Gender & Human Rights

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Inside Israel’s campaign to deport tens of thousands of African migrants


African migrants from Eritrea and elsewhere could face indefinite detention if they choose to stay.

EL AVIV, Israel — Father Tesfayohanns Tesfamariam has always prayed his way through the darkest days. Growing up in Eritrea — a small East African country run by one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships — he prayed to God to find freedom.

When he fled Eritrea, as tens of thousands of others have to escape the slavery-like military conscription there, he prayed for God’s protection. When he was then trapped by human traffickers and tortured by smugglers in Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — the physical and psychological wounds from which are still raw today — he prayed for the strength to survive.

When the priest made it across the border into Israel in 2010, he prayed that he would finally be safe.

And Tesfamariam, 44, was relatively safe, for eight years. Many people don’t know it, but Israel — home to the world’s largest Jewish community — also houses an estimated 40,000 African refugees who started arriving in the country en masse in the mid-2000s to escape war, economic hardship, and persecution.

In the southern part of Tel Aviv, Israel’s vibrant commercial capital, African food stands are a common sight. The streets echo with many languages, including Tigrinya, which many people speak in Eritrea, and Arabic, which is spoken in Sudan.

But all of that may soon change because of Israel’s new, and deeply controversial, push to rid the country of its African asylum seekers. Israel says they are economic migrants that the Jewish state can’t and shouldn’t have to care for; critics say Israel’s moves violate international law by denying legitimate asylum claims and deporting people to countries where they’ll be unsafe again.

This month, Israel started issuing deportation orders that present a bleak choice: take $3,500 and leave — or face imprisonment. The issue has divided Israelis as well as the larger Jewish community; some argue that Israel’s identity as a refuge for persecuted Jews should extend to non-Jewish asylum seekers as well.

The problem for Tesfamariam is that a majority of Israelis seem to support the government push to deport the Africans. Sixty-six percent of Jewish Israelis (and half of Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population) favor the deportation plans, according to a late January poll by the Israel Democracy Institute.

It’s part of a worldwide wave of anti-immigrant fervor that is playing out in dozens of countries ranging from smaller places like Hungary to larger powers like the US.

The stakes extend well beyond Tesfamariam and his community of Eritrean refugees. If Israel continues to deport Africans, it will be another sign of how the Jewish state is solidifying a more right-wing nationalist identity and an increasingly closed conception of who belongs and deserves rights.

But if asylum seekers and activist groups in Israel succeed in blocking the effort, it could rejuvenate the more liberal parts of Israel’s civil society that have struggled to build broad enough coalitions for nationwide change. In the meantime, Tesfamariam — and tens of thousands of Africans — are waiting and watching to see which way the country goes.

“They have no idea what is waiting for them on the other side,” he said in a hushed voice.

A country created to take in persecuted Jews is struggling with how to take in persecuted Africans

In Europe last year, about 90 percent of the tens of thousands of Eritreans who applied for asylum were allowed in. In Israel, just 10 Eritreans and one Sudanese person have received asylum since 2009.

That reflects how Israel — a country built to be a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution — is struggling to develop its own policies toward non-Jews seeking asylum amid fears of losing its Jewish majority.

Instead, the country’s law classifies the mainly Eritreans and Sudanese who have crossed over from Egypt in recent years as “infiltrators” — a term first used in the 1950s to refer to Palestinians who would infiltrate from the then-Jordanian-controlled West Bank to attack Israel.

This wave of Africans have been trying to make their way into Israel since about 2006, and by 2012, roughly 60,000 Africans had succeeded. That influx largely ended around 2013, when Israel completed construction of a wall along its southern border with Egypt.

But the wall didn’t fix the question of what to do with the Africans who were already there. So Israel developed different policies along the way, making life harder and harder for those who stayed in an effort to coerce them into leaving, according to Human Rights Watch.

“These [methods] include indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9 percent of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare,” a 2014 HRW report found.

Over the years, new laws have meant more paperwork and rules that people have to follow to avoid being deported. In 2013, Israel built Holot, an open-air detention center in the south for men; those who didn’t report when summoned could be imprisoned or deported. (In 2015, Israel’s supreme court ruled that African refugees and migrants could only be held there for 12 months.)

Last year, Israel enacted new legislation adding an extra tax on the salaries of asylum seekers, most of whom were already working menial and low-paying jobs. (Asylum seekers aren’t technically supposed to work, but the government allows it in some circumstances.) The law made it more expensive for employers to hire asylum seekers and created a new fund where 20 percent of each person’s monthly salary is set aside — to be accessed only once they’ve left Israel.

