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Women’s Feature Service: Mapping the Struggles of Feminism in India

Pamela Phillipose, who edited the Women’s Feature Service in New Delhi for almost six years. She stepped down in 2014.

By Shiwani Neupane
NEW DELHI, Mar 5 2019 (IPS)

Pamela Phillipose was editor of the Women’s Feature Service, the only syndicated news service in India with a gender perspective, for nearly six years, until she stepped down this year as editor in chief and director. She wore other hats for the publication as well, writing and photographing.

The service began operating in India when Anita Anand, the manager, moved its headquarters to New Delhi in 1991 to ensure that its focus stay on the developing world and that it become autonomous.

The service had gotten its start in 1978 as a UNESCO initiative in reporting on development issues and written by women journalists, based with the Inter Press Service (IPS) global news agency in Rome.

Once it moved to India, it opened several bureaus around the world, publishing articles by Indian journalists and others for syndication about women’s issues on social, economic, political and health developments, but the bureaus eventually shut down because they could not raise enough money to keep going.

The service ( now syndicates 250 to 300 articles a year and offers programs like international conferences on women-related topics to be self-sustaining. (Anand left in 2000.)

Phillipose started her journalism career in Bombay (now Mumbai) with The Times of India in the 1970s and later was associate editor for The Indian Express. She was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain prize for outstanding woman journalist in 1999 and the Zee-Astitva Award for Constructive Journalism in 2007.

She was an editor of a book, “Across the Crossfire: Women and Conflict in India” and has contributed to various anthologies, including “Memoirs From the Women’s Movement in India: Making a Difference.”

This interview, which touches on Phillipose’s career as a journalist and advocate as well as the increasingly precarious state of many women in India, was held last year by email and by Skype from New York to Phillipose in Delhi.

Q. Why did you leave mainstream media to join the Women’s Feature Service in 2008?

A. The Indian media had increasingly moved away from issues concerning a large section of population, which did not have a presence in the market, after the country began to liberalize its economy — a process that began in the mid-1980s but which peaked in the early ’90s. Dictated by the market, and the advertising sector in particular, the mainstream media began to shift their focus to consumers during the liberalization years.

This meant that many important tropes fell off the media map, including that of gender. This was one of the major reasons for me to consider making the move from The Indian Express, where I was in charge of the editorial pages, to the Women’s Feature Service, a features agency mandated to highlight gender concerns.

Q. You moved from The Times of India to The Indian Express and then to Women’s Feature Service, or WFS. How has the life of Indian women changed during your career?

A. I began my career in the mid-1970s with The Times of India in Bombay. In those days, newspapers were driven largely by politics. The Mathura rape case of the late 1970s and the mobilizations around it helped to make visible the larger theme of violence against women.

This, in turn, impacted positively on media coverage of women’s concerns, and the trend continued into the 1980s, which saw many legislative changes taking place.

After the economic restructuring of the 1990s, there was an unprecedented burgeoning of media presence and institutions — first within the print, then within television and over the last decade or so within the ICT [information and communications technology] and social media space.

All of this has impacted both the representation of women in the media and their presence within the media. In the 1990s, for instance, because women were the prime audiences for television, television serials attempted to consciously link women with the models of hyperconsumption and a neo-conservatism being promoted on television.

However, through it all, larger issues like societal biases — reflected in skewed sex ratios — and sexual violence, remained deeply entrenched within society.

The extent to which such violence, for instance, existed at the subterranean level was evident in the regular recurrence of violence, as evidenced in the murder and rape of Thangjam Manorama in Manipur [2004] or in the Delhi gang rape [2012].

So, while many positive changes, vis-à-vis women, did take place, including universal primary education, rising legal literacy and reservations for women at the level of local government, women in India continue to face serious challenges, including those determined by their caste and religious backgrounds.

Q. India has received a lot of news coverage in at least the last year for the occurrence of multiple gang rapes in the country. This has led to multifaceted conversations worldwide about the state of women in India. Have these conversations helped shed light on women’s rights and concerns, a mission of the Women’s Feature Service, or have the rapes complicated the situation for women further?

A. These are complex issues that require comprehensive answers. Quickly, though, I would like to point out that the Justice Verma Committee Report was a positive outcome of the mobilizations around the Delhi gang rape of December 2012 because it put on the table many issues like marital rape and assaults on women in conflict situations.

Those mobilizations also saw the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, which mandated the compulsory filing of First Information Reports in police stations, something that was neglected earlier, and the criminalization of various kinds of attacks on women, including stalking, acid attacks and stripping.

Q. How do you balance your advocacy work on women’s rights in India with journalism?

A. I believe an important part of journalism is advocacy. In a country like India, where the well-being of an increasing number of people is being threatened, directly and indirectly, by reversals of all kinds, ranging from the food and environmental crises to global recessions, there is space for a more people-centric definition of journalism.

