Tag Archives: news on women

Young women fight the ‘Talibanisation’ of rural Pakistan

Much attention has been focused on the process of radicalisation of young men in the areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. Peshawar, the town near the border between the two countries, is infamous for being the centre of a vibrant industry and trade in homemade guns. For more than two decades, violence has become the dominant currency of almost every aspect of life in this area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, once known as the North West Frontier Province.

So it takes remarkable courage for a 16-year-old girl to decide to challenge how this culture of violence was reinforcing and strengthening the oppression of women. Eight years on, Gulalai Ismail, now a poised 24-year-old, is running two programmes of work – one on gender empowerment and the other on peacebuilding – from her home in Peshawar, where she grew up. Brought to London by Peace Direct, Ismail was talking to youngsters about her work.

“I set up Aware Girls when I was 16 because all around me I saw girls being treated differently to boys. My girl cousin was 15 when her marriage was arranged to someone twice her age; she couldn’t finish her education while my boy cousins were [doing so]. This was considered normal. Girls have internalised all this discrimination – a woman who suffers violence but doesn’t say anything is much admired in the village as a role model. A good woman submits to her husband or father.

“Aware Girls raised awareness of equal status. We did training that women have human rights, and taught leadership skills and how to negotiate within their families and with their parents to get education and to have control over their own lives.”

Ismail is well aware of how the position of women has deteriorated over the course of her life. “Peshawar used to be very progressive, but after “Talibanisation” it became much more conservative and life is more difficult for my younger sister than it was for me. Just going out to the market is difficult because of the sexual harassment.”

That kind of harassment makes organising training for young women particularly difficult. Ismail and her staff have to strive very hard with communities in the villages where they work to build trust that if daughters attend the training they will be safe. Parents worry that their daughters will be “westernised” and forget their “cultural values”. For a recent training course on political leadership to help boost the participation of women in politics, Aware Girls had to organise 20 local community meetings to identify the 30 girls who eventually went on the course. Working in remote rural areas requires considerable patience and time, but Ismail is not interested in the easier option of working only in urban areas.

It was the gender work that came first, but Ismail soon realised the close relationship between gender and peace. “In training, a woman told the story of how her 12-year-old son was taken away to Afghanistan by the militants, and 10 months later he was dead. That made me think that we must stop these young people joining the militants.”

The result was the Seeds of Peace network, which Ismail set up last year and which has trained 25 young people. They, in turn, will train another 20, to slowly expand a network across 10 districts of the province. She believes each person can reach 500 young people to promote tolerance and challenge extremism.

“They identify young people in the community who might be vulnerable to militants and they organise study circles to discuss the causes and consequences of conflict and the history of Talibanisation. We talk about tolerance for people of other faiths,” says Ismail.

Almost every aspect of children’s upbringing is affected by extremism. Even the school textbooks urge children to be ready for jihad, says Ismail, and all around are songs and films that glorify war, martyrdom and violence.

“Seeds of Peace aims to give another perspective by getting people to think about human rights. Peace is not just the absence of war, it is about respect and tolerance – and women have an important role in educating their children.”

Ismail is well aware that her work challenges the Taliban’s power, and that brings dangers. She is also aware that there are huge political issues involved in the radicalisation of the region where she lives, but believes that a grassroots community challenge to a culture of extremist intolerance is also a crucial part of the search for peace. Both high-level political negotiation and community participation are required in conflict resolution.

Peace Direct’s Ruairi Nolan backs up Ismail’s analysis of a peace process, using the analogy of political negotiation as the bricks and community engagement as the cement that hold the bricks together. Pointing to Northern Ireland’s experience, he suggests that several decades of community peacebuilding was a crucial precondition to the success of the political process that culminated in the Northern Ireland agreement.

At international conferences, Ismail has met counterparts from Uganda, Sri Lanka and many other parts of the world. Despite the very different forms of conflict, she can see plenty of similarities in the work they are doing – and she says that gives her hope.

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Malaysia: Women vital source of resources – Yong

Deputy Works Minister Datuk Yong Khoon Seng has termed women as Malaysia’s vital source of human resources to spur its development.

He thus called on more women to assume leading roles to help the country achieve further breakthroughs.

“Women of today are no longer confined to the roles of wife and mother. Many of them have excelled in many areas such as politics, finance, industries and education,” he told a dinner marking the Kuching and Samarahan Divisions Chinese Women Association’s 63rd anniversary last Saturday.

Yong, who is Stampin member of parliament, said it was quite obsolete to insist that only a certain gender should serve in selected industries, particularly in this modern era.

He stressed that for as long as a person had the capability, the issue of gender should not get in the way.

