Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa Commends UN Kenya support to national development priorities

Devolution and ASALs CS Eugene Wamalwa & UN RC Siddharth Chatterjee in a group photograph with the UN Kenya Country Team during the annual retreat to review UNDAF progress.

By PRESS RELEASE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 29 2019 (IPS-Partners)

Devolution and ASALs Cabinet Secretary Hon. Eugene Wamalwa has said that the reforms being carried out by the United Nations are enabling the global agency to align its activities better and coordinate more effectively in delivering on national development priorities.

As the co-chair of the UNDAF National Steering Committee, Mr. Wamalwa was addressing the heads of UN agencies in Kenya at a retreat that is reviewing the UN Country Team’s achievements, one year since the launch of the 2018 – 2022 UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) in June 2018.

“It is almost two years now since we started walking the journey together to develop what has now become one among the best-in-class UNDAFs. The UNDAF and Delivering as One in Kenya is a result of UN member states’ desire for increased coherence in development partnership, and a specific request by the Government of Kenya for stronger accountability for results”.

He said that the Government recognizes the UN leadership for its determination to ensure every project responds and aligns to priorities such as President Kenyatta’s Big Four development agenda.

The CS pointed out the Kenya-Ethiopia cross-border programme as an example of programmes that are using innovative approaches to solve emerging threats.

“This is a programme that will transform our borders from centres of conflict to centres of resilience,” he said. A similar programme will be launched along the Kenya-Uganda border.

Through its Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the European Union (EU), is supporting the €68 million Cross-Border programme that is covering the entire length of the Kenya-Ethiopia border, south-west Somalia and the cross-border area between Western Ethiopia and East Sudan.

Between 2018 and 2020, various stakeholders including IGAD, the UN and governments in the four countries will implement projects that aim to promote stability by building up local-level peace and security structures and provide investment to support the socioeconomic transformation of the areas through cross-border trade, greater resilience and diversified livelihoods.

“For decades, the people of the border regions of Africa have grappled with violent conflict, climate shocks and marginalization, with the communities finding themselves with little prospects, a widespread sense of exclusion that predisposes them to radicalization and extremism,” said Mr. Wamalwa.

UN Kenya Resident Coordinator Siddharth Chatterjee said that under the UNDAF, 21 UN agencies based in Kenya will raise & contribute about US$1.9 billion to implement the new UNDAF.

He said that the UN and the Government of Kenya, through its Strategic Plan for Devolution, have put in place various initiatives for integrating and transforming communities in ASALs and cross-border areas, aiming to unlock the potential of the regions and accelerate national development.

Chatterjee added that, “The reforms being advanced by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are very keen on the nexus between peace and development, and in Kenya we are frontloading development approaches in those regions that have previously been at the periphery, in line with the SDGs mission of leaving no one behind and reaching the farthest first.”

Bridging the Gaps for the Disabled

Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, or an estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. But neglect, discrimination, and abuse are still all too common among disabled youth, leaving them deprived of rights including those to education, health, and employment. Credit : Melody Kemp/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 29 2019 – People with disabilities are being left behind, and steps must be taken to ensure their inclusion in the world of education and work.

Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, or an estimated one billion people, live with disabilities. But neglect, discrimination, and abuse are still all too common among disabled youth, leaving them deprived of rights including those to education, health, and employment.

“Children with disabilities must have a say in all matters that affect the course of their lives…They must be empowered to reach their full potential and enjoy their full human rights – and this requires us to change both attitudes and environmental factors,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recently said.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities Catalina Devandas Aguilar echoed similar sentiments upon the launch of her annual report, stating: “Deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability is a human rights violation on a massive global scale. It is not a ‘necessary evil’, but a consequence of the failure of States to ensure their obligations towards people with disabilities.”

Aguilar noted that a key factor preventing the inclusion of disabled youth is the ongoing discrimination against and segregation into special schools and institutions.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 90 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.

More than 10 percent of persons with disabilities have been refused entry into school because of their disability, and more than quarter reported schools were not accessible or were hindering to them.

Such exclusion also extends to the labor market as the employment-to-population ratio of persons with disabilities aged 15 and older is almost half that of persons without disabilities.

In fact, unemployment among persons with disabilities is as high as 80 percent in some countries, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Women with disabilities are two times less likely to be employed.

Those who are employed tend to earn lower wages than their counterparts without disabilities.

“This is a legacy of a model which has caused exclusion and marginalisation…we can no longer have children being hidden away and isolated, children with disabilities must have the opportunity to dream of a full and happy life,” Aguilar said.

In Bangladesh, the Bridge Foundation hopes to bridge these gaps and help create opportunities.

Inspired by the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ and the autobiographies of Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking, Natasha Israt Kabir wanted to support and empower people with disabilities, or the “differently abled.”

“I believe there should not be norm in the way things are done, but there should always be opportunities to do things differently… achieving sustainable development won’t become a reality without the social inclusion and empowerment people living with disabilities,” Kabir said.

Kabir, along with co-founder Swarna Moye Sarker, implemented a programme teaching information technology (IT) and arts, providing people with disabilities with the skills to work. They also established an online platform helping students showcase their skills and talent in order to sell their products and even gain employment.

“I believe technology will give them a voice, help them connect with the world and become independent,” Kabir said.

“Children with disabilities need special care and special management for their education and to merge them with the mainstream education system, social and youth led organisations like Bridge Foundation are playing a pivotal role,” Executive Director of the Center for Research and Information (CRI) Sabbir Bin Shams told IPS.

“Increasing and improving youth led initiatives for vulnerable women and children with disabilities may turn the experiences of economic growth a more equitable and inclusive one,” he added.

In a UN newsletter, Kabir recounted some of the programme participants including Falguny, a physically-challenged student without wrists who was able to quickly develop fast computer operating skills.

Another student, Rajon, showcases determination and courage everyday, attending classes with crutches.

“These people are the source of my strength and inspiration now. I strongly believe—if you have the idea and vision to change the world, yes! You can,” Kabir said.

The Bridge Foundation received the Joy Bangla Youth Award in 2018 for its work in empowering people with disabilities.

 

‘The First City Completely Devastated by Climate Change’ Tries to Rebuild after Cyclone Idai

Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall on Mar. 14 and 15, destroying some 90 percent of Beria, the capital of Sofala province, according to reports. A majority of those affected are living in makeshift camps as they try to rebuild. Credit: Andre Catuera/IPS

By Amos Fernando
MAPUTO, Mar 29 2019 – The city of Dondo, about 30 kilometres from Beira, central Mozambique, didn’t escape the strong winds of Cyclone Idai. It is estimated that more than 17,000 families were displaced and more than a dozen schools were destroyed in the city.

While the world has rallied around Mozambique and countries in Southern Africa affected by Cyclone Idai in order to provide aid, the smaller city of Dondo, which requires food and medical assistance, says it is not receiving enough.