We need more than ever media practitioners who travel beyond the confines of privileged enclaves, leaving behind the “big spenders” of metropolitan India, to tell their stories. We need media practitioners who have the knowledge, capacity and technological ability to communicate on the real issues of our times and speak truth to power in compelling ways.

It is important for journalists to use their abilities of description, their sense of empathy, their access to information and their understanding of the power of words, to tell their stories.

Q. What advice would you give to the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, about effective legislation to protect women’s rights? Do you think, for example, that a separate coach for women in a train is necessary?

A. It is imperative that the Modi government ensures that the rising tide of intolerance and communalism in the country is addressed urgently. Communalism and communal violence adversely affects women disproportionately, as we saw in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

One piece of legislation — the Women’s Reservation Bill, providing for a 33 percent quota for women in Parliament and the state legislatures — has been pending since 1996 because of opposition from male Parliamentarians.

The Modi government would do well to pass that law urgently. We also need other laws presently considered too radical for Indian society — like a matrimonial law and a law to outlaw marital rape.

Q. The Women’s Feature Service has reported on women in conflict zones. You also co-edited a book reporting on conflict, titled “Across the Crossfire: Women and Conflict in India.” What is it about women in conflict zones interests you? Why is it important to focus on women in these circumstances?

A. Women and children, as we know, are the worst affected when conflict-driven violence breaks out, since the responsibility of keeping families going falls on them. However, they hardly matter in peace negotiations and their concerns are not adequately reflected in the drawing up of the architecture of the post-conflict scenario.

Another major concern is that they are extremely vulnerable to sexual attack and assault in times of conflict. This is why I would also advocate the striking down of a repressive law like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, presently in the statute books, which gives the military sweeping powers to treat citizens in disturbed areas with complete impunity.

* Founded in 2011, PassBlue is a project of the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs in New York and not tied financially or otherwise to the UN. PassBlue is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Ignorance-Inspired Brexit Imperial Nostalgia

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury

As the possible implications of Britain’s self-imposed ‘no-deal’ exit from the European Union loom larger, a new round of imperial nostalgia has come alive.

After turning its back on the Commonwealth since the Thatcherite 1980s, some British Conservative Party leaders are seeking to revive colonial connections in increasingly desperate efforts to avoid self-inflicted marginalization following divorce from its European Union neighbours across the Channel.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Imperial nostalgia
Part of the new Brexit induced neo-imperial mythology is that its colonies did not provide any significant economic benefit to Britain itself. Instead, it is suggested that colonial administrations were run at great cost to Britain itself.

The empire, it is even claimed, was long maintained due to a benevolent imperial sense of responsibility. To revive patron-client relations neglected with the turn to Europe in the 1980s, the new mantra is that British rule helped ‘develop’ the empire.

As the sun never set on Britain’s far flung empire, acquired by diverse means for different reasons at various points in time, few generalizations are appropriate. Nevertheless, there is already significant research indicating otherwise for many colonies, but India, of course, was the jewel in the crown.

Empire strikes back
Former Indian foreign minister Shashi Tharoor has debunked many imperial apologetic claims, including those made by former Oxford and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. Probably the most prominent, Ferguson famously insisted decades ago that countries progressed thanks to imperialism in an influential TV series and coffee table book sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Empire.

Anis Chowdhury

Malaysian Sultan Nazrin Shah’s Oxford University Press book has underscored the crucial contribution of colonial Malayan commodity exports in the first four decades of the 20th century, while other scholarship has shown that post-war British recovery depended crucially on the export earnings’ contribution of its Southeast Asian colony.

Less well known is Utsa Patnaik’s painstaking work on nearly two centuries of tax and trade data. She estimates that Britain ‘drained’ nearly US$45 trillion from the Indian subcontinent between 1765 and 1938, equivalent to 17 times the United Kingdom’s current gross domestic product.

Colonial surplus
After the English East India Company (EIC) gained control of and monopolized Indian external trade, EIC traders ‘bought’ Indian goods with tax revenue collected from them. After the British crown displaced the EIC in 1847, its monopoly broke down, and traders had to pay London in gold to get rupees to pay Indian producers.

Under imperial monetary arrangements, the colonies’ export earnings were considered British, and hence booked as a deficit in their own ‘national’ accounts despite their often large trade surpluses with the rest of the world until the Great Depression.

Thus, the empire has been depicted by imperial apologists as liabilities to Britain, with India having to borrow from Britain to finance its own imports. Thus, India remained in debt to and thus ‘bonded’ by debt to Britain.

Not surprisingly, two centuries of British rule did not raise Indian per capita income significantly. In fact, income fell by half in the last half of the 19th century while average life expectancy dropped by a fifth between 1870 and 1920! Infamously, tens of millions died due to avoidable famines induced by colonial policy decisions, including the two Bengal famines.