“If the person has great knowledge in a certain field and is capable of discharging the duty, we shall by all means support the person to lead,” he said.

He noted that the women association was one of the earliest community-based organisations (CBOs) in the city.

Given its history, the association had played its part to elevate the social status of women besides enlightening them on their rights, he said.

He hoped that it would persevere in its undertakings so as to be able to organise more healthy programmes for members and the communities.

During the dinner, the association through Yong also handed out ‘angpow’ and goodies to eligible elderly members.

http://www.theborneopost.com/?p=130610

Only 7 women make it to Kerala state Assembly

Women got a raw deal once again in Kerala politics with just seven female aspirants getting elected to the state Assembly, the same as the last time.

The outcome has strengthened a general belief that Kerala is not yet free from “male-hegemony”, despite the state being projected as a role model for women empowerment.

The first Kerala Assembly in 1957 had six women members, when politics was dominated by men in most parts of India.

Out of the seven elected women this time around, the ruling UDF has just one representative, Congress’ P Jayalakshmi, who was part of the list drawn up by AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi. Jayalakshmi, elected from Manathawadi (ST) segment in Wayanad district, is among the ministerial probables as the only woman member on the ruling side.

According to T N Seema, Rajya Sabha member and leader of CPI-M’s women wing AIDWA, it can’t be glossed over that generally there is an “anti-women” attitude in all spheres in Kerala.

“As in other fields, male-hegemony is deep-rooted in politics also. No party is free from this,” Seema told PTI.

Women empowerment has gained some momentum at the local bodies level where 50 per cent of the seats are reserved for women.

But women who excel in politics and governance are not allowed to go beyond a certain level by the male-dominated leadership of major parties, she said.

The six women MLAs of the LDF are K K Lathika, P Ayisha Potty and K S Saleekha, all from the CPI-M; E S Bijimol, Geetha Gopi from the CPI; Jameela Prakasam of the JD(S).

Geetha Gopi, Jameela Prakasam and Jayalakshmi are first-time MLAs while the other four are into their second stint as legislators.

A total of 78 women candidates including Independents tried their luck at the hustings.

While the LDF fielded 14 women candidates, including 10 from CPI-M, three CPI and one JD (S), the UDF offered seats to 8 and the BJP fielded 14 women.

However, UDF partners like the IUML and the Kerala Congress (M) did not field any woman candidate.

Prominent women who fell by the wayside include 92-year old Gowri Amma of JSS, a component of the UDF, in Cherthala in Alappuzha district.

The grand old lady of Kerala politics and once firebrand Communist, Gowri Amma has been part of most of the Communist ministries from 1957 to 2006. She left the CPI-M in the 1990s and floated JSS.

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/only-7-women-make-it-to-kerala-state-assembly/articleshow/8367555.cms

Malaysian Women Third Advanced in Asia/Pacific

Women in Malaysia continue to rank as one of the highest scoring countries around the Asia/Pacific region. They are feeling more confident and positive about the role they play within the business and economic environment according to the research study.

According to the fourth annual MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement 2008, released by MasterCard Worldwide today, Malaysia’s score rose to clinch third highest within the Asia/Pacific region, drawing a score of 76.89. Around the region, the overall Index score across the 13 Asia/Pacific markets surveyed dropped from 73.24 in 2007 to 70.38 in 2008.

The MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement measures the socioeconomic level of women in relation to men using four key indicators;

  • Two showing the ratio of female to male participation in the labor force and tertiary education, are based on source data from national statistics bureaus.
  • Two based on survey data, measuring female and male respondent perceptions of whether they hold managerial positions and earn above median income. These subjective factors are a gauge of how positively or negatively respondents feel about their place in the workforce.

The resulting total Index figure obtained is a combined calculation of these indicators showing how close or how far women in each market are to being equal to men. A score under 100 indicates gender inequality in favor of males while a score above 100 indicates inequality in favor of females. A score of 100 indicates equality between the sexes.

Within the four indicators, Malaysia’s score are as follows:

  • tertiary education (135.02)
  • labor force (59.0)
  • managerial position (65.91) and
  • above median income (47.62).

“Malaysia continues to be a key market in encouraging the evolution of women as consumers and as influencers changing the socio-economic dynamics across Asia/Pacific. Malaysian women seem to be closing the gap with men in the socio-economic arena. These are subjective indicators which gauge how positive the respondents feel about their place in the workforce. The scores indicate that Malaysian working women are more confident and self-assured,” said Georgette Tan, vice president, Communications, Asia/Pacific, Middle East & Africa, MasterCard Worldwide. “As they become more educated and qualified, evolving in tandem, the workplace has become more inclusive with greater opportunities for women to attain roles in management and leadership.

The MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement Across Asia Pacific

Across the 13 Asia/Pacific markets, the Index scores ranged from a low of 49.83 in Japan to a high of 86.82 in the Philippines. Hong Kong took second place at 77.37, closely followed by Malaysia in third place 76.89.

In South-East Asia, positive sentiment amongst women was clear. Four out of the six markets surveyed, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, achieved an uplift in 2008 on their 2007 total Index scores. In the remaining two markets – The Philippines and Singapore – only a very slight decline was recorded over the same period.

In the rest of the Asia/Pacific region, five of the seven markets saw a decline. The greatest of these were in New Zealand, China and Taiwan, suggesting that women’s positive sentiments in these markets are on the wane. By comparison, Hong Kong and Japan illustrated a very slight uplift.

Largely, the decline in this year’s Index score for the region was the result of fewer women considering their work roles ‘managerial’ or their income ‘above the median’ than they did one year ago. The Index found that across the region, the number of women considering themselves in managerial positions fell from 56 women per 100 men in 2007 53 in 2008. Meantime those considering their income to be above the median fell from 68 women per 100 men to in 2007 to 59 per 100 men in 2008.

“While women continue to close the gap in achieving parity with men in the areas of labor force participation and tertiary education, women’s self-perception regarding the subjective factors of the Index – managerial positions and above median income – have continued to dip for the second year in a row. This appears to indicate that women are feeling less confident about their current status, and whether due to the economic, political or social landscape, the direct result is that men’s confidence and resulting advancement is increasing to fill the gaps,” said Tan.

“As women continue to enter the labor force and seek tertiary education, new avenues are opened up for their employment and their careers. However, in 2008 it appears that women continue to perceive themselves as not receiving the same opportunities as men. This, combined with the shifting economic climate, has negatively affected the scores pertaining to the self-perception of women, resulting in a lower MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement score.”

When speaking about the results of the Index, President of The Global Summit of Women Irene Natividad said “The MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement clearly shows that business and Government leaders in the Asia Pacific region should pay as much attention to lifting women off the “sticky floor” of entry-level employment, where women feel trapped, as they do with helping them break the ‘glass ceiling’ of senior management.”

The Global Summit of Women is an annual forum bringing women leaders in business, government and enterprises of all sizes together for exchanges of best practices in advancing women’s economic opportunities worldwide.

MasterCard has devoted extensive resources to developing a deeper understanding of the women’s segment in Asia/Pacific. The findings from this fourth MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement highlights that there is still much to be done in terms of improving women’s self-perceptions.

MasterCard is committed to empowering women through initiatives such as its U21 Global Scholarship for Women in Travel and Tourism, which was launched in 2006 to provide working women professionals a program to develop their leadership skills and realize their full potential in the area of travel and tourism. The program comprises 20 scholarships for the U21Global Executive Diploma of Business Administration that can articulate into The University of Nottingham MSc in Tourism and Travel Management.

MasterCard has also released a series of consumer and travel reports on women, found at www.masterintelligence.com – an online repository of MasterCard’s proprietary research.

Some Key findings of the MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement:

Labour force participation

  • There are now three quarters as many women working in the Asia/Pacific region as there are men. Over the four year period since MasterCard Worldwide Index of Women’s Advancement began, the Asia/Pacific Index score for Labour force participation has very slightly increased across all markets – from 75.07 in 2005 to 76.78 in 2008.
  • Vietnam’s economic growth is perhaps driven by women, because the market’s indicator score for women’s participation in the labour force reached 93.77 in 2008. This means there are now 94 women for every 100 men in the labour force in Vietnam – the nearest to parity of any market in the region.
  • The next market with a large participation of women in the labour force is New Zealand where the indicator score in 2008 was 88.29. This means there are 88 women to every 100 men in the labour force in New Zealand. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Malaysia’s data reveals the lowest rate of women’s participation in the labour force with 59 women to every 100 men.

Tertiary education participation

  • The total Index score for Asia/Pacific for the number of women in tertiary education this year was 93.15 – or put another way there are 93 women for every 100 men in Tertiary education across Asia/Pacific. In each of the four years since the Index began this number has risen slightly indicating that women’s participation in tertiary education is edging closer to parity all the time.
  • Most impressive of all was the figures for this indicator in Malaysia. Here, more women in tertiary education than men with 135 women to every 100 men. The Philippines also returned some very positive figures with 116 women to every 100, Thailand at 107 and New Zealand’s at 103.

