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Bougainville Elects Former Revolutionary Leader as President ahead of Tough Talks on Independence — Global Issues

Following an almost unanimous 97.7 percent referendum vote in November of last year for Independence from PNG, the people of Bougainville returned to the polls last month to decide on a new government. Bougainville’s main town of Buka. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS
  • by Catherine Wilson (canberra, australia)
  • Inter Press Service

“I, as your mandated President, am ready to take Bougainville forward, focussing on law and order, anti-corruption policies, the ratification process and improving the fiscal self-reliance of Bougainville,” Toroama said in a public statement on the occasion of his swearing in as President in the region’s main town of Buka on the Sept. 25. He will be supported in a caretaker government for the next two weeks by his new Vice President, Patrick Nisira, MP for Halia constituency in North Bougainville, and Therese Kaetavara, Women’s Representative for South Bougainville.

Toroama, who defeated 24 other presidential candidates, is a strategic choice. Following an almost unanimous 97.7 percent referendum vote in November of last year for Independence from PNG, the people of Bougainville returned to the polls last month to decide on a new government. It is now tasked with carrying the autonomous region on a challenging political journey toward the long held local aspiration for nationhood.

“The referendum was a turning point…looking at all the 25 candidates, people were looking for who could deliver and successfully talk about Independence ,” Aloysius Laukai, Manager of the local New Dawn FM radio station, told IPS. Laukai claims that “the election was conducted well” and widely accepted as free and fair. The campaigning and voting periods were reported as organised and peaceful, in spite of some alleged cases of misplaced voting papers.

The islands of Bougainville, with a population of about 300,000 people, are located more than 900 kilometres east of the PNG mainland. Bougainville hit the world headlines in 1989 when an indigenous landowner uprising against the then Rio-Tinto majority owned Panguna copper mine on Bougainville Island escalated into a civil war which raged on until a ceasefire in 1998. The peace agreement, signed in 2001, provided for establishing an autonomous government, which occurred in 2005, and a referendum on the region’s future political status.

Despite having only one recorded case of COVID-19, to date, the Bougainville government declared a state of emergency in March, which led to the delay of the general election, originally planned during the first half of this year.

Former President John Momis, who has led Bougainville for the past 10 years and been a prominent local political leader and figure of stability for more than four decades, bowed out of the race, having served the maximum two terms in office. The field then mushroomed into an unprecedented more than 400 candidates vying for 40 parliamentary seats and 25 hopefuls for the presidency.

Alluding to the stakes ahead, Momis called for unity as voters turned out to cast their ballots from Aug. 12 to Sept. 1. “Let us all walk this journey together as one people and one voice to decide our leaders for this next government that will lead us to our ultimate political future that is within the confines of democratic values and international best practice standards,” Momis stated on Aug. 17.

While also a pro-Independence advocate, Momis, a former Roman Catholic priest with extensive experience in peacetime politics, is a contrasting figure to Toroama. His achievements include serving in the national parliament, playing a major role in the region’s peace negotiations and serving as Bougainville’s governor after the conflict from 1999 to 2005.

The new President was a commander in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, a guerrilla force which instigated an armed uprising following grievances about the environmental devastation and economic inequity associated with the foreign-owned Panguna mine. He has not been a political leader or served in government administration, although he played a vital role in the peace talks which ended the conflict. More recently, he has been a successful cocoa farmer.

Geraldine Valei, Executive Officer of the Bougainville Women’s Federation, offered another perspective on the overwhelming support Toroama received at the ballot box. “The reason why we say that he is the right person is because, in our Melanesian way of resolving conflicts, if you start the war then you are the one to resolve it,” Valei told IPS, adding that, “he will, of course, need support from very good advisors to lead as President.”

Toroama’s rivals for the top office included James Tanis, who held the office of President briefly from 2008 to 2010, another former rebel ex-combatant, Sam Kauona, and local businessman, Fidelis Semoso. There were also two female candidates in the running: Ruby Miringka, a healthcare professional who has also worked for the Bougainville Referendum Commission, and Magdalene Toroansi, a former Bougainville Minister for Women.

Bougainville’s fourth government will face enormous challenges in the next five-year term to build a weak economy, improve governance and the capacity of institutions, all still in need of reconstruction and development following widespread destruction on the islands during the conflict. 

Valei told IPS that she would like to see the new President “strengthen good governance, have zero tolerance of corruption, strengthen law and order and advocate for the ratification of Independence from Papua New Guinea”.

Toroama also faces huge public expectations to bring about the region’s long held dream of Independence. Aspirations for self-determination in the region pre-date both the civil war and PNG’s Independence. The islands of Bougainville were brought under the umbrella of the new Papua New Guinean nation in 1975. But they are geographically located far from the PNG mainland and the islanders trace their ethnic and cultural kinship instead to the Solomon Islands, an archipelago to the immediate southeast of Bougainville.

However, the decisive result of last year’s referendum is non-binding. Long and complex negotiations between the PNG and Bougainville governments to agree the region’s new political status will occur over the coming months and years. Talks at the national level will be informed by input from local forums in Bougainville, comprising representatives of communities, ex-combatants, business leaders, women and youths. The final decision will then be ratified by the PNG Parliament. There is no deadline for this process, but Toroama has indicated he would like a decision reached within two to three years.