Slavery too
Britain used such fraudulent gains for many purposes, including further colonial expansion, first in Asia and later in Africa. Taxpayers in the colonies thus paid not only for the administration of their own exploitation, but also for imperial expansion elsewhere, including Britain’s wars.

Early accumulation for Britain’s Industrial Revolution depended significantly on such colonial arrangements. Imperial tribute financed the expansion of colonialism and investments abroad, including the European settler colonies.

Not unlike Eduardo Galeano’s magnum opus, Open Veins of Latin America, Walter Rodney’s 1972 classic, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa showed how slavery and other imperial economic policies transformed, exploited and brutalized Africa.

In The Empire Pays Back, Robert Beckford estimated that Britain should pay a whopping £7.5 trillion in reparations for its role in the transatlantic slave trade, breaking it down as follows: £4 trillion in unpaid wages, £2.5 trillion for unjust enrichment and £1 trillion for pain and suffering.

Britain has made no apology for slavery or colonialism, as it has done for the Irish potato famine. There has been no public acknowledgement of how wealth extracted through imperialism made possible the finance, investment, manufacturing, trade and prosperity of modern Britain.

With Brexit imminent, a renewed narrative and discourse of imperial nostalgia has emerged, articulated, inter alia, in terms of a return to the Commonwealth, long abandoned by Maggie Thatcher. Hence, well over half of those surveyed in UK actually believe that British imperialism was beneficial to the colonies.

This belief is not only clearly self-deluding, but also obscures Britain’s neo-colonial scramble for energy and mineral resources, enhanced role as tax haven for opportunistic finance, as well as its continued global imperial leadership, albeit only in a fading, supporting role to the US as part of its ‘special relationship’.

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University & University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

A Disease as Old as Time – Eliminated but Not Eradicated

By Stella Paul
MANILA, Mar 5 2019 (IPS)

As the Executive Director of Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF), Takahiro Nanri has been working on the issue of leprosy since 2014. Over the past few years, he has traveled across the world visiting the large number of leprosy projects that SMHF has been supporting and meeting dozens of organisations led by leprosy-affected people.
In the past few decades the global fight against leprosy intensified which brought down the number of active cases drastically. As a result, leprosy is now officially eliminated in most countries, but its is still not completely eradicated. So, the word is now at ‘last mile’ to a leprosy-free world which is often described as the hardest part of the journey.

The reasons are many: hidden cases that are unreported and untreated and remain at risk of transmitting to others, insufficient budget allocated by the governments as they feel leprosy no longer needs to be a priority, lack of coordination among organisations working on leprosy and so on.

In this video, Nanri shares his views on how can this last mile journey can be overcome.
There is an urgent need for a coordinated effort to acknowledge that leprosy is still a reality, he says, before promising that SMHF and its parent organisation the Nippon Foundation, are ready to play the role of catalyst to this new, heightened level of co-ordination.

Royal Wedding Received Triple the Media Coverage of Yemen in 2018

A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town; Yemen. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town; Yemen. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

By Jim Lobe

The ongoing war in Yemen, called the world’s “worst humanitarian disaster” by the United Nations and independent aid agencies since early last year, received a grand combined total of 20 minutes of coverage on the ABC, NBC, and CBS weekday evening news programs in 2018.

That compared to a total of 71 minutes that the three major networks devoted to the British royal wedding and a combined total of 100 minutes dedicated to the rescue of a dozen young cave explorers from flooding in Thailand, according to the latest annual compilation by the authoritative Tyndall Report.

By contrast, the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in September received a total of 116 minutes of coverage by the three networks, making it one of the very few foreign-based stories to make it into the top 20 most-covered network news events in 2018.

Although the Thai cave rescue was clearly a dramatic, emotional, and easily accessible story of the kind that lends itself very well to television news, the number of lives at stake were a tiny fraction of those estimated to have been killed in Yemen (50,000-80,000 combatants and non-combatants), not to mention the deaths of well over 100,000 more civilians, including at least 80,000 children under the age of five who have succumbed to malnutrition or disease.

The lack of coverage of the Yemen disaster is symptomatic of negative trends regarding foreign news coverage by the major networks, which together remain the biggest single source of international news in the United States
Some 360,000 children there are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition, while some 20 million Yemenis are unable to “reliably feed themselves or their families [and] almost 10 million are just one step away from famine,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week. The latter figure amounts to nearly half the population of the Arab world’s poorest nation.


Falling Foreign Coverage

Overall, the lack of coverage of the Yemen disaster is symptomatic of negative trends regarding foreign news coverage by the major networks, which together remain the biggest single source of international news in the United States. An average of more than 22 million households tune into the nightly newscasts, or about four times the number of those that watch any of the three major cable channels—Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN—on a given evening.

