Interview with Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in China, on the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics

Siddharth Chatterjee (pictured) during the interview. Credit: Guanxin He/Beijing Daily

By IPS Correspondent
BEIJING, Dec 23 2021 – The interview was originally conducted by Beijing Daily.

Beijing Daily: The world is paying attention to whether the Beijing Winter Olympic Games can be successfully held 6 months after the Tokyo Olympics in the face of COVID-19. How do you evaluate the preparations for the Beijing Winter Olympics? What is the key to the success of the Beijing Winter Olym-pics? What kind of signal will the successful hosting of the Beijing Winter Olympics send to the world?

Siddharth Chatterjee: Let me start by echoing the UN General Assembly Resolution 76/13 on “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”. It expresses the expectation that “the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will be a meaningful opportunity to harness the power of sport to advance the world by fostering an atmosphere of peace, development, resilience, tolerance and understanding, and welcoming all the delegations of National Olympic and Paralympic Committees to participate in the Games.”

At a time when the world is battling against the COVID-19 pandemic, solidari-ty and friendship among nations have never been more important. Let me take this opportunity to commend Mr. Thomas Bach the President of the In-ternational Olympic Committee for his courageous and inspirational leadership. He has said, “Solidarity is not just about respecting each other, but also helping each other and being part of a community,”.

The IOC, the Beijing Organising Committee along with the Government of China have made it clear that preparations for the games are in its final stag-es and are being carried out in a safe and orderly manner, and I support the adherence to all relevant public health measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will also be critical for all Member States to observe the Olympic Truce, and ensure the safe passage, access and participation of athletes, officials and all other personnel taking part in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Beijing Daily: The Winter Olympic Games will begin soon. Have you been doing any work related to the Winter Olympic Games recently? What will you do during the Winter Olympics? How does the success of the Winter Olympic Games or Olympics relate to the goals and objectives of the United Nations in your mind?

Siddharth Chatterjee: I am delighted my boss the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has accepted an invitation from the International Olympic Committee to attend the Beijing Winter Games. I echo his wise words, when he said that “the Olympic spirit brings out humanity’s best: Teamwork and solidarity. Talent. Tolerance.”

The UN has long recognized the contribution of sport for development and peace, and collaboration between the IOC and the UN has played a central role in spreading the acceptance of sport as a means to promote mutual un-derstanding, friendship, tolerance, non-discrimination, and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing are a prime example of how the games can affect a society. Winning the right to host the 2008 Games trig-gered action by the Government to improve the lives of people with disabilities and protect their rights as equal members of society. New legislation on ac-cessibility was passed and, in the seven years leading up to the Games, Chi-na spent more than US$ 150 million on making 14,000 facilities accessible throughout the country.

It was during the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, that we also saw a key partnership between UN entities in China, including UN Volunteers and the UN Development Programme and key Chinese volunteer organizations, increasing the impact and elevating the spirit of volunteerism throughout Chi-na.

For the Beijing Winter Games, the UN Volunteers programme along with the UN Development Programme will take part in an innovative project to promote sustainable urban development through volunteer service.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” The UN family in China is ready to show its support and play its part to ensuring the success of these upcoming games.

Siddharth Chatterjee (pictured) practicing yoga in his office during lunch break.

Beijing Daily: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s restoration of its lawful seat in the United Nations. How do you evaluate China’s influence on the UN and the world over the past 50 years, especially in recent years?

Siddharth Chatterjee: China was one of the architects of the United Nations and was the first signatory of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945.

But it was only in October 1971, with the Chinese delegation led by Mr. Qiao Guanhua, that China’s representation at the UN resumed. Since that time, the UN has had the great privilege of witnessing and supporting China in achieving one of the greatest periods of socio-economic progress in world history.

Now, on the 50th anniversary of China in the UN, I am honored to serve as the UN Resident Coordinator, a post I took earlier this year.

While I am a recent arrival to China, only just beginning to understand its rich tapestry of over 5,000 years of civilization, the UN in China has had the privi-lege to shape and witness the profound economic and social transformations that have occurred since reform and opening-up.

As we commemorate a half-century of cooperation, a question naturally emerges: Which way now for the UN and China?

This is a weighty question, as China and the world are at a critical juncture. Tentatively emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, but with many countries still struggling terribly. Staring down the threats of climate change, with rec-ord-setting heat, fires, storms, and other disasters. Counting down the years in this “Decade of Action” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

China’s standard-setting leadership in past decades gives me confidence that we can achieve even greater things in the years to come.

Today, China is the second-largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budg-et and has sent more peacekeepers to UN missions than any other perma-nent member of the Security Council. China also played a vital role in shaping the consensus needed for the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

It is now time for the UN and China to reimagine, innovate, reinvigorate, and continue in our cooperation, dedicating ourselves anew to creating lasting prosperity for the people of China and all the world.

Beijing Daily: Are you a fan of winter sports? Or what sports do you like (not necessarily winter sports)? Do you feel Chinese people love sports?

Siddharth Chatterjee: I regret to say that I have no skills in any winter sports. I grew up in a place, where we had two seasons. Hot and very hot.

However. I am an avid practitioner of yoga and running in all seasons. As a frequent runner, I also must attest to the improvements in air quality now en-joyed by Beijing residents.

Siddharth Chatterjee (pictured left) displaying the flag of the UN following a team fun run in the streets of Beijing.

The prevention of noncommunicable disease and keeping one’s body and mind sharp are just two of the many reasons that motivate my interest in sport, also emphasized by the Healthy China 2030 initiative.

Traditional Chinese culture has long regarded physical fitness as an important characteristic, as seen in the long historical association with the martial arts. In the streets and public parks of China we see these elements to this day, along with more contemporary sports such as basketball.

I think back to a mere 13 years ago where the eyes of the world turned to Beijing for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics. What we all saw was not only a proud moment for the people of China, but China asserting itself as an enthusiastic sporting nation, leading the medal tally that year.

This year we saw athletes such as Su Bingtian – who set a new Asian record in the men’s 100-meter dash earlier this year at the Tokyo Olympics and he’s often referred to as the disrupter and game-changer for Chinese runners; Yang Qian, a third-year undergraduate young girl studying economics and management at Tsinghua University who also won the very first gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics – take this spirit forwards and I am confident that the ath-letes and people of China will put their love for sports on full display during next year’s games.

However, I must also add a word of caution. China is also seeing a surge of non-communicable diseases, like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

Almost 10% of all adults in China – about 110 million people – currently live with diabetes. Without urgent action to reduce lifestyle risk factors like un-healthy diet and lack of physical activity, that number is expected to increase to 150 million by 2040 – with major health, social and economic consequenc-es.

As the UN we will work closely with the Government of China to achieve its vision of a Healthy China by 2030. I will surely lead by example.

 


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Severe Water Stress, Absolute Scarcity for 2 to 4 Billion Humans by 2025

Up to four billion people – over half the population of the planet – are already facing severe water stress for at least one month of the year while half a billion suffer from permanent water stress.