PNG’s Prime Minister, James Marape, has voiced his support and respect for the process ahead and the wishes of the Bougainville people. “I look forward to working with President-Elect Toroama in progressing consultations on the outcome of the recent referendum and securing long term economic development and a lasting peace for the people of Bougainville,” Marape said in a statement issued soon after the election results were announced.

Yet, the PNG Government is known to not favour full secession, preferring the region to remain within a ‘united’ PNG under a form of greater autonomy.

Looking ahead, economic experts claim that, with a weak economy and heavy dependence on international aid and funding from the national government, Bougainville would face a long period of transition to being an economically viable state, potentially up to 20 years.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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The Exploitative System that Traps Nigerian Women as Slaves in Lebanon — Global Issues

Nigerian migrants arrive in Lagos from Libya. Nigeria has, in the last two years, evacuated thousands of its citizens from Libya and Lebanon after they suffered several forms of abuses, including enslavement. Trafficking has resulted in at least 80,000 Nigerian women being held as sex slaves and forced labour in the Middle East. Credit: Sam Olukoya/IPS
  • by Sam Olukoya (lagos, nigeria)
  • Inter Press Service

Obasi is just one of thousands of young Nigerian women trafficked to Lebanon with false promises of a better life. The Lagos-based New Telegraph newspaper quoted a source in the Nigerian embassy in Lebanon as saying that some 4,541 Nigerian women were trafficked to the country last year. The chair of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, described the rate at which Nigerian women are trafficked to Lebanon as “an epidemic”.

After sustaining injuries in the blast, Obasi tried to return to Nigeria but she and four others were stopped at the airport under the exploitative Kafala system.

The system, which is widely practiced in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, prohibits migrant workers from returning to their countries without the permission of their employer.

“Lebanon’s restrictive and exploitative kafala system traps tens of thousands of migrant domestic workers in potentially harmful situations by tying their legal status to their employer, enabling highly abusive conditions amounting at worst to modern-day slavery,” according to Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. The rights organisation called for a revised contract that recognises and protects workers’ internationally guaranteed rights.

In late May, Nigeria attempted to repatriate 60 trafficked women from Lebanon but only 50 could return home. Anti-trafficking activists in the Middle East said the remaining 10 women were held back in Lebanon under the Kafala system.

The Kafala system operates alongside a system that enslaves trafficked women. In April, a Lebanese man posted an advert under the “Buy and Sell in Lebanon” Facebook group. “Domestic worker from Nigeria for sale with new legal document, she is 30 years old, she is very active and very clean,” the advert said in Arabic. The price tag was $1,000.

An outcry from Nigeria forced Lebanese authorities to rescue the woman while a man thought to be responsible for the Facebook post was arrested. The Lebanese Ministry of Labour said the man would be tried in court for human trafficking.

But this is not an isolated case. Many Nigerian women trafficked to the Middle East have spoken out about being sold as slaves.

In January, 23-year-old Ajayi Omolola appeared in an online video saying she and a few other Nigerian women were being held under harsh conditions and that their lives were at risk.

“When we are ill, they don’t take us to the hospital, some of those I arrived in Lebanon with have died,” she said.

Omolola said on arrival in Lebanon, her passport was taken away and she was “sold”.

“I did not realise that they had sold me into slavery,” she said, adding that she only realised the gravity of her situation when her boss told her she could not return to Nigeria because he had “bought her”.

Kikelomo Olayide had a similar account. On arrival in Lebanon from Nigeria she was taken to a market. “In that market, they call us slaves,” she said.

Roland Nwoha, head of programmes/coordinator of migration and human trafficking at Idia Renaissance, a Nigerian organisation working to discourage irregular migration and human trafficking, told IPS that even though Europe is a major attraction for Nigerians in search of a better future abroad, the Middle East is proving an alternative for many.

Nwoha explained that unlike the journey to Europe, which involves a dangerous land journey through the desert and an equally dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, traffickers fly their victims to the Middle East after procuring visas for them with the promise of good jobs.

The chair of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs Tolulope Akande-Sadipe said 80,000 Nigerian women are being held as sex slaves,and forced labour in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Nigerian women trafficked to the Middle East “almost always end in labour and sexual exploitation,” Daniel Atokolo Lagos commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons said.

Gloria Bright, a Nigerian teacher who was promised a teaching job with a monthly salary of $1,000 in Lebanon, was held captive and made to work as a domestic worker upon her arrival. She posted an online video in which she pleaded for help and to be rescued. She said besides being made to work under very harsh conditions, her boss sexually harassed her. “At times he will ask me to massage him, he will hug me, he will kiss me,” she said.

Bright was fortunate to be rescued by Nigerian authorities before the Aug. 4 Beirut blast.

Dabiri-Erewa said the trafficking of Nigerians to Lebanon “is becoming a big embarrassment and it has to be stopped”. In an effort to stop the crime, Nigerian authorities have arrested several people, including Lebanese residents in Nigeria. A Lebanese is being investigated in connection with the trafficking of 27 women to Lebanon, two of whom have been rescued.

The Lebanese ambassador to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, says his embassy is assisting the Nigerian government to stop the trafficking of women to his country. He said the issuance of work visas to Nigerians has been suspended following cases of the abuse of Nigerian women at the hands of their Lebanese employers.

The ambassador said the Lebanese Ministry of Labour will work out a “legal and systemic way to make domestic staff to come into Lebanon legally without the fear of inhuman treatment”.

