“For Generations, We Have Been Nominating Men Just Because They are Men”

Ms. Marlene Schiappa. Credit: UN Women/Antoine Tardy

By External Source
Jan 21 2020 – Marlène Schiappa, Minister of State for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination in France, attended the 25th year Regional Review Meeting of the Beijing Platform for Action for the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Region last month. She highlighted why this meeting is key for advancing the gender equality agenda and the priorities for the Generation Equality Forum in 2020, a global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico.

Why is the Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting important for advancing the gender equality agenda?

We are here in Geneva in order to dedicate some time to working together, which is essential. France is pleased and proud to host the Generation Equality Forum in July 2020, which will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. This will be an opportunity for us to strengthen the commitments that were made at the time [in 1995], but also to make new commitments with concrete gender equality goals through coalitions of states.

For this meeting, what is your message to the governments and decision-makers here and also to the civil society activists, specifically the youth?

I would urge governments to engage in the Generation Equality Forum under the aegis of UN Women, because no country in the world has succeeded in achieving gender equality in all areas, whether it may be equal pay, gender-based violence, sharing of domestic tasks, or combating female genital mutilation and forced marriages.

You’re co-chairing the Generation Equality Forum in July 2020. What are your expectations for this forum, what would you like to achieve?

No country can achieve gender equality on its own, which is why I believe deeply in a collective commitment to women’s rights in the form of multilateralism, which is the rationale of the feminist diplomacy led by France. I would urge all countries to engage in the coalitions of states of the Generation Equality Forum and also to engage in the Biarritz Partnership launched by President Emmanuel Macron as part of the French presidency of the G7.

It is a partnership that aims to review the best gender equality laws in the world. We propose that states commit to implementing Appendix 1, which calls for an innovative new law for gender equality in each country. France has made this commitment and we will, therefore, work to promote the economic empowerment of women.

In your opinion, what are the gender equality and women’s rights priorities for this region, and in the broader sense for Generation Equality?

First of all, I would say that the right to control one’s body is a right that must be reaffirmed. The issue of sexual and reproductive rights seems to me to be paramount. I think it’s very complicated for a woman to be able to live her life freely if she doesn’t have control over her own body.

Secondly, the fight against gender-based and sexual violence is the priority of the President’s five-year term. Similarly, I think it is difficult to fight for equal pay if women fear physical harm in the street, when they travel, and even when they go home.

Women are victims of domestic violence and are beaten or demeaned by the person with whom they live. It is very difficult in these cases for women to have the necessary mindsets to develop their careers.

Therefore, this seems to me to be a top priority of the feminist struggle to fight for the integrity of women’s bodies against sexual violence. And then I think it’s important to fight for women’s economic empowerment, and for their ability to start businesses all over the world.

We call on all states to ratify and implement the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence [also known as the Istanbul Convention] and its mechanisms to protect women, but also to enable women to become tomorrow’s leaders and to create and manage companies, in particular through quotas, which is a proven system in France.

I know that we are sometimes told that women are not going to be nominated just because they are women. For generations, we have been nominating men just because they are men.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has calculated that if we do not have a coercive policy, we will achieve gender equality in the year 2234. With UN Women’s support, we have the ambition to ensure that by 2020, we create the first generation that understands the importance of equality between women and men all over the world.

Courtesy UN Women

Ending Bullying and Humiliation over Menstruation as Girls and Boys in Conservative Eswatini are Educated about Reproductive Health

Nomcebo Mkhaliphi posing with girls from the Kwaluseni Infantry Primary School in Eswatini. Courtesy: Nomcebo Mkhaliphi

By Mantoe Phakathi
MBABANE , Jan 21 2020 – When 14-year-old Nomcebo Mkhaliphi first noticed the blood discharged from her vagina, she was shocked. Confused, she turned to her older sisters for advice.

“My sisters told me that they were experiencing the same every month and that they used fabric, toilet paper and newspapers as sanitary wear,” recalls the now 45-year-old Mkhaliphi. She had to follow suit and use these materials because she had no money to buy sanitary pads.

Mkhaliphi and her four siblings were single-handedly raised by their father in a poor household in rural Makhonza, south of Eswatini. Mkhaliphi’s parents had separated when she was nine, so conversations about menstruation were never had, both at home and school. 

Recounting her experience with periods invokes sad emotions for Mkhaliphi. She had three significant moments at school where her periods put her at the centre of gossip, bullying and humiliation.

At some point, she stained her tunic, followed by other incidents where a toilet paper and a newspaper she wore in the place of a sanitary pad fell to the ground after getting soaked, right in front of other learners.

