Haunted and Depressed: The Struggle of Orphans in Kashmir

In a congested classroom, 13-year-old Sahil Majeed is trying to copy on his note book what his teacher is writing on a white board with black marker pen. He was a seven-year-old when his father disappeared after being abducted by the army in Kashmir. He had to be admitted in an orphanage in Srinagar for […]

Sri Lanka: A Ray of Hope for those Looking for War Missing

Thavarasa Utharai’s most treasured belongings are stuck inside several plastic bags and tucked within old traveling bags. Inside, wrapped in more plastic sheets, are old fading photographs, scrap books, legal documents and even some old bills. These are the only processions the 36 year old mother of two has to show of her husband. He […]

Opinion: Battling Iran-Backed Extremists in Yemen

Kaled Bahah is the Prime Minister and Vice President of Yemen.

By Kaled Bahah
ABU DHABI, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) — In a region racked by strife, Yemen stands out. It is the poorest country in the Middle East and since March, the plight of my people has been worsened by an inhumane war.

The people of Yemen elected President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in February 2012 to preserve the country’s unity, independence and territorial integrity, while leading all Yemenis toward a brighter future. But that future has been stolen by Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who drove our legitimate government from office and have committed countless human-rights abuses, documented by the UN. In response, a broad, international coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and with Yemen’s national army, is working to liberate our country from illegal, foreign-sponsored control.

Although the battle for Yemen’s future has been intense, we have recently made significant progress. In July, the port city of Aden was wrested from Houthi control and is now the temporary base of the legitimate government.

With Aden now secured, we have accelerated the delivery and distribution of essential goods and humanitarian assistance to Yemenis, who had been on the verge of famine before the current conflict. Thanks in large part to the exceptional generosity of our Gulf brothers, Aden’s schools, which were shut down during the Houthi occupation, are open. Electricity has been restored and hospitals are starting to function again.

While much more needs to be done, the arduous road to recovery begins with the restoration of territorial control. Yemen’s national army and coalition forces have advanced to the northern province of Marib on the doorstep of the capital, Sana’a. We will take our capital back, and restore legitimacy to our country and hope to all Yemenis. The Houthis can avoid further bloodshed if they comply with the UN Security Council resolution adopted on April 14th and recognise the legitimate, freely elected government and return all territories that they have illegally seized.

The world is rightly concerned about the toll, especially to civilians, from this war. Any civilian death is a tragedy for which my heart bleeds, and the forces allied with us are taking extraordinary care to avoid civilian casualties and target only military objectives. Yet we have seen terrible evidence, documented by internationally respected NGOs, of Houthis locating their hide-outs and weapons caches in civilian areas and making human shields out of political detainees.

In its practices, the Houthi group enjoys the support of a regional power. My country is keen to have good relations with all countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, provided that principles enshrined in the UN charter, particularly non-interference in internal affairs, are respected and observed. But Tehran must choose, either it continues to sow discord and maintain relations with a seditious movement, the Houthis, or it deals with Yemen’s legitimate authority.

The end of this conflict cannot come soon enough. In their callous disregard for the rule of law, the Houthis have opened up a dangerous power vacuum in parts of the country, which al Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] the sworn enemies of humanity, are exploiting. As a result, much more than the future of my country is at stake.

Failure in Yemen will reverberate regionally and globally, emboldening and empowering extremists. Victory will send a powerful message beyond our shores that Yemenis are committed to defend their inalienable right to self-determination, to prosper in peace and to project those values throughout the Middle East.

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Rotary to Honour Six “Global Women of Action”

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)

Rotary will honour six women members of Rotary clubs from around the world during the 2015 Rotary Day at the United Nations.

Lucy Hobgood-Brown, co-founder of HandUp Congo, working with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lucy Hobgood-Brown, co-founder of HandUp Congo, working with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Scheduled to take place on Nov. 7, Rotary Day brings together over 1500 Rotary members and civil society organizations to inspire and discuss its humanitarian services.