Currently the Mozambique National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC), supported by international agencies, is providing aid to the area.
But in an interview with IPS, the mayor of Dondo, Manuel Chaparica, says that “the efforts have done until now is very little to the city of Dondo,” adding that “right now the support is directed to people who are in accommodation centres [schools or other buildings where people who lost their homes are being housed], but there are a lot of people in their homes with nothing to eat.”

Over 6,000 people are currently being housed in schools around Dondo. And Chaparica points out that “there is an effort to relocate all people housed at schools to resettlement centres in the Samora Machel and Macharote neighbourhoods, to allow for the resumption of classes in these schools.”

Across Mozambique more than 168,000 families (about 600,000 people) have been affected, the majority of whom are now living in makeshift camps in Sofala province. Of this number, more than 100,000 families are estimated to be from Beira where they have lost their homes and all their possessions. In addition, at least one million children and women require urgent assistance. Credit: Andre Catuera/IPS

Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall on Mar. 14 and 15, destroying some 90 percent of Beria, the capital of Sofala province, according to reports. Idai produced torrential rains and strong winds of around 180 to 200 kilometres per hour, wreaking havoc in central Mozambique as well as in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It’s caused catastrophic flooding in Mozambique with local authorities estimating that an area of about 3,000 square kilometres was destroyed.

Officially, the last numbers of the country’s death toll amounted to 493, with 1,523 people injured. The death toll for the region is estimated to be over 750.

Across Mozambique more than 168,000 families (about 600,000 people) have been affected, the majority of whom are now living in makeshift camps in Sofala province. Of this number, more than 100,000 families are estimated to be from Beira where they have lost their homes and all their possessions. In addition, at least one million children and women require urgent assistance.

“There are not exact numbers. They can change while new locals that were affected by flood are discovered,” said Celso Correia, the minister of Land and Environment of Mozambique, who coordinated the assistance team in Beira.

Around 15,000 people are still missing or unaccounted for largely from Dombe in Manica province and from Buzi and Nhamatanda in Sofala province. But the number could rise. Buzi village, which lies some 200 km from Beira, was badly affected by Cyclone Idai and 100s of people were seen hanging onto trees and the top of houses for 3 to 5 days, awaiting assistance and rescue. But it is suspected that many have since been swept away by the flooding caused by the rivers Buzi and Pungue.

According to the INGC, 3,140 classrooms were damaged, affecting more than 90,000 students. Also 45 health facilities were destroyed in the provinces of Sofala, Manica and Zambezia, center of the country.

Graca Machel (right), Chair of the FDC (Foundation for Community Development), speaks to Davis Simango (left), Mayor of Beira, at a government facility that was damaged during Cyclone Idai. Credit: UNICEF

Solidarity and aid for those affected

Meanwhile, national and international organisations have gathered in Beira to help rescue and relief operations. More than 100 search and rescue specialists were deployed to assist people in Buzi and Nhamatanda, aided by 35 boats, 18 helicopters, 4 planes, 8 trucks and 30 satellite phones.
In the field, rescuers continue to find survivors. However, the Council of Ministers announced in Maputo, on Tuesday, Mar. 26, that soon the rescue operations will be closed as the rivers Búzi and Púngue are receding.

In Mozambique many solidarity movements were collecting donations for those affected in Beira.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen an intense movement of solidarity among Mozambicans,” says Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique, on Monday Mar. 25, after visiting the affected areas in the Sofala province.

The world has also joined Mozambique to help those affected by Cyclone Idai.
Internationally, various charities and NGOs have been providing support for food, money and the means to rebuild the city of Beira.

In addition, on Monday, the United Nations launched an international campaign to raise more than 282 million dollars to support the victims of Cyclone Idai and floods in Mozambique.

Beira is already trying to rebuild. But much of the infrastructure has been damaged, with the high winds downing electricity cables and telecommunications lines. The city was in the dark without electricity, water and communication after the cyclone made landfall. The national road Nº6 was also badly damaged. Beira was literally cut off from the rest of the world.

Former Mozambican first lady Graça Machel said at a press briefing this week that Beira would be the first city to go on record as being devastated by climate change.

“It is painful to say that my country and [Beira] will go down in history as having been the first city to be completely devastated by climate change,” said Machel.

Electricity is being provided to Beira via generators in some neighbourhoods. Some classes have resumed in schools that were not damaged by the cyclone. And the water supply has returned to some neighbourhoods.

But Davis Simango, the mayor of Beira, told the media on Tuesday Mar. 26 that still much remains to be done.

“Beira is destroyed,” reported Simango when interviewed by the Mozambican press.
“We need to do something, because there are many affected, living without food, who are homeless, penniless and without prospects to rebuild,” said Simango.

José Bacar, who lives in Beira, told IPS that “many people don’t have food”.
“There are people in the accommodations centres without food,” Bacar reported.
He said that the support given by the Government through the INGC wasn’t enough.

Diarrhea and Cholera in Beira and Buzi
While the water levels are receding in many areas, poor sanitation conditions are prevalent and fears are growing of the spread of cholera. Many families in Buzi are drinking directly from the river Buzi. In Beira and Buzi there have been reported cases of diarrhoea and cholera. In Beira, the municipal authorities confirmed the registration of deaths caused by cholera, according Simango.

“There are people who are dying by the cholera. We have the record of 5 deaths,” said Simango. This Thursday, Mar. 28, Beira’s health authorities confirmed 139 cases of cholera.

Simango appealed to people to be careful with the water and to treat it before consuming it. “If we have survived the cyclone Idai, it doesn’t make sense that we will die by cholera,” concluded Simango.
But Margarida Jone, a resident in Buzi village, told IPS in telephone interview this Wednesday, that they were trying to use chlorine to purify water, but even so, it remained unfit for human consumption.

Meanwhile authorities are advising communities about good hygiene practices, to prevent that the spread of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that will promote a massive vaccination campaign against cholera in Beira and other vulnerable areas affected by the floods.
Mozambican health authorities are also worried about the possibility of increased cases of malaria in the areas affected by Cyclone Idai.

Militarised Government Attempts to Resume Mega-projects in Brazil

Aerial image of the area where the third nuclear power plant is to be built in Angra, next to the Angra 1 and Angra 2 plants, in a coastal area near the city of Angra dos Reis, south of Rio de Janeiro, in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Divulgação Eletronuclear

Aerial image of the area where the third nuclear power plant is to be built in Angra, next to the Angra 1 and Angra 2 plants, in a coastal area near the city of Angra dos Reis, south of Rio de Janeiro, in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Divulgação Eletronuclear

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 29 2019 – Two military-inspired initiatives are leading Brazil’s new government, which includes a number of generals, down the path of mega-projects, which have had disastrous results in the last four decades.

Completing the country’s third nuclear power plant and setting the construction of eight others on track is the plan under study, announced by the Minister of Mines and Energy, Admiral Bento Albuquerque.

