2021 Indiaspora Government Leaders List recognizes more than 200 public officials of Indian heritage in senior government positions across the globe

SAN FRANCISCO and WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Indiaspora, a nonprofit community of global Indian diaspora leaders from various backgrounds and professions, released today their list recognizing public officials of the Indian diaspora who are leaders in their countries' governments.

Drawing from government websites and other publicly available resources, the 2021 Indiaspora Government Leaders List recognizes more than 200 leaders of Indian heritage who have ascended to the highest echelons of public service in 15 countries across the globe, with more than 60 of these leaders holding Cabinet positions.

"It is a huge source of pride to have the first woman and first person of color as the Vice President of the world's oldest democracy be someone of Indian heritage. We wanted to use this seminal moment on Presidents' Day to highlight a host of others in the diaspora who also are in public service," said Indiaspora Founder MR Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley–based entrepreneur and investor. "These leaders are building a legacy for future generations, and one that extends beyond our community to all of the constituents and communities that they serve."

The List also includes diplomats, legislators, heads of central banks and senior civil servants from countries with significant histories of diaspora migration, such as Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

"It is an honor to be included on the 2021 Indiaspora Government Leaders List. As the longest–serving Indian–American Member of Congress, I am proud to be a leader in the Indian American community, which has become an integral part of American life and society," said Congressman Ami Bera, Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia.

With more than 32 million people of Indian origin or (PIOs) globally, according to India's Ministry of External Affairs, Indians are the largest diaspora population in the world.

The officials on the 2021 Indiaspora Government Leaders List collectively represent more than 587 million constituents, and their countries account for an estimated USD $28 trillion in GDP, demonstrating the impact that these leaders are having globally.

"It truly is inspiring to note the remarkable contribution that government leaders of Indian heritage have made to advance the societies that they now represent," said Rosy Akbar, Fiji's Minister of Education, Heritage, and Arts. "For a sizable segment of the population, it is government policy addressing social injustices that lead to a transformative path of sustainable socio–economic progress."

The List includes immigrants from India, as well as professionals born in countries such as Singapore, South Africa, England, Canada and the U.S.

"As a proud Indo–Canadian, it is an honour to be included in the 2021 Indiaspora Government Leaders List alongside an accomplished and diverse group of leaders from the India diaspora," said Senator Ratna Omidvar. "I am eternally proud of my Indian heritage but also being Canadian. Canada has given me its protection and its opportunities, and in return, I am committed to making it a better place so that it continues to be a land of protection and opportunity for future Canadians."

While some of the officials are part of their country's first wave of immigration, arriving as refugees or for economic opportunities, others serving in their governments are part of subsequent waves of diaspora, who came for educational opportunities, or are of subsequent generations.

“It is inspiring to see the number of Indian diaspora who are entering the public arena,” said Indiaspora Board Member Arun Kumar, Chairman and CEO at KPMG India, who served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration. “Having had the opportunity to serve, I can speak to what a memorable and fulfilling experience it was. Above all, it was a meaningful way to give back. My hope is that this cohort of leaders will set an example for even more of the Indian diaspora to aspire to public service."

For additional resources, including information and news about the honorees, and additional quotes from officials, please visit the 2021 Indiaspora Government Leaders List website.

More on the Indiaspora Lists

The Indiaspora Lists highlight the advances of the Indian diaspora and raise their profile in the global consciousness in areas such as government, business, academia, and philanthropy.

The second of the Indiaspora Lists, the inaugural Indiaspora Business Leaders List, released in July 2020, featured the Indian diaspora who are leading the largest global companies""CEOs, Presidents, or Chairpersons of the Board of Directors.

Indiaspora (www.indiaspora.org) is a nonprofit community of powerful global Indian leaders from diverse backgrounds and professions who are committed to inspiring the diaspora to be a force for positive impact by providing a platform to collaborate, engage, and catalyze social change.

Media contact:

Mansi Patel

Director of Communications, Indiaspora

mansi@indiaspora.org

cell: 772–486–0351

A video accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/731d4d25–879e–4dc5–a50c–e80ae43f357d


History of Female (Im)Mobility in Nepal

A proposal by Nepal’s Immigration Department requiring consent from a guardian and local government for women under the age of 40 travelling to the Gulf or Africa has sparked public fury, and is taken as yet another proof of a misogynist, bungling bureaucracy

Credit: Nepali Times

By Upasana Khadka
KATHMANDU, Feb 15 2021 – A proposal by Nepal’s Immigration Department requiring consent from a guardian and local government for women under the age of 40 travelling to the Gulf or Africa has sparked public fury, and is taken as yet another proof of a misogynist, bungling bureaucracy. 

The Department made the recommendation to the Home Ministry on Wednesday, saying it was needed to curb the trafficking of Nepali women without labour permits, especially to the Gulf countries.

However, instead of clamping down on the ‘setting’ and collusion between recruiters, immigration officials and foreign-based agents to curb trafficking, the restrictions overlook womens’ agency in making decisions, their freedom to travel and work.

Teknarayan Poudel at the Immigration Department told Nepali Times that an earlier 2009 directive had to be amended because of “rampant misuse”. The following changes have been proposed:

  1. Women travellers on visit visas need a travel insurance of at least Rs1.5 million
  2. They will need to show a voucher/receipt as evidence for currency exchange
  3. Women under 40 traveling for the first time to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries or Africa on their own are required to obtain permission from family members and the local ward.

It is the third proposal that has caused public outrage, and it ignores that in the past labour permits have been prone to misuse when unnecessarily restrictive, especially for women.

The reactive ban or restrictions on travel that disproportionately target women are lazy because the alternative requires stakeholders to be proactive, engage in bilateral discussions with destination country governments, have strong inter-agency coordination, hold complicit  immigrant officials accountable, ramp up action against traffickers, train and inform workers on safe practices, to look for safer, legal pathways, to create jobs at home, and clamp down on domestic violence

By not granting labour permits or approvals for household work abroad, women cross the open border to India, or use visit visas since that is their only way out. It is clear that curbing visit visas, instead of curbing trafficking of women workers, will just intensify irregular travel via India.

Poudel says public reaction to the proposal overlooks the criteria that it only applies to first time travellers to the Gulf and Africa. “It is the first-timers to the GCC who are most vulnerable to visit visa misuse that this proposed amendment is addressing,” he said.

But that does not take away the ludicrousness of the proposal. When reached, the Home Ministry refused to comment. The proposed changes are similar to recommendations in a recent report by an inter-agency taskforce under the Home Ministry to investigate the misuse of visit visas.

Nepali workers were bypassing cumbersome labour permits by travelling abroad on visit visas, and the Immigration Department had been severely criticised for another meaningless proposal to require all those on visit visas to have a minimum education qualifications and English speaking abilities.

Poudel dismissed this, saying, “It was one of the many options that were tabled, but it was never given much consideration.”

To be sure, the misuse of visit visas is a pressing problem because it has put many migrants, especially women, at risk. In addition to bypassing jobs and countries for which labour approvals are banned for safety reasons, visit visas are also misused by recruiters who want to circumvent legal safeguards or because there are delays in paperwork.