Up to four billion people – over half the population of the planet – are already facing severe water stress for at least one month of the year, while half a billion suffer from permanent water stress. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 23 2021 – Now it comes to the scary water crises, as it is estimated that, globally, over two billion people live in countries that experience high water stress.

On this, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) also reports that ”other estimates are even more pessimistic, with up to four billion people – over half the population of the planet – already facing severe water stress for at least one month of the year while half a billion suffer from permanent water stress.”

About 71% of the world’s irrigated area and 47% of major cities are to experience at least periodic water shortages. If this trend continues, the scarcity and associated water quality problems will lead to competition and conflicts among water users

This means that about 71% of the world’s irrigated area and 47% of major cities are to experience at least periodic water shortages. If this trend continues, the scarcity and associated water quality problems will lead to competition and conflicts among water users, it adds.

 

Climate crisis aggravates the risk

“Climate change will increase the odds of worsening drought and water scarcity in many parts of the world. Drought ranks among the most damaging of all natural hazards. While droughts affect every climate zone, drylands are particularly susceptible to drought and its impacts.”

Currently, most countries, regions and communities use reactive and crisis-driven approaches to manage drought risk. To address this issue, healthy land is a natural storage for fresh water. If it is degraded, it cannot perform that function. Managing land better and massively scaling up land rehabilitation are essential for building drought resilience and water security, explains UNCCD.

“Land restoration is the cheapest and most effective solution to improved water storage, mitigating impacts of drought and addressing biodiversity loss.”

 

Not enough rain? Too much rain?

Meanwhile, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification explains that communities all over the world have suffered some of the most brutal effects of drought and flooding this year.

“Flash floods in Western Europe, Eastern and Central Asia and Southern Africa. And catastrophic drought in Australia, southern Africa, southern Asia, much of Latin America, Western North America and Siberia are cases in point. The impacts extend well beyond the individual events.”

For example, the rise in food insecurity in the Southern African region and unprecedented wildfires in North America, Europe and Central Asia.

 

What is going on?

This is much more than bad weather in some cases, and is increasingly so, adds the UN Convention.

“Extreme events, including both droughts and floods are on the rise. With more land projected to get drier and more and more people living in drylands in the future, the discussions centred on the shift more than 60 countries are making from “reactive” response to droughts and floods to “proactive” planning and risk management designed to build resilience.”

 

Production systems, so constrained

For its part, the report The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture warns that production systems where the land and water resources supporting agricultural production are constrained to a point where their capacity to meet current and future needs is seriously jeopardised.

Constraints may be further exacerbated by unsustainable agricultural practices, social and economic pressures and the impact of climate change.

Land and water resources are central to agriculture and rural development and are intrinsically linked to global challenges of food insecurity and poverty, climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as degradation and depletion of natural resources that affect the livelihoods of millions of rural people across the world, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s report.

 

Food demand to surge

Current projections cited in the report indicate that the world population will increase from 6.9 billion people today to 9.1 billion in 2050. In addition, economic progress, notably in the emerging countries, translates into increased demand for food and diversified diets.

World food demand will surge as a result, and it is projected that food production will increase by 70% in the world and by 100% in developing countries.

“Yet both land and water resources, the basis of our food production, are finite and already under heavy stress, and future agricultural production will need to be more productive and more sustainable at the same time.”

 

Increased competition for land and water

And there are warning signs. Rates of growth in agricultural production have been slowing, and are only half the 3 percent annual rate of growth seen in developing countries in the past, says the report.

In 2007 and 2008, any complacency was jolted by food price shocks, as grain prices soared. Since then, the growing competition for land and water is now thrown into stark relief as sovereign and commercial investors begin to acquire tracts of farmland in developing countries. Production of feedstock stability of land and water resources.

“Deeper structural problems have also become apparent in the natural resource base. Water scarcity is growing. Salinisation and pollution of water courses and bodies, and degradation of water-related ecosystems are rising.”

 

Waters are shrinking

In many large rivers, only 5% of former water volumes remain in-stream, and some rivers such as the Huang He no longer reach the sea year-round.

Large lakes and inland seas have shrunk, and half the wetlands of Europe and North America no longer exist. Runoff from eroding soils is filling reservoirs, reducing hydropower and water supply, it explains.

 

Groundwater, over-pumped

Groundwater is being pumped intensively and aquifers are becoming increasingly polluted and salinised in some coastal areas.

Large parts of all continents are experiencing high rates of ecosystem impairment, particularly reduced soil quality, biodiversity loss, and harm to amenity and cultural heritage values, the report continues.

 

Agriculture, a major contributor to greenhouse emissions

Agriculture is now a major contributor to greenhouse gases, accounting for 13.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2007). At the same time, climate change brings an increase in risk and unpredictability for farmers – from warming and related aridity, from shifts in rainfall patterns, and from the growing incidence of extreme weather events.

“Poor farmers in low-income countries are the most vulnerable and the least able to adapt to these changes.”

 

Also aquaculture

The steady increase in inland aquaculture also contributes to the competition for land and water resources: the average annual per capita supply of food fish from aquaculture for human consumption has increased at an average rate of 6.6 percent per year between 1970 and 2008, leading to increasing demand in feed, water and land for the construction of fish ponds.

The deteriorating trends in the capacities of ecosystems to provide vital goods and services are already affecting the production potential of important food-producing zones, according to FAO.

“If these continue, impacts on food security will be greatest in developing countries, where both water and soil nutrients are least abundant.”

“On present trends, a series of major land and water systems and the food outputs they produce are at risk.”

 

The Impact of Air Pollution on Child Health

Air pollution is a global public health crisis and air pollution levels in India are among the highest in the world, posing a heavy threat to the country’s health and economy

A view of India Gate, a war memorial located in New Delhi, covered by a thick layer of smog. Credit: Malav Goswami/IPS

By External Source
Dec 23 2021 – Air pollution is a global public health crisis, and air pollution levels in India are among the highest in the world, posing a heavy threat to the country’s health and economy. According to the 2019 World Air Quality Report, India is home to 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. In these cities, air quality can be as much as 10 times over the safe limits of air pollution recommended by the WHO.

Why is air pollution such a significant issue?

Loss of life

According to the State of Global Air 2020 report, air pollution was the fourth leading risk factor for early death worldwide in 2019, and is estimated to have caused 1.7 million premature deaths in India in that year. The burden of disease due to air pollution is higher in low- and middle-income countries, causing about 91 percent of premature deaths.

Economic losses

While the hazardous impact of air pollution on health is well recognised, its negative economic impact is less investigated. Lost output from premature deaths and morbidity attributable to air pollution accounted for economic losses of USD 28.8 billion and 8 billion respectively in 2019. In India, economic losses from air pollution were equivalent to 1.36 percent of the country’s GDP.

Why are children at higher risk?