Brazil’s extreme right-wing government risks repeating the disaster of the nuclear programme of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship , which in the 1970s also began to build nine generating units and managed to put only two in operation, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, while leaving a third plant unfinished.A widespread paranoia among the Brazilian military is the alleged threat to national sovereignty posed by indigenous reservations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which they say could lead to a declaration of independence or to the “internationalisation” of parts of the Amazon rainforest.

Another major project, which has been promised by decree before April, is to build a highway, a hydroelectric plant and a bridge over the country’s largest river, in a well-preserved part of the Amazon rainforest.

It is an old proposal by retired General Maynard Santa Rosa, head of the Strategic Affairs Secretariat of the Presidency, who defends it mainly for reasons of national security.

The goal is to generate electricity for the middle reaches of the Amazon basin, where Manaos, a city of 2.1 million people, is located, and to promote local development to curb international environmental and indigenous organisations, the general wrote in a 2013 article.

A widespread paranoia among the Brazilian military is the alleged threat to national sovereignty posed by indigenous reservations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which they say could lead to a declaration of independence or to the “internationalisation” of parts of the Amazon rainforest.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, warned of the dangers posed by the Triple A, an Andes-Amazon-Atlantic ecological corridor, although it is merely a proposal by the Colombian NGO Gaia Amazonas, as a way to protect nature in the far north of Brazil and parts of seven other countries that share the Amazon basin.

That was the reason, according to the president in office since January, that Brazil decided not to host the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25), which in the end will be held in Chile in January 2020.

Retired General Augusto Heleno Pereira, head of the Institutional Security Cabinet, with the rank of minister, has repeatedly mentioned the fear that Brazil will lose parts of the national territory if indigenous communities, especially groups with reservations along the border, join together with NGOs or international agencies to seek independence.

The new government is the most militarised in Brazilian history, including more army, navy and air force officers than in any other period, including the last military dictatorship.

In addition to eight ministers, there are more than 40 other high-level government officials who come from the military. And that presence is set to expand, since the ministers of Education, Ricardo Velez Rodriguez, and Environment, Ricardo Salles, are in favor of the militarisation of schools and of their ministries.

Rebuilt but unpaved portion of the BR-163 highway, in the Amazonian state of Pará, in northern Brazil. The government of Jair Bolsonaro wants to build a section of the road that was in the original design but was not even marked out in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Rebuilt but unpaved portion of the BR-163 highway, in the Amazonian state of Pará, in northern Brazil. The government of Jair Bolsonaro wants to build a section of the road that was in the original design but was not even marked out in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Military thinking, therefore, orients various sectors of the government. This is the case of the occupation of the Amazon rainforest by large infrastructure works. “Integrating in order not to hand over” the Amazon was the slogan of the dictatorship, which has been taken up again by the current administration.

In the energy sector, the nuclear option was implicit in the appointment of Admiral Albuquerque, as he was formerly the navy’s director general of nuclear and technological development.

He was in charge of a programme to build four conventional submarines, the first of which was launched in December, and a nuclear-powered submarine.

The navy developed a parallel nuclear programme, kept secret for several years, that succeeded in mastering uranium enrichment technology, even though Brazil had assumed international commitments to renounce any use of nuclear weapons.

Multiplying the number of nuclear power plants is part of the technological and strategic plans of the military that consider the advance of knowledge in that area essential.

In addition, Brazil has large uranium deposits and developed a nuclear fuel and equipment industry that would be boosted by the demand created by new power plants and submarines.

But there is a strong possibility of repeating the frustration of the programme initiated in the 1970s, due to similar financial difficulties. In the face of the foreign debt crisis of the 1980s, several mega-projects of the military dictatorship, labeled “pharaonic” by critics, were aborted.

Brazil acquired its first nuclear power plant in the United States, with a reactor from Westinghouse. It was named Angra 1 because it was installed 130 km west of Rio de Janeiro as the crow flies, on the edge of the sea, in the municipality of Angra dos Reis.

The works lasted from 1972 to 1982 and the plant began to operate in 1985, with a generating capacity of 657 megawatts.

Meanwhile, in 1975, the military government signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Germany, which included the construction of eight other plants, with technology transfer.

Only the first of them, Angra 2, installed in the same small bay surrounded by mountains, finally began to operate – after a process that lacked transparency – in 2000, generating 1,650 megawatts.

The second German technology unit, Angra 3, began to be built in 1984, although work was interrupted two years later and only resumed between 2010 and 2015.

Reviving a project of astronomical costs sounds like an unlikely undertaking for a government that pledged to voters that it would carry out a fiscal adjustment, starting by reducing the deficit of the social security system.

Besides, the plant would be using outdated technology and equipment stored for more than three decades, all from Germany, which is dismantling its last nuclear plants.

Against the expansion of Brazil’s nuclear industry conspires the cost of its energy, much more expensive than hydropower, which is abundant in Brazil, and than solar and wind energy – alternatives sources whose cost is steadily dropping.

Above all, megaprojects have a track record that includes many failures.

The highway that General Santa Rosa wants to promote in the Amazon is precisely the northernmost and abandoned stretch of one of the mega-projects designed by the military dictatorship and whose construction began in the early 1970s.

BR-163 was supposed to cross the entire Brazilian territory from south to north, stretching a distance of 3,470 km. But construction came to a halt in Santarém, where the Tapajós River flows into the Amazon River. It was a white elephant for more than two decades, until the expansion of soybeans in the state of Mato Grosso made it useful again.

The idea of the new project is to complete it up to the Surinam border, but it is not economically justified. The stretch where the largest soybean production is transported to the ports for export is economically viable, but 90 km of that stretch are still not paved, which would require a large investment.

The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT), also unleashed a wave of mega-projects that largely failed, such as railways, ports, shipyards, refineries and petrochemical plants, and turned into corruption scandals.

Large hydroelectric plants were completed, but triggered protests from local populations, which tarnished their image. And that would likely be the reaction if the current government’s works in the Amazon continue to forge ahead, since they would cause damage to a number of indigenous and “quilombola” – Afro-descendant communities – territories.

UK Announces Aid Package for Gazan Hospitals Near Breaking Point

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
LONDON, Mar 29 2019 – The UK Government has announced an aid package to support hospitals in Gaza that are “near breaking point”.

The £2 million package will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross’s 2019 Israel and Occupied Territories (ILOT) Appeal. The aid will contribute to surgical equipment, drugs, wound dressing kits, prosthetics, and post-surgery physiotherapy for up to 3,000 disabled people.

The funding was confirmed by International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who said the UK was “deeply concerned by the crisis in Gaza and the pressure it is putting on hospitals, which are now near breaking point.”

The UK Department for International Development said its aid package is designed to support Gazan hospitals following a sharp rise in trauma patients. Pressure has built on the system after trauma patients numbers increased month-on-month to more than 29,000 over the last year.

Mordaunt added that previous aid had helped prevent the spread of disease, and given people access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation. The UK government has also recently provided a package of emergency food supplies for more than 62,000 Palestinian refugees at risk of going hungry.