Indeed, this year’s Tyndall Report found that network coverage from overseas fell to the lowest point since its publisher, Andrew Tyndall, began systematically tracking and coding the three weeknight newscasts in 1988. Altogether, foreign datelines accounted for only 7.5% of all the news generated by those programs (1,092 minutes out of 14,354 minutes) in 2018. (Each half-hour newscast contains an average of roughly 22 minutes of news content.)

“Foreign bureaus have never been so little used,” noted Tyndall in his latest report. “2018 marked a general abdication of the traditional role of the nightly newscasts, which used to provide a daily summary of major national and international news developments,” he told LobeLog in an email.

“Of particular note,” he added, “the top 30 foreign news stories [covered by the three networks’ newscasts] contained no mention of the two major western hemisphere elections—in Brazil and Mexico—and none of the major crisis in Europe; namely Brexit.”

Moreover, he wrote in his email,

the overarching international crisis facing the globe as a whole—climate change—was little covered as such, although its symptoms such as wildfires and hurricanes were presented prominently. These symptoms were confined to their domestic occurrence, however, rather than the manifestations of climate change on a global scale.

I am very pessimistic about the nightly newscasts reforming themselves and ever reverting to their traditional global mission.

Precisely because of its unparalleled reach and the influence of its major sponsors (compared to cable news advertisers), network news has always been designed to appeal to the greatest number of viewers. In important ways, the network news agenda—as shallow, superficial, sensationalistic, and increasingly inward as it is—reveals how Americans see and understand events and trends overseas.


What Did and Didn’t Get Attention

The single most network-covered story of the year, according to Tyndall’s tally was the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at 426 minutes, followed by the ongoing probes into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election (332 minutes).

Three of the next four biggest stories involved extreme weather and its consequences—the California wildfires (242), severe winter weather (234), and Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas (203). Hurricane Michael in Florida was the eleventh biggest story (134 minutes). But, as in past years, these reports, totaling over 800 minutes, were focused almost exclusively on the anticipation and immediate impact of these events rather than the possible relationship between them and climate change.

Aside from the Russian investigations, North Korean-U.S. summitry was the top foreign-policy story, clocking in at 212 minutes, making it the year’s fifth-biggest story overall. The detention of migrant children (189) ranked seventh, tied with the Parkland High School mass shooting in Florida, which was followed in turn by coverage of school safety and violence prevention more generally (184). The prosecution of President Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, (164) ranked tenth, the winding down of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria (133) ranked twelfth, followed by coverage of the flu season (130) and accusations of partisan bias by the FBI and Khashoggi’s assassination (116 minutes each). Police killings of civilians and the federal budget and deficit (112 each), followed by the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics (111), the Facebook controversy (107), and coverage of the Christmas holiday season (105), rounded out the top 20.

As for foreign stories, all things Russia-related—including the alleged election interference (332), U.S.-Russia diplomacy including the Helsinki summit (92); Russian-British diplomacy and the poisoning of the Russian ex-spy (54); and US-Russian spy-related events (23)—led the pack with a total of 501 minutes, or a little over three percent of total nightly newscasts.

Immigration-related coverage accounted for nearly the same amount of coverage (493 minutes). It included the detention of migrant children (189), border restrictions and “the wall” (96), immigration reform more generally (75), Central American migrants and caravans (50), DACA Dreamers seeking permanent status (36), crackdowns on undocumented immigrants and deportations (27), and asylum-seekers (20).

The Koreas were the top foreign-policy story: In addition to the 212 minutes devoted to the summit between Trump and Kim, inter-Korean diplomacy accounted for 48 minutes, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs for another 42 minutes, bringing the total to just over 300 minutes (or about two percent of total programming), not counting the 111 minutes on the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The Syrian civil war and Trump’s (now-modified) decision to withdraw U.S. troops were the next most-covered foreign-related stories (133), followed by Khashoggi’s assassination (116), the cave rescue in Thailand (100), the royal wedding (71), ongoing fighting in Afghanistan (54), U.S.-China trade frictions (52), and steel and aluminum import tariffs (37).

The Israel-Palestinian conflict, NATO-US diplomacy (notably Trump’s trip to Brussels), and the Iran nuclear deal, including Washington’s withdrawal from it, each earned a grand total of 29 minutes of coverage by the three networks, while the earthquake in Indonesia (26) and the eruption of the volcano in Guatemala (23) gained more than Yemen’s 20 minutes in the network spotlight, one minute more than was devoted to Trump’s quick visit to London and the Lion Air jet crash (19 minutes each).