“Countries or sectors restricted for foreign employment owing to vulnerabilities are the most ripe for misuse of visit visas,” says Kumar Dahal of the Department of Foreign Employment. “We get calls from women in places like Syria that are banned for foreign employment. Stranded domestic workers from Kuwait call us in the worst imaginable situations. What they have in common is that they all left on visit visas.”

He said that although many workers go to the UAE on visit visas, it is also a transit to third countries. On Wednesday itself, the Nepal Embassy in Abu Dhabi released a notice asking Nepalis not to come to the UAE on visit visas for work because of an increase in cases of stranded migrants.

The latest proposed restriction on visit visas has its roots in Nepal’s labour migration system that requires workers to obtain approvals to work abroad. The government labour permit is like Nepal’s exit pass that signifies legal pre-departure procedures are followed.

The permits have their merits since they keep intermediaries and employers accountable, ensure that migrants travel with proper documents for authentic jobs, and they are enrolled in a contributory fund if something goes wrong.

However, the new proposal is reminiscent of past restrictions on women. Looking at the evolution of the clause on treatment of female migrants:

1985 The Foreign Employment Act prohibited recruiters from providing jobs to women and children without the consent of guardians.

1988 An amendment expanded this to include permission from guardians as well as His Majesty’s Government. ‘Guardian’ referred to the mother or father of an unmarried woman or husband of a married woman, or elder or younger brother aged 21 years or more of an unmarried woman living in the same family, or father-in-law or mother-in-law of a married woman.

2007 The Foreign Employment Act stated: No gender discrimination shall be made while sending workers for foreign employment pursuant to this Act. Provided that where an employer institution makes a demand for either male or female workers, nothing shall prevent the sending of workers for foreign employment according to that demand.

Shambhu Niroula, a legal adviser to the National Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), says the non-discriminatory clause in the 2007 Act was a huge achievement. “It wasn’t just the non-discriminatory clause, there were also examples of positive discrimination to level the playing field like returning the costs of orientation fees to women migrants,” he says, adding that the proposed rules are regressive.

But directives such as the ban on domestic workers that are predominantly female contradict the non-discriminatory legal clauses, and the new proposed rule is a regressive addition impacting women.

The latest ban on domestic workers was put in place in 2017 after Parliament committee visited the Gulf in early 2020 and decided it was unsafe for domestic workers, regardless of gender. After a similar trip to the Gulf by a team led by Bimal Prasad Shrivastav, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Commerce, Labour and Consumer Interest instructed the government to revisit the ban.

“We have recommended country specific policies for domestic workers abroad,” he said. The criteria include having a bilateral labour agreement, a separate domestic worker law, pre-departure training, equality of treatment between Nepalis and locals, and easy access to communicate with consular officials and families back home.

These preconditions were still deemed restrictive, but better than previous rules. However, Covid-19 derailed action. The pandemic itself impacted women workers abroad disproportionately, especially those who had traveled through India or on visit visas since they did not exist in government records and were ineligible for any support from Foreign Employment Welfare Fund.

There are also questions about the requirement that women need permission from the local ward before they can go abroad. They should instead be mobilised to help aspirants make informed decisions via counseling and information campaign. They also have the proximity advantage to monitor illicit activities.

The reactive ban or restrictions on travel that disproportionately target women are lazy because the alternative requires stakeholders to be proactive, engage in bilateral discussions with destination country governments, have strong inter-agency coordination, hold complicit  immigrant officials accountable, ramp up action against traffickers, train and inform workers on safe practices, to look for safer, legal pathways, to create jobs at home, and clamp down on domestic violence.

Instead, they have come up with bizarre policies with detrimental consequences that do not address the problem at hand, but have unintended but predictable consequences.

Nepalis reacting on social media to the proposal have questioned on what grounds is a ‘guardian’ eligible to grant permission for a woman to travel. ‘Why should men under 40 be spared from this provision?’ asked one. How will the consent from the guardian and local authority address trafficking, said another. What if the same guardian is the very source of domestic violence from which the woman is escaping for overseas work?

Even when such letters are not required, women are often harassed by immigration officials at the airport.

Because of the public reaction, it is likely that the Home Ministry will not move forward with the proposal. But it is a sad reminder that even decades later, we are even considering such archaic policies that were considered discriminatory and regressive even then.

Bijaya Shrestha, who heads AMKAS Nepal that supports returnee female migrants says, “In 1996 I wanted to make a passport to go to Japan and was asked to bring a similar letter from my guardian and when I told them I don’t have guardians, they said it could be my younger brother who was 21 years old. I was 30 then.”

The passport office was all right with a letter from her younger brother, but not from her 28-year-old younger sister. She adds, “I can’t believe we are back to the same debate against a nonsensical, discriminatory policy. How much longer must we fight against this?”

Up to 70% of women workers that AMKAS supports were forced to travel through irregular channels because of the travel restrictions.

Sarda Rai is a migrant who has worked in households in Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi. She is now back in her home in Morang, and says: “I left via India but used to return home through Kathmandu airport. The immigration officials gave me a hard time every time. I had to fight back and tell them either to lift the ban, to not issue us passports at all, or to give us jobs in Nepal. All that is still true.”

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

Centrient Pharmaceuticals to acquire Astral SteriTech, expanding its product portfolio with sterile injectable antibiotic finished dosage forms

Rotterdam, the Netherlands, February 15th, 2021, Feb. 15, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) —

  • Further strengthens Centrient Pharmaceuticals' position as the global business–to–business industry leader in beta–lactam antibiotics
  • Broadens Centrient Pharmaceuticals' product portfolio with sterile injectable Semi–Synthetic Cephalosporin and Semi–Synthetic Penicillin finished dosage forms, able to further meet the needs of customers in these segments and become a preferred partner for customers
  • Brings in–house manufacturing capabilities for high–quality sterile antibiotic powder injectable finished dosage forms with two US FDA–approved production lines

Centrient Pharmaceuticals ("Centrient"), the business–to–business leader in sustainable, enzymatic antibiotics, next–generation statins and anti–fungals, today announced the signing of an agreement for the acquisition of Astral SteriTech Private Limited ("Astral SteriTech"), a leading international manufacturer specialised in sterile antibiotic injectable finished dosage forms. With the acquisition of Astral SteriTech, Centrient strengthens its position as the global business–to–business industry leader in beta–lactam antibiotics.

The acquisition of Astral SteriTech is an important step on Centrient's journey to become the leading, diversied and fully integrated partner to generics marketers.

The products offered by Astral SteriTech are sterile injectable finished dosage forms for Semi–Synthetic Cephalosporins and Semi–Synthetic Penicillins. Being close to Centrient's core products of beta–lactam antibiotics, the acquired product portfolio provides Centrient a diversification opportunity within the attractive growing niche segment of sterile injectable antibiotics.