According to a WHO report, every day around 93 percent of the world’s children under the age of 15 years breathe air so polluted that it puts their health and development in serious danger. Children are at greater risk than adults from the many adverse health effects of air pollution owing to a combination of behavioural, environmental, and physiological factors. Some key reasons for this higher risk include:

  1. Children are more susceptible because their lungs, brain, and immune system are still developing and their respiratory tract is more permeable.
  2. Children breathe more air per kilogram of body weight, so their exposure to air pollution is much greater than adults. The consequences of their exposure—through inhalation, ingestion, or in utero—can lead to illness and other lifetime health burdens.

 

What are the effects of air pollution on children’s health and development?

Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, globally accounting for almost one in 10 deaths in children under five years of age. Around 8.8 percent of deaths in children under the age of five in India in 2017 can be attributed to air pollution, according to a Lancet study. Some of the effects on children’s health and development include:

1. Serious respiratory illnesses

Air pollution causes more than 50 percent of acute lower respiratory infections in children under five years of age in low- and middle-income countries. It can lead to asthma, childhood cancers, chronic diseases, poor lung function, pneumonia, and other types of acute lower respiratory infection.

This study from Delhi observed a statistically significant positive association between air pollution (PM10 level) and the prevalence of lower respiratory tract symptoms. These symptoms were more prevalent in girls than in boys. Every third child in Delhi has impaired lungs due to the high level of pollutants that are present in the city’s air.

2.  Premature births, infant deaths, and a negative impact on child growth 

Pregnant women exposed to polluted air are more likely to give birth prematurely and have small, low birth-weight children. A recent study from India revealed a negative impact of exposure to air pollution during the first trimester of pregnancy on child growth indicators.

Air pollution contributed to nearly 5,00,000 infant deaths worldwide in 2019. In India, a fifth of neonatal deaths from all causes can be attributed to air pollution.

This Lancet study indicates a plausible link between air pollution and stunting in children.

3. Negative impacts on children’s neurodevelopment

Prolonged exposure to polluted air negatively impacts neurodevelopment in children. According to the WHO, new research has shown an association between prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollution and developmental delay at age three, as well as psychological and behavioural problems later on, including symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression. Air pollution affects children’s learning process by exacerbating respiratory illnesses, fatigue, school absenteeism, and attention problems.

 

What is the way forward?

India has taken the following steps at the central and state levels to control pollution and improve air quality:

1. National Clean Air Programme

Government of India’s National Clean Air Programme is a powerful step in acknowledging and resolving the problem of deteriorating air quality. It is a national-level strategy to tackle the country’s air pollution challenge, calling for a 20–30 percent reduction in particulate matter pollution by 2024.

2. Performance-based funds transfers to cities

In 2020, the central government allocated approximately USD 1.7 billion to fight air pollution in 42 Indian cities that have a population of more than one million. This is conditional on these cities reducing their air pollution levels by 15 percent every year. It is the world’s first performance-based fiscal transfer funding programme for air quality management in cities.

3. Coordinated action to improve air quality

Parliament approved a law in August 2021 to establish the Commission of Air Quality Management for better coordination, research, identification, and resolution of problems related to air quality in the National Capital Region and adjoining areas.

However, much more needs to be done. The air pollution challenge in India is inherently multisectoral. Policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, power generation and industry; energy-efficient homes, and better municipal waste management will reduce key sources of outdoor air pollution. Experiences in tackling air pollution in cities suggest three possible ways forward:

  1. Disseminating information about the problem and health risks.
  2. Providing incentives to cities/states and other stakeholders for tackling air pollution.
  3. Building institutions that support air quality management. This requires sufficient funding and a sustained focus on capacity building.

The right combination of political will, appropriate implementation, and a strong compliance mechanism from both government and the private sector are required to move forward. Given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent announcement that India aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070, the time to act is now.

 

The author of this opinion editorial, Dr Vinod Kumar Anand, is a technical adviser for maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) at Save the Children India.

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

FXCM November Single Share & Stock Baskets Report

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Dec. 23, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — FXCM Group, LLC ("FXCM Group' or "FXCM'), the leading international provider of online foreign exchange trading, CFD trading, cryptocurrencies and related services, is today releasing its data of most popular instruments for the month of November in its Single Share CFD and proprietary Stock Basket product lines.

FXCM offers fractional single share trading with no commission fees* on leading companies from the US, UK, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Australia. FXCM's stock basket products combine the shares of multiple companies from one sector into a single tradeable instrument. The company currently boasts a portfolio of 16 stock baskets. The list of companies and weightings is available on FXCM's stock basket website (https://www.fxcm.com/za/stock–baskets/)

There was little change to the FXCM's top ten during November, with only PayPal making way for Chinese ADR JD.com. Tesla maintained top spot, while Facebook's delayed ticker change did not detract from trader interest as it pushed its way into second spot, recording its highest volume of the last 12 months.

In a month that saw the launch of two new FXCM Stock Baskets, Uranium and Crypto stocks, it was the two Ecommerce baskets that saw the biggest boost ahead of the festive season. China Ecommerce and US Ecommerce jumped to second and fourth place respectively, trailing behind FAANG which has maintained top spot since June. However, with many Chinese companies threatening delistings from the US, it will be interesting to see what the future entails for the components of the both the China Ecommerce basket and the 5th rank China Technology basket as we approach the new year.

Volume Rank Monthly Rank Change Company Symbol
1 Tesla Inc TSLA.us
2 '2 Facebook (Meta Platforms Inc) FB.us
3 "1 Apple Inc AAPL.us
4 '3 Boeing Company BA.us
5 '1 Tencent Holdings Ltd TENC.hk
6 "3 Amazon.com Inc AMZN.us
7 '3 Alphabet Inc GOOG.us
8 "3 Alibaba Group Holding Ltd ADR BABA.us
9 NVIDIA Corporation NVDA.us
10 New to top 10 JD.com JD.us

Volume Rank Monthly Rank Change Sector Symbol
1 Big US Tech FAANG
2 '2 China Ecommerce CHN.ECOMM
3 '4 Airlines AIRLINES
4 '6 US E–Commerce US.ECOMM
5 "–2 China Tech CHN.TECH
6 '5 ESports & Gaming ESPORTS
7 '2 Big China Tech (HKD Basket) ATMX
8 "–2 Cannabis CANNABIS
9 "7 Biotechnology BIOTECH
10 "5 US Banks US.BANKS

Past Performance and popularity is not an indicator of future results.
Rank is derived from FXCM Client Volume

*FXCM can be compensated in several ways, which includes but are not limited to adding a mark–up to the spreads it receives from its liquidity providers, adding a mark–up to rollover, etc. Commission–based pricing is applicable to Active Trader account types.

About FXCM:

FXCM is a leading provider of online foreign exchange (FX) trading, CFD trading, and related services. Founded in 1999, the company's mission is to provide global traders with access to the world's largest and most liquid market by offering innovative trading tools, hiring excellent trading educators, meeting strict financial standards and striving for the best online trading experience in the market. Clients have the advantage of mobile trading, one–click order execution and trading from real–time charts. In addition, FXCM offers educational courses on FX trading and provides trading tools, proprietary data and premium resources. FXCM Pro provides retail brokers, small hedge funds and emerging market banks access to wholesale execution and liquidity, while providing high and medium frequency funds access to prime brokerage services via FXCM Prime. FXCM is a Leucadia Company.