“These incidents lowered my self-esteem because other students used my experience to bully me,” says the mother of two boys and a girl.

Instead of dropping out of school like other girls in a similar situation, Mkhaliphi persevered until she completed her high school education. Today, she volunteers her time to teach young girls and boys at schools and communities about menstruation, particularly the stigma associated with periods. She includes boys so that they stop seeing periods as a laughing matter but a natural occurrence for their female peers.

“There’s a lot of stigma associated with menstruation. When a woman is on her periods, she is said to be in ‘cleansing’ something that portrays her as dirty. That’s why in other families a menstruating woman is not allowed to cook, while in some churches they’re not allowed to come closer to the pastor,” Mkhaliphi tells IPS, adding that some churches order women to sit at the back and not participate in the service.

What’s worse, it’s taboo to talk about menstruation because in the Swati culture it has always been portrayed as a secret. This small landlocked southern African nation is the continent’s last monarchy, with a population of just under 1.4 million.

Through her talks, Mkhaliphi is using her story to end the stigma associated with periods and building confidence among girls by giving them the right information about their sexual reproductive health. She also gives talks to primary school children because, she says, it is important to talk to them while they are young.

“Girls open up to me about their own sad stories once they hear about my experience,” she says.

One such girl is Nomthandazo* (14) from a public school in Eswatini’s industrial town, Matsapha, who said she used to abscond from school when on her period because one day the newspaper she was wearing fell off and she was became the target for ridicule at school for a long time.

With no money to buy pads, she pretended to be going to school and would hide from her parents for about a week until her period was over.

“I now use rags. They take long to dry but they’re better than newspapers,” she tells IPS.

Some parents fail to have a conversation with their children about periods. For instance, Temphilo* from rural Sihhoye told her stepmother as soon as she saw blood, thinking that there was something wrong with her. Indeed, there was, according to her stepmother, who beat her up and accused her of having sex.

“I bled for almost a month and she didn’t even take me to hospital because she felt I brought it on myself,” Temphilo tells IPS. After that first irregular period, her periods followed the regular course of lasting 4 to 5 days.

But it took Mkhaliphi to assure her that menstruation is a natural thing that occurs to every woman and she should not be ashamed of herself because of it. So far, Mkhaliphi has reached over 3,000 girls since she started this initiative after she was retrenched from her work as a legal secretary in 2016.

“I get invited to many places where teachers and community leaders ask me to speak to learners and the youth in communities,” she says. “But it’s difficult to reach out to everyone because of lack of financial resources.”

Mkhaliphi has taken the conversation to Twitter, @nomcebo_mkhali where she now raises awareness. Twitter has exposed her to individual donors who contribute pads and a bit of money to support the girls. Given the number of places to visit and girls from poor backgrounds, she needs more assistance.

“It’s sad that most girls are still using unsafe materials which are not only inadequate for protection but can also lead to diseases,” she says.

The 2017 Eswatini Annual Education Census recorded that 220 girls absconded from school at primary level although the education was free. Reasons were not given for the dropouts but Mkhaliphi says it could partly be lack of sanitary wear.   

“Building the girl’s confidence is not good enough if they won’t have access to the things that will preserve their dignity when they’re menstruating,” says Mkhaliphi.

Chairperson of the Ministry of Health Portfolio Committee in the House of Assembly, Mduduzi Dlamini, concurs with Mkhaliphi.

“It doesn’t make sense that sanitary wear is not provided for free both at school and at community centres,” says Dlamini.

A participant at the recent 25th International Conference on Population Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya, he promised that the provision of free sanitary wear to girls was one of the issues that he would push for discussion in parliament.

“What I learnt from the conference is that when girls lack toiletries, like pads, they become vulnerable to sugar daddies who buy them these things,” Dlamini tells IPS. “Some girls end up getting infected with HIV by sugar daddies all because they didn’t have access to pads. Government needs to address this issue.”   

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “women are disproportionally affected by HIV” in Eswatini – 120,000 of the 190,000 adults living with HIV are women. In addition, “new HIV infections among young women aged 15–24 years were more than quadruple those among young men: 2400 new infections among young women, compared to fewer than 500 among young men”.

So far, Kenya and Botswana are the only African governments on track to offer free sanitary wear by law. 

*Names withheld to protect their identity.

School Lunch Programmes for Progress

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Wan Manan Muda
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 21 2020 – If well planned, coordinated and implemented, a government funded school feeding programme for all primary school children can be progressively transformative. Such a programme, involving government departments and agencies working together, can benefit schoolchildren, their families, farmers and public health, now and in the future.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Such a scheme should comprehensively supply adequate food for all, especially schoolchildren, and improve their nutrition, thus overcoming hunger and malnutrition besides improving the children’s physical and mental development, and school learning, attendance, participation and performance.