Nigerian activists, like Nwoha, who are working against human trafficking say the Nigerian government has to do more to curtailing the activities of the traffickers. They said the government should make conditions at home better to stop Nigerians desperately seeking a better life abroad.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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It is Time for a Democratic Global Revolution — Global Issues

The UN’s Security Council, in particular, is suffering from a dysfunctional decision-making method that grants the five victors of the Second World War and official nuclear powers not only a permanent seat but also a veto right. Credit: United Nations
  • Opinion by Andreas Bummel, Daniel Jositch (berlin / berne)
  • Inter Press Service
  • Daniel Jositsch is a Member of the Swiss Senate and President, Democracy Without Borders-Switzerland, and Andreas Bummel is Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders. Twitter: @democracywb

For many, the corona-related global crisis exacerbates a situation that was already critical before the outbreak of the virus.

The climate crisis is unfolding with record temperatures in Siberia, Greenland, the Antarctic and other places like the Middle East. The new climate apartheid is characterized by whether you can afford to shield yourself from such heat or not. Most cannot.

135 million people are facing crisis levels of hunger. There are currently more than 70 million displaced people who have fled war, persecution and conflict. It’s the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis in seventy years.

There is a global inequality crisis. Productivity gains and globalization disproportionately benefit the affluent. Financial assets in the trillions are hidden in offshore accounts from tax authorities. The world’s 26 richest billionaires own as much as the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet.

While global surveys confirm that people across all world regions strongly believe in democracy, there is in fact a democratic retreat. Confidence in the actual performance of democratic governments is waning. Populist nationalism and authoritarianism has been advancing, aided and abetted by social media platforms and the internet. Major arms control treaties are crumbling, geopolitical tensions are rising and multilateralism is under attack.

Civil society and citizens across the world are fighting back, though. Pro-democracy movements are at an all-time high as widespread protests in dozens of countries now and in recent times demonstrate. Freedom and justice have lost no appeal. At the same time, millions of citizens joined climate protests around the world and called for quick and effective action in this critical field.

The present issues are symptoms of a crisis of global governance. There is a scale mismatch between a political world order that is based on 200 states and territories and issues that demand decisive global action.

As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the organization continues to lose significance and impact. The UN is only as strong and effective as its member states allow it to be. The same applies to all intergovernmental organizations and forums, including the World Health Organization that had to launch an investigation into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UN’s Security Council, in particular, is suffering from a dysfunctional decision-making method that grants the five victors of the Second World War and official nuclear powers not only a permanent seat but also a veto right.

If long-lasting solutions are to be achieved, this scale mismatch must be tackled. It is not enough to call on individual governments to change their policies. The way how the world is governed must be changed. What is needed is a new vision of a democratic world order that is based on shared sovereignty on global issues, a clear commitment to human rights, the principle of subsidiarity and complete disarmament.

When the UN was founded it was recognized that this should only be a beginning and that changes would be required. Article 109 of the Charter provides that a conference to review the Charter should be held by 1955. The UN’s member states did not deliver on that promise. Now is the time to hold them to account.

The world’s people need an actual say in global affairs that is not intermediated by national governments and their diplomats. The key ingredient of a new UN should be a democratically elected world parliament that complements intergovernmental bodies such as the UN General Assembly.

The creation of a new democratic world organization that has actual powers seems to be a gigantic project that raises numerous questions. How is a global democracy to be created while major states themselves are not democratically organised? Can decisions of a world parliament be enforced against the will of individual states? How is it possible that states will agree to the creation of a superior political unit?

These questions show the way forward: The people of the world themselves need to embrace and call for global democracy. Eventually, they are the sovereigns not only in their individual states but on the planet as a whole, too.

A global democratic revolution needs to push for a legitimate, inclusive and representative global body that will deal with these questions in a serious way. The creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly could be an important stepping stone to launch a global constitutional process and a transformation of global governance.

This global democratic revolution will be peaceful because it is not about destroying structures or conquering territories, but about opening up a political level that is lying idle. Supranational integration cannot be imposed by force. It will happen because the people want it.

If existing movements in the fields of climate, environment, peace, disarmament, democracy, social justice and others join forces, the global democratic revolution will become very real.

This may sound visionary. But the big issues troubling this planet and its people will remain, and worsen, unless the root cause is addressed. A democratic global government is not a mind game in some ivory tower. It is the most important question on the agenda of humanity today.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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An Accident in Name Only — Global Issues

Search and rescue team combs rubble in Beirut after a blast on 4 August 2020. Credit: UNOCHA
  • Opinion
  • Inter Press Service

From all we know, the blast that destroyed much of the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut in the early evening of 4 August was an accident – but if so, it was an accident only in name. Storing, against repeated warnings, more than 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate for nearly seven years under unsuitable conditions near a densely populated area amounted to asking for a catastrophe to happen.

Blatant, perhaps criminal, negligence and bureaucratic ineptitude were the immediate causes of the explosion that killed over 150, injured more than 5,000, displaced up to 300,000 and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to the city – and counting.

In that sense, the disaster is only the latest, if most dramatic and devastating, manifestation of the dysfunction that has marked the Lebanese state for three decades. It is the product of a predatory political elite that has held state institutions in its grip and sucked them dry while allowing public services for ordinary citizens to break down to the point of non-existence.