The hospitals have reportedly been struggling to keep up with the large numbers of Palestinians injured at recent border demonstrations.

As well as an economic blockade by Israel, Gaza also is under sanctions imposed in 2017 by the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas. Years of economic decline and conflict have left the health sector across the Gaza Strip lacking adequate infrastructure and training opportunities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the Gazan health system has been “severely affected” by the Israeli blockade which has been in place since 2007. The organisation said healthcare in the strip is beset by recurrent power cuts, deteriorating medical equipment and a lack of spare parts.

Mordaunt added that the UK “supports a return to negotiations to find a lasting political settlement for Palestinians and Israelis,” and is working to address the causes of the humanitarian situation in Gaza through an economic development plan which seeks to boost water and electricity supplies to the territory.

In July 2018, the UK government announced it was set to double aid for economic development in the West Bank and Gaza over the next five years as part of its plan. The funding programme is to increase to £38 million. However, this is far short of Israeli estimates of the funds required to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

At a meeting in February 2018 of the UN Office for the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Israel reportedly presented a US$1 billion list of infrastructure projects designed to relieve the crisis, including a desalination plant and a major project to link Gaza to Israel’s natural gas fields.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable and around a third of essential medical drugs are out of stock.

The aid announcement comes amid violent clashes between Hamas and the Israeli military, with exchanges of rocket fire in recent days. The violence is part of a long-running cycle that saw protest against the blockade throughout 2018. The border protest, known as the “Great March of Return”, led to a large numbers of casualties.

According to the WHO’s February 2019 report on the health situation in the Palestinian territories, 266 people have been killed and 29,130 injured, since the start of the mass demonstrations in March 2018.

The Israeli government has also come under criticism from human rights organisations for blocking travel permits for Gazans seeking medical treatment outside the territory.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for the lifting of movement restrictions after the Israeli government only approved medical permits for 54 percent of those who applied in 2017, a figure which has slowly declined from 92 percent in 2012.

In 2018, the US struck a blow to Gazan healthcare with a pledge by President Donald Trump to cut all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which services more than 20 health centres in the territory. UNRWA provides healthcare services for the majority of the more than 1.2 million Palestinian refugees in the strip.

The administration decried “the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business,” describing its funding practices as “irredeemably flawed”.

UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl said in November 2018 that the cuts had caused UNRWA’s worst financial predicament since its founding in 1949. In response the agency launched a global campaign, #Dignityispriceless, reducing the shortfall to $64 million following pledges from Gulf states.

Making it in India: Women Struggle to Break Down Barriers Starting a Business

Credit: Mann Deshi Foundation

By Ashlin Mathew
NEW DELHI, Mar 29 2019 – Radhika Baburao Shinde was all of 12 years old when she was married off to a man who was 10 years older. She was sent away to live with her new husband, a truck driver, and his family in remote, drought-prone Satara district, 330 kilometers southwest of Mumbai. She left school and went to work as a laborer on her husband’s family farm.

When Shinde had children of her own—a daughter and two sons—she wanted them to have a better life. In villages across India, where an estimated 833 million people live on less than $3.20 a day, it usually falls to women like Shinde to take care of their children and ensure they have enough to eat.

A chance encounter in 2014 helped her break the cycle of poverty. Employees of the Mann Deshi Foundation, which teaches business skills and lends money to rural women, arrived in her village offering training in various trades for a nominal fee.

Shinde completed a 120-hour course in tailoring and acquired the skills she needed to start a small business catering to her neighbors, in addition to her farm work. This helped her earn the equivalent of $5 a month to spend on her children—a considerable sum for an area where the median household income was less than $70.

Her in-laws weren’t pleased. They didn’t want her new business to distract her from farming. “There were many fights, and eventually they consented,” she recalls.

Labor force participation

The women-run Mann Deshi Foundation, established in the 1990s, is among a handful of organizations seeking to break down social, legal, and economic barriers to women’s entrepreneurship in India.

Despite rapid growth, wide gender disparities in the economic sphere have been stubbornly persistent. The result has been a tragic waste of human potential that has hampered efforts to reduce poverty in the world’s second most populous country.

Perhaps one of the starkest signs of Indian women’s plight is their labor force participation rate, which was just 27 percent in 2017, about one-third that of men. By that measure, India ranks 120th among 131 countries, according to data from the World Bank. Women entrepreneurs do no better.

Only about 14 percent of Indian women own or run businesses, according to the Sixth Economic Census, conducted in 2014. More than 90 percent of companies run by women are microenterprises, and about 79 percent are self-financed.

Women account for just 17 percent of GDP in India, less than half the global average, Annette Dixon, the World Bank’s vice president for South Asia, said in a speech in March of last year. If even half of Indian women were in the labor force, the annual pace of economic growth would rise by 1.5 percentage points to about 9 percent, she estimated.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 ranks 149 countries on four measures: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. India ranks 108th overall, with particularly low scores on two metrics: health and survival and economic participation.

Small wonder, then, that the country also fares poorly in indexes of entrepreneurship. India ranked 52 among 57 countries in the 2018 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, ahead of Iran and behind Tunisia. The index looks at things like financial access, advancement outcomes, and ease of doing business.

“Many times, there are pressures and opposition from within the family due to societal stereotypes that force women to just take care of the house as her key responsibility,” says Aparna Saraogi, cofounder of the Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (WEE) Foundation. “Also, the lack of child-care support systems holds women back.”

Lack of collateral

There are other hurdles. Women in India rarely own property that could serve as collateral for start-up loans. They have less education than men, on average. When they do work, they receive lower wages than their male counterparts and generally occupy low-skill jobs in agriculture and services, often in the informal economy.

Unequal access to finance is a major barrier for aspiring entrepreneurs, who need capital to start a business, however small. Providing equal access to finance while promoting female entrepreneurship would raise GDP and reduce unemployment, according to a 2018 IMF study, “Closing Gender Gaps in India: Does Increasing Women’s Access to Finance Help?

The potential benefits would be greatest—amounting to a 6.8 percent increase in GDP—if India also simplified its notoriously complex labor market regulations and improved women’s skills, the study found.

“If our economy is to grow by 9 to 10 percent consistently in the next three decades, we have to create ecosystems that support every kind of woman entrepreneur,” says Sairee Chahal, founder of SHEROES, a community platform that allows women to reach out to counselors by telephone or via an app.

The organization has helped victims of domestic violence like Sathiya Sundari, who lives in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. When she left an abusive relationship, she found herself with no means of support. She turned to SHEROES, which helped her start a beauty parlor.

“I didn’t know what it would take to run a business,” she recalls. “SHEROES sent mentors to train and guide me and also set up a crowdfunding campaign to help me begin my business,” Sundari says.

The campaign raised the money she needed in just six days in 2017. Her beauty parlor now earns her about 8,000 rupees ($113) a month, a figure that rises to 15,000 rupees during the December–March wedding season. That’s better than the median monthly household income of 7,269 rupees in rural areas of Tamil Nadu.