Forex Capital Markets Limited: FCA registration number 217689 (www.fxcm.com/uk)

CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage.

67% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider.

You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

FXCM EU LTD: CySEC license number 392/20 (www.fxcm.com/eu)

CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage.

Between 74–89% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs.

You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

FXCM Australia Pty. Limited: AFSL 309763. Losses can exceed your deposited funds. The products may not be suitable for all investors. Please ensure that you fully understand the risks involved. If you decide to trade products offered by FXCM AU, you must read and understand the Financial Services Guide, Product Disclosure Statement, Target Market Determination and Terms of Business on www.fxcm.com/au.

FXCM South Africa (PTY) Ltd: FSP No 46534 (www.fxcm.com/za). Our service includes products that are traded on margin and carry a risk of losses in excess of your deposited funds. The products may not be suitable for all investors. Please ensure that you fully understand the risks involved.

FXCM Markets Limited: Losses can exceed deposited funds. (www.fxcm.com/markets).

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2021: A Grim Year for Planet Earth

By Farhana Haque Rahman
ROME, Dec 23 2021 – Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the deadly manifestations of the climate crisis, there were few places to hide for most of us in 2021.

Ageing billionaires riding booming stock markets could take their first flights into space in their own rockets, but for the rest of Planet Earth’s 8 billion people with their feet on the ground it was a year of placing hope in the hands of scientists and our political leaders to turn the tide.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Our review of 2021, as seen through the eyes of IPS reporters and contributors around the world, must begin as a year ago by paying our respects to those who lost their lives early, while also extending our gratitude to the often anonymous individuals fighting to make things better.

In 2020 the world mourned the officially reported deaths of some 1.8 million people from COVID-19, but as we approach the end of 2021 the death toll has risen to over 5.3 million. However, the true figure measured by “excess mortality” could be several million higher, according to the World Health Organization.

Scientists made extraordinary breakthroughs in quickly developing vaccines that have shown considerable efficacy in fighting the virus. Health systems in wealthier countries, including China, were equally efficient in dispensing them. Over 8.1 billion vaccines have been administered – more than the world’s population.

Yet while some countries had double jabbed over 70 percent of their citizens and were pushing boosters, less than 8 percent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people had been vaccinated at all. The disparity is as startling as it is complex in its origins and causes. But it is clear that poorer countries and sectors are suffering disproportionately through rising poverty and inequality as years of development gains are wiped out.

The ramifications are enormous, and women and girls are bearing the brunt of the problems. Girls in poorer countries are dropping out of school and early marriage is increasing. UN Women’s latest Measuring the Shadow Pandemic report said all types of violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19. UNICEF called the pandemic the biggest crisis for children in its 75-year history, with 100 million falling into poverty.

The failure of better-off and powerful countries to look beyond their national interests is not new and has deep roots. Prioritising the profits of western pharmaceutical companies by opposing the intellectual property waiver at the WTO or hoarding vaccines are just the latest manifestations.

Seen in this light, the hopes attached to the COP26 Glasgow Climate Summit were never going to be fully realised even though the planet’s build-up to the pandemic-delayed event left no doubts in 2021 in terms of floods, droughts, heatwaves and wildfires.

Greenland’s highest summit experienced rain for the first time in at least over 140 years. Its ice sheet lost some 166 billion tonnes over 12 months, making it the 25th year in a row where it has lost more ice than it gained.

Parts of Canada and the US experienced a record-breaking “heat dome”. Sicily recorded Europe’s highest temperature. Germany suffered massive floods. Wildfires ripped through Mediterranean countries and the Dixie fire was California’s biggest recorded single blaze. China took months’ worth of rain in the space of hours. Sub-tropical South America endured a second year of drought.

“Extreme events are the new norm,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, describing COP26 as “a make-or-break opportunity to put us back on track” in reducing greenhouse gas concentrations to stem the rise in global temperatures. It is likely that 2015 to 2021 will be the seven warmest years on record.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also sounded alarm bells, warning leaders about to meet in Glasgow that “humanity has reached a tipping point” in tackling escalating climate and biodiversity emergencies.

So was the Glasgow summit “blah blah blah”, in the words of activist Greta Thunberg, or a bold step towards limiting global warming to below 2C as claimed by some? It was hard to tell. “The reality is more nuanced,” concluded Carbon Brief, a specialist website, in its extensive analysis.

It reported progress towards flattening the curve of future emissions through climate policies and falling clean energy costs but said the world was still “far from on track” to meet Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 1.5C or “well below” 2C.

It was the first COP summit to explicitly target action against fossil fuels, calling for a “phasedown of unabated coal” and “phase-out” of “inefficient” fossil-fuel subsidies.

But in a blow to less developed countries most vulnerable to climate change, the summit text, under pressure from the US and Europe, omitted reference to a specific finance facility, promising “dialogue” instead.

Separately however, the NDC Partnership, which helps countries deliver on their Nationally Determined Contributions to cut emissions, says it is ready to mobilise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Receiving less publicity was the mention in the final text of agroecology, an element of nature-based solutions that will be on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda next June.

Overall, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the COP26 texts as “not enough” and a “compromise” reflecting the state of political will in the world.

2021 was full of bad news but billionaires, big pharmaceutical and high-tech firms, as well as autocrats, did well on the whole.
Forbes’ annual list of the world’s wealthiest reported a rise of 660 dollar billionaires to an unprecedented 2,755. Among the new elite were 210 from China and Hong Kong.

Among autocrats, China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s hardliners consolidated control at home and flexed their muscles on the international stage. Myanmar’s military took back power, while the Taliban seized back Afghanistan. Donald Trump’s last desperate attempts to stay in power failed however, with the mob assault on the US Capitol, while US global authority further diminished.

Multiple crises also provided fertile ground for human traffickers dealing in modern slavery and forced labour. Global suffering has vastly increased vulnerabilities to trafficking. For every 100 victims trafficked globally, 50 are women and 20 are girls.

Press freedom, as ever, was both vigorously defended in 2021 while taking a hammering in many countries, notably in Asia.

On December 8 Philippine journalist Jesus Malabanan became the latest reporter to lose his life, shot in the head outside his home in an apparent extrajudicial killing. He was the 22nd journalist killed in the Philippines since Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016.

Malabanan’s killing came just as fellow Philippine journalist Maria Ressa arrived in Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Russian journalist Dmitri Muratov. The Nobel Committee said the two laureates represent the “courageous fight for freedom of expression” at a time when democracy and press freedom are facing multiple threats.

Such threats make it even more vitally important that IPS Inter Press Service continues to give a voice to the voiceless and fosters evidence-based reporting of development news with a strong sense of social responsibility. In this IPS plays a unique role among news outlets, with women making up 70 percent of reporters and editors, and we are indebted to their efforts.

