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A Day in Karamah

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    Women Should Be More Than Window Dressing

    Jedi Ramalapa interviews Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS

    JOHANNESBURG, Nov 18 (IPS) - Women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to the effects of crisis - be that climate change, food price hikes, the HIV/AIDS pandemic or the global recession. It is becoming more commonplace to hear women's testimony, but are women's voices heard when it comes to deciding on solutions?

    IPS spoke to Ingrid Srinath, chief executive officer and secretary general of CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, about women's exclusion from decision-making in global forums. Excerpts of the interview follow.

    IPS: How do you think the issue of women and climate change has been dealt with so far?

    INGRID SRINATH: I think with most of the global issues we're dealing with, whether it's climate or financial reform or any of those global issues, women continue to be under-represented.

    In the climate debate, this is partly structural. I think civil society per se is largely marginal and within civil society at some level women continue to be marginalised.

    Especially when the debate gets technical, there is an attempt with some of these global issues to make the focus of the debate the economic impact, and restrict it to (questions of) where is the money is going come from to fund mitigation and adaptation, rather than take a holistic view of the impact of any of these crises.

    And as soon as that happens, there is a tendency for this to become more Northern, more male, more technical, and then marginalise women even further.

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    Trying to give sex workers safer alternatives in South Africa

    JOHANNESBURG, 17 November 2009 (PlusNews) - A plan by Malawi to offer prostitutes low-interest loans to start small businesses in return for abandoning sex work is generating controversy in a country where women are disproportionately affected by high rates of poverty and HIV.

    "Most [sex workers] leave school at an early age, get pregnant, and then have to provide for a child, so they end up on the streets as a way to earn a bit of money," said Ayam Maeresa, special assistant to the Minister of Gender, Children and Community Development, Patricia Kaliati, who proposed the plan after discussions with sex workers, most of whom said they had been driven into prostitution by poverty.

    The plan aims to economically empower female sex workers and reduce the spread of HIV, but critics question whether it can achieve either of these goals when there are so few opportunities for Malawian women to earn more than they do from prostitution.

    "If we help them to get out of this trade, we'll also be helping to control the spread of HIV," Maeresa told IRIN/PlusNews.  He was vague about what type of businesses the women would be encouraged to set up, saying only that several NGOs had indicated they would provide business management training.

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    UN-INSTRAW's 3rd Virtual Dialogue

    The experts in UN-INSTRAW’s Gender Training Community of Practice will meet virtually to discuss about the empowerment of women for their leadership and political participation.
    The Third Virtual Dialogue aims to gather more information about the current situation of gender training in this area and to offer a platform where gender training specialists and researchers can exchange their experiences and outline the major achievements, challenges and lessons learned.

    In the last decade women’s participation in Latin America has grown in average from 9% to 14% in ministerial positions, from 5% to 13% in senate and from 8% to 15% in lower chambers. At the same time, this increase in political participation has seen a parallel loss of credibility of the traditional political participation systems, a gap that has partly been filled by social movements, including women’s movements. In this new democratic wave, women have flourished as voters with decision making power, political leaders and coordinators of grass roots movements.

    However, there are still many challenges to reach gender equality in political participation world-wide. Women still remain underrepresented in decision-making and leadership positions; in the field of economics, finance and in political institutions; and even in civil society organizations.
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    2009 Global Gender Gap Report

    New York, USA, 27 OctoberIceland (1) has claimed the top spot of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2009 from Norway (3) which slipped to third position behind Finland (2). Sweden (4) completed the Nordic countries’ continued dominance of the top four.  The report’s Index assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities.

    South Africa and Lesotho made great strides in closing their gender gaps to enter the top 10, at sixth and 10th position respectively.  The latest data reveals that South Africa in particular made significant improvements in female labour force participation. Gains for women in parliament and women ministers in the new government also helped close the gender gap in the country.  The Philippines (9) lost ground for the first time in four years but remains the leading Asian country in the rankings.


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    Single Women Break Their Silence, Challenge Societal Norms

    By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

    NEW DELHI, Oct 22 (IPS) - It has been more than eight years since the January 2001 earthquake struck the Indian state of Gujarat, but Hansa Rathore still cannot quite shake off memories of that not too distant past — all because it left her a widow.

    Twenty-nine-year-old Rathore was just one of thousands of women widowed in the deadly earthquake, one of the worst in India's recorded history. The disaster that left nearly 20,000 people dead in its wake changed her life forever.

    "My mother was widowed in the same calamity; my house was destroyed and I had no means to feed my nine-month -old son," she recalls.