The networks of political influence, patronage and corruption they have built have compromised accountability, due process and professional conduct on all levels. Their behaviour has pushed Lebanon over the brink of bankruptcy and beggared much of the population.

The headline in The Daily Star, a local newspaper, captured the bottom line particularly well: “Lebanon’s officials are its worst enemies”. Unless these political elites finally accede to the demands for fundamental reform, Lebanon will slide further into economic abyss, and public outrage may well lead to unrest and violence.

The blast will accelerate the Lebanese economy’s tailspin, immiserating a larger and larger part of the 6.8 million-strong population, one in five of whom are Syrian refugees. The Lebanese lira has lost more than 80 percent of its value since October, impoverishing citizens who now struggle to afford basic goods, which are mostly imported.

Banks have largely refused to dispense their customers’ savings, as they grapple with their own apparent insolvency. On 6 August, the Lebanese Central Bank announced support for businesses and individuals seeking to repair damage, yet experts remain sceptical that the institution can squeeze enough dollars out of its shrinking foreign reserves to make a real difference.

The liquidity crisis, loss of credit and resulting collapse of local demand, which was then deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced businesses to scale back operations or shut down entirely, shedding or furloughing tens of thousands of employees. State-provided electricity has dwindled to just a few hours per day, as fuel has become scarce.

Lebanese politicians have responded to the country’s political-economic crisis with characteristic lack of seriousness, arguing among themselves over the scale of losses at Lebanon’s politically connected banks, and who should make them whole. Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over an economic rescue package have deadlocked as a result.

Now Lebanon’s national crisis has been made much worse. With Beirut’s port incapacitated, and smaller facilities along the Lebanese coast likely unable to take much of the load, bringing in sufficient supplies of food and medicine will be a challenge.

The blast also destroyed the main grain storage silos and stocks of medical equipment. Enterprises that have weathered the crisis thus far will find it even more difficult to import equipment and materials to keep business going or to export their products. State tax and customs revenue will plummet further, forcing the government to fund its budget through the printing press and thus initiating a new round of hyperinflation.

Even before the latest disaster Lebanon was in need of humanitarian assistance. Now the need has become acute, and the volume of required aid, in particular medical staff and supplies, food to replenish destroyed stocks and building material to fix damaged shelters, has only grown.

Thankfully, a number of countries across the Middle East and in Europe are already pitching in. They will have to do more, as the effects of the Beirut port’s destruction and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese set in, compounding the country’s misery. They should provide assistance directly to the affected population and through local and international non-governmental organisations present on the ground.

Lebanon’s political leadership may still have a chance to do the right thing and institute long-overdue reforms, as the Lebanese people have demanded, and on which international donors have conditioned an economic rescue. The corrupt political arrangements that have bankrupted the country and that led ultimately to the 4 August disaster cannot be allowed to continue; they have reached their end. They will not be revived by some miraculous injection of foreign money.

Two months ago, Crisis Group published a report on how to pull Lebanon out of the pit. We emphasised that the political elite that has ruled Lebanon for the past 30 years must carry out structural reforms that prevent corrupt and self-serving cliques from appropriating state resources and public goods in order to win the substantial international support the country needs to emerge from the economic crisis.

Now those elites are again facing the wrath of the country’s citizens, as they did in October 2019, when hundreds of thousands rallied against the politicians in charge. Those protests followed another humiliating episode in which the government was helpless to control wildfires after neglecting for years to pay for maintenance of donated firefighting helicopters.

The latest disaster is a similar failure, but on a monumental, much deadlier scale. It seems likely to unleash a new wave of popular fury. Lebanese are seething on social media.

Activist groups that played a prominent role in the October protest movement are starting to mobilise again, raising their popular slogan demanding the removal of the country’s entrenched elites: “‘All of them’ means ‘all of them'”. Already in April and May, sporadic protests against deteriorating living conditions had sparked violent confrontations with the security forces, causing casualties. New demonstrations could spin out of control completely. A major protest has been called for 8 August.

If the Lebanese elites do have a chance to fix what they have broken, it may well be their last. They, along with the politicians whom they elevated and the officials whom they helped appoint, will have to face up to a Lebanese public that, after so many years of abuse and neglect, has now been terrorised by its own government with an entirely preventable explosion of world-historical size and destructive power. The public is justifiably enraged, and it has less and less to lose.

This statement was originally published by the Crisis Group

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Myanmar’s Protection Bill falls Short of Addressing Violence against Women — Global Issues

Rights experts say that the Myanmar government “has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence”. This is a dated photo of women travelling on a crowded train in Myanmar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS
  • by Samira Sadeque (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Myanmar is soon to see the latest version of its Prevention of and Protection from Violence Against Women (PoVAW) introduced in parliament. But the Global Justice Centre (GJC), an international human rights and humanitarian law organisation focusing on advancing gender equality, has pointed out that the legislation falls short of addressing violence against women.

According to GJC, the language used in the law borrows from Myanmar’s 1861 Penal Code and thus perpetuates antiquated understandings of rape, such as; considering rape as violence committed only by men, the definition of “rape” constituting only of vaginal penetration, and no acknowledgement of marital rape.

“The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability,” the GJC analysis has claimed.

Last week, Khin Ohmar, an exiled human rights advocate from Myanmar and founder and chairperson of the advisory board of Progressive Voice — a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organisation rooted in civil society, with strong links to grassroots and community-based organisations throughout Myanmar — shared how sexual violence in the country is used in a “systematic pattern to target ethnic women and girls”.