Personal perception of participation in managerial positions

  • Across Asia/Pacific the results for the number of women who perceive themselves to be in managerial positions has consistently decreased since 2006 and in 2008 has reached a total Index score of 52.85. This means that in 2008 across Asia/Pacific, over half as many women believe they are in managerial positions as men.


Personal perception of participation in managerial positions / continued

  • Women’s perception of their participation in management positions has decreased across seven of the thirteen markets in Asia/Pacific in 2008 (Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, the Philippines and Singapore) and increased in six (Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam).
  • The most dramatic drop for this indicator was in China where the 2007 indicator score of 71.27 dropped to 55.94. This means that in China in 2008 there are now only just over half as many women (56 women to every 100 men) as there are men who perceive their roles to be managerial.


Personal perception of income level being above median

  • Women’s perceptions that they were earning above the median income has decreased across the region. In 2007 the total Index score for Asia/Pacific was 67.8 meaning there were 68 women per 100 men who perceived their income to be above the median. In 2008 this indicator score has decreased to 59.
  • The most dramatic drop in perception regarding salary was in Taiwan where in 2007 more women perceived that they earned above the median wage than men (113 women to every 100 men). In 2008 this indicator score has dropped to only 68 women per 100 men.
  • In New Zealand a similar decline also took place. In 2007 the indicator score was 97.46, this meaning that 97 women per 100 men thought they earned more than median income. But in 2008 this dropped to less than half as many women as men as New Zealand received a new an indicator score of only 42 women per 100 men.

The full report, which provides details on the scores for the four indicators by market, can be found at the website www.masterintelligence.com

Source: http://www.adoimagazine.com/newhome/index.php?view=article&catid=1%3Abreaking-news&id=2915%3Amalaysian-women-third-advanced-in-asiapacific&option=com_content&Itemid=2

Political Parties Frustrating Women

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wants women representation in political parties increased.

According to the UN, political parties are frustrating women in accessing powerful positions and resources.

It warned that democracy would not take root if the parties continued oppressing women.

This was at the opening of the UNDP-funded three-day workshop to campaign for increased women participation in political parties. It was organised by the Forum for Women in Development.

Representing the UNDP resident representative, his deputy, Sam Ibanda, said: “There is an urgent need to ensure that women become visible in the party structure to enable their voices be heard.”

The workshop was attended by women from UPC, FDC, CP, DP, NRM and JEEMA parties.

The UN said although the Government had made a significant achievement in establishing democratic governance since 1986, more women needed to be involved.

“Uganda can now boast of 32% representation of women in Parliament, but this is still a small proportion of the elected leaders,” the organisation noted.

The UN said multiparty politics had provided an alternative space for women to engage in politics, but added that few were represented on the national party structures.

The women complained that they are used as a campaigning chip by their parties to garner support from the population and relegated thereafter.

They said political party manifestos are filled with grand ideas about women issues, yet none of them are fulfiled.

MP Nabillah Nagayi (Kampala Woman) said political parties were using the “Women’s Leagues” just to appear politically correct.

Rebecca Atengo (Woman Lira) said parties use women to manipulate other women.

“We want justice and fairness. We are either being manipulated or being used to manipulate other women to support things they don’t understand,” Atengo lamented.

Source: http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/687446

Online Women Bulletin, July 5, 2009

WOMEN IN POLITICS

India: Dalit , Muslim Women Bodies For Sub-Quota For Women in Bill

Contending that the Women’s Reservation Bill in its present form will benefit only those from affluent sections. Dalit and Muslim bodies demanded a sub-quota for women from weaker sections to ensure fair representation. At a convention in New Delhi, representatives of the All India Milli Council, the Muslim Welfare Organization, Dr B R Ambedkar Sewa Dal and Samajik Nyan Morcha among others said a quota without a sub-quota will augment inequalities in the country and fail to serve its purpose. “While we welcome the proposal of reserving seats form women, we strongly believe there should be a provision ensuring that Muslim and Dalit women, who are the most backward in the country and need representation, get their due share in proportion to their population,” said Manzoor Alam, General Secretary, All India Milli Concil. Alam said in its present form, the bill will further strengthen and empower, “the already educated and economically empowered ladies” and those who belong to families with political background

Lebanon: Where’s the Woman’s Place?

If you think Lebanon is a complicated place, the state of Lebanese women’s political participation should be no surprise. Lebanese women won the right to vote and to participate in national elections in 1952, 19 years b efore women in Switzerland. Yet, today, political participation by Lebanese women remains dismal at the national level. In the June parliamentary elections, only 12 women ran for office and only 4 were elected out of 128 seats. Since suffrage, in fact, only 77 women have served in Lebanon’s parliament. The reasons are complicated but male domination if the country’s politics is one major reason. Another is that political parties are f ocused in sectarian interests, marginalizing women’s voices.