Unequal education is another major barrier. The literacy rate for Indian women is 64 percent, compared with 82 percent for men. It’s no coincidence that states with higher literacy rates also have more women entrepreneurs.

The region comprising India’s four southernmost states plus Maharashtra, where literacy is higher than the national average, is home to more than half of all women-led small-scale industrial units in the country, according to the Sixth Economic Census.

Yet even among India’s educated urban elite, women entrepreneurs face discrimination. Meghna Saraogi, who lives in New Delhi, is one of them. She runs a fashion app called StyleDotMe, whose users upload photos of themselves trying on various outfits and get feedback from other users in real time. She recalls her experience seeking start-up capital in the mostly male world of technology.

“There were many who asked what would happen to the business when I got married and had a child,” she says. “Then there were others who were not sure if a business with a woman at the helm would find any investors at all.”

In the end, she got two rounds of funding totaling the equivalent of $322,000 in 2016 and 2017 through the Indian Angel Network (IAN). Last year, StyleDotMe launched an interactive augmented reality platform for jewelry called mirrAR.

Meghna Saraogi’s success story should be the norm, but it isn’t. Padmaja Ruparel, cofounder and president of IAN, says only about a quarter of the fund’s portfolio of more than 130 start-ups are led by women. Of the 10,000 deals they review each year, fewer than a third are brought by women, Ruparel says.

“It is not policy or regulatory changes that women are looking for, but better representation and a change in mind-set,” says Debjani Ghosh, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies. “India has to grow up and realize that there is no need to fear having an equal number of women in the room.”

Still, there are signs of progress in the technology sphere. IAN, for example, has seen the proportion of pitches from women rise from 10 percent four years ago to 30 percent today. Says Ghosh: “Investors have slowly woken up to the fact that there is a need to look at the merit of ideas rather than the gender of the founder.”

Low female participation in public life may help explain the persistence of formal and informal barriers. Women accounted for just 19 percent of ministerial positions in India and 12 percent of members of Parliament as of January 2017, putting it in 148th place among 193 jurisdictions tracked by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

“There has to be a mechanism to have an effective legal structure which is supportive of women’s empowerment,” says Aparna Saraogi, of the WEE Foundation. “It should effectively address the gaps between what the law prescribes and what actually occurs.”

Women often lack the knowledge and skills to tap opportunities, says Chetna Sinha, founder of the Mann Deshi Foundation. To help fill that gap, the foundation runs a help line for women entrepreneurs and organizes mentorship programs. It also runs mobile business schools, a women’s bank, and a community radio station.

“Our program highlights access and control of finances,” Sinha says. “We identify and train women according to their needs.”

Among the foundation’s trainees is Rupali Shinde. At age 14, she married into a family that owned a small leather-crafting business that earned them a monthly income of $56, barely enough to send their two children to school. Seeking to expand the business, she took out a loan of $1,405 from the Mann Deshi Bank, but she lacked the know-how to make a go of it. Counselors at the bank encouraged her to take a one-year business course.

“I became financially and digitally literate, and they helped me with practical solutions,” she says. She now has five women working for her, and her family’s income has risen to $281 a month—enough to enroll her daughter in an engineering course.

The WEE Foundation provides a six-month entrepreneurship mentorship program to both tech and nontech start-ups free of charge based on applications from around the country, says Aparna Saraogi. The program is funded by India’s Department of Science and Technology.

“We have mentored more than 500 women-led start-ups since 2016 and enabled more than 5,000 women with skills to ensure that they can earn a living,” she says.

Some vocational programs in India still favor men. Skill India, a government-sponsored program, teaches young men trades such as plumbing, masonry, and welding. But courses for women focus on beauty, wellness, and cooking, and none aim to develop entrepreneurs.

Women like Radhika Baburao Shinde have seen their careers take unexpected turns. She expanded her modest tailoring business with help from the Mann Deshi Foundation, adding a cloth shop. Then, she took a free, six-day course in animal husbandry at a local agricultural research institute after Mann Deshi counselors told her that it would help her improve her income.

“Once I came back, I started going to nearby homes to check their goats and to tell them about artificial insemination, sonograms. I inseminated 100 goats free of cost, and when these goats gave birth to healthy kids, people started trusting me. I started to get calls from nearby villages too.” Now she earns about 8,000 rupees a month—and hopes to save enough to send her 16-year-old daughter to college.

Entrepreneurs like Shinde are blazing a path for the next generation of women. Not only are they making sure their own daughters get the education they need to start businesses of their own, but they are serving as role models for the wider community, offering Indian women hope for a brighter future.

*The article was first published in Finance & Development, the IMF’s quarterly print magazine and online editorial platform, which publishes cutting-edge analysis and insight on the latest trends and research in international finance, economics, and development.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.

Harves Entertainment and Falcon’s Creative Group Join Forces to Create Global, Next Generation Experiential Entertainment

ORLANDO, Fla., March 28, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Harves Entertainment and Falcon’s Creative Group announced a new strategic alliance which creates a complete package of integrated services – including concept development, financing, creative execution, real estate development, construction, and operations – to propel new opportunities in the design and realization of global, next generation entertainment experiences.

Harves Entertainment is a division of Harves, a premier Chinese real estate and investment company with operational and entertainment services. In January, Harves announced an exclusive partnership with Manchester United to bring immersive themed entertainment centers to China. The first centers are scheduled to open in 2020 in Beijing and Shanghai.

Falcon’s Creative Group, located in Orlando, Florida, designs and produces immersive experiences and theme park attractions with an emphasis on storytelling and innovative technology applications. The company has won multiple industry awards for its work around the globe, holds several technology patents, and has recently announced or completed projects with NASA, National Geographic, and PBS.

The alliance of Harves Entertainment and Falcon’s Creative Group creates a complete and powerful portfolio of services that can uniquely and efficiently address the growing global market for brand and educational immersive experiences. Together, the teams will be able to fund initiatives, conceptualize new ideas, develop technology, and efficiently build and operate cross–cultural, innovative experiences around the world.

“We are delighted to partner with such a creative powerhouse,” said Bo Zhang, Founder and Chairman, Harves Entertainment. “We have great respect and admiration for the talent at Falcon’s and the innovative work they consistently deliver in projects around the world. We have every confidence that together we can create and realize the next generation of experiential entertainment and education attractions.”

“We are combining forces with Harves Entertainment to bring more profound concepts to life,” said Cecil D. Magpuri, President/Chief Creative Officer of Falcon’s Creative Group. “There is a great demand for immersive entertainment experiences across the spectrum and we want to create the next dimension of imaginative and transformative cross–cultural attractions together.”

Harves has a successful track record realizing major development projects in China. The company brings a comprehensive understanding of the local market along with world–class operations, experienced management team, and in–country expertise.