With the broadened product portfolio, Centrient can further meet the needs of its customers in Semi–Synthetic Cephalosporin and Semi–Synthetic Penicillin finished dosage forms and become the preferred partner in these segments.

Astral SteriTech has a US FDA–approved manufacturing site with two manufacturing lines and serves customers in highly regulated markets like the United States and other regions such as South Asia.

The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and closing conditions.

Rex Clements, CEO at Centrient said: "The acquisition of Astral SteriTech is a significant step forward on the journey we at Centrient have undertaken to become the preferred commercial partner to our customers in Semi–Synthetic Cephalosporin and Semi–Synthetic Penicillin antibiotics.

By broadening of our product portfolio and adding advanced manufacturing capabilities, we will strengthen the delivery of our value proposition of Quality, Reliability and Sustainability.

These finished dosage forms are critical medicines in healthcare but face increasing risks of supply shortage. At Centrient, we are committed to ensuring a sustainable supply of these products in healthcare, in line with our purpose to improve lives by being at the centre of sustainable and accessible healthcare."

Dr. Dushyant Patel, Chairman and Managing Director at Astral SteriTech said: "We are proud that with Astral SteriTech's core competencies and proven strong track record in sterile injectable Semi–Synthetic Cephalosporin and Semi–Synthetic Penicillin finished dosage forms, we can contribute to synergize and consolidate Centrient's antibiotics product portfolio, to support their geographical expansion agenda.

Centrient's vision and strategies for global success blended with Astral SteriTech's strong fundamentals in the niche area will not only enhance quality of service to existing clients but will help expand the business horizon."

For the transaction, Barclays acted as the exclusive financial advisor, and Sidley Austin LLP and Trilegal as legal advisors to Centrient Pharmaceuticals. J.P. Morgan acted as the exclusive financial advisor and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co as legal advisor to Astral SteriTech.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

About Astral SteriTech Private Limited

Astral SteriTech is a leading international contract manufacturer specialized in sterile antibiotic powder injectable finished dosage forms.

Established as Astral Pharmaceutical Industries in 1991 by Dr. Dushyant Patel, current Chairman and Managing Director, and renamed into Astral SteriTech Private Limited in 2012, the company carved its niche as a preferred Contract and Development Manufacturing Organisation in the industry segment of sterile antibiotic injectable formulations. The company has a US FDA–approved manufacturing site with two dedicated manufacturing lines, located in Vadodara, Gujarat, India, and serves customers in high regulated markets like the United States and other regions such as South Asia.

The company's core competencies include advanced aseptic fill and finish technologies and processes, the highest quality standards supported by its robust Quality System, regulatory services along all product development stages, and extensive product development knowledge.

For more information on Astral SteriTech please visit www.astralsteritech.com.

About Centrient Pharmaceuticals

Centrient Pharmaceuticals is the global leader in the production and commercialisation of sustainable antibiotics, next–generation statins and anti–fungals. We produce and sell intermediates, active pharmaceutical ingredients and finished dosage forms.

We stand proudly at the centre of modern healthcare, as a maker of essential and life–saving medicines. With our commitment to Quality, Reliability and Sustainability at the heart of everything we do, our over 2200 employees work continuously to meet our customers' needs. We work towards a sustainable future by actively participating in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Founded 150 years ago as the "Nederlandsche Gist– en Spiritusfabriek', our company was known as Gist Brocades and more recently DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals. Headquartered in Rotterdam (Netherlands), we have production facilities and sales offices in China, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Egypt, the United States and Mexico. Centrient Pharmaceuticals is wholly owned by Bain Capital Private Equity, a leading global private investment firm.

For more information please visit www.centrient.com or contact Centrient Pharmaceuticals Corporate Communications, Alice Beijersbergen, Director Branding & Communications. E–Mail: alice.beijersbergen@centrient.com.

Forward–looking statements

This press release may contain forward–looking statements with respect to Centrient Pharmaceuticals' future financial

performance and position. Such statements are based on current expectations, estimates and projections of Centrient and information currently available to the company. Centrient cautions readers that such statements involve certain risks and uncertainties that are difficult to predict and therefore it should be understood that many factors can cause actual performance and position to differ materially from these statements. Centrient has no obligation to update the statements contained in this press release, unless required by law. The English language version of the press release is governing.


Why Incarceration further Disadvantages Australia’s Indigenous

Keenan Mundine outside The Block, an Aboriginal community social housing area where he grew up. Today, he is using his own lived experience of navigating the criminal justice system that helped change the trajectory of his life to devise creative and innovative solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people so they can break free from the cycle of violence, police and prisons. Credit: Neena Bhandari /IPS

Keenan Mundine outside The Block, an Aboriginal community social housing area where he grew up. Today, he is using his own lived experience of navigating the criminal justice system that helped change the trajectory of his life to devise creative and innovative solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people so they can break free from the cycle of violence, police and prisons. Credit: Neena Bhandari /IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Australia, Feb 15 2021 – Keenan Mundine grew up in the Aboriginal community social housing called The Block, infamous for poor living conditions, alcohol and drug use, and violence, in Sydney’s Redfern suburb. At the age of about seven, soon after losing his parents to drugs and suicide, he was separated from his siblings and placed in kinship care.

“I felt robbed of my childhood. I didn’t feel safe and it made me struggle with my living conditions and mental health. I couldn’t concentrate at school and got into lot of trouble. I spent sleepless nights contemplating what my situation would be if my parents were still alive. At the age of 14, I ended up on the streets and tried to work my way around it,” Mundine tells IPS.

Today, he is using his own lived experience of navigating the criminal justice system that helped change the trajectory of his life to devise creative and innovative solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so they can break free from the cycle of violence, police and prisons.

Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are globally the highest incarcerated people, making up 28 percent of the prison population even though they comprise only 3.3 percent of the total Australian population. Many are introduced to the criminal justice system at a young age, often incarcerated for trivial offences, and they remain in the system for life.

“Most children in prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have already experienced violence, abuse, homelessness, and drug or alcohol abuse. A significant number of young Indigenous people in detention centres and prisons suffer from previously undiagnosed Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. Criminalising their behaviour creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage,” Australian Medical Association President, Dr Omar Khorshid, tells IPS via email.

The Australian Government’s 2020 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage (ODI) Report notes that over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system is the result of a higher prevalence of the common risk factors for offending, which stem “in part from their experience of dispossession, forced removal and intergenerational trauma and racism – structural and systemic factors including laws, policies and practices that can unintentionally operate to their detriment”.

Between 2000 and 2019, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult people’s imprisonment rate has increased 72 percent and in 2018-19, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth detention rate was 22 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth, according to the ODI report.

Challenging Australia’s Indigenous incarceration record during its third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Jan. 20, several UN member states urged Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14 years.

“In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had recommended 14 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The Australian Government must now do what is right and introduce legislation to raise the age, so children aged 10 to 13 years are not sent to prison as recommended by the national RaiseTheAge Campaign Alliance,” Australian Lawyers for Human Rights president, Kerry Weste, tells IPS via email. 