Fiji: Interim Government Approves New Women’s  Groups

Fiji’s leading women’s advocacy group says a new interim government endoresed women’s group will not take the place of existing institutions. In a statement, Fiji’s interim government says the new “Fiji Women’s Federation”, will be the advocate for, and representative of, women’s rights in the country. The coordinator of one of the longest serving women rights groups, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Shamima Ali, say previous governments have tried and failed to create something similar, ” Often these things have fallen by the wayside because of lack of funding, lack of the political will of the government”, she said. The interim government says the membership of the federation will be nade up of women’s non government organizations, which meet a set criteria. But no detail of what that criteria is has been made public. Ms. Ali says the federation’s creation won’t mean groups like the Crisis Centre, vocal critics of the interim government, will be sidelined.

Iran: Women Leading the Charge for Change

Iranian women’s visible presence in protests over their country’s political turmoil is likely to strengthen the cause of opposition leader Mr. Hussein Mousavi. That became clear this weekend after 26-yeald Neda Agha-Soltan was shot in the chest while attending a protest rally. The video of her  bloody death on Saturday has circulated in Iran and around the world and prompted an outpouring of sympathy. President Obama in a White House press conference said, “We have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the street. While this lost is raw and extraordinary painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.” Ms. Agha-Soltan apparently wasn’t a political activist but has become a stirring symbol of anti-government movement. And her gender seems to be heightening worldwide sympathy for the protesters.

Indonesia: Head Scarf Emerges As Political Symbol

The three (3) parties competing in Indonesia’s presidential election next week have plastered the city with campaign billboards and posters depicting, predictably, their presidential and vice presidential choices looking self-confident. But one party, Golkar, has also put up posters of the candidates’ wives next to their husbands, posing demurely and wearing a Muslim head scarves known here as jilbabs. The wives recently went on a jilbab shopping spree in one of Jakarta’s largest  markets and published a book together titled, “Devout Wives of Future Leaders”. Most polls suggest that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of the Democratic Party will be reelected  next Wednesday’s vote, after running a smooth campaign based on his economic policies and a popular anticorruption drive. Despite television debates, the personality-driven campaigns have focused little on differences over policies or ideas, except regarding the wearing of the jilbab.

Nepal:UK’s Permanent Secretary For International Development Interacts With Constituent Assembly (CA) Members

The Permanent Secretary at the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), Minouche Shafik, who concluded a two-day visit to Nepal on July 1, met women constituent assembly (CA) members at the Center for Constitutional Dialogue (CCD). During the meeting, Shafik heard about women’s role in the constitution-writing process and the challenges they faced in a traditionally-male dominated society. The CA members hoped to make the most of their numbers in the CA (33% of the total seats) by ensuring greater equality for women, including in access to state resources such as education and health care, teh DFID in Kathmandu said. Shafik reiterated DFID’s willingness to continue to contribute to making the voice of women and other marginalized groups heard, such as by sharing international experience of women’s role in parliament.

Mongolia: Draf Law on Gender Equality Presented

Government Cabinet Secretary Chief B. Dolgor submitted Friday a bill to ensure gender equality to Parliamentary Speaker D. Demberel. Mongolia has joined a number of international treaties and pacts, including international pacts on civic and political rights, on economic societal and cultural rights, a convention to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, a convention on women in politics, as well as the 1993 Vienna Convention. These make Mongolia responsible for creating a favorable legal environment to refute any acts and customs allowing gender discrimination, satisfying and guaranteeing equal gender rights equality and equal attitudes, taking required measures and approving relevant legislation. Mongolia’s government action plan for 2009-2012 includes drawing up a bill to ensure gender equality.

GENDER IN CLIMATE CHANGE AND DISASTER RISK REDUCTION

UN Habitat’s Executive Director Wins Prestigious Environmental Award

UN Habitat’s Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka has been named one of the three (3) winners of the 2009 Goteborg Award, the prestigious “Nobel Prize in Environment”. The Goteborg Award now celebrating its tenth year conferred its jubilee prize of one million Swedish Kroner (USD 126,775) to be shared equally between Mrs. Tibaijuka, Mr. Enrique Penalosa, the former  mayor of Bogota, Colombia, and Mr. Soren Hermansen of Samso, Denmark, who was named by Time Magazine as 2008 Hero of the Environment. Last year’s winner included Mr. Al Gore the former US Vice President and global environment champion.