Hopes among various humanitarian, human-rights, and peace groups that the media’s strong focus on Khashoggi’s killing would draw greater public attention to the catastrophic toll suffered by the civilian population during the four-year-old Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen seem to have been disappointed, according to Tyndall’s findings. Of the total 20 minutes devoted to Yemen in 2018, 13 minutes preceded the Saudi journalist’s death and only seven minutes followed it. The relatively greater (but still pathetic) amount of attention before the September assassination came mostly as a result of dire warnings issued by the UN earlier in the spring. (Of the 20 minutes, CBS accounted for 11, while NBC and ABC split the remainder.)

The lack of media attention to Yemen post-Khashoggi, however, did not translate into congressional indifference. Motivated in major part by a campaign led by the Post itself (as well as other print media), Congress expressed its anger by taking up a series of resolutions that have gained momentum this year to curb U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.


America’s Worldview

If the network evening news provides as good a measure as any of how Americans perceive the world outside U.S. borders, it’s not a great picture. As noted by Tyndall himself, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of nearly two billion, simply failed to register in the news. The rise of authoritarian movements in Europe also appeared to draw a blank, as did South and Southeast Asia (apart from the cave rescue).

And, despite the multi-trillion-dollar commitment by the United States to stabilizing and securing the Middle East region over the last two decades, there wasn’t much evidence of its existence on network television besides the last throes of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and the Khashoggi killing. Iraq, to which Washington has sent well over a million troops since the 2003 invasion, didn’t even make the top 30 foreign stories in 2018.

Both Israel and Iran can probably take some satisfaction from their relatively small media footprint last year. The increasingly bellicose fulminations from Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo against Tehran are unlikely to get much popular backing—let alone public enthusiasm for a new military conflict in the Middle East—in the absence of far more intense (and negative) coverage of the kind that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been getting since the Khashoggi murder.

Israel, too, can be happy with its relative obscurity. Despite the hundreds of casualties inflicted by Israeli bullets on Palestinian demonstrators along the Gaza border last year, coverage of Israel-Palestine actually fell by nearly 50 percent, from the 42 minutes the networks devoted to the conflict in 2017, which was already a record low, to a mere 29, according to Tyndall’s calculations over the previous 30 years.

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy

Q&A: Important to Treat Anyone Suffering from Leprosy as an Equal Individual

Alice Cruz is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, says divorce on the grounds of leprosy, allowed by laws or not, is a prevailing reality. Credit: U.N. Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

By Stella Paul
MANILA, Mar 5 2019 (IPS)

Discrimination against women who are affected by leprosy or Hansen’s Disease is a harsh reality, says Alice Cruz is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

“Divorce on the grounds of leprosy, allowed by laws or not, is a prevailing reality. In settings where women are not economically independent, it can lead to the feminisation of poverty, throwing too many women affected by leprosy into begging or even prostituting,” says Cruz, who was speaking via audio link at Regional Assembly of Organisations of People Affected by Leprosy in Asia that was held in Manila, Philippines. The Sasakawa Memorial  Health Foundation/the Nippon Foundation (TNF) which supports leprosy projects across the world sponsored the meeting.

A professor at the Law School of University Andina Simon Boliver in Ecuador, Cruz has extensive knowledge of the social stigma and discrimination faced by the people who are affected by leprosy which also amount to the violation of their human rights.

In an interview to IPS, Cruz speaks of the layers and levels of stigma that men, women and children of leprosy-affected people face and how the U.N. has been trying to end it. Finally, she lists the simple ways that every ordinary person can contribute to end the stigma that people living with leprosy face and how to help them become integral to society. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What is the link between human rights violation and the leprosy-affected people? 

Alice Cruz (AC): Throughout history leprosy has become much more than a disease: it became a label, mainly used to exclude. Leprosy came to embody what was socially prescribed as shameful and disrupting. It became a symbol, a powerful metaphor, for everything that should be kept apart, whether it was attributed to punishment for sinful conduct, unregulated behaviour, past offences and socially constructed ideas of racial inferiority, among others harmful myths and stereotypes, which led to massive human rights violations of persons affected by leprosy, but also their family members.

IPS: Can you describe some of the ways the rights of leprosy affected people are violated?

AC: Women, men and children affected by leprosy were, and continue to be in many contexts, denied not only their dignity, but also an acknowledgement of their humanity. It is not a coincidence that it is commonly said that persons affected by leprosy experience a civil death.

They have been consistently subjected to: stigmatising language; segregation; separation from their families and within the household; separation from their children; denial of care; denial of the means of subsistence; denial of a place to live; denial of education; denial of the right to own property; impediments to marry; impediments to have children; restrictions on their freedom of movement; denial of their right to participate in community, public and political life; physical and psychological abuse and violence; compulsory internment; forced sterilisation; institutionalised silencing and invisibility.
There are still more than 50 countries in the world with discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy in force.