Despite the fact that indigenous children represent only six percent of young people in Australia, they comprise 57 percent of those in youth detention, and an alarming 78 percent of 10- to 13-year-old children detained,” says Weste.  

The treatment these children have been subjected to could amount to a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Australia has ratified.

Carly Stanley, who grew up in a large Aboriginal community in inner-west Sydney suburbs, recalls accompanying her grandmother to visit her uncle in prison and cousins in police cells. She accepted that this was normal because everyone in the community had someone behind bars. Although Stanley had a supportive family, she experienced trauma during her childhood. She dropped out of school and engaged in criminal activity and drug use, but she was fortunate not to ever have been in trouble for it. 

“It is only when I got older and did a course in Aboriginal studies, learning the history of my people, did I realise that this situation was specific to our community,” Stanley, who worked for many years for government and non-governmental organisations, tells IPS. She realised that the processes and the structures in place didn’t take into consideration Aboriginal peoples’ cultural, social, economic, emotional, health and wellbeing into account. 

“I tried to make changes as a senior officer inside the departments I worked for, but I realised very quickly that that wasn’t going to happen. It ignited my passion to help my people and get better outcomes for them through community-led solutions,” says Stanley, who along with Mundine established Deadly Connections, a grassroots Indigenous organisation.  

Through Deadly Connections, Mundine says, “We have been able to implement direct interventions from a culturally responsive perspective to get our people social justice and participate in the economy. The government and institutions have many employment accreditation courses, but it is a big challenge to find a job when you have a criminal record.” 

Research indicates that time in a juvenile justice centre is the most significant factor in increasing the odds of reoffending. On Jun. 30, 2019, 78 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult prisoners had a known prior imprisonment, compared with 50 percent of non-Indigenous prisoners. Over the period 2000-01 to 2018-19, 55 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in sentenced supervision had more than one supervised sentence, compared to 34 percent for non-Indigenous young people, according to the 2020 ODI report.

“Simple reforms such as decriminalising public drunkenness, ending punitive bail laws and taking other steps to reduce the number of people held on remand can significantly impact Indigenous over-incarceration rates in Australia,” Weste tells IPS. 

While the large majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in prison are male, the rate of female imprisonment is increasing more rapidly. Structural factors related to sentencing laws appear to be contributing to this increase, with 40 percent of all female prisoners being unsentenced (on remand) at Jun. 30, 2019, up from 37 percent a year earlier.

Australia is in the midst of a mass imprisonment crisis, with the number of women in our prisons skyrocketing by 64 percent in the last 10 years. Too often, discriminatory laws and excessive police powers form a toxic combination that results in more and more women – and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in particular – being separated from their families and funnelled into the prison system,” Monique Hurley, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre, tells IPS via email.

“Governments across Australia must act now to remove laws that disproportionately and unfairly criminalise women,” says Hurley.

Since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which had found that ‘too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often’, Australia has lost 455 Indigenous people in custody — 295 in prison, 156 in police custody or custody-related operations and four in juvenile detention, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Deaths in custody in Australia 2018-19 Statistical Report.

“Throwing people behind bars is outdated and ineffective. Governments must invest in strengthening communities and tackling the drivers of crimes – that means affordable housing, adequate social security payments so people can afford basic necessities, community-driven programs to keep young people engaged at school, strengthen culture and drive employment and mental health and wellbeing programmes,” Sophie Trevitt, Executive Officer of Change the Record, a national Aboriginal-led justice coalition of legal, health and family violence prevention experts, tells IPS via email. 

Australia has spent AUD one billion in 2019-20 on detention-based supervision, community-based supervision and group conferencing. The cost of detention-based supervision was AUD 584.5 million, accounting for the majority of this expenditure.

As Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of Change the Record, tells IPS via email, “Only by empowering and strengthening our communities – and directing funding away from a broken and harmful prison system – will we create safer and more equal communities for everyone.”

The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes targets for reducing the rates of adult incarceration by at least 15 percent and youth detention by at least 30 percent by 2031.

“The Indigenous Advancement Strategy Safety and Wellbeing Programme includes investing in adult and youth ‘through-care’ services, which provide intensive case management to those in prison or detention, starting pre-release and continuing post-release to address the underlying causes of offending and prevent reoffending,” according to a spokesperson for Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.

But Stanley says, “The measures in place are only tokenistic. However, a lot more people, especially the younger generation, are realising that a change is needed.”

Why Australia’s Indigenous People are the Highest Incarcerated Globally

Keenan Mundine outside The Block, an Aboriginal community social housing area where he grew up. Today, he is using his own lived experience of navigating the criminal justice system that helped change the trajectory of his life to devise creative and innovative solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people so they can break free from the cycle of violence, police and prisons. Credit: Neena Bhandari /IPS

Keenan Mundine outside The Block, an Aboriginal community social housing area where he grew up. Today, he is using his own lived experience of navigating the criminal justice system that helped change the trajectory of his life to devise creative and innovative solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people so they can break free from the cycle of violence, police and prisons. Credit: Neena Bhandari /IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Australia, Feb 15 2021 – Keenan Mundine grew up in the Aboriginal community social housing called The Block, infamous for poor living conditions, alcohol and drug use, and violence, in Sydney’s Redfern suburb. At the age of about seven, soon after losing his parents to drugs and suicide, he was separated from his siblings and placed in kinship care.

“I felt robbed of my childhood. I didn’t feel safe and it made me struggle with my living conditions and mental health. I couldn’t concentrate at school and got into lot of trouble. I spent sleepless nights contemplating what my situation would be if my parents were still alive. At the age of 14, I ended up on the streets and tried to work my way around it,” Mundine tells IPS.

Today, he is using his own lived experience of navigating the criminal justice system that helped change the trajectory of his life to devise creative and innovative solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people so they can break free from the cycle of violence, police and prisons.

Indigenous ATSI people are globally the highest incarcerated people, making up 28 percent of the prison population even though they comprise only 3.3 percent of the total Australian population. Many are introduced to the criminal justice system at a young age, often incarcerated for trivial offences, and they remain in the system for life.

“Most children in prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have already experienced violence, abuse, homelessness, and drug or alcohol abuse. A significant number of young Indigenous people in detention centres and prisons suffer from previously undiagnosed Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. Criminalising their behaviour creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage,” Australian Medical Association President, Dr Omar Khorshid, tells IPS via email.

The Australian Government’s 2020 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage (ODI) Report notes that over-representation of ATSI people in the criminal justice system is the result of a higher prevalence of the common risk factors for offending, which stem “in part from their experience of dispossession, forced removal and intergenerational trauma and racism – structural and systemic factors including laws, policies and practices that can unintentionally operate to their detriment”.

Between 2000 and 2019, the ATSI adult people’s imprisonment rate has increased 72 percent and in 2018-19, the ATSI youth detention rate was 22 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth, according to the ODI report.

Challenging Australia’s Indigenous incarceration record during its third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Jan. 20, several UN member states urged Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14 years.