West African Sub-Region Vulnerable To Climate Change

Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, Deputy Minister of Environment, Science and Technology said that the Western African Sub-Region would be the most affected region by climate change, as long as it remained one of the poorest in the world. He said over the last three or four decades, impact of climate change has revealed the region’s vulnerability and stressed the need for consensus actions to reduce the looming danger. Droughts, floods and storms are likely to increase, not only in frequency but also in intensity. Rainfall patterns are still changing and in coastal areas, sea level rise and rising temparatures will threaten coastal areas and ecosystems”, he said. He emphasized the prospective impacts on society and economies across the sub-region were likely to be huge, thereby negatively affecting all sectors and groups of people with women, the poor and marginalized being the most affected.

Ordinary Men and Women Will Pay Price of Addressing Climate Change

The leader of Caritas Internationalis, the international consortium of Catholic relief agencies, warned in a recent address that attempts to address climate change will reduce the standard of living of the “ordinary men and women of the developed world”. Secretary-General Lesley Anne Knight said that “even if it is too early to say for certain that man-made climate change is causing an increase in humanitarian emergencies, one thing is certain: If it continues, it most certainly will”. She grants that there is disagreement over whether the increasing scale and frequency of climate-related humanitarian emergencies can be scientifically attributed to man-made cliamte change. But a number of points are clear: We are witnessing an increase in climate-related emergencies. Increasing climate vulnerability is making some parts of the world more susceptible to climate-related disasters. Factors such as poverty and conflict are making populations more vulnerable to the effects of climate-related disasters.

Irish Women Act on Climate Change in Africa

The Women of the ICA are helping to raise funds for the stoves and are also off-setting the carbon footprint–all through this green, women-focused initiative. With the help of a part-EU funded Irish NGO, “Vita”, these stoves are now being installed in homes in rural Eritrea. And as part of its drive to encourage innovation and green programmes, the European Commission Representation in Ireland hosted a meeting in Dublin this week, between the designer of this innovative stove, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, and “Vita”. The ICA was presented with a letter of thanks from the Eritrean Women’s Union for agreeing to help women in Eritrea achieve today what the ICA did in Ireland in the 1950’s. The letter was presented by Dr. Debesai Ghebrehiwet, who is the designer of the award-winning stove.

OTHER NEWS

Afghanistan: Women Battle Heavy Odds in Struggle for Freedom and Dignity

Rona Tareen sits among the many couches lining her Persian carpeted office and, with the press of ink-stained thumbs, allows what some Afghans consider sacrilege: letting a young woman move away from her husband with her family in Kabul. Tareen, a mother of six and women’s affairs director for the province of Kandahar, where Canadian forces are based, oversees many family judgments in a country steeped in patriarchy. Afghan women—particularly in the volatile south, where the Taliban was born—rarely appear in public without burkas and often show deference to the opposite sex, lowering gazes to the floor, almost shrinking when a man approaches. Given that some hard-line Islamists believe the Koran decrees women to be subservient to men, improving conditions for women in a war-torn country with one of the world’s lowest literacy levels requires more than education. It requires social engineering.

India: The Cases of Human Trafficking

As per the women and child development estimates, 3 million women in India fall prey to trafficking annually in the country and 40% of these are minors. The country needs to face its moment of truth. India has been placed on the US human trafficking tier 2 watch list for not doing enough to curb human smuggling. “Whatever makes a man a slave takes half his worht away”, Pope said. Indeed,  a human trafficking is a modern day slavery where human beings are exploited by treating them like commodities for profit. It is contrary to the fundamental belief of all societies that people everywhere deserve to live in safety and dignity. Victims of human trafficking who comprise of young children, teenagers, men and women are subjected to involuntary servitude and sexual slavery by force, fraud or coercion. Human smuggling, especially of women and children has become a matter of serious national and international concern.

Pakistan: Women in Fata Find A Voice

In a small recording studio in Peshawar, Asma rushes around with a minidisc recorder. She has to finish editing a news bulletin and make it back to her home in Nowshera before it gets dark. “If I do not get the bulletin done in time for this evening show, the station will not let me continue as a radio journalist”, she says. “But if i do not get home on time, then my parents will not let me continue working either”. Asma is one of the 15 reporters for Radio Khyber, a Jamrud-based FM radio station, and one of the few legal media outlets in Pakistan tribal belt. The station, which is supported by the Fata Secretariat, aims to counter the extremist, pro-jihad and anti-West programming that is typical of dozens of illegal radio stations run by hard-line clerics throughout the tribal agencies.