School meals, well planned by nutritionists and dieticians familiar with local food practices and alternatives, using safe food grown by family farmers free of toxic agrochemicals, and hygienically prepared, will significantly improve the nutrition, health and wellbeing of the children.

3-pronged approach
A comprehensive and ambitious three-pronged approach to school feeding would go a long way to address contemporary malnutrition, of both micronutrient deficiencies of minerals and vitamins as well as overweight, obesity and other diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Nutrition education for schoolchildren must promote an adequate, balanced and comprehensive understanding of health and nutrition. Teachers and the media will need to effectively share better knowledge of nutrition, health and wellbeing, and related food behaviours, dietary lifestyles and healthy living.

The programme should enable children to learn, from an early age, about food, its production, safety, preparation, consumption and effects on the human body.

Menus served can be rotated every two to four weeks to enhance dietary variety. Strict implementation and enforcement can help ensure that only healthy food is available in schools.

Learning from relevant experiences everywhere, good implementation and appropriate enforcement can also inculcate values of responsibility, equity, concern, empathy, cooperation and hygiene.

Nutritious school meal programme
A nutritious school feeding programme — properly designed and supervised by well-informed nutritionists and dieticians to meet school children’s micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) needs, and 25-30% of their macronutrient needs, such as carbohydrates and proteins — can go a long way.

Wan Manan Muda

The programme should meet much of the children’s dietary needs besides promoting knowledge of health and nutrition as well as healthy food habits. Menu planning should be aligned with the country’s dietary guidelines and international best practices for healthier school meals.

Meal requirements should adopt minimum standards, as stipulated in the country’s Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) or Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), but modified to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and to set minimum and maximum calorie intake levels.

Programme success is often partly due to active parental involvement, especially to ensure school food hygiene, safety and quality.

Children in such programmes generally have significantly better scores for both cognitive and physical development. Participating students significantly reduced their body mass indices (BMIs) even if they snacked outside school.

Agrarian transformation
The procurement policy for the school feeding programme offers a unique opportunity for agrarian transformation. Food procurement for the programme can be used to induce farmers to safely produce more nutritious and healthy food, especially vegetables and fruits.

With the promotion of international trade and export orientation, not many farmers produce food, typically staples, often due to subsidies from governments, aid programmes and sometimes consumers. Many of those growing cereals often remain among the poorest farmers as they cannot compete with industrially produced cereals, often imported from abroad.

Instead of large transnational companies, family or ‘homestead’ farmers should be the main source of food procured for school meal programmes. With sufficient, appropriate agricultural research and extension, the programme can not only provide safe, non-toxic and nutritious food for children, but also increase farmer incomes.

If well designed and implemented, it can strengthen or revive farmer cooperatives and organizations to better serve the farmers’ and the nation’s needs as locally grown food supplies can be more easily regulated to ensure safe and healthy food supplies.

In many countries, from Brazil to China, the quality, safety and nutrition of food supplies on local markets have improved as farmers produce more than necessary to meet procurement contract requirements for school meal programmes.

Scheme implementation
Three types of school feeding programmes have different implications and consequences:

    (1) Universal programmes in which all schoolchildren get free meals without conditions or requirements.
    (2) Targeted programmes in which only selected children to qualify for free meals, such as those from destitute families, or severely undernourished children, due to stunting and wasting, although qualification requirements are often abused.
    (3) Local programmes in which all children in a designated area receive free meals, e.g., rural areas, poor urban areas, post-disaster zones, et al.

The experiences of Japan and other societies show that only universal programmes can achieve all the objectives of such initiatives. Unlike targeting, the universal approach reduces the shame associated with receiving free meals, encouraging more children to participate with dignity.

Most middle-income countries and some low-income countries can well afford such universal programmes, which benefit countries in several significant ways, if well designed and implemented with broad popular participation, including both parents and farmers.

UN Report: Rising Inequality Affects More Than 70% of the Globe

Women ragpickers in Delhi scavenging through a pile of refuse for recyclable material. Credit: Dharmendra Yadav/IPS

By External Source
NEW YORK, Jan 21 2020 – Inequality is growing for more than 70 per cent of the global population, exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development. But the rise is far from inevitable and can be tackled at a national and international level, says a flagship study released by the UN on Tuesday.

The World Social Report 2020, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), shows that income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries – including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy.