Ohmar was speaking at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, where she further reiterated how the military in Myanmar has carried out “unspeakable crimes” against ethnic minorities in the country.

Meanwhile, GJC has also published a list of recommendations that leaders can follow to ensure the law is comprehensive as well as applicable in today’s time.

IPS had a conversation with Akila Radhakrishnan, president of GJC, on the issue. Some parts have been edited for clarity purposes.

Inter Press Service (IPS): The year is 2020. How is Myanmar only now introducing the Prevention of Violence against Women Law (PoVAW)?

Akila Radhakrishnan (AK): There’s been a couple of things – I think the lack of will is a starting point. This is something consistently being pushed for by women in civil society since about 2013.

It has been raised as an issue and a part of the reason it’s such a priority is because the original laws we’re talking about date back to 1861.

We’re really talking about laws that haven’t been updated so with the political transition there was a moment when women in civil society saw the opportunity to think it’s time we had a comprehensive law on violence against women, updating progressive positions in the penal code and bring in things like protective orders or a more robust categorisations of kinds of sexual and other types of violence.

And in some ways, the military continues to perpetrate mass sexual violence. Some of the key things that civil society has been pushing for is bringing the military under a mandate of the law, which is antithetical to the military’s interest as well.

IPS: Despite Aung San Suu Kyi being the leader of the country, why are there still discrepancies in the legislation?

AK: Aung San Suu Kyi is no feminist. She has certainly in the past made stronger statements on sexual violence than she currently takes on but she’s very much seen certain types of political reform as her priority. If you look at the trajectory of the laws that were initially passed through the transition, most of the laws were really wound around issues that enabled foreign investment, for example.

There were certain laws that were due to be changed around issues such as certain types of press freedoms, many of which have been regressing in recent times in any case. There was never kind of a feminist priority set from the leadership.

There were certainly some amazing feminists who got elected, including from local women’s civil society who were elected to parliament. They even felt they’ll have the power to set what are the priorities to be passed, to be considered to be looked at in the context of a country that has a range of reforms that need to be undertaken.

Another issue is that it’s been really slow going in the part of some of the agencies that are involved in this as well such as others, such as the attorney general’s office, department of social welfare. There’s a complicated range of actors involved in the development of the law and in the pushback against the law as well

IPS: Where would you say the PoVAW law lacks most glaringly and needs to be most urgently addressed?

AK: Probably the most urgent one is the places where they continue to cling to the penal code and not really think through how to amend it. They kind of cling to the penal code definition of rape itself – it refuses to let go of rape as it was defined in the 1861 penal code.

We detail a range of issues with that specific definition. And a major part of the impetus was to say our more modern definitions of rape, that are more inclusive, that are gender neutral and have better definitions of consent and at the end of the day you’re creating this whole process and you’re clinging to something that’s there.

And related to that is issues such as marital rape as a crime that is somewhat separate from rape, it’s a lesser crime, a lesser penalty and you know that also stems out of an antiquated mindset.

IPS: Is this legislation only for cisgendered women?

AK: There’s a little bit of a tension there. The law itself is a violence against women law and that’s in the framework it’s been developed over quite a bit of time, so there’s been tension wanting to certainly to try to make the law as inclusive as possible really thinking through how difficult it is to even bring this to fruition.

In this moment, it’s important to try to think of how you take an intersectional inclusive approach to this. But unfortunately we’re going to end up only with a VAW framework so we want to at least within that context — and this is really belying on the expertise of groups that do this work better than we do — to really think through how to make something like this as inclusive as possible.

IPS: There are many ethnic minorities in Myanmar, many who often flee the country. How are ethnic minorities targeted for violence and sexual violence?

AK: The military uses sexual violence as a tactic weapon in its conflict, as its violent actions against all ethnic minorities. It is a systematic pattern — one that is met with impunity which is why legal reforms and accountability are so important. 

IPS: What are your hopes for the steps ahead for the PoVAW law?

AK: The law is an important step forward but in order for it to be a meaningful step forward it actually needs to take into account — and through the process be amended — so it meets international standards, and addresses some of the key issues with the law itself. Otherwise you get kind of a patchwork law where a lot of time and energy has been put into it, but it’s not going to achieve what it could’ve achieved to actually come in line with international standards.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Planning for Periods During a Pandemic — Global Issues

Targeting boys with menstrual health education will not only improve girls’ school attendance but will help address menstrual-related myths and stigma.
High school student in eastern India, studies a leaflet on menstrual hygiene. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
  • Opinion by Shubha Nagesh, Monalisa Padhee (dehradun, india)
  • Inter Press Service

Despite these efforts, a large number of girls with disabilities who face the double burden of discrimination — stigma of disability and taboos associated with menstruation — have been left behind.

Girls and women comprise more than half of the total number of persons with disabilities. The majority of them live in low and middle income countries. A number of them are denied basic human rights because society is not set up to meet their unique needs. For instance, a large number do not attend schools, are not employed meaningfully, and are subject to neglect, abuse, violence, sexual harassment and much else.

Families and parents grapple with additional worries that include safety and hygiene around menarche (onset of periods) and menstruation. These concerns magnify for families whose daughters have cognitive and intellectual impairments and behavioural challenges as part of their disability. Knowledge and awareness around effective menstruation management becomes a challenge with heavy reliance on parents and or caregivers.

