Was Slavery the World’s First Human Rights Violation?

Urmila Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which diligently monitors human rights violations worldwide, believes that centuries-old slavery still exists worldwide.

The UN mandate on “contemporary forms of slavery” includes, but is not limited to, issues such as: traditional slavery, forced labour, debt bondage, serfdom, children working in slavery or slavery-like conditions, domestic servitude, sexual slavery, and servile forms of marriage, according to Urmila Bhoola of South Africa, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

In an interview with IPS, Bhoola pointed out that slavery was the first human rights issue to arouse wide international concern.
But it still continues today—“and slavery-like practices also remain a grave and persistent problem”.

She said “traditional forms of slavery have been criminalized and abolished in most countries, but contemporary forms of slavery are still prevalent in all regions of the world”.

Still, many UN member states who are suspected of such human rights violations refuse to permit international experts—designated as UN Special Rapporteurs — to either investigate allegations or even formally visit these countries, according to published reports.

Asked about these constraints, Bhoola said she he has so far visited Niger, Belgium, Nigeria, El Salvador, Mauritania, Paraguay and, lastly Italy, in October 2018.

Her mandate includes the implementation of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

She said “country visits’ are only conducted upon invitation from governments”.

“I have issued requests for country-visits to many countries but due to the mandate’s name and focus, member states are often reluctant to invite the mandate on contemporary forms of slavery, to conduct a visit,” said Bhoola, who was appointed Special Rapporteur by the UN Human Rights Council back in May 2014.

In this sense, she pointed out, member states may not openly refuse a visit but may not reply to country-visit requests.

“This is, in my view, a pity, as my aim is to engage constructively with governments, and to support them in their efforts to end contemporary forms of slavery”.

In fact, some of the countries that are afraid of being named and shamed, perhaps because they are listed as countries where slavery is prevalent in global reports, “have many good laws and practices that others can learn from.”

The findings obtained through the country visits are contained in the country visit reports, which are publicly available.

Excerpts from the interview

IPS: The ILO says over 40 million people – 71 percent of them women and girls – are subject to various forms of modern slavery, including human trafficking, child soldiers, forced and early child marriages, domestic servitude and migrant labour. Can these malpractices be criminalized by national legislation or by an international treaty? How feasible are these measures?

BHOOLA: Several international treaties prohibit slavery and related practices, such as the 1926 Slavery Convention and its Protocol; the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery; the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29); the ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105); the ILO Protection of Wages Convention, 1949 (No.95); the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189); the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138); the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182); the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949). A complete list can be found here.

International treaties can make an important difference in a country, as States need to periodically report on progress achieved in implementing the treaties’ provisions once they have ratified a treaty or convention. If a State does not have the means to effectively fulfil its obligations under a treaty or convention, it should seek international assistance.

However, slavery is considered to be a customary norm of international law that requires elimination by States irrespective of whether they have ratified the 1926 Slavery and 1956 Supplementary Conventions. All States are therefore required to prohibit slavery and its different forms, such as slavery like practices or servitudes, in domestic legislation.

In order to eradicate slavery effectively at the national level, States must also invest in sustainable development and in the protection and promotion of all human rights.

Many States have committed to achieving target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because ending slavery and creating decent work for all requires a multifaceted approach.

This requires them to develop comprehensive national responses to contemporary forms of slavery, which should combine the effective rule of law, robust institutional and policy frameworks, ending discrimination and inequality, including gender inequality, protection of labour rights, oversight of the business sector and ensuring full and equitable access to justice where rights have been violated.

Ending contemporary forms of slavery is therefore an integral part of the broader struggle to combat poverty, underdevelopment and gender inequality and achieve human rights-based development and justice for all.

IPS: As a UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, how far does your mandate extend? Can you name and shame countries? Or is that an action that can be taken only by the Human Rights Council?

BHOOLA: Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council and they either have a thematic or a country-specific mandate. As Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, I am mandated to address country-specific concerns either publicly or privately. All Special Rapporteurs are mandated to address confidential communications to States and/or to issue public statements and public thematic reports which are presented on an annual basis.

Also, I issue a public report on every country visit containing the findings of the mission as well as recommendations to the State visited and to other stakeholders. I report to both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly and when these reports are presented governments engage with one another, including the government that has been the subject of a visit, and it is this constructive dialogue that is far more useful in my view in addressing gaps in compliance.

IPS: How many businesses comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? Since most forms of slavery occur in the private sector, how effective are these voluntary– not mandatory– guidelines in preventing modern forms of slavery in the work place?

BHOOLA: The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were developed to clarify the different roles and responsibilities that States and companies have to address business impact on human rights

The Guiding Principles do not constitute an international instrument that can be ratified by States, nor do they create new legal obligations. Instead, they clarify and elaborate on the implications of relevant provisions of existing international human rights standards, some of which are legally binding on States, and provide guidance on how to put them into operation.

National legislation will often exist or may be required to ensure that these obligations are effectively implemented and enforced. This, in turn, means that elements of the Guiding Principles may be reflected in domestic law regulating business activities.

Even though the Guiding Principles are not legally binding, protecting human rights against business-related abuse is expected of all States, and in most cases is a legal obligation through their ratification of legally binding international human rights treaties containing provisions to this effect.

The State duty to protect in the Guiding Principles is derived from these obligations. In many States it is reflected—fully or partly—in domestic law or regulations on companies. Companies are bound by such domestic law. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights exists above and beyond the need to comply with national laws and regulations protecting human rights. It applies equally where relevant domestic law is weak, absent or not enforced1.

The Guiding Principles also validate the duty of States to protect against and redress business-related human rights harms. In the context of contemporary forms of slavery, this duty to protect could translate into a smart mix of measures to ensure that businesses engage in their responsibility to respect human rights, including through undertaking human rights due diligence throughout their supply chains and remediating the adverse impact of their operations on human rights.

At the very minimum, States should ensure that businesses realize the implications of purchasing products or services that have in any way been linked to forced labour or other contemporary forms of slavery.

To date, States have adopted diverse approaches to addressing this issue, which include ensuring criminal, civil and tort liability for business related human rights violations, setting up mechanisms to regulate such compliance in trade and consumer protection and addressing it in government procurement.

Disclosure and transparency can also feature as legal obligations rather than being limited to voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives2 .