The challenges are underscored by UN chief António Guterres in the foreword, in which he states that the world is confronting “the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape”, in which economic woes, inequalities and job insecurity have led to mass protests in both developed and developing countries.

Income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries – including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy

“Income disparities and a lack of opportunities”, he writes, “are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations.”


‘The one per cent’ winners take (almost) all

The study shows that the richest one per cent of the population are the big winners in the changing global economy, increasing their share of income between 1990 and 2015, while at the other end of the scale, the bottom 40 per cent earned less than a quarter of income in all countries surveyed.

One of the consequences of inequality within societies, notes the report, is slower economic growth. In unequal societies, with wide disparities in areas such as health care and education, people are more likely to remain trapped in poverty, across several generations.

Between countries, the difference in average incomes is reducing, with China and other Asian nations driving growth in the global economy. Nevertheless, there are still stark differences between the richest and poorest countries and regions: the average income in North America, for example, is 16 times higher than that of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Four global forces affecting inequality

The report looks at the impact that four powerful global forces, or megatrends, are having on inequality around the world: technological innovation, climate change, urbanization and international migration.

Whilst technological innovation can support economic growth, offering new possibilities in fields such as health care, education, communication and productivity, there is also evidence to show that it can lead to increased wage inequality, and displace workers.

Rapid advances in areas such as biology and genetics, as well as robotics and artificial intelligence, are transforming societies at pace. New technology has the potential to eliminate entire categories of jobs but, equally, may generate entirely new jobs and innovations.

For now, however, highly skilled workers are reaping the benefits of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution”, whilst low-skilled and middle-skilled workers engaged in routine manual and cognitive tasks, are seeing their opportunities shrink.


Opportunities in a crisis

As the UN’s 2020 report on the global economy showed last Thursday, the climate crisis is having a negative impact on quality of life, and vulnerable populations are bearing the brunt of environmental degradation and extreme weather events. Climate change, according to the World Social Report, is making the world’s poorest countries even poorer, and could reverse progress made in reducing inequality among countries.

If action to tackle the climate crisis progresses as hoped, there will be job losses in carbon-intensive sectors, such as the coal industry, but the “greening” of the global economy could result in overall net employment gains, with the creation of many new jobs worldwide.

For the first time in history, more people live in urban than rural areas, a trend that is expected to continue over the coming years. Although cities drive economic growth, they are more unequal than rural areas, with the extremely wealthy living alongside the very poor.

The scale of inequality varies widely from city to city, even within a single country: as they grow and develop, some cities have become more unequal whilst, in others, inequality has declined.


Migration a ‘powerful symbol of global inequality’

The fourth megatrend, international migration, is described as both a “powerful symbol of global inequality”, and “a force for equality under the right conditions”.

Migration within countries, notes the report, tends to increase once countries begin to develop and industrialize, and more inhabitants of middle-income countries than low-income countries migrate abroad.

International migration is seen, generally, as benefiting both migrants, their countries of origin (as money is sent home) and their host countries.

In some cases, where migrants compete for low-skilled work, wages may be pushed down, increasing inequality but, if they offer skills that are in short supply, or take on work that others are not willing to do, they can have a positive effect on unemployment.


Harness the megatrends for a better world

Despite a clear widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots worldwide, the report points out that this situation can be reversed. Although the megatrends have the potential to continue divisions in society, they can also, as the Secretary-General says in his foreword, “be harnessed for a more equitable and sustainable world”. Both national governments and international organizations have a role to play in levelling the playing field and creating a fairer world for all.

Reducing inequality should, says the report, play a central role in policy-making. This means ensuring that the potential of new technology is used to reduce poverty and create jobs; that vulnerable people grow more resilient to the effects of climate change; cities are more inclusive; and migration takes place in a safe, orderly and regular manner.

Three strategies for making countries more egalitarian are suggested in the report: the promotion of equal access to opportunities (through, for example, universal access to education); fiscal policies that include measures for social policies, such as unemployment and disability benefits; and legislation that tackles prejudice and discrimination, whilst promoting greater participation of disadvantaged groups.

While action at a national level is crucial, the report declares that “concerted, coordinated and multilateral action” is needed to tackle major challenges affecting inequality within and among countries.

The report’s authors conclude that, given the importance of international cooperation, multilateral institutions such as the UN should be strengthened and action to create a fairer world must be urgently accelerated.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides the blueprint for a better future for people and the planet, recognizes that major challenges require internationally coordinated solutions, and contains concrete and specific targets to reduce inequality, based on income.