IPS: What is the UN doing to prevent and end these violations?

AC: In 2010, the General Assembly, in a landmark move, adopted resolution 65/215 and took note of the principles and guidelines on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. In so doing, it established leprosy as a human rights issue and stressed that persons affected by leprosy and their family members should be treated as individuals with dignity and entitled to all human rights and fundamental freedoms under customary international law, the relevant conventions and national constitutions and laws. In June 2017, the Council adopted resolution 35/9, establishing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. It called on States and all relevant stakeholders to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur in the discharge of the mandate. I assumed this role on Nov. 1, 2017.

IPS: How far have we come in achieving the 2020 target leprosy eradication?

AC: I am afraid we are very far from such a scenario. By the one hand, eradication of leprosy is not on the horizon given the lack of a vaccine. By the other hand, official reports of around 150 countries to the [World Health Organisation] WHO in 2016 registered more than new 210 000 cases of leprosy, with high incidence among children, which means ongoing transmission.

IPS: How can every ordinary person contribute to eradication of leprosy and ending stigma towards leprosy affected people? 

AC: Acknowledging that persons affected by leprosy are the same as everyone else and fighting harmful stereotypes in daily life. Remembering that anyone, including you and me, can come to suffer from any disease or disability and that diversity and dignity in diversity is what makes us humans.

New Regional Secretariat to Advance Leprosy Advocacy in Asia

Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital Medical Director Dr. Arturo Cunanan urged delegates to the Regional Assembly of Organisations of People Affected by Leprosy in Asia to “put our partnership beyond these walls” and act on the strategies discussed at the three-day conference. Credit: Ben Kritz/IPS

By Ben Kritz
MANILA, Mar 5 2019 (IPS)

Organisations of people affected by leprosy in Asia have agreed to form a regional-level secretariat to support national advocacies and represent their collective agenda at a world conference to be held later this year.

This was the most significant development to emerge from the Regional Assembly of Organisations of People Affected by Leprosy in Asia held in Manila from Mar. 3 to 5. The Coalition of Leprosy Advocates of the Philippines (CLAP) was selected by the delegates to serve as the first regional secretariat.

Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF) Executive Director Dr. Takahiro Nanri requested that the first major initiative of the secretariat be the formulation by June of a “road map” encompassing the Assembly’s consensus agenda, which would then be used by the SMHF and it’s parent body the Nippon Foundation (TNF) to help develop the programme for the world leprosy conference to be held in September.

SMHF and TNF convened the regional assembly in partnership with CLAP and the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital (CSGH).

From theory to practise

CSGH chief Dr. Arturo C. Cunanan told the delegates assembled for the final day of the conference that, “putting our partnerships beyond these walls, putting it into action, is the big challenge” faced by the national organisations, who represented the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, China, and Kiribati.

Cunanan, who is considered the Philippines’ foremost leprosy expert, was particularly upbeat about the conference’s focus on improving communications to stakeholders.

“One of the most valuable things to come out of this conference is the learning about social marketing, and what interventions we can use,” Cunanan stressed to the attendees.

Another key takeaway from the conference, Cunanan said, was the recognition of economic opportunity as a vital component of social inclusion strategies for people affected by leprosy.

“I think an important thing that has emerged here is the idea that poverty is really the root of stigmatisation and prejudice,” Cunanan told IPS. “When people have financial resources, the discrimination goes away. Obviously, providing economic opportunity should be a priority for the various national organisations.”

Cunanan pointed out that priority complemented the focus on organisational sustainability, which was an emergent theme at the conference. “It is very similar to the same thinking that organisations need to find income-generating programmes to be sustainable,” Cunanan said. Reiterating the point he made to the assembly, he added that the goal for the organisations should be to put “theory into practise” and develop practical actions from what they learned.

Representatives of participating organisations discussed various national and regional objectives for leprosy advocacy in Asia. A significant outcome of the conference was the formation of a regional secretariat to coordinate and represent the Asian agenda at an upcoming world leprosy congress. Credit: Ben Kritz/IPS

Clear consensus

Starting with an overall theme of “improving social inclusion,” the Regional Assembly of Organisations of People Affected by Leprosy in Asia at the outset identified four areas for discussion: Preserving the history of leprosy and its treatment; defending human rights and eliminating the stigma associated with leprosy; improving the delivery of public health services; and sustainability of the organisations.

The consensus among the participating organisations was that sustainability was indeed a critical priority, and perhaps the most significant challenge faced by leprosy advocacies at the national level.

Another key national-level agenda item agreed by the conference attendees was the need to improve networking with their respective governments, as well as other key organisations. In line with this, developing strategies to improve organisations’ public image, branding, and their marketing efforts was also acknowledged as an important objective for national organisations. During the conference, the importance of understanding and developing effective social marketing was stressed, both through the use of social media and more conventional practises.