Although it is not possible to measure compliance by all companies, there are some key initiatives that should be cited, such as the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), which aims to identify which companies perform best on human rights issues. More information on this initiative and its more recent results can be found here.

Another important initiative with a focus on slaver is KnowTheChain, which identifies and shares leading practices, enabling companies to improve their standards and procedures. This initiative also aims to help companies protect the wellbeing of workers by incentivizing companies and identifying gaps in each sector evaluated. KnowTheChain published its first set of benchmarks in 2016, and the second set, covering more than 120 companies, in 2018. For more information, visit their website.

IPS: With the spread of technology worldwide, more and more women and girls are lured into human trafficking through technology, including Facebook. Does the UN have the means to fight this? Or is there a remedy at all?

BHOOLA: The UN has various anti-trafficking conventions and mechanisms to address human trafficking. There is also a mandate on trafficking in persons, especially women and girls, which focuses on these issues specifically. In order to avoid overlaps between our mandates, my mandate focuses on one of the outcomes of human trafficking, which is labour exploitation specifically.

IPS: The UK has a “call to action to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking”. How effective is this? And are there any other countries with such action or legislation?

BHOOLA: The Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking was launched on the 19th September 2017 during the 72nd Meeting of the UN General Assembly, and it has been endorsed by the 84 Member States and Observer States.3

The Call to Action outlines practical actions that countries can take to achieve Target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including to ratify and ensure the effective implementation of relevant international conventions, protocols, and frameworks; to strengthen law enforcement and criminal justice responses in order to rapidly enhance capacity to identify, investigate, and disrupt criminal activity; to put victims first; and to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking, and the worst forms of child labour from [their] economies […] by developing regulatory or policy frameworks, as appropriate, and working with business to eliminate such practices from global supply chains4 .

Information regarding government’s action following the endorsement of the Call to Action can be found here. Despite the positive progress, more needs to be done.

We cannot treat these issues of forced labour, contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking in isolation, as these are complex crimes, and we need to reach out across borders and across mandates. The Call to Action provides the framework for countries to join up to share best practice and work together, and highlights the need for private and wider public sector engagement to deliver real change.

The United Nations University, in partnership with Alliance 8.7, have developed a knowledge Platform with funding from the UK Government which will accelerate the scientific study of “what works” and host an online data base with information on country action to support research and best practice: www.delta87.org/call-to-action

Australia has followed by passing its Modern Slavery Act in December 2018. The law requires businesses above a certain turnover threshold to take steps to identify slavery in their operations and supply chains, and report on the actions they have taken to address those risks.

1 OHCHR ‘Frequently asked questions about the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/faq_principlesbussinesshr.pdf
2 A/HRC/30/35, https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/30/35
3 A Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/759332/End-Forced-Labour-Modern-Slavery1.pdf
4 https://delta87.org/call-to-action/

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

International Women’s Day in Cameroon: A Day for All Women?

On March 8, women all over Cameroon will don custom-made dresses sewn of pagne, specially printed for International Women’s Day. They will parade through cities and towns, joining women around the world in celebration of the day.

Women sell batons de manioc at a bus station in Yaoundé. Credit: Sarah Rayzl Lansky

By Sarah Rayzl Lansky
MEDFORD, USA, Mar 7 2019 (IPS)

On March 8, women all over Cameroon will don custom-made dresses sewn of pagne, specially printed for International Women’s Day. They will parade through cities and towns, joining women around the world in celebration of the day.

International Women’s Day, which the United Nations officially recognized in 1977, seeks to promote women, women’s rights, and women’s inclusion. The 2019 theme is “A Balanced World is a Better World.” The International Women’s Day website urges participants to “Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

But this mission cannot be fulfilled if only some women in Cameroon are able to march. Cameroon’s English-speaking areas – home to about 20% of the population – are currently embroiled in a violent crisis. International Crisis Group recently ranked it #8 as part of their “10 Conflicts to Watch in 2019.” Many believe Cameroon is on the brink of civil war.

The women called on Cameroon’s President Biya, currently serving his 7th term, to address the Anglophone crisis. The government’s response? More than 100 women were arrested

Officially bilingual, Cameroon has long prioritized French speakers. In October 2016 teachers and lawyers in the Anglophone Northwest region protested the discrimination. The Francophone central government responded with violence, injuring and jailing protestors.

The crisis has only worsened. Following the arrests of the Anglophone movement’s leaders in early 2017, the power vacuum was filled by more radical actors. Calling themselves the Interim Government of the Republic of Ambazonia, they are now demanding the Northwest and Southwest regions secede. The separatist group’s rebel forces are known generally as Amba Boys and have attacked both government troops and civilians. Believing schools to be tools of the French central government, the separatists have called for a school boycott. This has only served to hurt teachers and children; 80% of kids in the regions have been out of school for more than two years and dozens of schools have been attacked.

As is typical in humanitarian crises, women and children have been disproportionately affected. The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported at the end of 2018 that 4 million people had been affected. An estimated 437,500 people have been displaced by the crisis – an 82% increase from the past year. Many of the displaced are hiding in the bush, following attacks on their villages and indiscriminate killings. Aid agencies struggle to access these populations. OCHA reports that the gender-based violence response in the crisis has been weak.


On March 8, women all over Cameroon will don custom-made dresses sewn of pagne, specially printed for International Women’s Day. They will parade through cities and towns, joining women around the world in celebration of the day.

A market in Bamenda, the capital of the NW and the location of the initial protests. Credit: Sarah Rayzl Lansky.


Media reporting on the crisis has tended to portray women as victims, or to exclude them all together. Of some 1,964 English articles written on the crisis from October 1, 2016 to today, only 309 (16%) mention women, whereas 1,204 (61%) discuss men. These patterns are all too common in conflict. But experts agree that in order to achieve a sustainable peace, women must be included. Women’s exclusion from the media can have a lasting effect; the Humanitarian Advisory Group writes that media “influences how women perceive themselves and their leadership aspirations.”