Just as countries battle to control the pandemic, IPS continues its extensive coverage of issues and places that might otherwise be neglected.

For example IPS reported on how the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative, a strategic alliance that links the WHO, Sasakawa Health Foundation, and The Nippon Foundation for achieving a leprosy-free world, has highlighted concerns over leprosy resurgence, particularly in Comoros in East Africa.

With Africa acutely aware of the need to establish food sustainability and security for its rapidly growing population, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has enhanced its Youth in Agribusiness initiatives empowering youth as actors in agriculture through training, research, employment, and entrepreneurship.

In southeast Asia the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT is partnering with WMO and DeRisk Southeast Asia to develop targeted weather forecasts to work around threats of drought and extreme rains, including provision of specially designed insurance to protect their livelihoods.

But rising sea levels and extreme events mean that the 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories, which contribute less than 0.03 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions, need climate finance for food security now. Their ability to respond to climate change is supported by the UN Green Climate Fund through the Pacific Community (SPC).

As we approach 2022 – in the race between vaccines and new COVID variants, with devastating tornadoes striking central US, and the threat of war looming over Ukraine — IPS and its partners pledge to keep covering the places, issues and projects that still matter but risk being left in the dark.

Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press Service and Executive Director IPS Noram; a journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

 


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America Faces a Fateful Crossroad in 2022

US President Joe Biden presiding over a virtual Summit for Democracy on December 9-10. Credit: Voice of America (VoA)

By Alon Ben-Meir
NEW YORK, Dec 23 2021 – When my assistant handed me copy expressing my greetings and good wishes for 2022 for approval, I paused, thinking, “is that all I can say, just hope for a better, brighter new year?”

How much happier and sunnier can next year be, when we still suffer from the deep scars and bleeding wounds from the social and political malaise that 2021 left behind? We must act now. There is no time to spare because the losses will be of such a magnitude beyond our ability to comprehend.

Politicizing the pandemic

The pandemic is the most challenging crisis facing our nation in more than a century, and remains one of the fundamental human rights issues of our time. Nearly 800,000 Americans have died from the pandemic, yet only 60 percent of our fellow Americans have been vaccinated.

How sad and disheartening that we politicized a deadly virus, as Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to refuse vaccination. Two of the most populous states, Florida and Texas, not only are refusing to institute vaccine or masking mandates, but are banning local municipalities from instituting their own mandates.

Is it any wonder then that their death tolls are the highest in the country?

To refuse vaccination is to benefit from the precaution of those who have been vaccinated without making any contribution to our collective immunity. By the spring of 2022 more than one million of our fellow Americans will have died from the virus and many Republican leaders still have the crude audacity to oppose mandatory vaccination.

It is time to recognize that each and every one of us has a moral obligation to be vaccinated and contribute to the realization of herd immunity.

Moreover, the refusal of so many Americans to be vaccinated is allowing one variant after another to arise and inflict ever more pain and hardship. Our immunity to disease is a collective resource, and none are safe until we all are.

The pandemic is apolitical and colorblind, and 2022 will be merciless and agonizingly harsh unless we rise and act as one. Vaccination should not be a choice but a requirement as long as the unvaccinated can infect others. We do not have the luxury of time.

Democracy under assault

Our democracy is under ominous assault. Republicans are tearing it down brick by brick. One state after another passes discriminatory laws and absurd rules, gerrymanders to secure electoral control, and refuses to accept the result of free and fair elections.

We are still reeling from the violent storming of the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and accommodate a morally deranged so-called leader, whose lust for power is surpassed only by his contempt for the laws of the land.

They were ready to sacrifice the freedom and liberty for which countless Americans have died, only to bask in his authoritarian design. What does that say about America’s future, when a multitude of Republicans want to seize power at whatever cost, willingly following such a blind, unhinged, bigoted narcissist who is openly tearing our democratic institutions apart?

Our democracy is facing an unprecedented danger. We must strengthen voting rights, prevent the appointment of partisans to subvert the election, fight political corruption at every level, and make political power decreasingly dependent on money. The election of Biden gave us hope in preserving our democracy and attending to the political and social malaise that swept the nation. But maintaining the House and Senate for the Democrats in 2022 will be do or die; otherwise, Biden’s agenda will be shattered, and authoritarianism will creep in, leading to the collapse of the American institution.

We must rise in unison, hold accountable the traitors behind the insurrection on January 6, and preserve and protect America’s 240-year-old democracy that served as a beacon of hope and freedom to the global community.

Climate change denial

Climate change will not happen sometime in the future. It is happening now. We live it—the unprecedented storms, hurricanes, deadly tornadoes, and fires consuming hundreds of millions of trees every year. Sea levels are rising, beaches are shrinking, and island states are slowly submerging in front of our eyes.

Thousands of species still unknown to man are vanishing in the Amazon. Coral reefs are dying at a horrifying rate, with over 30 percent at risk of being lost within the next few decades. To be sure, climate change is an existential threat facing our planet.

The reasons for this unfolding tragedy are clear enough. Coral mining, overfishing, blast fishing, pollution, the burning of fossil fuels, and animal farming and transportation are among the major contributing factors.

Climate change continues to spark massive migration; millions have been forced to flee their homes, which have become inhospitable due to flooding, fires, and other disasters fueled by the changing environment.

And yet, we still have a multitude of climate change deniers who dismiss the indisputable scientific evidence and refuse to acknowledge what is in front of their own eyes. I applaud Biden’s commitment to address the perils of climate change and call on every public and private institution to play their part in combating climate change.

Next year will be even worse unless the country comes together. We must act now to avert the catastrophic impact of climate change before it is too late.

Unfathomable child abuse

It is hard to comprehend; in America, over 13 million children go to school hungry and one in five live in food insecure households. Black and Hispanic children disproportionately suffer from poverty.

How is it fathomable that the richest country on earth disgracefully falls in child poverty between Mexico and Lithuania? One in 11 children, nearly 6.5 million nationwide, live in extreme poverty, compounded by the fact that this age is a time of rapid brain development.

Even more damning is the trafficking of children which occurs in every state. Most trafficking victims in the US are citizens; those forced into sex work are not just runaways or abandoned youth, they are children from urban and rural areas, and of every class and race.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received over 17,000 reports of potential child sex trafficking in 2020 alone. Of the over 26,500 children reported runaways in that year, one in six were “likely victims of child sex trafficking.”

Sadly, as I write these painful words another child was just trafficked for sexual purposes. And 2022 will be just the same; it will not heal these tragic wounds unless we rise up and put an end to this unimaginable travesty in America today.

Women’s rights under assault

To this day, after decades of so-called equality, women are still discriminated against in this country. In 2020, women earned 84 percent of what men earned; it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020.

Women of color fare even worse, and face higher unemployment than white women—nearly 9 percent for Black women and 8.5 percent for Latina women, versus 5.2 percent for white women.