The development of a regional secretariat was considered the most important objective at a collective level. The conference participants echoed the sentiments of CSGH’s Cunanan that the shared ideas developed over the three days of talks should not be allowed to “dissolve” when the organisations return to their home countries.

Conference attendees also agreed that creating a “sustainable development strategy” on a regional basis should be prioritised going forward, taking into account the need to strengthen national organisations as well as the regional group. Just what that strategy would entail, however, is still subject to discussion among the various groups. 

Capacity building, improving the organisational and managerial capabilities of national organisations, also emerged as a regional agenda. During the conference, capacity building was expressed as a significant concern for many organisations, since many of their members lack relevant work experience or education. A regional strategy could help pool talent resources among the Asian organisations, at least until some of their own people could gain more experience.

The development of a regional framework and individual national agendas made the first Regional Assembly of Organisations of People Affected by Leprosy in Asia a success, conference facilitator Joseph “Boyet” Ongkiko told IPS.

“What excites me is to see the coming together of different groups, and their coming away with unity of heart and purpose,” Ongkiko said. “With leprosy, there is a commonality in the stories, but what we saw and heard are people moving from victims to victors.”

Nanri told IPS that much still needs to be done.

“There’s a big difference between elimination and eradication. As of today, most countries have eliminated leprosy, but it has not been eradicated yet as new cases continue to appear. To eradicate, what we need is one last big push – or re-activate public attention to leprosy,” he said, adding that until now the information around leprosy has not been well presented.

“If we can better package it, forge better partnership with media and if we can get greater political commitment, we can make that reactivation of people’s attention can happen.”

*Additional reporting by Stella Paul in Manila 

Q&A: Leprosy-affected People Live Not at the Bottom, but Outside the Social Pyramid

Takahiro Nanri (left – black jacket), Executive Director of Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation, joins hands with a leprosy survivor (right). Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MANILA, Mar 5 2019 (IPS)

Takahiro Nanri is the Executive Director of Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation which has been supporting the global fight against leprosy for almost five decades. Since 2014, Nanri has been leading the foundation’s leprosy projects across the world and has deep insights into the challenges faced by the people affected by leprosy as well as the organisations that work with them.

He also shares the dream of Yohei Sasakawa – the chairman of Nippon Foundation – to see a leprosy-free world and believes that despite several challenges and roadblocks, this dream is indeed possible to realise.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Nanri talks about the idea behind the regional assembly of leprosy-affected people in Asia that was held in Manila.

He also tells how people who are affected by leprosy  are treated as social outcasts and why they must be integrated with the rest of the society. Finally, Nanri shares his views on how and why leprosy-affected people’s organisations should become sustainable.  Excerpts of the interview follow:

Takahiro Nanri is the Executive Director of the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation which has been supporting the global fight against leprosy for five decades. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Inter Press Service (IPS): Is there a reason behind Mr Sasakawa’s personal interest in leprosy? Why has the foundation continued even when it is not a big global threat anymore?

Takahiro Nanri (TN): As far as I know it was in the 1960s [when the Sasakawa family] visited leprosariums in some countries like Korea, South Korea, Nepal and at that time there was no Multidrug Therapy ( MDT) and the situation in the sanatoriums was very severe. So they had decided to fight against leprosy and launched the leprosy elimination programme and even established the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation.

I am very proud of the fact that this foundation has continued to work on the same issue for 50 years because, although compared to other diseases, this may have decreased, but there is still no end to leprosy.

IPS: How long have you been working on leprosy and what has been your biggest observation?

TN: I have been working on leprosy since 2014. But I have been working on poverty issues for the past 25 years. People affected by leprosy are really poor. So, working for leprosy is in a way working on poverty too.
Several years ago, there was the concept of the bottom of the pyramid; and we talked of the people living at the bottom of the pyramid and how to uplift them. We talked of using microfinance, social business approach etc. But I have realised that the people living with leprosy are actually living outside of the pyramid. That is why I feel integration is very, very important.

IPS: How did you come up with the idea of the Regional Assembly of Organisations of Leprosy- Affected People in Asia?

TN: Last September, we had a small meeting. We invited and had a discussion with some of the people’s organisations from India, Indonesia, Brazil and Ethiopia on what could be done. This September, there will be the World Congress on Leprosy where there will be academics, experts, governments. The congress is a crucial event but often organisations of the affected people are left behind. So, we came up with the idea of organising a pre-congress event where the affected people’s organisations so that it can also be a way for preparing themselves for the congress.

IPS: Why is sustainability still such a big issue for organisations of leprosy–affected people?