But their near invisibility in the media has not stopped the leadership aspirations of a growing group of female leaders. The South West/North West Women’s Task Force is working towards peace and demanding the inclusion of women. The Belinda Babila Foundation has focused on Cameroonian women taking refuge in Nigeria. Stand Up for Cameroon and Mothers of the Nation aim to unite all Cameroonian women in peaceful resistance. A local civil society organization, Pathways for Women’s Empowerment and Development recently tweeted, “The women of the North and South West regions of Cameroon are caught in between a crisis [about which] we were never consulted before it commencement [sic]. We bear the brunt though and call on the men to end hostilities.”

But speaking up in Cameroon is not easy. As part of the Women’s Day activities in 2018, Kah Walla, leader of the Cameroon People’s Party and a former presidential candidate, organized a protest march. The women called on Cameroon’s President Biya, currently serving his 7th term, to address the Anglophone crisis. The government’s response? More than 100 women were arrested. Kah Walla maintains some were tortured psychologically while held in detention.

Alleged human rights abuses have been committed by both the Anglophone separatists and the Cameroonian government forces. This violence must end.

This year, as Cameroonian women celebrate International Women’s Day, wearing matching cloth printed and sold by the central government, they should not only be calling for women’s promotion and equal treatment. Women across the country need to “raise awareness,” per the International Women’s Day Campaign, and stand together to demand dialogue and a resolution to the crisis.


Sarah Rayzl Lansky is a Master’s candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where she is specializing in human security and humanitarian studies. Sarah Rayzl has lived, worked, and studied in Cameroon.

Decent Work Still a Distant Dream for Many Latin American Women

Indigenous women sell handicrafts at a street market in the tourist city of Antigua, Guatemala. Due to the continuing lack of decent employment for women in the region, many of them become street vendors, swelling the ranks of the informal economy. Credit: Mariela Jara/IPS

Indigenous women sell handicrafts at a street market in the tourist city of Antigua, Guatemala. Due to the continuing lack of decent employment for women in the region, many of them become street vendors, swelling the ranks of the informal economy. Credit: Mariela Jara/IPS

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Mar 7 2019 (IPS)

Women in Latin America earn one-fifth less than men for every hour worked, on average – one of the statistics that reflect the continuing inequality in the world of work that makes it unlikely for the region to meet the goal of equal pay by 2030.

Hugo Ñopo, a Peruvian economist with the International Labor Organisation (ILO), told IPS that the gender disparity in employment in the region is also seen in the lower level of participation by women in the workforce, higher unemployment rates and fewer hours of work per week.

“These are inequalities that are accumulating in such a way that when you look at the total labour income generated by society, two-thirds of the total are generated by men and only one-third by women,” he said at the headquarters of the organisation’s regional office in Lima.”A large part of the labour gap is the result of variables that have to do with conditions such as discrimination, stereotypes, unconscious biases or the time that women and men devote to domestic tasks, which in the end turns out to be a limiting factor for job performance.” — Hugo Ñopo

The “Global Wage Report 2018/19: What lies behind gender pay gaps”, published by the ILO in late 2018, underscores that the gender pay gap is not only explained by variables such as education and experience, but also by cultural factors.

“A large part of the labour gap is the result of variables that have to do with conditions such as discrimination, stereotypes, unconscious biases or the time that women and men devote to domestic tasks, which in the end turns out to be a limiting factor for job performance,” explained Ñopo.

Clara Rivas, 46, is an accountant from Peru. She worked in the civil service until 2017, but difficulties in reconciling her work and family responsibilities forced her to resign.

“The boss in my section frequently assigned me to trips to the provinces,” she told IPS. “I told him I could travel once a month because I had two young daughters, but he said he would not let me off easy just because I was a woman. I asked him to rotate the transfers with my workmates, but he always assigned them to me.”

Eva Machado, spokesperson in Peru for the global grassroots movement International Women’s Strike (IWS), said that Latin American societies take advantage of the female workforce in unequal conditions, while failing to recognise the contribution they make to the economy through domestic tasks in their homes, their care work and community involvement.

“As a formal sector worker with labour benefits, you could say I’m in a privileged position, even though what I have are simply my rights, which unfortunately isn’t the case of the majority of women in Peru,” Machado, who represents a movement that emerged in late 2016, told IPS.

On average, at least 60 percent of employed women in Latin America work in the informal economy, according to data from U.N. Women – a proportion that rises to 70 percent in Peru, according to Machado.

Blanca Garcia, 50, sweeps the terrace of a middle-class home in Lima. She works as a housekeeper in several homes in Peru's capital. Her main motivation is to ensure her 14-year-old daughter a good education, to make it possible for her to have a future job with full rights and opportunities. Credit: Mariela Jara/IPS

Blanca Garcia, 50, sweeps the terrace of a middle-class home in Lima. She works as a housekeeper in several homes in Peru’s capital. Her main motivation is to ensure her 14-year-old daughter a good education, to make it possible for her to have a future job with full rights and opportunities. Credit: Mariela Jara/IPS

In addition, women workers in the region are also in charge of household tasks, which are largely their responsibility, as well as care work, and contributions to their communities or organisations in which they participate, to improve conditions for their family and community, amounting to a triple work load on their shoulders.

“We work more and earn less, so on this Mar. 8, International Women’s Day, we will continue to shout our slogan: ‘If our lives don’t matter to you, produce without us,” Machado said.

The IWS has issued a global call for women to stop working on Friday Mar. 8 for at least an hour to make the impact of their productive and unpaid domestic work felt in countries in both the industrial North and the developing South.

Laws improve but pay remains unequal

Latin American governments committed themselves to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Agenda 2030. But in SDG8, on decent work, target 5 includes achieving equal pay for work of equal value, for men and women, by 2030 – still a distant goal for this region.

In this region of 646 million people, the ILO estimates that 117 million women are part of the economically active population. But they face a labour market with problems that cannot be solved only by laws aimed at equal employment.

The report “Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform”, published on Feb. 27 by the World Bank, highlights the importance of the changes in the world of labour that have taken place in 187 countries over the past decade to address gender discrimination.

An index established in the periodic report based on eight indicators – including wages, pensions, access to employment, resource management, and maternity – shows how Latin American countries have improved, going from an average of 75.4 to 79.09 out of a maximum of 100 in terms of reforms to promote gender parity in the workplace, with 39 legal modifications in this regard.

Measures against harassment at work, access to employment on equal terms, the prohibition of dismissal of pregnant workers or the extension of maternity leave mark the improvements, according to the study, but the problem is that the legislation is not properly enforced.