This year, the event will recognize the achievements of six women in assisting thousands of people in need in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

“The honorees are strong leaders in their communities, having achieved professional success and engaged in volunteer activities that are making the world a better place,” Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran told IPS.

“It’s particularly important for women in developing countries to play a role in providing humanitarian support, as they are uniquely poised to serve as trusted voices,” President Ravindran continued.

Though there has been some improvement, women and girls continue to be left out of development and decision-making processes.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women make up 22 percent of parliamentarians. Even fewer women are in legislative bodies.

However, studies have revealed the positive influence women have on development when included in decision-making.

For instance, research on local councils in India found that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 percent higher than in areas with male-led councils.

The failure of governments in engaging women and girls can also be seen within the humanitarian community, which continues to exclude them in the creation and implementation of peace and development operations.

UN Women found that between 1992 and 2011, only four percent of signatories in 31 major peace processes were women. Women also only made up 2.4 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent of negotiators.

When asked about the significance of women receiving Rotary’s award, Stella Dongo, one of the honorees, told IPS: “For me I think it is the recognition of women’s contributions in humanitarian and leadership. I am just but one woman who is doing what I am able to do, there are thousands of women out there who are doing incredible work and making a difference in their communities. I want to salute them too.”

Similarly, Kerstin Jeska-Thorwart, another honoree, told IPS: “The award first and foremost strengthens the position of women in third world countries, and thus their work, in the area of humanitarian service.”

Following the 2004 Asian tsunami, Jeska-Thorwart rebuilt and equipped a hospital in Galle, Sri Lanka with the support of 200 Rotary clubs. The project, known as Baby Hospital Galle, has since helped more than 150,000 children and provided healthcare services to over 2.2 million women.

Dongo leads a community empowerment project in Zimbabwe, teaching business and computer skills to over 6000 women and youth affected by HIV.

Another honoree, Razia Jan, is the founder and director of the Zabuli Education Center, a school serving over 430 girls in Deh Sabz district of Afghanistan, an area where a school for girls never existed before.

“Investment in girls’ education is essential to disrupting the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and illiteracy that leaves a population vulnerable to oppression and extremist control,” Jan told IPS.

“[The school] is a symbol and a catalyst for an evolving society, one in which girls and young women are slowly being treated with more respect and dignity,” she continued.

Globally, approximately 62 million girls around the world do not attend school.

The new World’s Women Report 2015 also revealed that illiteracy rates are higher among women than men. An estimated 781 million people over the age of 15 are illiterate; nearly two thirds of them are women, a ratio that has remained stagnant over the last two decades.

Evidence has shown that education delays early marriage and thus pregnancy complications as it gives girls more choices and opportunities.

Dr. Deborah Walters, who will be honored on Rotary Day, also provides education, health and social services to children and their families in Guatemala through her organization, Safe Passage.

In Bangladesh, honoree Hashrat A. Begum has been at the forefront of women’s health, implementing numerous projects delivering health care services to underserved communities. In addition, she provides vocational training to girls and empowers women to earn livelihoods as seamstresses.

Lucy Hobgood-Brown, another honoree, has also been working in healthcare, developing public health infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Highlighting the role of women and its link to Rotary International, Dongo told IPS: “Through [Rotary’s] humanitarian work…women have a big role to play and greater chance of influencing change. This recognition will encourage the many women who are already touching lives to continue and improve quality of life to those in need.”

Since its founding over 100 years ago, Rotary’s 34,000 clubs and 1.2 million volunteers have supported humanitarian efforts globally. Its six core areas of focus include fighting disease; providing clean water; saving mothers and children; supporting education; growing local economies and; promoting peace.