The pandemic has further worsened access and support due to restricted access, closure of establishments, traffic restrictions, and financial constraints. There are many families who are unable to afford disposable sanitary products for their daughters and rely on cloth which puts an additional burden of washing. These are re washed and reused- oftentimes, dried in closed spaces and corners that receive no sunlight, risking infection upon re use. Stigma continues around access, utilisation and safe disposal of menstrual products, particularly in urban poor and rural contexts.

Even outside pandemics and crises, the menstrual health needs of vulnerable populations need to be prioritized. Each girl deserves to have a safe and dignified menstrual experience irrespective of her disabilities. Policies and practices are best if inclusive and accommodate unique provisions and needs for girls and women with disabilities.

We propose the following four recommendations to ensure uninterrupted menstrual health services, particularly the supply of products during a pandemic or other emergency crisis situation.

First, it’s important to have an inclusive crisis management policy, one that prioritises the sexual and reproductive health needs of the girls and women with disabilities with deliberation. Developing systems prior to pandemics so these services persist as essential and vital at all times, will support uninterrupted services.

Second, provision of supplies in adequate quantities is essential- on an average if a girl or woman uses 15-20 sanitary pads per month, providing at least three month supplies of 20 pads a month to each girl with a disability will be reasonable. Girls with intellectual impairment, more often than not, are unable to keep track of their menstrual dates or identify symptoms that develop prior to a menstrual period. Having an adequate stock of pads beforehand to safeguard against situations like this pandemic will prevent girls from resorting to unhygienic practices.

Third, having adequate training of community health workers to identify the number of girls with disabilities in the community and their future needs, well in advance, and communicate with the agencies monitoring supplies to ensure regular and ample supplies.

Fourth, agencies who link the disabled community to organisations and donors must have robust systems in place to match needs, when it is required and where it is required. The processes must be seamless with needs outlined in advance, donations matched well with needs, priority measures to determine disabled communities who need supplies the most and accountability in distribution.

If all donors and philanthropies could come together to enable creation of centralised nodal agencies to channelise procurement, distribution, monitoring and evaluation, the system becomes transparent, accountable and effective. Including disability organisations in the dialogue and the actual effort that follows will ensure establishment of supply chains that deliver on time to those that need it the most such as remote villages, urban poor settlements, migrant communities, hard to reach slums.

Some of the above are already in place in India and need integration and scale to reach vulnerable populations, like those with disabilities. UNICEF recommends through recent guidelines processes that could be implemented to ensure menstrual products reach girls during a pandemic; these could be adapted by including the voices of girls with disabilities in formulating strategies to meet their needs.

After all, periods don’t pause for a pandemic and any other crisis and we need to ensure that the needs and challenges of the vulnerable population are adequately addressed.

Dr Shubha Nagesh is an Atlantic Fellow in Global Health Equity and works with the Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun India

Monalisa Padhee, PhD, is the head of Women Wellness Initiative at the Barefoot College working with women and girls in rural India. She is a senior Aspen New Voices fellow and Atlantic Fellow for Global Health Equity.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Post COVID-19 Pandemic Lets Stop the Next Wave of Medicalisation over Mental Health — Global Issues

The wall at a Community Mental Health Movement in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
  • by Samira Sadeque (united nations)
  • Friday, June 26, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

This is according to Dainius Pūras, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Pūras recently voiced his concerns about the “historical neglect of dignified mental health care,” that has been even more heightened under the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, I critically addressed the current status quo of global mental health, and now with this pandemic my position is: even more I would recommend to rethink how we invest in mental health,” Pūras, a medical doctor with notable expertise in mental health and children’s health, told IPS.

He added that there are two principles used when addressing mental health: a human rights and evidence-based approach. Currently, under the pandemic, the latter has come under attack with a massive amount of misinformation and false news spreading, which he says can affect mental health of people and their communities. 

Excerpts of the interview with Pūras follow. Some of the answers have been paraphrased for clarity.

Inter Press Service (IPS): In what ways has the pandemic affected mental health of people?

Dainius Pūras (DP): During a pandemic, there are risks that if a person has a mental health condition, he or she might be hospitalised by force. Also, because of the virus, there might be suspicions that this person may spread the virus, which poses an additional risk factor for discriminating against people with mental health concerns. 

There should be more research done but there are many insights and preliminary observations that this pandemic will probably have a serious impact on the mental health of individuals and societies. 

There are several reasons for this: the spread of the virus and requirements for distancing and isolation, plus economic and social and employment also increase different forms of violence for example domestic violence. All these will fuel mental distress, anxiety, fear, all these feelings of uncertainty about the future 

I should highlight — another serious risk factor is that we witness massive amounts of fake news, disinformation, conspiracy theories around the virus, the origin of the virus and around statistics. This is not good for mental health. 

When children are not going to school, they’re missing out on very important aspects of socialisation. For many children, it’s their only way to get a meal — physical and mental health are interrelated in these ways.  

IPS: What is one of the current challenges of addressing mental health issues, especially under the pandemic? 

DP: I don’t support the narrative that this pandemic fuels mental distress, fear, anxiety, and the narrative that more mental illnesses will come. It’s not about producing more mental illness — it makes people anxious and scared but that’s a part of normal life, I do not want to medicalise that.  

We need to work against pathologisation and medicalisation. Because if we say millions of people are now more anxious than before, does it mean we will go on globally with medicalisation? Does it mean we will suggest  psychological medication to all these people including children and adults? 