One key aspect has to do with women’s childbearing years.

Hugo Ñopo, a regional economist of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the regional headquarters in Lima, where he analysed the reasons underlying the persistent labour inequality in the region and pointed out that overcoming the problem requires not only public policies, but also cultural changes. Credit: ILO

Hugo Ñopo, a regional economist of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the regional headquarters in Lima, where he analysed the reasons underlying the persistent labour inequality in the region and pointed out that overcoming the problem requires not only public policies, but also cultural changes. Credit: ILO

Ñopo, the ILO’s regional economist, points out that while job interviews are not allowed to include questions on pregnancy or maternity, they are still being asked.

“This goes beyond the legal realm,” he said. “It is a problem that lies at the root, because society puts the cost of motherhood, of our reproductive social function, on women, when given its importance it should be distributed in a more equitable way between men and women.”

So what should be done?

“Part of the task falls to governments in terms of public policies and legislation. But another important part lies in the households, in the equitable distribution of the tasks among the people who live under the same roof,” he said.

This, he stressed, is because “another part of the problem is cultural, and that can be modified, if you take an optimistic view; it just doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a while, but that’s where public policies come in, to sow the seeds of change.”

In sexist societies such as those of Latin America, the old-fashioned idea that household responsibilities are the exclusive realm of women – or domestic workers often hired in exploitative conditions – remains strong.

Blanca García, who migrated from a rural Andean area, is an example of this. She works as a maid in several different homes in Lima, with workdays that often exceed the eight-hour legal limit, in order to support her two children as the family’s only breadwinner.

“Sometimes you get lucky and find an employer who pays you fair wages and respects the eight-hour workday. But generally I start at seven in the morning and finish at seven at night. It’s hard, but I haven’t found any other way to make a living,” said the 50-year-old woman, who earns an average of 20 dollars a day.

On the unfair labour outlook for women in the region, Ñopo stresses that “existing inequalities are too wide for them to be ‘justifiable’. We need a more equitable world so that everyone, women and men, can develop to their full potential,” he concluded.

The Geneva Centre celebrated International Women’s Day with a debate and book presentation on Muslim women between stereotypes and reality: an objective narrative

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Mar 7 2019 (IPS-Partners)

No country in the world has a perfect record on women’s rights and gender equality and there is a felt need for cooperation and joint endeavours in order to reach the common goal of empowering women and putting an end to gender inequality. Muslim women must be given the right to freely choose what to wear and what not to wear, and fully included in society, be it through insertion on the labour market or simply through the practice of sports.

These were the main conclusions of a debate and book presentation organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on the eve of International Women’s Day. The debate, entitled Muslim women between stereotypes and reality: an objective narrative, was held on 7 March 2019, as a side-event to the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The panel discussion was an occasion for the Geneva Centre to present its latest publications on the topic of gender and women’s rights, entitled Women’s Rights in the Arab Region: Between Myth and Reality and Veiling /Unveiling: The Headscarf in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The panellists focused in their presentation on the persisting gender inequalities that hinder the full enjoyment of women’s rights worldwide, on the hostility to the headscarf as a politically correct expression of xenophobia on the Western political scene; as well as on the worrying rise of the latter. They also referred to the adoption of discriminatory legislation aimed at marginalizing Muslims, particularly women who choose to wear the headscarf.

The members of the panel included HE Ms Nassima Baghli, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva; Dr. Elisa Banfi, Research assistant at the Institute of Citizenship Studies (InCite) at the Department of Political Science, University of Geneva; and Dr. Amir Dziri, Director of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre, delivered opening remarks and moderated the panel debate.

In his remarks, Ambassador Jazairy deplored the new heights reached in the political manipulation surrounding the headscarf across Europe and other Western countries. He referred to the new law on secularity voted in February 2019, in the canton of Geneva, and to similar legislation adopted in Europe. Moreover, Ambassador Jazairy recalled the recent controversy concerning a hijab for women runners launched by a French sports brand, when high officials condemned the sports headgear as contradictory to the values respected in their country.

In this regard, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre underscored that human rights are universal. The universality of these values had to be equally applied not only to Muslim and Islamic societies, but also to European and Western countries. It was therefore unfortunate to invoke national or local values in an attempt to prevent women from enjoying the “freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest their religion or belief”, as stipulated din Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Furthermore, quoting the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum, Ambassador Jazairy underscored that gender inequality persisted in societies around the world, irrespective of culture, religion or geographical location. In this regard, joint endeavours should seek to close the gender gap worldwide, instead of playing the “naming and shaming” game in an attempt to relegate all issues of gender inequality to one culture, religion or region of the world.

Her Excellency Ms Nassima Baghli commended the Geneva Centre for its efforts towards providing a better understanding of the complex realities of today’s world, far from misconceptions, stereotypes and shortcuts. Her Excellency remarked that women’s rights in the Arab region had recorded a notable progress over recent years, but the road towards equality and full enjoyment of human rights was still long.

Ambassador Baghli noted that Muslim women were more prone to discrimination and negative perceptions in the framework of Western societies. She reiterated that they are often perceived as in need of salvation, victimized and weak, and lacking free will. Furthermore, Ambassador Baghli remarked that these forms of discrimination were exacerbated in the case of veiled Muslim women. According to her, the negative stereotypes conveyed by the media contributed to this discriminatory environment.

Ambassador Baghli noted that Muslim women living in non-Muslim countries would not be deterred in their resolve to control of their destiny. She added that at the OIC level, a Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women was adopted in 2016, to encourage Member States to take measures for the full enjoyment of women’s rights. In this regard, Ambassador Baghli concluded with an encouragement for the courageous Muslim women on the ground, who through education and participation in the labour market were determined to be fully involved in societies and to deconstruct all stereotypes and prejudice.

Dr. Elisa Banfi delivered a compelling presentation based on a study and an article that she co-authored entitled “Institutionalizing Islamophobia in Switzerland: the burqa and minaret bans”. Her presentation focused on the racialization of Muslims by gendered Islamophobia in Switzerland.