“In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had recommended 14 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The Australian Government must now do what is right and introduce legislation to raise the age, so children aged 10 to 13 years are not sent to prison as recommended by the national RaiseTheAge Campaign Alliance,” Australian Lawyers for Human Rights president, Kerry Weste, tells IPS via email. 

Despite the fact that indigenous children represent only six percent of young people in Australia, they comprise 57 percent of those in youth detention, and an alarming 78 percent of 10- to 13-year-old children detained,” says Weste.  

The treatment these children have been subjected to could amount to a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Australia has ratified.

Carly Stanley, who grew up in a large Aboriginal community in inner-west Sydney suburbs, recalls accompanying her grandmother to visit her uncle in prison and cousins in police cells. She accepted that this was normal because everyone in the community had someone behind bars. Although Stanley had a supportive family, she experienced trauma during her childhood. She dropped out of school and engaged in criminal activity and drug use, but she was fortunate not to ever have been in trouble for it. 

“It is only when I got older and did a course in Aboriginal studies, learning the history of my people, did I realise that this situation was specific to our community,” Stanley, who worked for many years for government and non-governmental organisations, tells IPS. She realised that the processes and the structures in place didn’t take into consideration Aboriginal peoples’ cultural, social, economic, emotional, health and wellbeing into account. 

“I tried to make changes as a senior officer inside the departments I worked for, but I realised very quickly that that wasn’t going to happen. It ignited my passion to help my people and get better outcomes for them through community-led solutions,” says Stanley, who along with Mundine established Deadly Connections, a grassroots Indigenous organisation.  

Through Deadly Connections, Mundine says, “We have been able to implement direct interventions from a culturally responsive perspective to get our people social justice and participate in the economy. The government and institutions have many employment accreditation courses, but it is a big challenge to find a job when you have a criminal record.” 

Research indicates that time in a juvenile justice centre is the most significant factor in increasing the odds of reoffending. On Jun. 30, 2019, 78 percent of ATSI adult prisoners had a known prior imprisonment, compared with 50 percent of non-Indigenous prisoners. Over the period 2000-01 to 2018-19, 55 percent of ATSI young people in sentenced supervision had more than one supervised sentence, compared to 34 percent for non-Indigenous young people, according to the 2020 ODI report.

“Simple reforms such as decriminalising public drunkenness, ending punitive bail laws and taking other steps to reduce the number of people held on remand can significantly impact Indigenous over-incarceration rates in Australia,” Weste tells IPS. 

While the large majority of ATSI adults in prison are male, the rate of female imprisonment is increasing more rapidly. Structural factors related to sentencing laws appear to be contributing to this increase, with 40 percent of all female prisoners being unsentenced (on remand) at Jun. 30, 2019, up from 37 percent a year earlier.

Australia is in the midst of a mass imprisonment crisis, with the number of women in our prisons skyrocketing by 64 percent in the last 10 years. Too often, discriminatory laws and excessive police powers form a toxic combination that results in more and more women – and ATSI women in particular – being separated from their families and funnelled into the prison system,” Monique Hurley, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre, tells IPS via email.

“Governments across Australia must act now to remove laws that disproportionately and unfairly criminalise women,” says Hurley.

Since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which had found that ‘too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often’, Australia has lost 455 Indigenous people in custody — 295 in prison, 156 in police custody or custody-related operations and four in juvenile detention, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Deaths in custody in Australia 2018-19 Statistical Report.

“Throwing people behind bars is outdated and ineffective. Governments must invest in strengthening communities and tackling the drivers of crimes – that means affordable housing, adequate social security payments so people can afford basic necessities, community-driven programs to keep young people engaged at school, strengthen culture and drive employment and mental health and wellbeing programmes,” Sophie Trevitt, Executive Officer of Change the Record, a national Aboriginal-led justice coalition of legal, health and family violence prevention experts, tells IPS via email. 

Australia has spent AUD one billion in 2019-20 on detention-based supervision, community-based supervision and group conferencing. The cost of detention-based supervision was AUD 584.5 million, accounting for the majority of this expenditure.

As Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of Change the Record, tells IPS via email, “Only by empowering and strengthening our communities – and directing funding away from a broken and harmful prison system – will we create safer and more equal communities for everyone.”

The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes targets for reducing the rates of adult incarceration by at least 15 percent and youth detention by at least 30 percent by 2031.

“The Indigenous Advancement Strategy Safety and Wellbeing Programme includes investing in adult and youth ‘through-care’ services, which provide intensive case management to those in prison or detention, starting pre-release and continuing post-release to address the underlying causes of offending and prevent reoffending,” according to a spokesperson for Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.

But Stanley says, “The measures in place are only tokenistic. However, a lot more people, especially the younger generation, are realising that a change is needed.”

Majority Rule Giving Way to Majoritarianism

Shashi Tharoor

By External Source
Feb 15 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Celebrated Indian writer, Member of Parliament and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor in a conversation with The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam on the occasion of the newspaper’s 30th anniversary yesterday spoke eloquently on media freedom, regional politics and democracy on a virtual platform.

Mahfuz Anam: Let me start with what appears to be a duality of your current life as a writer and as a politician — the former being more of a moral, ethical and value based world to the latter being more of compromise and the need to be practical. How do you navigate between being an author and a politician?

Shashi Tharoor: It’s not easy at all. I have had to make choices between the demands of both. They are essentially the reactions of the same person seeing the world that provokes in him the wish to describe, the wish to act upon. There is the world of decisions versus the world of observations or conclusions essentially relating to the same world. When I see something and think this is something I want to write about, this is also something I want to do something about. That is when the two worlds can overlap. My politics takes precedence over everything else because a couple of million people have elected me to represent them in the national parliament. There is, however, always a part of me that never forgets that I was a writer.

The enduring value will be that and not the politics.

Mahfuz Anam: There is however this contradiction between the moral height of being a literary person versus the sometimes quite dirty level of politics. In our region, sometimes politics is known to be horse-training. How do you live in these two worlds?

Shashi Tharoor: It does not always have to be, but there are often compromises. There is always a contradiction between an individual with his own convictions who belongs to a party with its own policies. There is no guarantee that your convictions will be the same as that of your party. I have a duty towards my party and its policies, but I also have a duty as an individual, so what I tend to do is, I stay loyal to the party’s choices but I do not allow myself to say things I do not believe. If the party takes a decision that I’m in profound disagreement with, I will either explain the party’s stance without myself advocating it, or I go silent. There have been a number of instances where I have chosen silence rather than to break ranks with my party because by doing so, I will damage the people with whom I’m working. I am not prepared to compromise beyond that. I believe my intellectual and moral integrity is what I can bring to the world as politics and if I start tarnishing that by selling that short, then in the end of the day it seems to me that I may as well not be in politics because you can get any number of cookie-cutter political figures who will do and say what they are told for temporary gain.

Mahfuz Anam: What is your overall view about the state of media freedom in South Asia?