The new strategic agreement aligns the two entities to aggressively move forward on additional entertainment and educational concepts in China and then globally. They will execute projects with both recognized intellectual property assets and proprietary concepts. The combined team will also develop and license technologies that enhance visitor experience and are unique to this rapidly evolving industry.

About Harves Entertainment
Harves Entertainment designs, develops, and operates transformative experiences that connect cultures and generations. These experiences include an exclusive partnership with the world’s most valuable sports brand, Manchester United, with whom they will bring immersive themed entertainment centers to China. The first centers are scheduled to open in 2020 in Beijing and Shanghai. Harves Entertainment is a division of Harves, a premiere Chinese real estate and investment firm. For additional information, visit www.harves.com/entertainment.

About Falcon's Creative Group
Falcon's Creative Group delivers innovative, powerful experiences with breakthrough solutions. We design immersive experiences that challenge the limits of reality and fire the imagination. Our passionate, award–winning team of artists, filmmakers, engineers, architects, designers, and writers transform everyday reality, every day. Falcon's Creative Group is home to Falcon's Treehouse, Falcon's Digital Media and Falcon's Licensing. Visit: www.falconscreativegroup.com.

Contact:
Teri Schindler
Teri.Schindler@Harves.com

Phoebe Hicks
phicks@falconscreativegroup.com

Civil Society Organisations Under Attack by Rightwing Governments & Extremist Groups

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2019 – The widespread political repression in countries such as the Philippines, Egypt and Saudi Arabia– and rising right-wing nationalism in the US, Brazil, Italy, India, Poland and Hungary– have increasingly triggered attacks on human rights and civil society organisations (CSOs).

The annual 2019 “State of Civil Society” report released March 27 details a “terrifying picture of fundamental freedoms under serious threat in 111 of the world’s countries”– well over half of all the countries globally.”

Only four per cent of the world’s population live in countries where fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are respected and enabled.

Authored by the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS, a global alliance of CSOs and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide, the study warns that the rise of right-wing populism and the influence of anti-rights extremist groups are helping to fuel these threats to democracy in so many nations.

But the report also outlines the various ways, in various countries, that civil society and citizens are fighting back, and claiming victories in defence of their rights.

As one of the “alarming examples,” it singles out the Italian government’s decision to impose a hefty fine on one of the world’s best known humanitarian organisations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while simultaneously freezing their assets, impounding their rescue vessel and investigating their staff for human trafficking…in retaliation for their efforts to save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

And there were also instances of activists being charged, tried and convicted in the United States for providing water supplies for migrants crossing the deadly Sonoran desert on the US/Mexico border.

Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General, says “civil society, acting on humanitarian impulses, confronts a rising tide of global mean spiritedness, challenging humanitarian values in a way unparalleled since the Second World War.”

“We need a new campaign, at both global and domestic levels, to reinforce humanitarian values and the rights of progressive civil society groups to act,” added John.

The theme of this year’s ICSW, which takes place in Belgrade April 8-12, is “The Power of Togetherness” focusing on harnessing the power of collective action to respond to rights restrictions and rightwing globalism.

According to the CIVICUS report, in Europe, the US and beyond – from Brazil to India – right wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups are mobilising dominant populations to attack the most vulnerable.

This has led to an attack on the values behind humanitarian response as people are being encouraged to blame minorities and vulnerable groups for their concerns about insecurity, inequality, economic hardship and isolation from power.

This means that civil society organisations that support the rights of excluded populations such as women and LGBTQI people and stand up for labour rights are being attacked.

As narrow notions of national sovereignty are being asserted, the report points out, the international system is being rewritten by powerful states, such as China, Russia and the USA, that refuse to play by the rules.

“Borders and walls are being reinforced by rogue leaders who are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs by ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms”.

The report also points to a startling spike in protests relating to economic exclusion, inequality and poverty, which are often met with violent repression, and highlights a series of flawed and fake elections held in countries around the world in the last year.

“Democratic values are under strain around the globe from unaccountable strong men attacking civil society and the media in unprecedented – and often brutal – ways,” said Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS’ Editor-in-Chief and the report’s lead author.

And 2018 is being billed as a year in which regressive forces appeared to gain ground.

But the past year was also one in which committed civil society activists fought back against the rising repression of rights.

The report points out to the successes of the global #MeToo women’s rights movement to the March for Our Lives gun reform movement led by high school students in the US– to the growing school strike climate change movement, collective action gained ground to claim breakthroughs.

“Despite the negative trends, active citizens and civil society organisations have been able to achieve change in Armenia, where a new political dispensation is in place, and in Ethiopia, where scores of prisoners of conscience have been released,” said John.

The report makes several recommendations for civil society and citizen action. The report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives.

These include developing and promoting new ideas on economic democracy for fairer economies that put people and rights at their centre. Notably, the report calls for reinforcing the spirit of internationalism, shared humanity and the central importance of compassion in everything we say and do.

Meanwhile, says the report, international institutions mostly struggled, hamstrung by the interests and alliances of powerful states, doing little to respond to the great challenges of the day, failing to fight overwhelming inequality, silent on the human rights abuses of states such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan, letting down the people of Syria and the Rohingya people of Myanmar, among many others.

Asked if the United Nations shouldn’t name and shame these countries where right wing extremism is on the rise, Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, told IPS the UN is facing serious funding challenges which make it dependent on the contributions of big countries for its operating budget.

“This might be leading to situations where ultra-nationalist leaders or those who subscribe to authoritarian precepts are getting a free pass for their actions that flagrantly violate the spirit of the UN Charter and also international law”.

He also pointed out that the funding situation is so dire that a number of UN bodies are courting private corporations to shore up their funding including with regards to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which could lead to undesirable policy influence in the fight against inequality, on labour rights and on efforts to reduce high level corruption.

Often restrictions on civil society are worsened when the increasingly close partnerships between governments and the private sector go unscrutinised.

It’s also important to remember, said Tiwana, that while the UN is increasingly turning to the private sector for assistance in achieving sustainable development, it is often civil society organisations that are working hand in hand with the UN in delivering humanitarian services on the frontlines, and risking their lives doing so.

“The divisive and selfish actions of nationalist leaders indicate that we might be heading towards a full-blown crisis of the multilateral system”.

“In the present situation where we are facing a crisis of compassion from the actions of meanspirited right wing populists, it’s important that the UN stands with civil society organisations and activists working towards just, equal and sustainable societies”.

He argued that public statements from senior UN officials across the institutions’ various pillars, followed by actions and willingness by UN officials on the ground to engage governments that attack human rights and civil society, are urgently needed in the present scenario.

The UN needs to make common cause with political leaders and governments committed to strengthening multilateralism and the international human rights framework in these testing times, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

Safe Menstrual Practices Important for Progress

In Bangladesh a large number of girls said they felt uncomfortable to go to school or travel during their period due to abdominal pain and the fear of leakage from rags. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2019 – As menstruation continues to be shamed in many communities, one organisation is rising up to the challenge to ensure “safe menstruation for all women of Bangladesh.”