I’m not against medication but when I analyse global situations, for sure this has gone too far. Feelings have been medicalised. I am warning that with this pandemic there would be a next wave of medicalisation. That when people are anxious and not happy, there might be an attempt to “medicalise them even more than before”. We have to be creative and to think of some innovative forms of support and cure, not necessarily medicalise. 

IPS: What are the risks involved for those with mental health at this time?

DP: More and more people are diagnosed. But then because of this diagnosis they’re discriminated against. And also because of that, in many parts of the world, many suffer from institutionalisation: sometimes that can be lifelong. 

Sometimes that’s because of a lack of services in the community and they live in institutions but now we know these institutions are hotspots for the virus. As for many countries, the closed spaces, such as prisons or psychiatric institutions are now making it worse given how dangerous it can be for residents and staff because the virus can spread. IPS: Are there certain communities more vulnerable to facing mental health risks in this pandemic?

DP: Many people who were already left behind will suffer disproportionately… So, in many parts of the world, LGBT people are discriminated against, people with disabilities other than psycho-social ones we discussed, and those with physical disability, indigenous people, migrants and refugees in difficult situations, and also the prison population — these people are at more risk. 

IPS: The issue of mental health appears to have multiple layers of barriers: financial means and social stigma. How do you navigate both financial concern as well as social stigma of this issue?

DP: My approach is that we always have to keep in mind the principles and then we will not be lost when it’s concrete. We should follow non-discrimination, empowerment, accountability and other principles. 

The problem is all these global mental health are based on discriminatory approaches; for example, if a person is diagnosed with a mental health condition or illness they could be discriminated against by mental health law in their country. 

Next week, I will be presenting many arguments to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) about the need for a shift in paradigm instead of making small changes. A shift is needed. There is too much: the biomedical model is overused; its okay but when it’s overused, it’s harmful. 

 IPS: What’re your hopes going forward? 

DP: With this pandemic what I’m emphasising in my statement; now we should be finally convinced that we need to move ahead with reducing the number of these institutions, with a final goal of abandoning this legacy.  

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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World Protests Show Rising Outrage and Mounting Discontent — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Isabel Ortiz, Sara Burke, Hernan Cortes Saenz (new york and brussels)
  • Wednesday, June 10, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

In the last weeks, we have seen protests against racism and police brutality explode in the US and internationally after another black man died in police custody. We see Chileans protesting lockdown-food shortages, scarcity of work, and costly social services, and Ecuadorans demonstrating against IMF-supported austerity cuts. Lebanon has convulsed with riots over corruption, lack of jobs and public services. Protesters in Hong Kong continue to defy China’s tightening grip. In Israel they denounce West Bank annexation, while in the Philippines they condemn President Duterte’s Anti-Terrorism Act as a breach of civil rights and the Constitution. Young people are taking to the streets in Senegal over the lockdown and lack of jobs and opportunities. In Spain we see health workers demanding safer working conditions while workers from other industries face massive layoffs. In many countries, people protest in car-based caravans to maintain social distancing because of the pandemic.

There have been periods in history when large numbers of people rebelled against the status quo and demanded change, such as in 1848, 1917 and 1968. While protests have intensified in recent weeks because of the pandemic, the level of protests worldwide has remained high for more than a decade, with some of the largest protests in world history. They were set off by the 2008 financial crisis and commodity price spikes, such as those that sparked food riots in Africa and Asia, three years before the “Arab Spring”, the “Indignados” (Outraged) in Spain or “Occupy” in the US and Hong Kong. More recently, we have seen massive protests in Latin America and a global feminist wave set off by the “Me Too” movement. Now, as Covid-19 makes its way around the world, we are experiencing the continuation of this period of rising outrage and discontent.

We have been studying recent world protests and found interesting lessons. To start, the number of protests has been increasing on a yearly basis. Protesters’ main general demand was for economic and social justice in the face of prescribed “austerity” reforms; however, the overwhelming grievance of protesters, regardless of the political system of their country, was the lack of “real democracy”. Other common demands relate to people’s rights such as racial, gender or labor rights. The main target of the protests was national governments, but global institutions and corporations were also targeted.

A profile of demonstrators reveals that not only traditional protesters (eg. activists, unions) are demonstrating; on the contrary, middle classes, youth, older persons and other social groups are actively protesting in most countries because of lack of trust and disillusionment with the current political and economic system.

People around the world are acutely aware that policy-making has not prioritized them. Across the political spectrum, there is rebellion against politics as usual. Governments both authoritarian and democratic are failing to respond to the needs of ordinary people. Many demonstrations and marches also explicitly denounce the international system and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Central Bank, which have been widely perceived as the chief architects of inequitable reforms.

Not only is the number of protests increasing, but also the number of protestors. Crowd estimates suggest that dozens of rallies had more than one million protesters; some of those may well be the largest protests in history (eg. 100 million in India in 2013, 17 million in Egypt during the Arab Spring).

Repression is well documented in over half of the protests in our study. According to media reports, the protests that generated the most arrests were in Iran, the UK, Russia, Chile, Malaysia, US and Cameroon (different years). Our research, that we continue updating, also documents a rising concern with some modes of repression that do not imply the use of physical violence: citizen surveillance.