And who are these men who act as judges and jurors to deny women a central component of their bodily autonomy, to pass laws that prohibit abortion? What right do they have to decide what women can or cannot do with their bodies? This is just another abhorrent manifestation of infringement on women’s inherent rights.

The presumption undergirding abortion bans is that women who become unintentionally pregnant do not comprehend the consequential weight of their actions. Those who oppose abortion rights often assume that restrictions on abortion will not adversely affect women’s healthcare, when in fact it puts women’s health at risk.

A true democracy cannot exist without gender equality. Despite our best wishes for 2022, the plight of women will not change unless we focus on this gender gap, and act decisively and level the field when it comes to women’s rights.

The scourge of guns

The scourge from which Americans suffer greatly is the pervasiveness of guns. This year upward of 40,000 Americans were killed by a firearm. Just imagine, as of 2018, Americans possess 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents—translate that to 400 million guns in the United States, enough to provide 8 firearms to every soldier in the world.

Nearly five million children live in a home where a firearm is loaded and unlocked, and women are five times more likely to be murdered by an abusive partner when the abuser has access to a gun. But there is no outrage. We shout and scream about the need for gun control laws. Gun advocates and the NRA say cynically, guns don’t kill people. But guns do kill people when there is easy access to a gun.

How many more school shootings must we endure? How many innocent children must die in vain? When will we wake up from this nightmarish, uniquely American reality? Tragically, as many if not more people will be killed by a gun in 2022, and all of our best wishes for the new year will not save any lives.

We must legislate gun control now, before another 40,000 innocent persons are shot to death. Their blood is on the hands of every lawmaker that refuses to support sensible gun control laws, as one more person killed by a gun is one too many. We must engage in massive and continuing peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience until lawmakers come to their senses and enact gun control law.

Racial and ethnic discrimination

The racial wage gap is the same as it was in the 1950s, with Black workers receiving 22 percent less in salary than whites. Even where racial discrimination should not occur, in medical treatment, doctors regularly prescribe fewer pain medications for Black patients, believing that they feel less pain than whites.

Blacks are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites; while they are 13 percent of the total US population, they constitute 40 percent of the total male prison population. Roughly one out of every three Black boys and one of every six Latino boys born today will go to prison in his lifetime, while for white boys it is approximately one in seventeen.

The average white family’s net worth is more than ten times greater than a Black family.

The pandemic has affected Americans disproportionately by race and ethnicity. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Latinos are 1.6 times more likely to contract COVID than white Americans and over twice as likely to die from the disease.

And when it comes to the right to vote, leave it to the Republicans to enact any archaic rule or law to reduce the number of people of color exercising their right, as they deem them illegitimate voters in white America.

This continuing and willful discrimination is destroying our social cohesiveness and the values that that we hold so high. Discrimination will not end in 2022, but we must begin to address this scourge, which fundamentally erodes the social fabric of our society.

Contempt for immigrants

This is a country of immigrants, who made America great—enriching our cultural diversity, contributing momentously to our scientific endeavors, and enhancing every walk of life. They farmed the land, built houses and roads, and made the land of plenty richer and better.

What happened under Trump’s tenure is beyond contempt—children separated from their parents, held in cages unfit for domestic animals, and asylum seekers removed by brutal force. All migrants are entitled to dignity and respect for their human rights. Though we all want to believe that Trump’s treatment of immigrants was an aberration, to this day we still do not have a sound immigration policy.

Not when at least 650 immigrants died this year, attempting to cross the US-Mexico border. Not when smugglers are forcing immigrants from Mexico and Central America to live in camps and work on farms in the state, an illegal enterprise akin to modern-day slavery. Not when some died, and others were repeatedly raped.

Sadly, what was once the spring of American pride, our treatment of immigrants became the source of disgrace and shame. As 2022 rolls around, no amount of wishful thinking will change this sad reality. We need a comprehensive immigration policy to bolster once again the pillars of America’s unique enterprise.

Media under attack

Although America still largely enjoys freedom of the press, the media is under serious threat. Trump’s attacks on the media were routine, calling them the “enemy of the people” and coining the phrase “Fake News,” as he viewed the media as a threat to his authoritarian design.

Unregulated social media contributes significantly to the dissemination of misinformation and promotion of violence, and major news stations such as Fox News spread lies and conspiracy theories galore.

Police continue to target journalists, such as freelance photojournalist Jeremy Portje, who was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors and a felony last month while documenting a homeless encampment in Sausalito, CA. At a Portland, OR protest, independent photojournalist Grace Morgan said she was shoved by a police officer with his gun.

Following last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, where journalists were handcuffed, shoved, and shot at with less-lethal ammunition, at least 110 journalists were arrested or criminally charged in relation to their reporting.

Around 300 journalists were assaulted in 2020, and there were more than 930 total incidents in 79 cities. Next year will not be a banner year for American journalists unless we use our own tools and fight with the might of our pens, allowing no one to tamper with our freedom to unveil the corrupt politicians who feel menaced by the press.

After all is said and done, my faith in America will never wane. The challenges in 2022 may well be insurmountable, but then again, we have overcome so many adversities before, and can do it again and emerge ever stronger, as long as we put America’s national interests above any political partisan agenda. America’s star will never fade away, and we will always rise to the call of the hour. This is the America that I know.

And so, with pride and a deep sense of gratification I wish a happy new year to all, and may God bless America.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.

 


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Uruguay Launches Sovereign Bond Linked to Climate Targets

As green bonds continue to grow, Uruguay will be the first country in Latin America to borrow at an interest rate tied to fulfilment of its climate commitments

Construction of wind turbines near Tarariras, in Uruguay’s Colonia department. Nearly all of the nation’s electricity comes from renewable sources, but its government is exploring new financing instruments, such as a sovereign green bond, to help other sectors in the transition to net-zero. (Image: Picardo Photography / Alamy)

By Fermín Koop
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 23 2021 – Sustainable finance continues to expand in Latin America, as governments and companies take advantage of growing interest among investors in instruments that protect biodiversity and respond to the climate crisis. In 2020, more than US$16 billion of green, social and sustainable bonds were issued in the region.

Though their purpose may vary, these bonds share similar characteristics. A company or government takes on debt, and these funds must be used exclusively to meet a specific environmental or social goal, such as developing clean transport infrastructure, expanding renewable energy or meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

As green bonds continue to grow, Uruguay will be the first country in Latin America to borrow at an interest rate tied to fulfilment of its climate commitments

However, with the growth of sustainable finance, new and even more innovative types of debt instruments have emerged, such as one now proposed by Uruguay. The government of president Luis Lacalle Pou is working on a bond whose funds will not be designated for a specific purpose, but will instead pay for different initiatives, and at a variable interest rate.

This rate will depend on whether Uruguay meets a previously established environmental target, such as its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. In other words, if the country reduces its emissions as committed, it will be rewarded with a lower rate. And if it does not comply, it will be penalised with a higher rate.