Shashi Tharoor: The truth is our press freedom across South Asia has a number of challenges. On the one hand, it is not as bad as the most pessimistic will describe it to be. Even in the military rule of Pakistan, there were relatively courageous journalists writing. In Bangladesh, The Daily Star and Prothom Alo have flourished quite effectively in spite of challenges. In India even though much of the media is accused of complicity, of having sold out, of having compromised, there are still people in the media who have nonetheless been able to stand up for what they believe in. They can be minor websites, but the truth is somewhere being told, if you know how to look for it. It is a mixed bag. While it is true that we all in South Asia have governments who would not encourage criticism, it is also true that in the media, there are enough journalists who believe in their mission and have courage.

Mahfuz Anam: Why do our governments always feel so hostile towards the free press?

Shashi Tharoor: Our countries are flawed and fragile in spite of being democracies. Each government has felt a certain level of insecurity for certain reasons which is why they want a sympathetic narrative towards what they believe to be their good efforts to how they run the country and if that narrative is not available they undermine the ones providing the narrative, and want to silence them. By definition, press freedom has to be antagonistic because the role of the press is adversarial. This is a conceptual element in much of Western journalism. Because the press abets the public in holding the government accountable, their job is to question the government, be cynical about the government’s claims. The adversarial stance is built into press freedom. Many of us feel that that is part of our conviction as independent commentators. You are obliged to be critical in a context where the government distrusts your criticism.

Then there are these populist cult leaders who believe that they are the voice of the people, so who are these unelected journalists to pull them down? They believe that you are actually betraying the people if you attack them.

Mahfuz Anam: You are a writer, columnist and now a politician. Do you feel differently about the press/media when you are wearing different hats? As a politician do you see us differently than as you see us as a writer? Did you feel differently towards the media when you were a minister in 2009?

Shashi Tharoor: First of all, the existing media culture in India was generally an accepting one. That the media would attack me, I took that as the price one paid to be in politics. I never thought of the media as something that could be cajoled, threatened, intimidated or silenced. I took media criticism seriously and accepted their rights to criticise me.

What is different in the last few years is that the new people in power do not share that set of assumptions. They have an attitude suggesting you are with us, or against us. They have not hesitated to use many of the resources at the command of a majority government. In the case of the BJP, if they felt that an editor who wrote an unfriendly piece should lose his job, or the proprietor will get a tax raid, they can carry it out. I know I am not officially supposed to say that happened, but that is the kind of thing that can happen, and that some would say has happened.

You have in India a populist leader who has direct rapport with the populace and contempt for the media because he simply doesn’t need it. He enjoys unmediated access to popular masses, because the creation of social media meant that you can bypass traditional media. His party is extremely skilled at manipulating social media, and then he can treat the traditional media as irrelevant. He is the first prime minister who has never held a press conference in India, and taken unscripted questions. Every question is vetted in advance. To him it is simply theatre — it is not an exercise in being accountable to an independent mind. That does not interest him at all.

Mahfuz Anam: How do you view this development of social media and the traditional media being bypassed?

Shashi Tharoor: I view it with concern but also inevitability. The reach of social media is something you have to appreciate. Eighty percent of the Indian electorate is connected to the internet via their mobile phones. I have witnessed the astonishing growth of social media and its ability to transform. We are seeing for example that Mr Modi has made it compulsory for every minister in his cabinet to have a Twitter account, but not made it compulsory for them to hold press conferences. That is the difference. The mainstream press is now secondary in the government’s approach. What is concerning about this is that social media is devoid of filters. Anyone is basically as authentic a voice as the most professional journalist. There is no editorial control and fact-checking. There are now independent fact-checking websites but they have a fraction of the audience that the original fake story has. This means that those who want their narrative to be believed can reinforce it without any accountability to the actual truth. You can also get pliant traditional media to translate your social media messages.

Mahfuz Anam: We now have the Digital Security Act to control the digital space which very severely controls what somebody is posting. What is the legal framework in India?

Shashi Tharoor: As chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, I can say that what we have is a rule going back to the 19th century which desperately needs updating. The Indian Telegraph Act 1885 governs much of telecommunications in the country. The time is ripe for a serious rethinking. The anxiety that many people have is that will the rethinking take place if it is under a government that is not terribly committed to press freedom.

There are a lot of Indians who are comfortable with modern technology. The government will struggle to control technology. There has already been backlash against Twitter’s refusal to shut down certain accounts that issued tweets that the government deemed unacceptable, and the government asked them to shut them down, and Twitter following its own codes, did not shut them down, saying that having reviewed them, the company felt that it wasn’t keeping with its own laws. Whereupon the government said who are you to decide what India’s laws permit. We are telling you shut those accounts, and if you don’t, you will be punished. They might be a private company but they are working in a public space — they have social and political obligations. These are challenging questions that are being debated around the world, but there is no clear answer.

The original balance of power between the Legislative, the Judicial and the Executive branches of the state, or the concept of check and balance has enormously shifted towards the Executive. In the hands of charismatic, popular and effective leaders this shift has further intensified. This has greatly reduced the accountability of the governments.

Mahfuz Anam: What’s your view? Is there a role of the media here?

Shashi Tharoor: We are caught up in a dangerous climate in our politics. Ideas of nationalism have come which say that challenging the elected majority, elected government is somehow anti-national. When you are saying that I am just doing my job as a journalist, and the government wants to put me in jail for it, the government can say “I have the right to do what I want because the people have voted for me. Who are you?” They are citing democracy to undermine democratic practices.

In India, many of our media houses are owned by people with other business interests. It is very easy for the media to subserve the business interests, and those business interest’s vulnerabilities to be used against the media. It is very easy to pick up the phone and call the owner if the editor goes out of line.

Mahfuz Anam: Where is democracy going?

Shashi Tharoor: In a bad direction. Surveillance increased last year since more and more things had to be done online. Even something as basic as trying to protect the health of the population by getting people to download an app that sees who they were in contact with, can be used for surveillance. All of this technology has abetted those who want to undermine democracy. When this technology first came into development, we all saw this as empowering. Technology was supposed to give voices to the voiceless. It seemed to be a democratising element. Today this seems to be an undemocratic development.

Mahfuz Anam: As a parliamentarian, are you able to play your constitutionally prescribed role?

Shashi Tharoor: Yes and no. I do have the right to speak. Obviously, when the government has a decisive majority it is not obliged to listen. But at least the parliament gives us space to express our views, which can then have a second life on social media, and so far that has not been stopped. But the difficulty with our democratic institutions in India today, is that it is a sobering matter to realise how easily it can be abridged. We have a fervent nationalism that extols every Indian achievement, real or imagined, such that the mildest protest is labelled anti-national or even seditious. I have five different sedition cases against me because of a Tweet, and I have to go to five different states to plead innocence. Almost every independent institution has been hollowed out and made into an instrument to be used for the government’s dominance. Political freedom has ceased to be a virtue. Conformity is what the government prefers. Dissenting voices are somehow seen as less fitting in this nationalism.

Mahfuz Anam: The re-emergence of religion in our politics is something that is true for the whole South Asia, Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Hinduism in India and Islam in Pakistan. Bangladesh is also seeing a similar rise. As a “thought leader” what do you think is our way forward? Why in 2021 does religion get revived?