Dr. Banfi noted that institutional Islamophobic discourses and policies in Switzerland had led to an “otherization” of Muslim women in the public perception. She emphasized the fact that Switzerland had a record of late adoption of policies and international instruments that sought to achieve equality and to empower women, such as the national right to vote (adopted only in 1971), or the UN CEDAW Convention (signed only in 1997).

In this regard, Dr. Banfi underscored that the leading party that had opposed the advancement of Swiss women had become the most influent promoter of the ban on minarets and. She noted that as a result in the political discourse, Muslim women became represented as women in danger in their States, isolated from their communities and threatened by them, whilst Swiss institutions were represented in the dialectical relation as protectors of these women. Dr. Banfi concluded that this discourse built on stereotypes of Muslim women sought the construction of an internal enemy, as well as the creation of internal and external frontiers of nationhood, further marginalizing Muslim communities and institutionalizing discrimination.

Dr. Amir Dziri remarked in his presentation that Muslim women are depicted, in common Western opinion, as an instrument of culture conflict between the “Enlightened” West and traditional Islam. He deplored the fact that Muslim women were for the most part perceived as threat or as in need of salvation, and their autonomy remained unrecognized.

Furthermore, Dr Dziri underscored that Muslim women had become the centre of ideological combats in Western societies as a form of political aberration, seeking to obscure political responsibility on other major issues and to channel public attention to such matters that in reality were not urgent or problematic. The Director of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society further noted that one of the most challenging issues faced by pluralistic societies in Europe nowadays was precisely the acceptance of visible diversity.

Finally, Dr Dziri described a recent phenomenon described as “integration-paradox”, remarking that the better migrants were integrated in societies, the more resistance they would face. In this regard, Muslim women in European societies benefited from high education and showcased excellent professional skills, which paradoxically lead to them being perceived as a threat, fuelling hostile attitudes towards them.

During the Q&A session, former Ambassador George Papadatos requested the panel to discuss the attitude of right wing movements in Europe towards women, and Muslim women in particular. He further pondered on what European country would be more likely to employ a Muslim woman wearing headscarf. Dr Banfi responded that numerous right wing movements were positioned overtly against the freedom of Muslim women, as they exclude them from the national identities of European states. She remarked that there are far-right movements in the Netherlands for example, which were not per se against women rights in general, but which use the defence of women’s rights to discriminate Muslim women, in a concept known in academic circles as “femo-nationalism

Ambassador Jazairy remarked that in England, customs officers wearing a headscarf or policemen with turbans are a non-event. He reiterated that the position of the Geneva Centre is that all women should have the liberty of choosing what they wear and that their decisions should not be imposed by the State, either to force them to wear a headscarf or to forbid them from wearing it.

Replying to the question of an Independent Consultant present in the audience, Ambassador Baghli deplored the fact that the headscarf was manipulated in Europe as a political matter, by populist and intolerant groupings.

Another question from the floor referred to the concrete measures that should be taken to build more tolerance and to tackle everyday discrimination acts against Muslim women. Dr Dziri replied that the question was difficult to answer, as in societies very diverse, like in Germany and Switzerland, the idea of the normalisation of visible religious diversity was still a challenge.

Finally, a representative of the Right to Livelihood Award, Ms Ruth Manorma, underscored the important discrimination against Muslim women occurring in India.

The panel concluded by observing that globalization implies diversity and consequently necessitates its acceptance. Europe has in the past accepted migrants and its residents have themselves migrated. Today, the large-scale migration from the Middle East in particular has taken Europe by surprise, triggering defensive attitudes and nationalistic policies aimed at setting up barricades. It is to be hoped that this is a transitional phase. There is indeed need to promote globalization, but with a human face and accept and embrace diversity which is its consequence.

Geneva Centre’s Executive Director presents the agenda of the 21 March “Celebration of diversity: beyond tolerance the path towards empathy” conference to African Group Ambassadors

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Mar 7 2019 (IPS-Partners)

On 7 March, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy was invited by the Permanent Delegation of the African Union to an official meeting of all African Group Ambassadors in Geneva to present the rationale and purpose of the Geneva Centre’s forthcoming conference on “Celebration of diversity: beyond tolerance the path towards empathy.”

The latter will be held on 21 March 2019 – on the margins of the 40th regular session of the Human Rights Council, from 13:00 – 14:30 in room XXIII at the United Nations Office in Geneva. The conference will be organized by the Geneva Centre and the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to UN Geneva.

Ambassador Jazairy informed the African Group Ambassadors that the purpose of the conference will be to give new impetus to ongoing efforts to counter the rise of extremism and xenophobia in all its forms and to promote the harmonious and equitable integration of diversity in the context of equal citizenship rights.

This was recently and strongly reiterated – the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director said – in the Outcome Declaration “Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide In Support of Equal Citizenship Rights” adopted by the World Conference on “Religions, Creeds and Value-Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” held on 25 June 2018 at Palais des Nations by the Geneva Centre under the Patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In relation to the historic visit to the UAE, by His Holiness Pope Francis and the Great Imam of Al-Azhar His Eminence Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyib, a Joint Document entitled “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” was adopted on 4 February 2019 by these Eminent Dignitaries reiterating the importance of harnessing the collective energy of religions and faiths to uphold equal citizenship rights and promote tolerant and inclusive societies.

In this connection, Ambassador Jazairy said that the conference will take stock of the convergence and complementarity of these two pronouncements that offer an inspiring ideal of world citizenship fostering unity in diversity and building bridges of respect for our common humanity.

In recognition of the inspiring role of African countries in building bridges of respect for our common humanity and to promote models of equal citizenship in the aftermath of the era of colonialism and Apartheid, Ambassador Jazairy invited all African Permanent Missions in Geneva to be present at the 21 March conference.

Ambassadors of the African Group expressed their strong commitment to support the work of the Geneva Centre and the endeavours of its Executive Director to promote a value-driven human rights system and to promote mutual understanding and cooperative relations between people.

The meeting was chaired by the Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic, HE Léopold Ismael Samba, and held in the presence of the Permanent Observer of the African Union HE Ajay Kumar Bramdeo.

Island Women Take the Lead in Peatland Restoration

Eluminada Roca (70) Janeline Garcia (32) and her son (9 months) — the youngest and the oldest members of San Isidro village women’s association — are engaged in restoring Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland. Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
LEYTE ISLAND, Philippines , Mar 7 2019 (IPS)

Eluminada Roca has lived all her life next to the  Leyte Sab-a Basin peatlands. The grandmother from of San Isidro village in Philippines’ Leyte island grew up looking at the green hills that feed water to the peatland, she harvested tikog—a peatland grass to weave mats—and ate the delicious fish that was once in abundant in the waters.