This last part is crucial: The government is using money to pressure people to leave — a process that human rights groups say violates international law because they’re being sent to countries that can’t ensure their safety.

A few years ago, Israel started offering asylum seekers $5,000 and a plane ticket to undisclosed countries in Africa, widely known to be Rwanda and Uganda. The Israeli government denies that it is deporting anyone against their will and insists that Rwanda and Uganda, with which Israel has warming ties, are safe.

But Africans who have taken the money and left Israel, and human rights groups that have monitored what happens next, warn that the reality is quite different. Once in Rwanda or Uganda, the asylum seekers have had their money and paperwork stolen and have often become ensnared in human trafficking.

In one particularly brutal case, at least three Eritreans who left Israel and then tried their luck on the migrant trail to Europe were beheaded by ISIS in Libya in 2015; relatives recognized their faces from pictures and videos ISIS posted online.

About 20,000 Africans have left Israel in recent years, according to the Israeli government.

In February, Israel began issuing deportation orders to some people renewing their visas, giving them 60 days to take the money and leave or be imprisoned. The government says that for now it is only deporting single men who had open asylum applications as of the start of 2018.

But African refugees of all nationalities, including the estimated 6,000 children who have been born in Israel, are scared for their future.

Israel is the latest country to adopt harshly anti-immigrant policies

The debate over what to do about Israel’s asylum seekers has divided the country and Jewish communities in America and raised larger questions about Israel’s identity and Jewish values.

On one side is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Israel’s veteran kingpin currently battling several corruption cases — who has blamed Africans for crime in Israel and stirred up his voter base by using racially charged language and promising to deport the asylum seekers. He’s backed by members of his far-right ruling coalition, including culture and sports minister Miri Regev, who has likened the Africans to “a cancer.”

This summer, Netanyahu toured the southern part of Tel Aviv, where the government initially sent Africans to live, and promised its Israeli residents that the government would “give back” the area. Some of southern Tel Aviv’s Jewish residents, many of whose families were immigrants to Israel only decades ago, have been organizing against the growing African community in the neighborhood. (Men who have served time in Holot are legally banned from living in Tel Aviv, though many do anyway, as it’s easier to find work there.)

Israeli politicians may not see much to gain in today’s coalitions by speaking out against the deportations. But a determined sector of Israelis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is organizing against it by drawing on the Jewish people’s own history of repression and the Holocaust that preceded Israel’s creation.

Rabbis both in Israel and abroad have signed petitions opposing the plan and pledging to hide Africans in their homes to prevent their deportation — citing Anne Frank’s story as precedent. Pilots from Israel’s national airline, El Al, have called for a boycott of flights with deportees (a gesture activists lauded, though they then pointed out that El Al isn’t actually chartering those flights). On February 24, an estimated 20,000 Israelis joined Eritreans for a solidarity march through southern Tel Aviv.

At a protest in Jerusalem in February, one of the organizers, 18-year-old Omer Leven, told me he’d been moved to stand up against the deportations because “we have to do something about it.” As in similar events, Israelis at the rally chanted in defense of human and refugee rights and accused the government of racism.

Some of the slogans, like “human rights for all” or “racist government, don’t deport the refugees” were reminiscent of chants at protests against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories — an issue that’s all but taboo to talk about in mainstream Israel circles today.

Leven, who wants to be a combat soldier during his mandatory military service, said he sees the two issues as very different. “We decided that what we are doing here has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “It’s about basic human rights.”

African refugees are fighting to preserve their new lives in Israel

African refugees in Israel have been living for years with talk of deportations. Humor sometimes helps people cope with those fears: Some Eritreans now joke when making plans with friends that they should hang out “before they deport us.”

Others are buckling under the pressure. Israel has never been an easy place for single Eritrean men, who, after surviving the perilous trek to Israel, have struggled to get by with low-paying work and without social and familial ties.

Fed up and without hope, some have taken the money to leave, and others say they’d rather leave than face jail. Earlier this month, hundreds of African asylum seekers in Holot started a hunger strike after seven men there were transferred to the nearby Saharonim Prison for refusing to be deported.

But now a new generation of Eritrean activists across Israel is working to organize coalitions against the deportations, educate community members about their rights and what awaits them, and make sure people’s paperwork is up to date.

One of those activists is 29-year-old Teklit Michael, who was once one of the fastest runners in Eritrea until he fled to avoid military and religious persecution. Today he’s constantly fielding interview requests amid his full-time job as a coordinator at a center for embattled Eritreans.