This story was originally published by UN News

Why the Coronavirus Should Worry Us All

The coronavirus outbreak -- which began in Wuhan, China, and causes a pneumonia-like illness -- is raging across Asia, infecting close to 300 people and killing four. It was initially known to be transmitted from animals to human, and was just confirmed to be transmitted from human to human

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of MERS virus particles (yellow) both budding and attached to the surface of infected VERO E6 cells (blue). Credit: NIAID

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Jan 21 2020 – The coronavirus outbreak — which began in Wuhan, China, and causes a pneumonia-like illness — is raging across Asia, infecting close to 300 people and killing four. It was initially known to be transmitted from animals to human, and was just confirmed to be transmitted from human to human.

The rapid nature of its origin and speed in transmission reminds us that national security is threatened when a pathogen can travel from a remote village to major cities on all continents in 36 hours. Therefore, global health security should be given the same priority as national security.

The history of infectious disease outbreak is not new. In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic infected about 500 million people globally (a third of world’s population then) and caused the death of 20 million to 50 million victims.

The 2014 -2015 Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone infected 28,000 and killed over 11,000. By the end of the West Africa Ebola outbreak, the three nations lost a combined GDP of $2.8 billion.

Infectious diseases continue to be a huge problem. Of recent, Ebola and measles outbreaks in DRC have killed 2236 and over 6,000 respectively.

This Corona virus outbreak is happening during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday as millions travel to visit with loved ones in country and travel abroad, making the current threat a global one. Most urgently, all countries must collaborate to contain this outbreak now

The ease of travel in today’s global community means the world must always be prepared for disease outbreaks. It is no longer whether an infectious disease outbreak would happen but when.

Globally, 100,000 aircraft carry millions of passengers from one city to the other daily. A visit to flightradar24.com puts this in perspective and shows how interconnected countries are.

International borders really do not protect against infectious disease outbreaks. This is why governments, national public health institutes, communities, private sector and global health actors must act rapidly to contain this outbreak and others happening elsewhere.

Also, processes must be put in place to prevent future outbreaks. These are four interventions to ensure response and prevention happen.


First, increased screening at international borders using computerized thermal cameras should be intensified. No one should be exempt from this screening no matter how highly placed they are.

In 2015, the global health community learnt the hard way the dangers of giving preference to diplomats in the way Patrick Sawyer moved freely from Monrovia to Lagos despite being already infected with Ebola.

That oversight led to a short Ebola outbreak in Nigeria which could have gotten out of hand if not for quick response mounted by Nigerian authorities and other global health organisations. Beyond international air borders, most countries have very porous and poorly manned land borders.

To overcome this challenge, communities along these borders must be properly informed about this current outbreak, its presenting symptoms and who to call when they suspect individual have symptoms.


Second, prepare for the spread of fake news on infectious diseases and be proactive about pushing out the right information to counter it. Community education is very important, especially at this time when the infection is raging. People are scared and can easily fall prey to fake news.

National public health institutes must take charge and disseminate the right information through different channels including TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and community engagements.

The experience with the spread of fake news during the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria in 2015 led to people bathing with salt water because they believed it would stop them from getting infected with Ebola. That fake news led to deaths of two victims.


Third, governments in consultation with national public health institutes should designate specialized centers for handling suspected cases. At the same time, they should provide the necessary drugs for treatment too.

These must be coordinated with staff at ports of entry. There should be no confusion about where to take a suspect case. If a suspected case presents at hospitals, there must be plans to immediately direct the individual to the right part of the hospital to prevent the spread of the infection.

In 2015, while evaluating the African Union response to Ebola in West Africa, I heard firsthand the harmful effect of having hospital security workers who are not well informed. At Saint John of God Hospital in Port Loko District, Sierra Leone, the wrong handling of an Ebola case by a security officer led to deaths of 10 health workers.


Fourth, all governments must invest in epidemic preparedness. Although it is not cheap, it is cost effective. For instance, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control estimates that it would cost 40 cents per person for Nigeria to be prepared for epidemics.

This amounts to $80 million for a population of 200 million. Not doing this and a pandemic occurs, Nigeria would lose $9.6 billion in GDP annually, according to the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness.

Every country must have a financed plan and ensure that their national public health institute gets the required funds to lead prevention, detection and response to infectious diseases. Infectious diseases spare no one.

As the World Economic Forum holds in Davos, Switzerland, business leaders must discuss ways of supporting governments to fund epidemic preparedness. It makes business sense and will protect their investments.

This Corona virus outbreak is happening during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday as millions travel to visit with loved ones in country and travel abroad, making the current threat a global one. Most urgently, all countries must collaborate to contain this outbreak now.