Shashi Tharoor: Pakistan was founded on the assumption that people of a certain religion must have a separate country to live in. India rejected that. In the Indian context, it didn’t matter what your religion was, you had the same rights. Now I find that this is being questioned. A question was asked in the parliament when the constitution was being hammered out, stating should India not be a Hindu country. This was debated and rejected by our founding fathers and mothers. It was considered impolite to spread communal messages in society. That has changed. In addition to that, you have a genuine problem because we have constructed a nation with 16 percent Muslim minority and remained largely free of any existential issues because that minority has felt safe.

If you start demonising that minority, accuse them of acting as agents of a hostile neighbour — if you take 15 percent of your population and say you are a traitor unless you prove otherwise…our survival and success depends on our ability to maintain cohesion. It is the secret to our development. There is something very fundamentally wrong with the communal approach in our society. This communal virus has to be inoculated against. For the first time, politically we have a discourse coming from the people in the establishment that is virulently hostile to certain minorities.

There is a perception assiduously cultivated by rhetoricians from the ruling party that a lot of Indian governance was about appeasement of minorities that must be shed for a more belligerent, assertive Hinduism. People who are the vehicles of that belief are very intolerant of dissent. Critics are routinely urged by ministers to go to Pakistan — the mere choice of the destination itself is supposed to point to their traitorism. The use of polarising along communal lines in order to win a seat is today’s successful tactic by the ruling party. In order to consolidate the vote of the majority, they are othering the minority. The narrative of polarisation is in fertile ground because some people can absorb the fears of certain majorities. This is undermining the biggest strength of democracy which is to bring people of different identities together. The most tranquil places in the world are where there are no minorities but that is not the solution. Part of the arch of democracy is learning to live with people unlike yourself.

Mahfuz Anam: As a neighbor, we look with trepidation at the tension between China and India. We would want both the giants to grow with peace and prosperity and then share that prosperity with the rest of the region, but it seems they are going towards an arms race, if not conflicts. Diverting resources from poverty alleviation does worry us as neighbours. Any comments?

Shashi Tharoor: Yes, we in India thought it was good for us and for the region to have good amicable relations, to keep differences on the border on the back burner while developing trade and economic cooperation and other kinds of cooperation, including on the international platform. Our trade went up from $200 million in 1991 to $100 billion a year ago. We were absolutely prepared to ignore our differences. Yes, we could not agree on our border, but we said it didn’t matter. We will concentrate on the prosperity of our people and both should benefit. It is for us a mystery that China has abandoned that approach and is belligerently flexing its muscles on its own borders within its own country and in Asia. There are horrific stories of mistreatment of Uighur Muslims, assertion over Hong Kong with new security law, intimidation in Taiwan etc, and worst of all, in my point of view, the belligerents on our border . They have taken a large chunk of Bhutan already, they are trying to capture territory on the line of control in India, which is actually a disputed border but neither side believed it should be settled by military force. They have used military force and killed 20 of our soldiers. That is unacceptable. No self-respecting country will accept that. Frankly, the opposition is united with the government on this issue. We cannot accept what China has done unprovoked. We have absolutely no reason to believe that there was any provocation. It clearly seems to be a strategic move by the Chinese to dominate the junction of two rivers for purely military strategic advancements. The Indian soldiers were on the way and they killed them. We should ask China why you are doing this.

Mahfuz Anam: There is a specific question on the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. India has a very good relationship with Myanmar, but we think our relationship is closer and more important. We found India hedging its bet way too much, trying to be on both sides of the fence, which has disappointed us.

Shashi Tharoor: It has disappointed me too in the opposition and I’ve said so in parliament. There is unfortunately, to be very blunt, certain bigotry at play here articulating the policy on the Rohingya. The ruling party unfortunately communalised the issue of the Rohingya as you know they are Muslims and the Burmese government is largely Buddhist. The Burmese government, especially in the days when the problem erupted, I knew revered civilians like Aung San Suu Kyi were seen as pro-Indians, so India did not want to antagonise Burma. Myanmar also has natural gas and fuel, and India has trade relations with Myanmar. Moreover, Burma has the capacity to be a nuisance to India as they once were when they were fomenting insurrection, by giving refuge to the insurgent groups, giving them arms and channeling Chinese money. So, they did not want that to happen again. So, there was a hard-headed decision thinking why would we show sympathy to the Muslim refugees and jeopardise our relationship? That’s an excessively cynical kind of decision. Still India in normal ways offered refuge to the Rohingya but they have been harassed quite a bit and I am sorry to say that the government has returned some Rohingyas which I find quite unacceptable.

Mahfuz Anam: How does the media speak to the power if power defines what is the truth, controls the flow of information, and it is in a position to term what is fake news?

Shashi Tharoor: We see this in India where criticism in the media is deemed as being out of touch of the people in reality. The press is hopelessly dismissed as biased, and sold out. I am afraid that contempt is used very often by the government to undermine and dismiss the press. In that atmosphere, how do you speak to the power? I think you have to have the courage if you want to run the risks. Some of the most courageous journalism in India is done by digital websites that practically own no property, have no printing press and have only a few employees and use a lot of freelancers, and are often financed by foundations or non-profits or by subscriptions. They are the ones who are the most courageous, because you have very few vulnerabilities, whereas mainstream media invested millions of rupees and also have business interests. So, standing up, speaking truth to power, depends entirely to the extent of your vulnerabilities to reprisals. Many of the small independent operations are harassed, have cases and sedition charges filed [against them]. Very often, the courageous lawyers represent them without charges. All of these issues will show in many ways that courage of our democracy to stand up for rights, but by no means, one can be complacent about it. This is a battle that is worth waging, but is a battle that can be lost. I wish you the courage and strength in waging the battle in your own country as we are doing in ours.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The Perils of Child Marriage & the Promise of Freedom

Sixteen-year-old Fethiye fled war in Iran – and the likelihood of child marriage – to Turkey. Credit: UNFPA Turkey

By External Source
BELGRADE, Serbia / LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan / ESKİŞEHİR, Turkey , Feb 15 2021 – How much is a girl worth? If you are Maja, the answer is a chicken, a six-pack of beer and 100 euros.

That is how much her family, living in a Roma settlement in Serbia, received in exchange for her hand “in marriage.” She was 11 years old at the time. “They benefited maybe a month from it, and I was left with a problem for my whole life,” Maja, now 18, said.

“My three sisters didn’t do much better. One gave birth when she turned 13. They were not sold, but they ran away from our mother at an early age. I was the only one who was sold.”

According to a 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, nearly 56 per cent of women aged 20-24 in Roma settlements in Serbia were married before the age of 18, while almost 16 percent were married before 15.

And in a 2017 study on migrant women in Serbia conducted by UNFPA and partner NGO Atina, 52 percent of participants could not choose when and to whom they would marry. The average age of girls entering marriage was 17.5 years old; the youngest was seven.