“The people deported to Rwanda and Uganda have no protection,” Michael told me. “They could face torture and slavery.”

Tesfamariam, the priest, understands why many in the community are now angry and scared after years trying to rebuild their lives amid all the uncertainty in Israel.

“Nobody hears their cries,” he said.

Tesfamariam works at a nondescript Eritrean church in Tel Aviv without drawing a salary; he moonlights as a plumber to earn enough money to pay his rent. He told me that he’s willing to go to jail rather than leave the country, but he worries about what will happen to others who choose to take the money to leave Israel.

In Libya, his torturers targeted him for being a Christian; he’s worried that the Eritreans in his community, too, will face further danger if they fall back into the hands of human traffickers.

In the meantime, he’s keeping the faith that God will provide. His source of strength is his church, known for its opposition to the Eritrean government. A decade ago, the Eritrean government arrested the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, put him under house arrest, and targeted church members who didn’t accept his replacement. Tesfamariam and Michael were among those who never did. Now they can worship freely here, in exile in southern Tel Aviv. It’s all that Tesfamariam has to depend on after everything that’s passed.

“This church serves the people who have become victims,” said Tesfamariam, taking a break from early morning Saturday prayer to speak to me. “We have to stand with our people. We have to stand with the victims.”


Miriam Berger is a freelance journalist with a focus on people and politics in the Middle East. She is currently based in Jerusalem.


By            :               Miriam Berger

Date         :               March 6, 2018

Source     :               VOX

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‘Unequal Realities’ Hold Back Rural Women, Says UN On Eve of Women’s Confab


In the run up to International Women’s Day on March 8, the United Nations is renewing its call for concrete actions to address the plight of rural women who make up over a quarter of the world population yet are being left behind in every measure of development.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. This will also be the focus of the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from March 12 to 23.

This year’s International Women’s Day comes on the heels of an unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. This has taken the form of global marches and campaigns, including #MeToo and #TimesUp in the U.S. and their counterparts in other countries, on issues ranging from sexual harassment and femicide to equal pay and women’s political representation

UN Women Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka applauded a new era for women displaying “a remarkable gathering of strength, speaking with one voice, calling for opportunity and accountability, drawing momentum from grassroots networks and coalitions that stretch right up to government leadership.”

But rural women, “face unequal day-to-day realities because of entrenched socio-cultural norms and practices. There is an urgent need to step up efforts with concrete actions (to) fulfil the commitments made to rural women in Africa,” noted the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA).

“Rural women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force,” affirmed a research and documentation centre in Nigeria. “Yet they lack access to agricultural inputs and finance, they have less than 14 percent land holding rights, while culture, tradition and discriminatory laws deny women equal access to government programs at national and state levels.”

In Nigeria, over 90 percent of land is held and controlled by men while women as wives or daughters in many communities have little control over such lands, added Mimido Akchapa of Women Rights to Education (WREP) of Benue, Nigeria.

“They continue to suffer in silence due to discrimination on the basis of gender and not because they have less strength or intelligence to perform rural activities in the agricultural value chain,” the Benue women’s group said. “This has negative implications for basic food production and the eradication of poverty.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a message ahead of the International Women’s Day: “Let me be clear: this is not a favour to women. Gender equality is a human rights issue, but it is also in all our interests: men and boys, women and girls.”

He added: “There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.”

At this crucial moment for women’s rights, he said, it is time for men to stand with women, listen to them and learn from them. “Transparency and accountability are essential if women are to reach their full potential and lift all of us, in our communities, societies and economies.”


By            :               Lisa Vives (Global Information Network)

Source     :     

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U.S. Gun Violence Draws Scorn in China as a Human Rights Issue


HONG KONG — A newspaper controlled by the Communist Party of China criticized the United States for its high level of gun violence, calling it hypocritical that a country that condemns others over human rights violations is failing to stem such slaughter at home.

The opinion column in The Global Times, which is run by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily Group, said that after a gunman killed 17 people last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the United States should look to China, which has strict controls on guns.

“It’s inhumane for the U.S., which boasts about its human rights record, to turn a blind eye to gun violence, snub increasing calls for gun control and risk more innocent lives,” the piece said.

The column on guns appeared Friday in the English-language edition of the newspaper, but not in the Chinese print version. While The Global Times is controlled by the Communist Party, it is not an authoritative voice, meaning its pugnacious opinion pieces don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Chinese government in the way a commentary in The People’s Daily would.

Still, the view that guns are a human rights issue in the United States is regularly stated by official sources in China. China’s annual report on human rights in the United States, which it issues in response to the State Department’s reports on China’s human rights situation, usually mentions gun violence.