    She soon learned what it meant to survive in a cloistered conservative community that socially ostracised widows, imposing cruel restrictions on them. "I got no help from my in-laws and was forced to shelter literally in the open, rigging up a makeshift room with sacks and a tin roof. I had no access to work, food or health services for my son, who became very ill," she states.

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    Women take on men's jobs to feed their families

    NAIROBI, 15 October 2009 (IRIN) - Khadijo Mahamud, a mother of five, goes to Bakara market every day to look for work, despite the constant shelling. Her youngest child is 10 months old but Mahamud knows she has no choice but to leave him with her 10-year-old and venture out to find food for the family.

    “I have to leave the children and try and find something for them to eat; I will do almost any job," she told IRIN on 14 October. "Some days I get to wash clothes, but other days I work as a porter or clean stores.”

    On a good day, Mahamud makes 50,000 Somali shillings (US$1.50). “There are days I don’t make even that much.”

    Like Mahamud, a growing number of women in Mogadishu has been pushed into tasks that were traditionally considered men's work, such as serving as porters and pushing handcarts in the market.

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    Microfinance Innovator Ririra Challenges Marginalization of Women


    Dr. Jennifer Riria was moved to tears – and not tears of joy – listening to the roundtable of African presidents at the annual Corporate Council on Africa summit, held this year in Washington DC.

    The next day, at a plenary on women and economic development, she expressed dismay that the presidents of Congo (Brazzaville), Ghana, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe, while discussing agriculture and food security issues, had made not a single mention of Africa’s women.

    The status of women in a society, Riria said in a fiery call to action for women’s empowerment, is a barometer of the health of the society. Excerpts fro her prepared remarks at the Corporate Council on Africa’s 2009 Summit.

    The African woman is a neglected and ignored economic force.  A society, a political system or an approach that relegates women at the bottom will never achieve the millennium development goals. The position of women is a barometer of the condition of society.

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    Glimmers of Hope Amid an Elusive Peace in Bangladesh

    Catherine Makino interviews leading Bangladeshi human rights activist SULTANA KAMAL

    TOKYO, Sep 22 (IPS) - Sultana Kamal dreams of a country "where every single citizen will live in democracy, in equality" and where everyone has "equal share to resources and opportunities." Fulfilling this dream has been her lifelong advocacy as a human rights advocate.

    The former adviser to the caretaker government of Bangladesh has served as a United Nations legal consultant for Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong. As a legal practitioner, she is committed to providing legal services to the poor and underprivileged.

    Kamal joined the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, which pitted the West Pakistan (now Pakistan) against East Pakistan, resulting in the latter’s secession as an independent state, now called Bangladesh. Among others, she helped collect information for the guerilla forces, Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army), and gave shelter to people displaced by the conflict.

    Kamal completed her law degree at Dhaka University in 1978, and later a master’s degree in Women and Development Studies in the Netherlands.

    She has played a key role in bringing to international attention the long drawn-out conflict involving the indigenous people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the south-eastern region of Bangladesh. Even after a peace accord was signed in 1997, violations of human rights in the region persisted and peace remains elusive.

    Some critics warned that Bangladesh could become the next Sri Lanka, which only recently emerged from a decades-long civil war.

    Kamal, who was in Japan in mid-September, shared with IPS her aspirations for her country and what she hoped a developed country like Japan could do.

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    Women Judges Not Enough; Gender Awareness Training Needed

    By Marcela Valente

    BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 (IPS) - For Argentina’s justice system to truly incorporate a gender perspective, more important than overcoming the male-female imbalance in the higher rungs of the judicial branch is providing gender-awareness training for judges of both sexes so that it is reflected in their rulings, experts say.

    "We’re not satisfied with the number of women currently holding positions in the justice system, but if what we want is for rulings to have a gender perspective, then what we need to do is provide training for both women and men judges," said Natalia Gherardi, head of Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género (ELA), a Buenos Aires-based non-governmental organisation that promotes the incorporation of gender awareness in public policies, focusing on the justice system.

    In a conversation with IPS, Gherardi said that in Argentina, like in the rest of Latin America, the proportion of women occupying positions in the judicial branch "is not representative of the number of women who graduate from law school," where for the past 20 years women have consistently outnumbered men.

    However, few women law professionals make it to the highest-ranking positions in the judicial branch. In its 2005-2008 Gender and Human Rights Report, released on Sept. 7, ELA indicates that only 20 percent of the judges serving on the Supreme Court and the high courts of the country’s 23 provinces are women.

    This figure does not reflect recent gains, such as the appointment of two women justices to the Supreme Court, or the setbacks in seven provinces - 30 percent of the country - where no women currently sit on the high courts.

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