Half of the approximately four billion women around the world are of reproductive age. For these women and girls, menstruation is a natural monthly reality. However, a lack of awareness and access to basic health and hygiene products or facilities has turned this reality into a barrier in Bangladesh.

“Menstruation is not an openly discussed topic in Bangladeshi society due to cultural beliefs and social norms around the body and blood,” Executive Director of the Center for Research and Information (CRI) Sabbir Bin Shams told IPS.

“Lack of awareness, proper education, economic constraints lead to rising of ‘conservative’ behaviour which finally impedes lifestyle improvement among girls,” he added.

Approximately 95 percent of women in Bangladesh do not use sanitary napkins either because they are unavailable or unaffordable. Instead, women and girls often use old rags and husk sand which often cause severe reproductive health problems such as reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in Bangladesh, with approximately 12,000 new cases detected every year and over 6,000 deaths due to the severity of the disease.

Kamrun Nesa Mira saw this firsthand after visiting a remote river island in Bangladesh. After suddenly getting her period, she could not find a shop to buy sanitary pads so turned to a local woman who gave her a piece of old cloth.

While Mira took the cloth as a temporary placeholder, she was shocked and concerned when the woman told her to cover the cloth with sand, realising that many rural women do not practice safe menstruation.

While visiting a nearby school, Mira also found that many girls don’t go to school while on their period.

In fact, 95 percent of girls said they felt uncomfortable to go to school or travel during their period due to abdominal pain and the fear of leakage from rags.

This prompted Mira to help establish the All for One Foundation which promotes positive hygiene practices and provide access to affordable sanitary products.

“A natural thing like menstruation cannot be the barrier towards female education and life expectancy. In this context, awareness activities by youth led organisation, All for One Foundation to educate girls and women of underprivileged communities about safe menstrual practices are important for the progress of Bangladesh,” Shams said.

The organisation provides menstrual hygiene education not only to girls to prepare them for their first period, but also to male students and parents in order to help break the taboo around menstruation.

“You cannot change the life of a person entirely, but at least you can guide her to the direction through which she can change her own,” Mira said.

In the fight to make sanitary napkins more affordable, All for One Foundation found that such products are deemed to be “luxury” products and have an imposed sales tax of 45 percent.

This means a pack of 8-10 sanitary napkins cost between 75 and 140 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT). However, a tea worker earns approximately 85 BDT per day, leaving many women unable to afford sanitary products.

The group has since raised awareness of the issue and has been pushing for a tax exemption at a national scale.

“Sanitary napkins ensure safe menstruation. Menstrual hygiene is a basic right. Menstruation is a health condition and not a disease. And thus, safe menstruation should be accessible to every woman,” said All for One Foundation on its website.

While the initiative is still small, it is growing and expanding its reach.

“If organisations and youths play more active and constructive roles in building awareness, social norms and practices can be altered gradually and which may lead Bangladesh to become an inclusive nation,” Shams told IPS.

Young Bangla, the largest youth platform in Bangladesh, recognised the outstanding contribution to society and awarded the All for One Foundation the Joy Bangla Youth Award in 2018.

The Campaign Against Greta is an Index of the Loss of Values

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 28 2019 – Since the powerful march of hundreds of thousands of students in 1,000 towns against climate change, an unexpected campaign of delegitimation, ”demystification” and demonisation has started against Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who started the movement. After searching the media, social media and websites, this campaign can be divided into four different groups.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first could be called the stupid. A writer reports pictures of Greta eating a banana, claiming that this proves she has double standards. She wants to reduce gas emissions, and then she eats banana which come from far away. Why does she not eat an apple, which are produced locally in Sweden? Another writer observes that Greta has two beautiful large dogs, but those dogs must be eating meat, and cows are the greatest source of emission of methane (much more damaging than C02) and a cow uses up 15,000 litres of water before reaching the age of slaughter. Then, a third observes that Greta may well skip planes, but by using trains she is clearly using electrical power, which is still basically generated by coal. Then there is another reader protesting strongly because she has bought a sandwich in the train, which comes with a plastic wrap, and she is thus contributing to the damage caused by plastic to the seas. We are clearly in the realm of stupidity, because is impossible for anybody to do anything in this world without contributing to its degradation. This will only change when the political system corrects our lifestyle (just note how, by the sound of it, this is improbable!) If Greta were to ask her parents to give the two dogs away, were not to move from Stockholm at all, and were to eat only local apples, would this make such a substantive contribution to a better climate? Or is it more constructive to campaign and mobilise hundreds of thousands of people?

The second group can be called the jealous. These are the climate scientists who have written everywhere that they started to fight climate change even before Greta (who is now 16) was born. How is it possible that they have been ignored and now a little girl with no preparation is able to mobilise people all over the world? No self-criticism of the fact that they have not been able to inspire and communicate with students. Besides, Greta did not campaign as an expert. Her message in Davos, in Brussels, everywhere, was: Please listen to the scientists. An old Chinese proverb goes: never fight your allies.

The third group is the purists. They have been redistributing reports by Swedish journalists everywhere which delve into Greta’s background, discovering that her parents are active ecologists, that her father has always supported her, and that she has been influenced by a famous activist who has been behind her every step. They claim that in order to believe Greta, it would therefore have been necessary for her parents to have been indifferent to climate issues, and that she should have been totally alien to ecological circles. And this campaign continues, even though all Swedish journalist are unanimous in declaring that Greta has not been an instrument of anyone, and that she is only following only her commitments. Also because, by grace of the gods, she has a mental condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes her a very single-minded person, indifferent to recognitions, compliments and compromises. So, in a letter to Le Figaro, one of the purists asks if it is logical to put hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world “under the guide of a zombie”. This category also includes many complaining that Greta is not denouncing the fact that Sweden is making money by selling weapons. Greta has denounced no one, so those responsible are quite happy. Greta has not started any campaign against finance because she does not understand that only by subduing finance can you change climate. And so on, according to the lenses through which her critics look at her.

And of course, there is the most legitimate group, the paternalists. This is a physiological group comprising those who think that young people have no idea about real life, and nothing serious will come out of the students’ movement, unless they listen to their elders. Their place is in school, not on the streets, they do not have the maturity to understand themes which require a scientific preparation. Exemplary is a letter published in Corriere della Sera, in which somebody observes that young people hardly read books any longer, use smartphones all day long and ignore classical music or theatre – they lack the gravitas necessary for real change. An extreme example of how paternalism is the twin of patriarchalism was a comment made by a well-dressed adult in a group observing the students marching for climate change: “I wonder how many of those girls are still virgin.” Asked about the relationship between virginity and climate change, the answer was: ”Well, until a girl is virgin, she can still have illusions, but not after.”