“In 2016, the U.S. government exercised no effective control over guns, law enforcement departments abused their power, and crimes were not effectively contained,” said the most recent report on human rights in the United States from China’s State Council Information Office. “As a result, civil rights, especially the right to life, were seriously threatened and people’s personal rights were continuously infringed upon.”

The Global Times regularly covers gun violence in the United States, publishing a commentary after the deadly shootings at a church in Texas in November and a lengthy analysis after the Orlando, Fla., nightclub killings in 2016.

“Gun ownership in China is strictly regulated, which helps reduce gun-related crimes and deaths,” the latest commentary said. “The U.S. should learn from China and genuinely protect human rights.”

While China has tight controls on firearms and gun crimes are rare, shootings with illegal firearms do sometimes happen. Knives are the most common weapon used in attacks, leaving unarmed people better able to defend themselves. On Feb. 11 a man with a knife attacked shoppers at a Beijing mall, killing one person and injuring 12 others. Some shoppers and one security guard were seen fending of the assailant with stools and chairs.

Terrorist attacks on civilians have sometimes been carried out in China by groups armed with knives, including an attack on a train station in Kunming that killed 31 people in 2014.

The killings at Stoneman Douglas High School occurred just as China prepared to celebrate the Lunar New Year, and as a result weren’t widely covered or discussed by the Chinese news media. Some Chinese outlets, including the overseas edition of The People’s Daily, did make note of the death of Peter Wang, a Chinese-American student who was credited with holding open a door to help students flee as the attacker fired.

Mr. Wang, 15, was born in Brooklyn and spent some of his childhood in China, friends and family told The Miami Herald. He was a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet who dreamed of one day attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. The academy issued him a ceremonial letter of acceptance, saying his actions showed commitment to “duty, honor and country.”



By            :               Austin Ramzy

Date         :               February 23, 2018

Source     :               The New York Times

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How Removal of Immigrant Fathers Harms the Sexual Health and Wellbeing of their daughters


By        :           Kate Coleman-Minahan, University of Colorado College of Nursing, Goleen Samari, University of California San Francisco

U.S.-born Mariela, now 31, described her Mexican immigrant father as “an awesome dad.” But he was deported when she was 11 years old, just beginning her adolescent years. After her mother remarried, Mariela described her new stepfather as strict. “He wouldn’t let us talk to our dad so it was hard because at that point, I was already like 12 or 13. And obviously my dad to me was everything.” She continued, “My mom and my stepdad were kind of strict with me. I think that’s one of the reasons that I kind of got married early was not just because, obviously because I love my husband, but I also wanted to get out of the house.” By age 14, Mariela was sneaking out and had sex for the first time. She married at 15 and was pregnant by 17.

Our research explores the quality of father-daughter relationships among Mexican-origin immigrant families and examines how relationships between fathers and daughters influence early sexual initiation. We analyzed data about 398 Mexican-origin young women in the 1994-2008 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, and from face-to-face interviews with 21 Mexican-origin women recruited by immigrant-serving organizations. Families are multigenerational and immigration policies that keep families intact can improve the health of both children and parents. Social policies that keep families together and economic policies that give families access to safe and productive employment have direct implications for children and adolescents. The exploitation of immigrants and policies that cause family separation undermine the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.

Father-Daughter Relationships among Mexican Immigrants

Daughters who participated in our interviews usually described relationships with their fathers in positive terms – and a number of participants referred to themselves as “daddy’s little girl.” Fathers were described as sacrificing for the family by working hard for long hours. They were said to be engaged in their daughters’ education, providing love and affection. Like relationships in all families regardless of ethnicity and immigration status, these relationships included moments of frustration and disappointment. Yet, with their own words, daughters refuted stereotypes that paint Mexican immigrant fathers as sexist and emotionally unavailable.

The minority of daughters who reported emotionally distant or hostile relationships frequently described fathers who worked long grueling hours and faced economic exploitation at their jobs. “Survival parenting” may be more profound among immigrant families who lack resources such as housing subsidies and food stamps, and work in jobs where they deal with wage theft, mandatory and unpaid overtime, and exposure to occupational hazards. Such working conditions drain time and energy that immigrant parents might otherwise spend with their children.

Family Separations Increase the Risk of Early Sexual Initiation

Although the U.S. teen birth rate has been decreasing, Latina adolescents have the highest birth rates in the country. Early sexual initiation increases the risk of teen pregnancies and births, and adolescents in low-income families and those who are separated from a parent are at higher risk for early sexual initiation. Regardless of family income, race, or ethnicity, all adolescents need supportive family environments to support their growth and sexual health decision-making.