Bangladesh: Prime Minister Seeks UN Help for Improving Health and Women Empowerment

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has sought enhanced assistance from the United Nations for improving child and maternal health and empowering the women folk in the country, as she listed some setbacks in the population sector in recent times. She made the call when Representatives of UNFPA in Bangladesh Arthur Erken on the eve of the World Population Day , paid a courtesy call on her. The Prime Minister reiterated her government commitment to establish social-safety net through creating huge employment opportunities and empowering women, providing quality health services to people of all walks of life, particularly to mothers and children. She said in line with the dream of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of building a healthy nation, the last Awami League government had taken a project of setting up 18,000 community health clinic across the country and some 4,000 of the clinics were made functional in full swing.

What Is the Role of Women in Indian Politics?

India should work towards empowering women economically — through microfinance programs — and also encourage greater participation of women leaders in panchayats, or village councils, writes author Shoba Narayan in this opinion piece.

The ink-stained polls of the world’s largest democracy have delivered their verdict and India waits with bated breath to learn whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second administration will be different than the first. While India exults after yet another peacefully concluded election, one question remains: What is the role of women in Indian politics? The answer is both big and small. Typical of India, it contains contradictions.

On the one hand, India falls in the lowest quartile with respect to the number of women in parliament (9.1%). Even the UAE, with 22.5%, has more women representatives, according to the UN’s 2008 survey of women in politics. That said, the recently concluded 15th Lok Sabha elections have delivered a record 59 women as members of Parliament, the highest since independence, raising their parliamentary participation to 10.9%. Seventeen of these women are under 40. And representation of women leaders at the grassroots level in India is nearly 50%, especially since the passing of the 73rd amendment in 1992, which allotted one-third of all seats to women. The panchayati raj, that bedrock of rural government, has fostered more and more women participants and leaders. (A panchayat is a five-person elected village council.) Some states, like Karnataka, had inducted women into rural politics even before it was mandated by the constitution. Several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and most recently, Uttarkhand, have allotted not just the required 33% of panchayat seats for women but increased it to 50%.

Beating the Odds

The rise of Indian women as panchayat leaders is a spectacular achievement given that India has one of the worst records with respect to the way it treats the female sex. Malnourished, suppressed, uneducated, violated and discriminated against, Indian women have the odds stacked against them. Even birth is a hurdle, thanks to widespread female infanticide in rural areas. But for every Saroja who will be married at 13 because her mother, a devadasi (prostitute) in Chikanahalli Village, Karnataka, cannot afford to pay a dowry, there is a Lakshmi, who is serving her second-term as the panchayat leader of Kadinamala village in Kotagiri district. There is a Kenchamma of Nereleke gram panchayat in rural Karnataka, who survived life threats during her two terms as council leader. An illiterate Dalit, Kenchamma could not read or write. Perhaps as a result of her personal travails, she made sure that she brought education to all the children in her village, including a disabled child.

Talking to these women is a lesson in humility. Instead of the outrage and anger that urban feminists project, these women panchayat leaders speak with clear-minded realism about opportunities and costs. For many women, attending a panchayat meeting means sacrificing a day’s wage. It means assuming leadership for the first time in their lives and then subsuming it at home to serve in-laws and husband. For Kenchamma, it meant leaving her one-year-old son to other caregivers while she learned the ropes of politics.

Ask these women about political reform, and their answers reflect concerns that every women and mother can relate to. They focus on three things: healthcare, education, and the funds to make these two things happen. Kenchamma, a trained midwife, established health camps to improve awareness among the villagers. She also knew from personal experience that, often, it is the mothers who neglect their health the most. Simplistic as it seems, solving health and education is a common thread among panchayat leaders, whether they are men or women. The third concern is figuring out how to save or raise enough money to accomplish their goals.

Most villagers — in India and across the world — either don’t go to banks or don’t have access to them. Instead, they borrow from each other, buy jewelry and save in what Melinda Gates calls, “risky and inefficient ways” in a recent piece she wrote in Newsweek. For most of these villagers, a child’s illness, even something as treatable as malaria, can wipe out several months of savings, sending a family spiraling deeper into debt. The answer, according to the Gates Foundation — no slouch when it comes to solving global problems in an accountable manner — is “bringing safe financial service to the doorsteps of the poor.” As a means to that end, the Foundation has pledged $350 million for microfinance, whose beneficiary is primarily women.

Microfinance and Economic Empowerment

Geeta, 32, would be a typical candidate. An orphan at age three, Geeta was raised by her elder sister. She didn’t go to school and was married to an alcoholic uncle when she was a teenager. Today, she works as a housemaid in Bangalore to feed her family of four: Her husband, her two sons and herself. Geeta’s life goal is to educate her two sons. But she lives in a cycle of debt — borrowing to repay past loans, to make annual school payments for her sons, to cover family events like weddings and every time someone in the family falls sick. Geeta, it so happens, works in my house.