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Cuba’s Extra-Heavy Crude Awaits Technology and Investment

Cuba’s oil industry only exploits five percent of the petroleum found in onshore and offshore deposits due to a lack of foreign capital and technology to develop oilfields like Varadero 1000, the country’s biggest oil operation until now. “We take what the rock gives up easily (crude oil and associated gas), equivalent to five percent […]

Bangladesh Facing Tough Climate Choices

Twice a week, 20-year-old Kulsum Begam, a young mother of two, spends over three hours gossiping with the neighbours. Neither her husband nor his family raises any objections. In fact, they encourage the bi-weekly ritual, almost pushing her out the door to go and meet her friends. But there is a reason for their enthusiasm: […]

Pakistan: Looking to Hydropower to Assure More Reliable Electricity

“We are lucky a local dam will give us cheap and uninterrupted power supply. Currently, we remain without electricity for 14-16 hours every day,” Muhammad Shafique, a schoolteacher in Upper Dir, told IPS. Celebrated cricketer Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek Insaf party rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, recently laid the foundation stone for a […]

Africa’s Senior Citizens Cornered By Poverty

Kenya has made tremendous steps towards ensuring that the elderly population does not slide into extreme poverty, hunger and, consequently, premature death. This comes amidst concerns that due to the breakdown of socio-cultural safety nets, Africa’s senior citizens aged 60 years and above are often falling deeper and deeper into poverty and destitution. Government estimates […]

Slow Progress in Gender Equality, Report Reveals

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

Although the status of women has improved in many areas over the last 20 years, progress continues to be slow, according to the UN’s Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) which launched the World’s Women Report.

The sixth edition of the report, which examines the status of women and men globally, marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

In particular, it reported progress in life expectancy, maternal mortality, and education.

On average, life expectancy has risen by 5 years with women living up to 72 years and men up to 68 years. This is, in part, due to maternal death rates which, between 1990 and 2013, decreased by 45 percent.

The gender gap in education has also narrowed, as participation in education has increased for boys and girls at all levels.

However, stark gender disparities still persevere around the world, the report found.

For instance, young women and adolescent girls are disproportionately vulnerable and at risk of HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, 15 percent of all women living with HIV above the age of 15 are young women between 15 to 24 years old. Of this group, 80 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is due not only to underdeveloped health systems that are unable to address women’s needs, but also to gender issues,” the World’s Women report stated.

Such gender issues include poor access to education, early marriage, lack of decision-making power, and violence against women.

Despite gains in education enrollment, 58 million children of primary school age are not in school. More than half of them are girls. The report also noted the high prevalence of child marriages.

In 2010, approximately 26 percent of women between 20 to 24 years old worldwide were married before age 18, only five percent lower than in 1995. These rates are highest in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Southern Asia, 44 percent of women aged 20 to 24 were married before age 18 while the rate was at 40 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report noted that child marriage is not only a violation of human rights, but it also further exposes women and girls to the risk of domestic violence.

DESA stated that violence against women continues to be a “real global concern,” as one in three women in the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence and 60 percent of all women victims of violence do not report their cases or seek any help.

They also found that women who have experienced intimate partner violence are 50 percent more likely to be living with HIV than those who have not.

In light of such bleak statistics, the report did note the growing availability of gender data, essential to understanding trends in gender quality globally.

“Before the first report, there was no such a thing as gender statistics around the world,” said DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Lenni Montiel, at a press briefing during the launch of the sixth edition of the report.

The timely launch of the World’s Women Report 2015 also coincides with World Statistics Day, whose theme is “Better Data, Better Lives.”

Marking the day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated: “Good data and statistics are indispensable for informed decision-making by all actors in society.”

“We need to ensure that everyone is counted, especially the most poor and vulnerable,” he continued.

However, countries continue to falter in data collection.

Chief of the Social and Housing Statistics Section at DESA Francesca Grum revealed there was no data available from the Middle Eastern region on the magnitude of violence against women.

“Measuring violence against women is relatively new…we are only now working with countries to make sure they adopt the [measurement] standards,” remarked Grum.

Since 1990, the World’s Women Reports has been focusing on eight critical areas of concern: population and families, health, education, work, power and decision-making, violence against women, environment, and poverty.

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