Those various reactions against a young girl who is simply asking to grow up in a sustainable world is clearly representative of how much society has changed in the last decade. We have come a long way. The period after the Second World War was characterised by the need to reconstruct, to make sacrifices, to make Europe an island of peace, to believe that politics were a participatory tool for changing society for the better. Social elevator, the certainty of young people that they would be better off than their parents, was everybody’s belief. Political rallies saw millions of people on the streets, with hopes and commitments. We all know how that world of idealism collapsed. With the destruction of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were the first to go. The keyword was pragmatism. But it was a pragmatism prisoner of the neoliberalism philosophy which was untouchable. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, There Is No Alternative (TINA). Social costs were unproductive, and finance took on a life by itself, no longer linked to the word of production. The state was pared down to the minimum. We should remember that Reagan proposed the abolition of the Ministry of Education and full privatisation of healthcare. The United Nations was considered obsolete: trade, not aid. For three decades, from Reagan (1981) to the great financial crisis of 2008, the motto was: compete, become rich, at national and Individual level. Politics become a mere administrative activity, devoid of long-term vision. The arrival of Internet changed society from an interactive and connected thread of relations based on platforms to share, into a net of parallel virtual worlds in which to seek refuge and avoid public action. The media followed by downgrading the complexity of information, concentrating on events and ignoring processes. TV basically passed into the field of entertainment with programmes that were shaping popular culture, like Big Brother, or the L’Isola dei Famosi (Island of the Famous). Greed was considered good for society and praised by Hollywood. We were all living in a financial bubble that burst in 2008. It was then clear that politics no longer controlled finance, but vice versa. According Bloomberg, in order to bail out the banking system, the United States had to spend 12.8 trillion dollars, Europe spent 5 trillion dollars, 1.6 trillion just to stabilise the euro. China spent 156 billion, and Japan over 110 billion. Nobody knows for sure how much it cost the world to save its banking system, which was (and is), without any control or regulatory body. If the amount paid to bail out the banks had been distributed to the 7.5 billion people of the world, they would each have received 2,571 dollars. Enough to start a frenzy of acquisitions, especially in the South of the world, with an enormous leap in production. It would have practically solved all the world’s social problems indicated as the Millennium Goals by the United Nations in an agreement subscribed to by all countries. But, by then, the banks were more important than people … and for their illicit activities, the ungrateful banks have paid in fines totalling over 800 billion dollars since their bailout. Let us remember that greed was already being praised in Hollywood in 1987 by Gordon Gekko in the famous film ‘Wall Street’. Gekko famously says: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”. It is no coincidence that at the time of the financial crisis of 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, said: ”It is perhaps time to admit that we did not learn the full lesson of the greed-is-good ideology.” And the following year, in a speech to the Italian Senate, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said: We have gone from free market to free greed.” And many manifestations of global civil society, like the World Social Forum, have been denouncing the submission of politics to finance, and how greed has become a value.

But after the thirty years of greed-is good came the major financial crisis of 2008, due to the irresponsibility of the financial system. That crisis brought an additional negative social impact which was fear: fear of unemployment, fear for the future, fear of terrorism. It became clear that the social elevator that had worked since the end of the Second World War had stopped, with millions of young people from all over the world stuck in it. The American dream itself was in crisis. And a new decade came, one of fear. As usual in cases of fear, a new narrative emerges. After the thirty years of greed, we have now a decade of fear. Neoliberalism, TINA, have lost any credibility. All political parties have betrayed the hopes of their voters. The people have been left out by the elites, by those in the system. So, since 2008, nationalist populist parties that claimed to defend the people flourished all over Europe, where before the crisis they had been practically non-existent (except for Le Pen in France). They continue to flourish. In the last Dutch elections, a new populist party, The Forum for Democracy, won 16 seats in the Senate. Its leader, Thierry Baudet, has discarded the bewitched invention of climate change, idolatry of the sustainable, indoctrination of the left. This is a position common to all populist parties. Their success has been to direct the fear against the different: different religions, different customs, different cultures … in other words, immigrants. Xenophobia has joined nationalism and populism.

Every year there has been a decline in real revenue, in dignified jobs. Traditional political parties have lost credibility and electorates have switched to new politicians, not part of the elite, who speak on behalf of the people and look to the glorious past as the basis for the future, ignoring any technological development. The social divide, taken as the basis by the new political culture, went into full destructive speed: in just ten years, 28 people concentrated in their hands the same wealth as 2.3 billion people. This is money taken away from the general economy; it means that for every billionaire there are thousands of impoverished people. In just the last year, the 42.2 million people in the world with more than one million dollars in financial assets, grew by 2.3 million This is why Pope Francis says that behind every large property there is a social mortgage.

It took a long road to abandon the world which came out of the Second World War an arrive at the present one: a world where phenomena that are abnormalities, like war and poverty, are now considered normal by most young people. Corruption, which has of course always existed, has now become another natural fact. Democracy, which was considered the central foundation of society, is now considered a debatable possibility, with Orban, Salvini and company promoting illiberal democracy.

Fear and greed have changed our society. We are in the middle of a transition, to where nobody knows. What is clear is that the present system is no longer functional and requires very serious corrections. The tide of nationalism, populism and xenophobia is taking us backwards to miseries that we had forgotten, instead of forwards. Electoral campaigns are not based on programmes but on discrediting opponents. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, disagreed with Trump, the latter’s Trade Secretary said that there must be a special place in hell for the Canadian PM. TV debates have become a school of incivility. The question is: are we entering a new era based on incivility? For the first time in the history of the British parliament, the various opponents are unable to find a way out from a referendum based on facts that where all lies.

We must recognise that we are living in a world where positive things are few and apart. A political, cultural and social climate where nothing is accepted as legitimated, hiding the truth, and manipulated by the enemy. An era of transition, that should be called “the era of evil think”.

The reaction to Greta Thunberg and her mobilisation is a good example of “evil think”. Instead of raising sympathy and support, this young girl is being submitted to this new culture of “evil think”. And yet she is campaigning for survival of the planet, the only one we have, and where we must all live together, regardless of our myths, religions, parties and nationalities. She says: do not ask my generation to solve the problem of climate change, because when we have grown up, it will be already too late. When she reaches the age of 50, there will be 10 billion people, basically all living in towns. But in just ten years, when she will be 26, humankind will need 50 percent more energy and food, and 30 percent more water, an element which is already scarce in a great part of the world, and which is a source of income for private companies. No wonder she is trying to stimulate action!

Save the world NOW is a message that has been able to mobilise students from all over the world. In the era of “evil think”, instead of supporting her, there are those looking at what she eats, what her dogs eat, and what is behind her and manipulating her. In other words, we are in an era in which we are not able to think positively: an era shaped by greed and fear, and with what today’s culture has given us: evil thinking. It is a safe bet that if Greta had sold sportswear, she would have been accepted as a normal phenomenon, and nobody would look at whether she was eating bananas or apples. This is a good index of how we have lost the ability to dream and go forward.

Roberto Savio is publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development.. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.