TN: Sustainability is not only an issue of leprosy affected people, but also for all the NGOs of the world. I don’t really have an answer here. It depends on each organisation, each leader. Every NGO, every organisation has to find its own way and its own strategy to sustain itself. Should they approach foundations, survive on external grants, seek membership fees, donations , do social business—it’s up to them. As foundations we can provide financial grant, but not forever. What we can do, however, is think together on what could be the next step.

IPS: There are many hidden cases in the world of leprosy. Can you share an example of a good action by a government that tried to act on this.

TN: In India, the government made a very brave decision. In 2016 they started a campaign to identify the endemic leprosy cases all over the country. And since then, every year, they do case detection camps. It has brought in the open many new cases that were previously hidden. It also resulted in an increase in the number of leprosy cases in the country, but after that it started to decrease as the cases were treated . So, this is an example I feel other governments can also follow.

IPS: How are you feeling now that the assembly has concluded?

TN: My expectation is very simple: this venue is for the people affected by leprosy. They should be able to discuss whatever they want to and decide whatever they want to decide.
Here, we saw is they are trying to be more pro-active, opening up,coming up with some issues, some ideas on how they can strengthen their partnership, soI am happy.

International Women’s Day Needs to Return to its Radical Roots

The theme for International Women’s Day this year doesn’t resonate with us. #BalanceForBetter brings to mind slow gradual change, and assumes that if you provide women and girls with equal access then the society will automatically be better. We know that’s false

Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah and Ana Ines Abelenda

The theme for International Women’s Day this year doesn’t resonate with us. #BalanceForBetter brings to mind slow gradual change, and assumes that if you provide women and girls with equal access then the society will automatically be better. We know that’s false.

Access to a broken capitalist system that privileges the richest 1% over the rest of the world means that the most marginalised communities (including women, girls, trans and gender non conforming people) exist in unjust, precarious and fragile societies. This coupled with the increasing privatisation of what should be common resources for everyone (including the basics of land and water), as well as the corporate takeover of many public services endangers the lives and wellbeing of poor people.

In a recent submission to the United Nations Secretary General, the African Women’s Development Network for Communications (FEMNET) and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) stated:

“Neoliberal economic policies promoted around the globe by a growing majority of governments with the support and pressure of international financial institutions (including through conditional loans), have intensified the commodification of life through privatization of basic public services and natural resources.”

On this International Women’s Day we call for a return to its radical roots centred on workers rights and justice. This doesn’t call for balance. It calls for a radical transformation of society based on the twin principles of equity and justice

This corporate takeover of services meant to benefit everyone, of the health and education sectors in particular, primarily affect women and girls. In a 2017 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, stated:

“Women and girls are frequently excluded from education. Families often favour boys when investing in education.”

The rights of girls to quality education, particularly those from the most underprivileged communities, are negatively affected when public schools are privatised. Research by feminist and women’s rights organisations has demonstrated the ways in which gender biases affects the choices parents make when they need to pay for education, and have to choose which children to send to school.

It’s in this light that one must view with great concern the increasing trend of handing over the education sector to the private sector.

The Government of Ghana for example, recently announced that it was seeking to privatise the management of some basic schools on a private basis. This decision is being disputed by a number of Teacher Unions including the Teachers & Educational Workers Union of Ghana, the Coalition of Concerned Teachers the National Association of Graduate Teachers, and the Ghana National Association of Teachers.

The General Secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers described the move “… as subtle and eventual privatization, commercialization and commodification of public education in Ghana.” This trend of Government reaching out to the private sector to manage the education sector has also been witnessed in other parts of West Africa including Liberia.

There is no doubt that significant investments in the education sectors are required. Sadly, governments in the Global South are looking for these resources in the wrong places. The landmark report by the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa (also known as the Mbeki report) indicated that Africa is losing more than US$50 billion per year in Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs).

As highlighted in a report by AWID, IFFs have a severe impact on the development of the continent. These resources that are lost to the continent should rather be harnessed and invested into the social sector, including education and health.

Privatization of social services and reduced social protection is at the heart of South America’s wave of neoliberal governments promoting austerity policies that deepen structural gender inequalities. Coupled with the rise of the conservative right in South America -including Brazil’s fascist new government-, feminist movements from the South understand this is no time for moderate calls for equality and balance.

In Uruguay, the #8M call to action states: “Ante el fascismo, más feminismo” (In front of fascism, we need more feminism!). It is a call for international feminist solidarity to resist daily threats that aim to bring us back centuries when it comes to social and gender justice and rights. It is also a warning that feminist movements are forging new realities not only about equality, but about radical change.

So on this International Women’s Day we call for a return to its radical roots centred on workers rights and justice. This doesn’t call for balance. It calls for a radical transformation of society based on the twin principles of equity and justice.


Nana  Darkoa Sekyiamah is Director of Information, Communications and Media,  Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

Ana Inés Abelenda is Economic Justice Coordinator, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)