One participant explained how partners are chosen: “How can you, as a girl, know who would be a good partner? This is on your family to decide.”

For child brides everywhere, the consequences are devastatingly predictable: their educations grind to a halt, stifling their ability to earn an income and continuing the cycle of poverty.

They can suffer complications – even death – due to pregnancies and births their young bodies are not ready to handle; they are more vulnerable to gender-based violence; and they may develop mental health disorders that may lead to suicidal tendencies.

To be clear: None of this is a result of a decision she made, not over her body, her present or her future.

Horror, then hope

At 15, Zulaikha*, in Afghanistan, was enjoying school and wanted to become a doctor. But her poverty-stricken family arranged her marriage to an older man nearly twice her age. Despite her protests and the fact that the intended bridegroom was unemployed, she was forced to marry against her will.

Almost immediately, Zulaikha was no longer permitted to attend classes. Zulaikha’s husband began taking out his anger and frustration on her. He beat her almost daily, and in fall 2019, she went to the provincial hospital in Laghman Province for a fractured eye socket and damaged back.

In the emergency ward, she was identified as a victim of gender-based violence. At the hospital’s family protection centre, and through the family response unit, both established by UNFPA, Zulaikha received psychosocial and legal support, as well as skills-training.

Her husband was ultimately convicted for abuse and sentenced to six months in prison. “No girl should be stopped from what she dreams,” she said. “This is the right of every girl: To decide her future.”

Regaining self-confidence

If Fethiye, 16, and her family had not fled to Turkey from Iraq in 2017, she would be a wife and school dropout by now. “In our culture, girls get married at an early age,” she said.

“This is very common, especially if the girl is out of school.” She grew up in a world in which girls were denied equal access to education, and were often forced by families and communities to stay at home.

When the family arrived in Turkey, “the first months were so difficult. I didn’t speak or write the language,” she recalled. “My family felt insecure and didn’t even let us go outside. They didn’t even plan to send us back to school.”

Then they were connected to a UNFPA-run women and girls safe space, which held an orientation for refugees and migrants. “A ray of hope arose, but after was beyond that I imagined,” she said. The centre convinced her parents that Fethiye should continue her studies without being a wife to anyone.

“My parents trusted the centre and acknowledged that their services were beneficial, if not life-changing. I not only learned how to speak Turkish but started courses to finish secondary school remotely. I have attended theatre and archery courses and made many friends. I have gained my self-confidence back.”

Today, Zulaikha is 17 and runs a tailoring business, training other women so they, too, can become financially independent. Fethiye dreams of attending university and working in a field that allows her to help others.

And for Maja, who escaped her traumatic past at 14 with the help of Atina, the future looks brighter than it ever has. “The most important thing in life is to have peace and freedom. All the rest will come,” she said. “After everything that happened to me, I know I can manage only if I am free.”

*Name changed to protect identity

Source: UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

 


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Peace in Yemen, But not Without Women’s Role in Peacebuilding

Kawkab Al-Thaibani

By Sania Farooqui
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 15 2021 – The armed conflict in Yemen which has lasted six years, has killed and injured over thousands of civilians, displaced more than one million people and given rise to cholera outbreaks, medicine shortages and threats of famine. By the end of 2019, it is estimated that over 233,000 Yemenies have been killed as a result of fighting and the humanitarian crisis. With nearly two-thirds of its population requiring food assistance, Yemen is also experiencing the world’s worst food security crisis. The United Nations has called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen “the worst in the world”.

The conflict in Yemen has its roots in the failure of a political transition, when the 2011 uprising in Yemen forced then President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, ending his 33 years of rule in the country. With accusations of corruption and failed governance, and long standing unresolved conflict with the Houthi group who are based in the north of the country, Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. As President, Abdrabbuh Hadi struggled with corruption, unemployment and food insecurity in the country.

The armed Houthi group capitalized on popular discontent and consolidated their control over the governorate of Sa’da and neighbouring areas in the northern parts of Yemen. By September 2014, the Houthis had managed to extend territorial control by taking over a number of army and security positions in the capital Sana’a. In early 2015, President Hadi and the members of his government were forced to flee. By March 2015, at the request of President Hadi, a coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) intervened with the aim of restoring the internationally recognized government back to power, marking the beginning of a full blown armed conflict in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group that have been fighting since March 2015 have been responsible for an array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law and also likely to amount to war crimes.

Amnesty International has documented the Coalition’s use of six different types of cluster munitions, including US, UK, Brazilian-manufactured models in Sana’a, Hajjah, Amran and Sa’da governorates.

Women are always the most affected groups in wars, says Kawkab Al-Thaibani, former Director of Women4Yemen Network to IPS News. “Women not only have to survive the challenges of the war, but also carry extra packages of discrimination against them. It is tragic that women face violence at all levels, with no exception, war gives them zero protection,” Kawkab says.

Rights group Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2021 said in 2020, the Yemeni government, the Hourthi armed group, and the STC-affiliated Security Belt Forces “abused women and commiteed acts of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.”

“To rub salts in the wounds, the pandemic makes the lives of the Yemeni women a nightmare. The picture looks so dark and if this situation continues, women will disappear from public and private spears,” says Kawkab.

The rate of violence against women in Yemen was already very high in the context of the ongoing conflict – in 2017, UNFPA had recorded 2.6 million women and girls at risk of gender-based violence. With the added economic, health and social stressors of Covid-19, domestic violence cases are on the rise, UN Women said in its report.

“Yemeni women, peace activists and human rights activists have been doing a great job in handling this alarming situation, but the international community has to step up in supporting women’s cause,” says Kawkab, who has also been working on including women in the country’s peace building process.

The United Nations Security Council in 2000, adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction. However, when it comes to Yemen, the Security Council has failed to reflect on the importance of gender dimensions, and push for women’s meaningful participation in any discussion regarding the current peace process.

“War is the face of toxic masculinity, and it will never give women space, because women are peace agents,” says Kawkab.

“The war in Yemen is the biggest challenge we are facing, but the lack of desire by the negotiators to include women in any talks, another challenge.

“The new government has zero presence of women and all parties have their own narrative of justifying this absence. On one hand it’s the Yemeni culture towards women, and on the other it’s simply the absence of women in the grassroots, women are absent from local council, they are absent from political parties, they are absent from empowering themselves through political training or political activism.

“Women are one of the most resilient groups in the society, they are unfettered by the disproportionate challenges they face, despite their work they are left completely out of peace negotiations,” says Kawkab.

Recently U.S. President Biden said that the Saudi-led war in Yemen “has to end”, and halted U.S. support for offensive military operations in Yemen and pledged, “America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”

Greeting this move by the U.S. with cautious relief, Kawkab says, “I am not very optimistic about these measures because they are all politically motivated, and not towards ending the war, or providing Yemeni people with stability.

“As a woman pushing for peace, I know to gain true conciliation, we also need accountability and transitional justice. International experts who are affected by colonial mindset will not be able to achieve peace and stability in Yemen, because they too keep ignoring the true voices of peace, and that’s women.”

The author is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.

 


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