If there is repression, what are the controversial demands that protesters are putting forward? The grievances demanded cross over virtually every area of public policy, from jobs, public services and social protection to the environment, finance, taxation, corruption and justice. The majority of the demands are in full accordance with United Nations proposals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Governments need to listen to the demands from citizens legitimately protesting the denial of social, economic and civil rights. Leaders and policymakers will only invite further unrest if they fail to prioritize and act on the demand for real democracy.

Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University, and former director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.

Sara Burke is Senior Policy Analyst at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES; for identification purposes only; views do not reflect the institutional views of FES).

Hernan Cortes Saenz is PhD in International Relations.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Customised Blended Learning is Urgently Needed — Global Issues

self-guided online learning is doomed to fail. Research shows an exceptionally high drop-out rate – even in developed countries. Learners simply have no incentive to keep at their studies without peer pressure, a teacher at hand or a structured learning environment. Blended learning integrates computer-assisted online activities with traditional face-to-face teaching (chalk-and-talk)
Students learn with tablets in a school in South Africa. Credit: AMO/Jackie Clausen
  • Monday, May 25, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

In fact, self-guided online learning is doomed to fail. Research shows an exceptionally high drop-out rate – even in developed countries. Learners simply have no incentive to keep at their studies without peer pressure, a teacher at hand or a structured learning environment.

In South Africa in particular, with socio-economic disparities and related problems, the drop-out rate would be even higher. More so in key subjects like mathematics and physical science where prior knowledge, conceptual understanding and self-motivation to succeed are critical.

The only answer, in the country’s unequal teaching environment, is a customised version of blended learning. Blended learning integrates computer-assisted online activities with traditional face-to-face teaching (chalk-and-talk).

When used by a trained teacher, this approach can add valuable new dimensions to the learning process. It can allow learners to work at their own pace and teachers to fill content gaps.

Blended learning in South Africa

In many developed countries, blended learning is a well-established practice. It has enabled these countries to adapt to the demands of the current pandemic. Digital remote learning and teaching is backed up by dependable infrastructure and skilled, motivated teachers.

By contrast, the differences between South African schools have been thrown into sharp relief. The binary system of a privileged minority of schools and the rest remains, despite the political changes more than 25 years ago.

More than 80% of public schools are under-resourced. They are ill-equipped to respond to the teaching and learning challenges of the 21st century – let alone the latest demands of the pandemic.

The current lockdown has suddenly compelled teachers to adopt predominantly online, blended learning teaching practices. But nearly 90% of all households in South Africa are still without access to the internet at home. Very few schools had adapted to blended learning before lockdown and few schools would be able to adopt it during the lockdown. Therefore the schools that had fewer resources and skills will fall even further behind.

This is especially disappointing since the current cohort of pupils (born after 2000) have long expressed their preference for a blended learning model. Even the recent recognition by the South African government that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are important in the Fourth Industrial Revolution has had little effect on the skills development of teachers, infrastructure or modernisation of resources in schools.

Therefore, in the South African context, mainstream blended learning is not the complete answer. We need to go beyond blended learning.

Customised blended learning model

Since 2002, the Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre in Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth has wrestled with these challenges.

The bad news is that there’s no way to make the teaching and learning of maths and science easy. But we’ve developed a number of interventions that have lifted the twin burdens of poor training and lack of infrastructure from the shoulders of teachers. Skills development linked to the use of user-friendly and interactive digital resources has allowed teachers to focus on attaining a high quality of teaching with subsequent learning successes.

Over the past decade, the centre has experimented with various combinations of online and offline self-directed teaching methods. It has worked specifically on blended learning for mathematics and physical sciences in secondary schools.

The greatest success has been a blended learning system that uses a combination of online and offline interactive resources with pre-installed apps that are aligned with the South African school curriculum. These can be used as a guide for teaching, home-schooling, after-school study and tutoring. We call it techno-blended learning: a structured approach, using mostly offline apps in an integrated way, with the full participation of a trained or experienced adult mentor or guide.

One of the centre’s more recent interventions is a mini personal computer called the GammaTutor™. This’s an offline device pre-loaded with interactive learning material. These resources have been specifically designed for South African school conditions.

The GammaTutor™ software package is primarily intended for teachers: when plugged into any data projector, a TV or digital screen, it doubles as a flexible maths and science teaching assistant in the classroom and a learner support resource for after school hours. It fits in the palm of a hand, requires no data and is navigated by the click of a mouse. Its small size makes the device easy to keep safe and to take where it’s needed.

What needs to be done

It’s well known that major educational challenges exist in schools as a result of the country’s multi-language society – particularly in the teaching and learning of mathematics. The GammaTutor™ application offers mathematics concept explanations in eight indigenous languages.

The device covers the full curriculum for high school maths and physical sciences, presented in video, PDF or animated PowerPoint format – along with glossaries, exam revision support, translations from English into indigenous languages and many additional teaching support materials. It can be used for interactive teaching online and remotely.

The response from teachers, learners and stakeholders to this approach of teaching and learning has been overwhelmingly positive. Where these interventions have been applied, in pilot schools in the Eastern Cape province, the results have been gratifying. Marks have improved significantly and successful learners have been able to progress to university.

The new urgency for remote teaching caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for the country to adopt policies to accelerate blending learning practices among teachers and learners. The Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre offers lessons learned through more than a decade of research.The Conversation

Werner Olivier, Professor in Mathematics and Director: Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre, Nelson Mandela University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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