Two years ago, Geeta heard about Janalakshmi, a microfinance company, from some women in her neighborhood. She joined a group of women and borrowed Rs. 30,000 (about $600) with the understanding that they would help each other not default on interest payments and take turns reaping the benefits of the loan. Each group has a leader who guarantees the interest payment to the microfinance institution and in turn, the leader invites women she trusts into the group so that they can borrow larger amounts. For now, Geeta’s microfinance loan is only allowing her to pay back her previous debts, but she dreams of the day when she can borrow enough money for a down payment on a home.

More and more entities are recognizing the power of micro-loans and how they can elevate an entire segment of society. And the route to the underserved is frequently through women, thanks to models based on Grameen Bank and others. Chennai-based Equitas, for instance, only works with women. In March, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) launched Stree Shakti, a platform for training women entrepreneurs at all levels of Indian society. Goldman Sachs’s ambitious “10,000 Women” program aims to train and develop women entrepreneurs across the globe by pairing them with resources in the West. In all these cases, women serve as the lynchpin for programs, whether they are rural Self Help Groups (SHG) or global programs that aspire to foster entrepreneurship.

Microfinance is not the only answer to solving the poor’s problems but it is one good way to help women help themselves. Women self-help groups are burgeoning all across India, and study after study shows that they successfully impact women and bring them out of poverty. In an article that appeared in the December 2007 issue of UNDP’s Poverty in Focus, researchers Ranjula Bali Swain and Fan Yang Wallentin of Uppsala University in Sweden examine the link between microfinance and women’s empowerment using household sample data collected from five states in India in 2000 and 2003. Their results “strongly demonstrate” that there is a clear link between women’s participation in a Self Help Group (SHG) and their empowerment.

The good news, at least in India, is that these microfinance initiatives are reaching bigger swathes of the underserved. The Indian School of Microfinance for Women (ISMW), for instance, goes one step deeper into the problem. Based in Ahmedabad and chaired by social activist and SEWA founder Ela Bhatt, the school recognizes that borrowing money is only one part of the triangle. Among other things, the school teaches women how to deal with the money they borrow through capacity building workshops, networking and providing knowledge resources. Simply put, it takes Goldman Sachs’s global vision for women entrepreneurs and translates it into a deeper regional focus. The school’s website lists ‘hand-holding’ as one of its goals. Participants of micro-credit schemes are taught financial planning and investing techniques that they can use on the ground and in their business.

While microfinance works to eradicate poverty, the next generation of Indian leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, has made social sectors its calling card. The rural development portfolio, which traditionally was one of the less-prized posts, has now vaulted to the top of the pecking order, thanks in large part to the Gandhi family which has aligned itself with the aam admi (poor people) in both its campaigning and future promises. When Manmohan Singh was asked in a recent television interview if he had any regrets about areas that he couldn’t concentrate on in his first term that he would focus on in his second term, he said, “I’d like to work on agriculture, education and rural health.”

Reforming Education

Panchayat women leaders have been especially active in bringing education to their villages even though they are frequently held hostage by caste politics and quotas. Rural education is a quagmire of poor policies that nobody in government seems to have the will to change. The recent Administrative Reforms Commission repeats a long-standing recommendation that the selection of school teachers in rural schools be delegated to each panchayat instead of making it state-wide and therefore subject to caste-based selection. Deploying state-selected teachers to rural schools in areas where they have no caste-based affiliation makes it a losing proposition from the get-go, according to some experts. Detractors contend that delegating teacher-selection to each panchayat will make it subject to bribes and corruption. But as one official in the Administrative Reforms Commission put it, small-scale rural corruption (with some accountability) is better than the large-scale corruption (with no local accountability.)

Panchayat leaders who don’t have a say in the kind of teachers their village-schools attract end up focusing on infrastructure and other issues within their purview. Women panchayat leaders talk about building separate bathrooms for girls, which studies have shown will reduce the number of female drop-outs after puberty. They bring safe drinking water to their students. All these are not just palliatives, but are necessary developments in rural education.

It is easy to be cynical about yet another federal election that promises improvements to local government and to the lot of women. This time may be different, not just because of the number of women in parliament and the panchayats, but also because Rahul Gandhi, a rising star in Congress politics, is tapped to oversee the rural government portfolio. One can only hope that the Gandhi scion will free the portfolio of its state-level stranglehold and pass along more power to the people. Non-partisan economists have long called for decentralized local governance as the only way to speed up the impact of reforms. To that, I would add two other objectives: wider access to micro-loans as an enabler, and genuinely empowering women in local governments to succeed.

—Published: May 21, 2009 in India Knowledge@Wharton

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