So far, the only country to have developed such an instrument has been Luxembourg, which issued US$1.5 billion in debt in 2020. According to the Uruguay’s environment minister, Adrián Peña, the country’s own the bond will be for an amount between US$800 million and US$1 billion, with no exact date for its issuance yet set.

Developing countries like Uruguay are especially vulnerable to the climate and biodiversity crisis, and need financial support to meet their environmental or climate commitments. This is where sustainable finance comes in, as an instrument to support the transition of their economies.

 

Sustainable finance in Latin America

Mechanisms for sustainable finance continue to grow more numerous and diverse. Argentina and Colombia, for example, have recently called for an expansion of debt-for-nature swaps, a tool already in use that would allow them to reduce their debts and also meet environmental targets. Elsewhere, finance experts have pushed for the creation of new instruments such as the bond now proposed by Uruguay.

“Debt swaps were very popular decades ago. But now the picture has changed a lot. It’s more complicated in terms of who holds the debt and how it’s traded,” said Jochen Krimphoff, WWF’s lead on green sovereign bonds. “In the long run, the more sustainably you manage your natural resources as a government, the more your economy can thrive sustainably.”

A green sovereign bond indicates a country’s commitment to sustainable growth strategies and low greenhouse gas emissions, which can stimulate private sector investment in green initiatives. It can also allow for more effective collaboration between different areas of government, as Peña pointed out.

“It seemed to us that we had a lot of knowledge to bring to the Ministry of Finance, which didn’t know so much about our issues. That’s where the idea of the bond came from,” the minister told Diálogo Chino.

In 2019, Chile became the first country in Latin America to issue a sovereign green bond, which has so far raised US$7.44 billion after successive issuances. The country has also issued social and sustainable bonds, as have Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative.

The energy and transport sectors have benefited the most from financing, as has the land use sector. In the case of Chile, funds from its green bond went towards boosting clean transport, such as Santiago’s electric buses and the construction of new underground lines.

“There are many investors who want to invest in these instruments,” Pablo Cortinez, a sustainable finance consultant, said. “The fiduciary duty and profile of investors is changing, and more and more are calling themselves green. The largest economies in the region, such as Brazil and Argentina, should bet on green sovereign bonds.”

For Marcela Ponce, Latin American climate finance lead at the International Finance Corporation, 2020 was a landmark year for green sovereign issuance, and 2021 is not far behind. “Since COP26, finance ministries in Latin America have shown great appetite for the green bond market,” she added.

 

Uruguay’s new bond

Unlike Chile, Uruguay will not issue a green bond, per se, as the funds can be used for any desired purpose. However, by linking the bond’s interest rate to the NDC, the government will create an additional incentive to direct finance towards initiatives that help it meet its climate change targets.

Uruguay submitted its NDC in 2017, in which it proposes per-gas carbon intensity reduction targets for three specific gases: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, with reductions of 24%, 48% and 57% respectively by 2030, on an unconditional basis. A new NDC is expected to be submitted in 2022.

About 70% of Uruguay’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the agricultural sector, two thirds of which originate from beef production, according to the most recent emissions inventory. The government hopes that better pasture management will reduce emissions significantly.

“Uruguay is taking on a high political cost with the new sovereign bond. But if it succeeds, it would be a milestone for the region,” said Sebastián Ramos, a partner in the banking and finance department of Ferrere, a law firm in Montevideo. “The learning curve is high, as it is the first in the region with a sovereign bond of this type.”

Juán Giraldez and Stephanie Fontana of international law firm Cleary Gottlieb describe the debt instrument Uruguay wants to push as “the next frontier in sovereign financing”. However, they also highlight risks and challenges given its novelty, and as something so far only developed by Luxembourg.

For the bond to be successful, governments must be able to justify to their investors the choice of the specific target to which the interest rate is fixed, over other possibilities – the NDC, in Uruguay’s case. In addition, the target must be achievable during the life of the bond and a third party in charge of monitoring the actual achievement of the target must be defined.

“With the bond we are designing, Uruguay will have a fiduciary mandate to take care of the environment and reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Uruguay’s economy minister Azucena Arbeleche in an interview. “The incentives of the investor and issuer will be aligned for the fulfilment of a certain indicator.”

Further details on Uruguay’s sovereign green bond, including a date for first issuance, are likely to be confirmed in early 2022. Supporters of such instruments will be hoping that, if successful, it may be a catalyst for their growth and uptake in Latin America, which could provide a boost to sustainable transitions across the region.

This article was originally published by China Dialogue

Extraordinary Lives of Indian Muslim Women Documented

Farah Usmani, a director at the UNFPA headquarters in New York, set about changing the stereotype of Indian Muslim Women. As a result of her efforts a book, Rising Beyond the Ceiling, documents the lives of successful Indian Muslim women. Credit: Twitter

By Mehru Jaffer
Lucknow, India, Dec 23 2021 – It’s time the achievements of Indian Muslim women were documented to make their contribution to society visible, says international health and gender expert Dr Farah Usmani.

“The idea is to drive a new narrative about the inspiring life some of them lead today.”

Usmani was speaking to IPS in an exclusive interview in Uttar Pradesh (UP) – the largest state in India with a population of about 240 million, of which 44 million are Muslims. Half of the Muslim population in the state are women.

Usmani, a director at the UNFPA headquarters in New York, originates from UP. She wonders how such a large number of people have remained invisible in this day and age of technology.

She said that a chance remark made by a journalist in New York led her to start the Rising Beyond the Ceiling (RBTC) initiative in UP, her place of birth.

The male journalist told her that she was the first Indian Muslim woman he had spoken to in his life.

Celebrating the success of Indian Muslim women and the publication of a book, Rising Beyond the Ceiling were (back) computer science engineer Sameena Bano, and drone pilot Mohsina Mirza with (front) educationalist Dr Farzana Madni and biotechnologist Seema Wahab. Credit: Mehru Jaffer

Long after her meeting with the journalist, Usmani could not stop thinking of how millions of Indian Muslims remain unknown despite their creative contributions to society.

Colourful and inspiring images of countless Muslim women she knows flashed across her mind. She decided to share her troubling thoughts with other female friends and family members.

Usmani has over 25 years of experience in policy and programming leadership, focusing on women and girls and their reproductive health and rights. She reached out to like-minded women in UP, and within days a team of six professional Muslim women was formed.

The RBTC initiative is referred to as the team’s ‘COVID’ baby because it was initiated in early 2020 at the peak of the second wave of the deadly pandemic in India.

“Our brief was to work online and to scout and profile 100 Muslim women in UP. The purpose was to document the inspiring lives led by some Indian Muslim women,” Sabiha Ahmad, team coordinator and social activist, told IPS.

The idea of documenting the extraordinary lives of Indian Muslim women was born out of the urgent need to change the stereotypical narrative about women by women.

The team liked the idea of getting women to build an alternative narrative of each other by curating real-life stories of successful Muslim women in all their diversity.

The goal was to make these lives visible and drive a new narrative around Indian Muslim women. The result was a 173-page book. It documents the women from the state who drones and aeroplanes, weave carpets, serve in the police and army, write books and poetry, paint and bag trophies in tennis and snooker competitions.