But today, the land is losing its water, the grass is disappearing and the fish stock has drastically decreased.

The community is mainly subsistence food growers and dependent on the catching and selling of fish both for consumption and sale.

So, at the age of 70, Roca has joined hands with women of her village to restore the peatland to its previous health.

In the 1970s, the government of Philippines encouraged its people to clear the peatland forests and start farming.

In Leyte Sab-a Basin, it resulted in destroying some hills to build roads and canals. However after decades, the canals are draining the peatland water, making them go dry. Fortunately, there is now a new effort to undo the damage.

In a hot, March afternoon, Roca sits with the members of San Isidro Village Women’s Association, discussing why they must restore the peatland.

“We need to make the peatland whole again, so we can resume our life as it used to be,” Roca is heard saying.

Everyone nods in agreement, including Janeline Garica who, at 32, is the youngest woman in the group.


Eluminada Roca – the oldest member in San Isidro village women’s association who is engaged in restoring Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Peatland – crucial to combat climate change

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems where the soil is composed of 65 percent or more organic matter derived from dead and decaying plant materials submerged under high water saturation.

They preserve global biodiversity, provide safe drinking water, minimise flood risk and help address climate change. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) peatlands store as much as 30 percent of the global carbon.

But, damaged peatlands are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. So, when drained and damaged, they worsen climate change, emitting two gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year, which accounts for almost six percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Peatland restoration can therefore bring significant emissions reductions. Countries have been urged to include peatland restoration in their commitments to global international agreements, including the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Leyte Sab-e peatland in Leyte island, Visayas province, Philippines. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Peatland in Philippines

According to the data published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the total area of identified peatlands in the Philippines is 20,000 hectares, including Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland. Spread over four villages, including San Isidro, this is one of the two major peatlands in the country. 

In 2013, when Philippines was hit by the devastating typhoon Hayan (locally known as Yolanda), everything in Leyte and its capital city Tacloban was razed to the ground. According an Oxfam report, the natural disaster had “brought out the greater vulnerabilities of women, children, persons with disabilities, elderly people and the LGBT individuals in already poor communities.”

As they struggled to get their lives back in track, the locals who live near the peatland areas began to notice the changes around them. They started identifying them one by one. The trees, including Lanipao (Terminalia copelandii), and syzygium flowering plants, were destroyed; and the bats, the birds and Tarsier—an endangered species of monkey—that inhabited the peatlands were almost gone. 

The loss of the wildlife concerned the local communities, with many feeling that the peatland was becoming unhabitable. 

In 2017, WEAVER—a women’s-led NGO in Tacloban started a project to restore 1180 hectares of Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland by roping in local women. Today, with support from the local government, the Visayas State University and International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, an international NGO. 

“It is a project where the local women will be the main actors. The different partners will contribute by doing research on what alternative crops can the locals grow, what alternative livelihood they can have because they cannot just be taken out of the place. We will help them organise, give them training and help them have an income through peatland restoration,” Paulina Lawsin Nayra, founder of WEAVER, tells IPS.

According to Nayra, training of the women will begin after April which will include deepening their knowledge of peatland, its link to climate change, its vulnerability to fire and the various ways to restore it.

The training will include collecting seeds and planting the trees that only grow on peatland, vigilance against fire as peatland are very vulnerable to forest fire and keeping nurseries.

Janeline Garcia, 32 , with her 9 month old son in San Isidro village near Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland. To secure her son’s future she wants to restore the peatland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

While are yet to be formally trained in the restoration work, the women of San Isidro already are looking at the future.

“If we plant enough trees, birds will be back and we can start a bird sanctuary which can be a tourist attraction,” Maria Cabella, 52, who heads the village women’s group, tells IPS.

“We can also starts a ropeway cable car for the tourists to enjoy the view of the peatland below,” Estilita Cabella, 42, tells IPS. “We can restart making tikog mats,” reminds Roca.

But for Janelina Garcia—the young mother—the future health of the peatlands is related closely to the future of 9-month-old son.

“Once we restore the peatland, my husband can catch enough fish  to support our child,” she tells IPS with a smile.

Protecting Women’s Space in Politics

Activists take part in a march on the eve of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in Santiago. Credit: Crisis Group

By Isabelle Arradon
BRUSSELS, Mar 7 2019 (IPS)

Women human rights defenders around the globe are facing heightened threats of violence and repression. Sometimes they are targeted for being activists, and sometimes just for being women. World leaders should do much more to secure space for women’s safe participation in public life.

In early January 2019, unknown gunmen shot dead Maritza Isabel Quiroz Leiva, a 60-year-old Colombian land rights activist on a small farm near the Caribbean city of Santa Marta. Her killing was a stark reminder that speaking out on social and political issues in Colombia – whether land disputes, women’s rights, or the political violence that endures despite the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement – is dangerous business. For Maritza’s death is not an isolated incident: in the last three years, guerrillas (FARC remnants and others), criminals and mystery assailants have killed more than 300 activists (both men and women) like her.

Nor is Colombia the only country in its neighbourhood where violence against all human rights defenders is putting prominent women activists at risk of physical attack and other abuse. In 2018, our global conflict tracker CrisisWatch recorded several such murders elsewhere in Latin America – including that of Guatemalan indigenous activist Juana Raymundo in July and that of Colombian women’s rights activist Maria Caicedo Muñoz in October.

Isabelle Arradon, Director of Research & Special Adviser on Gender, Crisis Group. Credit: Crisis Group

Women who are in the public eye as they challenge established norms and take on powerful interests, from governments to insurgencies to criminal gangs, are prominent targets; and women leaders representing neglected constituencies – such as the poor, ethnic and sexual minorities, displaced persons or migrants – are also preyed upon. The murder in March of Brazilian Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro city council member, is a case in point. In addition to being a campaigner against corruption and police brutality, Franco was a powerful advocate for black women, the LGBT community and youth. The investigation has moved slowly.

