New York at the end of June, including representatives from Bangladesh, Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, India, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, the UK and USA.

“In one sense the issue is a victim of its own success,” Carmen Barroso, western hemisphere director at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, told IRIN, adding that “enormous progress in certain countries, regions, and segments of the population” had blinded people to the problems in other regions where the poor continue to be neglected.

“This is like declaring the marathon is over when the fastest runners have crossed the finishing line; people don’t appreciate the level of unmet demand in poorer countries,” Bernstein said, citing Kenya and Pakistan as examples of countries where fertility rates that had been falling are now stalled.

“There are a growing number of countries where there has not been the progress that there was in the past and some of that was because the expectation was that things were on the right track and so you could start putting money elsewhere,” he said.

“The difficulty of course is that every year more young women are ageing into their reproductive years and they would not have heard information campaigns that were done 10 years ago… It used to be that when you arrived in a developing country you would see billboards or hear radio spots advocating family planning; now all you see are HIV/AIDS billboards. That’s where all the money went.”

Bankole also said a decline in fertility in regions other than sub-Saharan Africa had nurtured the belief that a decline in all regions was inevitable.

“The issue of family planning has been demonized by the extreme conservatives who have [made] it … a taboo issue,” Barroso said.

Bernstein cited the link some people made between family planning and abortion. “And they are linked,” he added. “The link is family planning services reduce recourse to abortion, it’s as simple as that, but some people put family planning and abortion in the same category of wrong choices.”

He also noted that reproductive health in general and family planning in particular were not originally in the Millennium Development Goals because reproductive health and issues about women’s rights were felt to be too controversial. Universal access to family planning by 2015 is now included under the MDG of improved maternal health, but its absence at the start slowed things down, he added.

Finally there is the fatigue resulting from the very long-standing persistence of the issue. “There’s a little bit of ‘this is an old story, didn’t we talk about population growth and its impact in the 70s and the 80s,’ and it sort of doesn’t have the grab of the new,” Bernstein said. “It’s not that there have been that many new contraceptive technologies invented since; it’s always the new thing, the new invention that gets attention.”

A recent meeting in London on climate change and population noted that while the links were complex, population growth was clearly one of the drivers, particularly on a local scale, with regard to such issues as deforestation and water sustainability.

“It’s not a very simple relationship but it’s certainly one of the important factors in climate change,” Barroso said.

As with most such issues, it is the poor, especially in Africa, who bear the brunt of the funding shortfall.

“Many African countries are going to double or even triple in size between now and mid-century. And that I think poses huge problems for development. We need to debate population issues openly and honestly in a way that we haven’t been prepared to do in the last 10 to 15 years,” John Cleland, professor of demography at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told a news conference in June.

Obaid agreed: “I would like to stress that investments in women and reproductive health are not only decisive for overcoming poverty, managing the speed of population growth and achieving the MDGs; they are also cost-effective,” she told IRIN.

“An investment in contraceptive services can be recouped four times over – and sometimes dramatically more over the long term – by reducing the need for public spending on health, education, housing, sanitation and other social services.”

She called on decision-makers, now more than ever, to increase resources for family planning. “I do not think that any of the crises we are facing today – whether it is the food crisis, the water crisis, the financial crisis or the crisis of climate change – can be managed unless greater attention is paid to population issues,” she said.

The well-being of millions of people could be put at risk as HIV prevention and treatment programmes fall victim to funding cutbacks as a result of the global economic crisis, warns a new report released today by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Bank.

The report, “The Global Economic Crisis and HIV Prevention and Treatment Programmes: Vulnerabilities and Impact,” says that eight countries – which together are home to more than 60 per cent of all those receiving AIDS treatment – are already facing shortages of antiretroviral drugs or other disruptions to treatment.

In addition, 34 out of the 71 surveyed countries report that HIV prevention programmes focusing on high-risk groups such as sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men are already feeling the impact of the crisis.

“This is a wake-up call which shows that many of our gains in HIV prevention and treatment could unravel because of the impact of the economic crisis,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.

He added that any interruption or slowing down in funding would be a disaster for the 4 million people on treatment and the millions more currently being reached by HIV prevention programmes.

In 2006, the General Assembly pledged to achieve universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010. A report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on progress on HIV/AIDS commitments shows that achieving national universal access targets by 2010 will require an estimated annual outlay of $25 billion within two years.

According to a news release issued by the agencies, there are no reports of major cuts in donor assistance for 2009. However, it was reported that current funding commitments for treatment programmes in nearly 40 per cent of the countries examined will end in 2009 or 2010. It is feared that external aid will not increase or even be maintained at current levels.

“This evidence shows us that people on AIDS treatment could be in danger of losing their place in the lifeboat and bleak prospects for millions more people who are waiting to start treatment,” Joy Phumaphi, the World Bank’s Vice President for Human Development, stated.

“We cannot afford a ‘lost generation’ of people as a result of this crisis,” she added. “It is essential that developing countries and aid donors act now to protect and expand their spending on health, education and other basic social services, invest effectively and efficiently, and target these efforts to make sure they reach the poorest and most vulnerable groups.”

The joint report outlines several steps to maintain and expand access to HIV treatment and prevention during the economic crisis, including using existing funding better, addressing urgent funding gaps and monitoring risks of programme interruption. It also recommends looking at sources of financing that can be sustained over the long term.

Addressing a meeting of the General Assembly convened last month to assess progress in the response to the global epidemic, Mr. Ban said the economic crisis should not be an excuse to abandon commitments. Rather, it should be an impetus to make the right investments that will yield benefits for generations to come.

“Now is not the time to falter,” he said, noting that a vigorous and effective response to the AIDS epidemic is integrally linked to meeting global commitments to reduce poverty, prevent hunger, lower childhood mortality, and protect the health and well-being of women.

Months after the Conservatives announced new money for the Women’s Community Fund, women’s groups across the country still can’t access this funding because of the Harper government’s ongoing inability to keep its promises, Liberal Status of Women Critic Anita Neville said today.

“Nearly a month ago, Status of Women Minister Helena Guergis told the Parliamentary Status of Women Committee that a call for proposals would be coming out shortly that would allow women’s groups to apply for funding,” said Ms. Neville. “We’re still waiting for action three months into the fiscal year, leaving groups without access to promised funding.”

The Women’s Community Fund was intended to provide grants and contributions to projects that aim to increase awareness among women in identifying and removing barriers to their participation in their communities. Ms. Neville indicated that first the Conservatives eliminated funding to equality-seeking organizations and now they appear to still be processing 2008 funding allocations with no call for proposals for 2009.

“The Harper government continues to fail the needs of Canadian women,” she said.

Ms. Neville said this is the same government that has been promising a so-called ‘Action Plan’ since Budget 2008 to advance equality for women by improving their economic and social conditions and their participation in democratic life.

“We have been advised by a number of groups that they have not been consulted by this Conservative government, and where there have been consultations, they have been minimal at best,” she said.

“The Minister and her department have no plan and no vision for women in this country. There are still too many Canadian women living in poverty, earning less than their male counterparts and unable to participate in their communities due to their circumstances. We need real action – and we need it now.”