There are profiles of politicians, trendsetters, doctors, entrepreneurs, and corporate professionals who met in Lucknow recently to celebrate the RBTC book and meet each other in person.

Usmani used her latest visit to Lucknow to release Rising Beyond The Ceiling formally. The directory details the lives of 100 Indian Muslim women whose inspiring stories shatter the stereotypical narrative a group perceived as primitive, veiled and suffering.

Faiza Abbasi, 47, contributor and co-editor, says the RBTC directory dares to write a different story. It is a step by women to celebrate each other.

“We come forward to highlight each other’s achievements and to take the road our grannies left untrodden,” smiles Abbasi.

Abbasi is an educationist, environmentalist, and outstanding public speaker with a popular YouTube channel. She recalls how her father celebrated her birth by distributing sweetmeats to family and friends. However, an elderly aunt questioned the festivities. The aunt asked why the energy and resources were being wasted, and a fuss made over the birth of a girl?

Not used to the relatively progressive environment of today, many women still hesitate to celebrate their achievements.

“We at RBTC want to celebrate and to learn to appreciate each other,” assures Abbasi.

The RBTC promises to branch out its research analysis and documentation to other Indian states to document the successes of Muslim women.

The work of RBTC is vital at a time when the majority of Muslim women in India are the most disadvantaged. Statistical and micro studies on Muslim women show that they are economically impoverished and politically marginalised.

 


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How Can We End Systemic Racism in the US Legal System?

A new multi-pronged approach aims to make a strategic breach in the discrimination deadlock

By Ian McDougall
NEW YORK, Dec 23 2021 – Systemic racism in the US has had devastating consequences for generations of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Our legal system, which is intended to be color-blind, should be an essential tool in eliminating racism. But instead—despite legislative, educational and social efforts aiming to provide equal access to justice—the US ranks only 21st in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020.

Ian McDougall

Access to justice is tragically unequal depending on one’s race. The list of injustices is long, and includes inequitable attorney and judicial behaviors, unfair bail practices, and legal outcomes decided by arbitrary factors like the defendant’s income. Furthermore, specific failures within the legal system contribute to and reinforce widespread inequities across the entire criminal justice system, including policing, pretrial detention, sentencing, parole and the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record.

Top-down legislation hasn’t succeeded in fixing these problems. The legislative process is laborious and moves at a snail’s pace; even the best intentions are inevitably diluted by partisanship and politics.

How can these problems be solved? In a word: innovate. Grassroots measures that attack and eliminate specific inequities at the ground level are needed. Those involved in these efforts to must be able to easily connect and collaborate to share expertise.

No single measure can turn the US legal profession into a body as diverse and inclusive as the population it serves. However, a new initiative by LexisNexis is aimed at developing and implementing a multitude of innovative solutions and inclusive practices that address specific racial inequities. Our hope is that this stepwise, collaborative approach will clear a path to the eliminate systemic racism across the legal community.

Advancing the Rule of Law — with equal treatment being at the root – is the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint. At LexisNexis, we produced incontrovertible evidence of the connection between strong Rule of Law and socioeconomic measures. The Rule of Law is fundamental to realizing the dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2021, LexisNexis Legal & Professional and LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation (LNROLF) in partnership with the Historically Black Colleges, Universities Law School Consortium, and the African Ancestry Network created a new fellowship program that aims to jump start the process of change. The 12 inaugural fellowship recipients identified some of the most pervasive practices perpetuating systemic racism in the legal system.

Studies, surveys, and recommendations in the fellowship advocacy papers address new approaches to painful but fixable issues: inequities in bail reform, racially weighted bankruptcy advice from attorneys, law school admissions processes, employment and compensation practices, gender inequalities, and racial and economic stereotyping that undermines guidance for misdemeanor defendants who represent themselves.

Easing access to law school

For example, the Blueprint Program developed by cohort member Paris Maulet aims to improve access for students from disenfranchised communities by prepping prospective law students. Maulet, whose own path was opened by a pre-law program said: “Access to a legal education and to the tools needed to become successful in the legal field are not the same for minorities as for their white counterparts. This access disparity is a disadvantage that drives down the pool of African Americans.”

Inequitable advice in consumer bankruptcy

Emony M. Robertson’s project focuses on a different but equally vexing problem: reducing racial bias in consumer bankruptcy practices. He points out that consumer bankruptcy has a clear racial disparity. African Americans are disproportionately advised by their attorneys to file Chapter 13 versus Chapter 7 petitions. “Chapter 7 bankruptcy offers many advantages, including the possibility of debt being totally discharged. Chapter 13 filings, by contrast, can result in the perpetuation of debt,” he said. Robertson created a simple solution: bankruptcy filing checklists that attorneys can review before engaging with African American clients, and literature that explains the disparate outcomes.

Failures in self-representation

When individuals charged with misdemeanors attempt to represent themselves, the attempt to save costs works against them. They are far more likely to plead guilty. The fallout can have a lasting impact on the rest of their lives, including their ability to secure housing, employment, or federal funding for upper-level education. Oscar Draughn, a student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law developed a digital tool that teaches individuals charged with low-level misdemeanor offenses how to defend themselves when adequate counsel is not available. His app will include a knowledge database, tutorials, and interactive modules. This tool will reduce the probability of conviction for reasons unrelated to the facts of the case.

One goal, many pathways

There is no single road towards eliminating racism in the legal system. Approaching this problem from multiple angles will accelerate change. Targeted strategies, training, technology and collaboration can provide the collective power to break down the barriers of systemic racism in the legal system, once and for all.

Ian McDougall, President, LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation

 


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Excerpt:

A new multi-pronged approach aims to make a strategic breach in the discrimination deadlock

2021: Yet Another Challenging Year in Review

By External Source
Dec 23 2021 (IPS-Partners)

In 2020, 1.8 million people across the world died from COVID-19.

At the end of 2021 the death toll has risen to over 5.3 million.

Over 8.1 billion vaccines have been administered – more than the world’s population.

Yet less than 8% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people had been vaccinated at all.

Poorer countries are suffering disproportionately through rising poverty and inequality.

Violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19.

UNICEF called the pandemic the biggest crisis for children in its 75-year history…

…with 100 million falling into poverty.

“Extreme events are the new norm.” – World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas

Greenland’s highest summit experienced rain for the first time in at least over 140 years.

Germany suffered massive floods.

The Dixie fire was California’s biggest recorded single blaze.

China took months’ worth of rain in the space of hours.

2021 was full of bad news…

…but billionaires, big pharmaceutical and high-tech firms, as well as autocrats, did well.

Press freedom was vigorously defended in 2021 but took a hammering in many countries in Asia.

Global suffering has vastly increased vulnerabilities to human trafficking.

For every 100 victims trafficked globally, 50 are women and 20 are girls.

“I know many of you are disappointed… We are in the fight of our lives. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward.” – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

 


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