From a global perspective, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst highlighted in a 2019 report that in the current political climate – where there has been both a backlash against human rights around the world and a rise in misogynistic rhetoric among political leaders – human rights defenders who are women “have been facing increased repression and violence across the globe”. The report suggests that these women are sometimes targeted for the causes they promote, and sometimes simply because they are women who are publicly asserting themselves.

Moreover, in addition to the risk of attack that all activists face, women activists are vulnerable to gender-specific abuse – which can include stigmatisation, public shaming (as a perceived way to damage their “honour”), threats of sexual violence, online harassment and killings. In April 2018, individuals seeking to undermine and intimidate Indian investigative journalist Rana Ayyub threatened her with sexual violence on social media and used a fake pornographic video to tarnish her reputation. In June, unknown individuals ransacked the home of journalist and activist Marvi Sirmed, who has done much to highlight the central role of women’s rights and the rule of law in Pakistan’s political transition. In July, an unknown man attacked with sulfuric acid anti-corruption campaigner Kateryna Handzyuk in Kherson, Ukraine; with burns over more than 30 per cent of her body, she died from her wounds in November. And in September, masked attackers opened fire on Soad al-Ali, a leading human rights activist and mother of four in her mid-forties, in broad daylight in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. During roughly the same period, three other influential Iraqi women, including social media leader Tara Fares, were killed, or found dead in suspicious circumstances, at other locations.

Despite women’s longstanding role in informal dispute resolution, their near absence from peace talks and similar international security processes and mechanisms, as in Yemen or Afghanistan, requires particular attention.

One concern about the threat of violence or attack on women activists is that it not only affects their safety, but could chill their participation in public life, where women are already under-represented. Globally, only a quarter of parliamentarians are women, and nearly all heads of state or government leaders are men. This is not to say that addressing risks of political violence will by itself increase women’s representation in politics, as there are many possible reasons for the low numbers on women’s political participation worldwide. Nor does progress in this regard necessarily correlate with lesser danger to women. (Latin America, which has some of the highest rates of violence against human rights defenders in the world, boasts a vibrant women’s rights movement, and several of its parliaments have relatively high levels of female representation.) But making it safer for women to participate in public life can only help. States and their leaders should use the tools at their disposal – from good laws to strong enforcement to hold those responsible for abuse to account, to ensuring that security forces are attuned to the protection needs of women – to combat violence against women activists.

Protecting women’s space in politics is especially important in the conflict resolution area. Despite women’s longstanding role in informal dispute resolution, their near absence from peace talks and similar international security processes and mechanisms, as in Yemen or Afghanistan, requires particular attention. Sidelining conflict-affected women – or women representing those with perceived low status in society due to their socio-economic status, age, education, ethnicity or religion – is no way to build inclusive and lasting frameworks for peace.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, world leaders should speak out more forcefully about the critical importance of women’s participation in political life. They should take more measures to prevent and condemn verbal and physical attacks on women human rights defenders or political leaders and their families. They should also carve out greater and safer space for civil society, including women’s groups, to enable them to have a say in government policies affecting their lives.

The implications of violence against women activists and politicians are broad, not just for families, but also for the well-being of societies at large. Failure to protect women like Maritza Isabel Quiroz Leiva and Marielle Franco sends a terrible signal to women and girls wanting to raise their voice in the public square. Chilling their participation in public life would be a tragedy not just for the women whose potential is being squandered but for the communities in which they live.

This opinion piece was originally published by Crisis Group

Eight Years on, Fukushima Still Poses Health Risks for Children

A child inspected in Fukushima prefecture, Japan

By Akio Matsumura
NEW YORK, Mar 7 2019 (IPS)

On March 11, we commemorate the 8th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. To an outside observer, this anniversary passes as a technical progress report, a look at new robot, or a short story on how lives there are slowly returning to normal.

Yet in Japan, the government has not figured out how to touch or test the irradiated cores in the three crippled reactors, which continue to contaminate water around the site of the melt down. The government does not know where it will put that radioactive material once it can find a way to move it.

Meanwhile, the government and site operator are running out of room to store the contaminated water, which is filling up more and more tanks. The cleanup is estimated to take forty years and the cost is estimated at $195 billion.

The latest publicly released findings of radiation levels are from 2017, when Tokyo Electric Power Company had to use a remote-controlled robot to detect the levels in Reactor 2, since no human can approach the crippled reactor.

The rates read 530 sieverts per hour, the highest since the March 2011 meltdown. We have no reason to believe that they have fallen since then. Remote-control robots are being used in the other reactors as well, indicating that radiation levels are similarly high there.

Akio Matsumura

Even using the robot, work can only be carried out for very short times, since the robots can only stand 1000 sieverts of exposure – less than two hours in this case.

This is an extremely high amount of radiation. After TEPCO published the rate, the Asahi Shimbun reported that “an official of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation in their work.”

The Japan Times quoted Dr. Fumiya Tanabe, an expert on nuclear safety, who said that the “findings show that both the preparation for and the actual decommissioning process at the plant will likely prove much more difficult than expected.”

Fukushima’s Children Need International Attention

There have been many victims of this disaster. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes. Local fishermen are worried that the government will proceed with its plan to dump the storage tanks of contaminated water into the ocean.

Others worry that the flow of the radioactive wind and contaminated water are reaching North America and will continue to do so for the next forty years.

Above all of these important issues, it is the children of Fukushima who most need our attention. They are at risk of higher rates of cancer because of their exposure to the contamination from the initial explosion. In Chernobyl, the only comparable case we have, more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer were found in children according to the UN through 2005.

There is evidence that thyroid cancer rates are higher among Fukushima’s children than the national population, but it is a latent disease: it is still too early to tell what the full impact will be. But it is clear the case needs action.

Scientists will always offer different opinions, swayed first by uncertainty, but also, sadly, by politics, money, and ambition.

Some will claim that the evidence has been exaggerated, underestimated, or that perhaps we’re at too early a stage to be certain. Or that we need more time to clarify the results. I have seen many instances of these arguments at the United Nations and international science conferences. Why do we wait and make another mistake?

Helen Caldicott, a medical doctor and founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, part of a larger umbrella group that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, wrote: “The truth is that most politicians, businessmen, engineers and nuclear physicists have no innate understanding of radiobiology and the way radiation induces cancer, congenital malformations and genetic diseases which are passed generation to generation. Nor do they recognize that children are 20 times more radiosensitive than adults, girls twice as vulnerable as little boys and fetuses much more so.”


We face many complex challenges of climate change, poverty alleviation, and national security. The health and welfare of children must always be our top priority. They are our future; our deepest purpose is to care and provide for them. By deciding not to fully investigate the effects of Fukushima, we fail them.

We all agree with that personally, but which institution is best positioned to carry out the mission? To me, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is the only answer. Indeed, putting children above national security is at UNICEF’s core.

Maurice Pate, an American humanitarian and businessman who joined UNICEF at its inception in 1947, agreed to serve as the Executive Director upon the condition that UNICEF serves the children of “ex-enemy countries, regardless of race or politics.” In 1965, at the end of Pate’s term, the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize.

To this day, its mission includes a commitment to “ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged children – victims of war, disasters, extreme poverty, all forms of violence and exploitation and those with disabilities.” The children of Fukushima deserve the protection of UNICEF.

*Akio Matsumura is also the Secretary General of the Global Forum Moscow Conference hosted by President Gorbachev at the Kremlin in 1990 as well as of the Parliamentary Earth Summit Conference hosted by Brazil National Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in 1992

Smart Tech Will Only Work for Women When the Fundamentals for Its Uptake Are in Place

Tanzanian ICT entrepreneur, Rose Funja, shows off one of the drones she uses as a key tool in her data mapping business. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Ibrahim Thiaw

Science and technology offer exciting pathways for rural women to tackle the challenges they face daily. Innovative solutions for rural women can, for example, reduce their workload, raise food production and increase their participation in the paid labour market. But even the very best innovative, gender-appropriate technology makes no sense without access to other critical resources, especially secure land rights, which women in rural areas need to flourish.

Land degradation and drought affect, at least, 169 countries. The poorest rural communities experience the severest impacts. For instance, women in areas affected by desertification, easily spend four times longer each day collecting water, fuelwood and fodder. Moreover, these impacts have very different effects on men and women. In the parts of Eritrea impacted most by desertification, for example, the working hours for women exceed those of men by up to 30 hours per week.

Clearly, poor rural women would benefit the most from new ways of working on the land. Therefore, technology and innovation must benefit women and men equally for it to work well for society. Even more so at a time when technology is becoming critical to manage the growing threats of desertification, land degradation and drought. In Turkey, for instance, farmers can get information on when to plant in real time, using an application installed on a mobile phone.1

However, in most part of the world, the adoption rates of technology are especially low among rural women, possibly because very often technologies are not developed with rural women land users in mind.2 For example, a wheelbarrow can reduce the time spent on water transport by 60 percent. But its weight and bulk makes it physically difficult for most African women to use.3

The demand for technology design that meets rural women’s specific needs is great. But developing appropriate technology is not enough, if the pre-requisites for technology uptake, in particular access to land, credit and education, are not in place.4 Today, a web of laws and customs in half the countries on the planet5 undermine women’s ability to own, manage, and inherit the land they farm.

In nearly many developing countries, laws do not guarantee the same inheritance rights for women and men.6 In many more countries, with gender equitable laws, local customs and practices that leave widows landless are tolerated. For instance, a 2011 study carried out in Zambia shows that when a male head of household dies, the widow only gets, on average, one-third of the area she farmed before. The impact of such changes on the world’s roughly 258 million widows and the 584 million children who depend on them is significant.8 It leaves us all worse off.

Globally, women own less land and have less secure rights over land than men.9 Secure access to land increases women’s economic security, but it has far greater benefits for society more generally. Women who own or inherit land also control the decisions that impact their land, such as the uptake of new technology.

A study in Rwanda shows that recipients of land certificates are twice as likely to increase their investment in soil conservation relative to others. And, if women got formal land rights, they were more likely to engage in soil conservation.10 Initiatives that benefit rural women do not stop at the household or local levels. At scale, such investments have a huge global impact.

If women all over the world had the same access as men to resources for agricultural production, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent. This could raise the total agricultural output in developing countries substantially at national scales, and reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.11

If we want to tackle the underlying causes of gender inequality, to build smart and innovate for change, then technology is good. Innovative, gender appropriate technology is better. But these will have little impact if the pre-requisites for its uptake by women, in particular access to land, credit and education, are non-existent.

1 Reuters, 2015, article by Manipadma Jena. Turkey’s plan to help farmers adapt to climate change? Ask a tablet. https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-climatechange-technology/turkeys-plan-to-help-farmers-adapt-to-climate-change-ask-a-tablet-idUSL8N12P08R20151026
2 Theis, Sophie et al. (2018): What happens after technology adoption? Gendered aspects of small-scale irrigation technologies in Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania. Agricultural and Human Values, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-018-9862-8
3 Ashby, Jacqueline et al ( n.d.) Investing in Women as Drivers of Agricultural Growth, p.3, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTARD/Resources/webexecutivesummaryARD_GiA_InvstInWomen_8Pg_web.pdf
4 FAO/IFPRI (2014): Gender specific approaches, rural institutions, and technological innovations, p. 13 et seq, p. 41.
5 Huyer, Sophia, 2016: Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture, Gender, Technology and Development 20(2) 105–116, p. 108.
6 Huyer, Sophia, 2016: Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture, Gender, Technology and Development 20(2) 105–116, p. 108.
7 Chapoto, Antony et al. (2011): Widows’ Land Security in the Era of HIV/AIDS: Panel Survey Evidence from Zambia,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 59, no. 3 511-547, https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/658346
8 Coughenour Betancourt Amy (2018): The Green Revolution reboot: Women’s land rights, https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-the-green-revolution-reboot-women-s-land-rights-93003
9 UN WOMEN, Facts & Figures, http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/commission-on-the-status-of-women-2012/facts-and-figures.
10 Ali, D.A. et al (2011): Environmental and Gender Impacts of Land Tenure Regularization in Africa: Pilot Evidence from Rwanda. 28 pp. Sanjak, Jolyne (2018): Women’s Land Rights Can Help Grow Food Security, https://www.landesa.org/womens-land-rights-can-help-grow-food-security-blog/.
11 FAO (2011): Closing the gender gap in agriculture, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/52011/icode/.