Notably, our study finds that positive relationships between fathers and daughters are associated with a later age of the daughter’s sexual initiation. Characteristics of good father-daughter relationships – sacrificing for the family, encouraging academic success, and providing emotional support – may help adolescents delay sex. We also find that separating fathers from daughters increases the risk of early sexual initiation. Prior studies have documented that supportive fathers can protect against risky sexual behavior, even when fathers do not live with their children. But these studies only include U.S.-born families and do not consider the extra strain for fathers and daughters who are separated by national borders. Close relationships are difficult to maintain when children cannot regularly see their parent.

Deportations of supportive fathers without criminal records are on the rise. Will this lead to more risky sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infections and teen births? One of our participants was born in Mexico, migrated to the U.S. when she was three, and is now a U.S. citizen with a degree in political science. When asked what she thought of the high Latina teen birth rate she replied, “…more than anything else, I think it starts with the family. And for those girls who don’t have that… usually the males get deported before the females, the dads get deported. So what’s going to happen with these girls? Is that going to make… [adolescent births] triple?”

Improving Father-Daughter Relationships and Adolescent Health

Immigration reforms such as the DREAM Act that promote family reunification can improve adolescent health, including reducing risky sexual behaviors in three ways:

Protecting parents from deportation means that families stay intact – and fewer separations of parents from their children means lower risks to the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents.

Fewer families will live in fear if there are legislated protections for undocumented parents and children. Fear of deportation has negative health consequences for children and adolescents, because fear increases anxiety and depression and may lead to poor school performance.

Immigration reform that allows and promotes legal employment can prevent workplace exploitation, including wage theft or exposure to occupational hazards. Healthy parents with more time at home can better parent their children.

Strong families are valued by Americans regardless of political party. Immigration reform that protects families – not just children – is crucial to the wellbeing of young people and parents. In turn, strong families reinforce America’s social fabric and boost the economy for everyone.


Read more in Kate Coleman-Minahan and Goleen Samari, “‘He Supported Me 100%’: Mexican-Immigrant Fathers, Daughters, and Adolescent Sexual Health” Ethnicity & Health 23 (2018).



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How the global women’s movement shaped the UN international development agenda


Amid conservative backlash against women’s rights, how did feminist advocates ensure that the sustainable development goals focused on gender equality?

Women’s rights are under attack around the globe, with progress threatened in many countries. Yet feminist organisations continue to fight back, mobilising and forming new alliances. At this challenging moment, much can be learned from the success of the global women’s movement which profoundly influenced the United Nations’ current international development agenda.

Agreed in 2015 by 193 governments, this agenda guides global development policies, programs, and financing until 2030. Its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets focus on challenges including poverty, climate change, world peace, and gender equality. Unlike the previous millennium development goals, women’s rights underpin much of this agenda.

Amid conservative backlash against women’s rights, how did feminist advocates ensure that the SDGs focused on gender equality and other issues critically important to women? What strategies did the women’s movement use to influence this agenda?

Last year, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) published a study – “Power Lessons: Women’s Advocacy and the 2030 Agenda” – on precisely these questions. Along with a related, short film, it documents and reflects on the years of analysis, coordination, alliance-building, and engagement with policy-makers that went into shaping the agreement.

UN negotiations have challenging, fast-paced dynamics and are often New York-based, limiting the participation of small and local women’s rights groups particularly in the Global South. This is one of the challenges that the Women’s Major Group (WMG) – a coalition of more than 600 women’s organisations and networks from around the world – sought to tackle.

The group, which is the focus of IWHC’s study, restructured its leadership to include regional representation, and raised money for women from the Global South to travel to attend the SDG talks. Online organising enabled virtual participation. One WMG member said: “It became easy because people felt included and valued for their contributions.”

The WMG also brought together activists and organisations working across different issues and representing diverse peoples. They embraced others’ concerns, learning from each others’ areas of expertise. One participant said: “This is the story of the beauty of engaging more and more organisations and seeing what the added value is and how different people of different networks work.”

More than three years before the 2030 agenda was finalised, women’s groups held regional and global strategy meetings to start linking issues, prioritising demands, and developing clear, unified positions.

“The women’s movement pulled something off which a lot of people would have thought wasn’t possible, which was to actually develop one single common platform of women’s rights,” said another participant. “It covered every single issue that we knew was in play. That was extremely hard to do.”

The WMG also skillfully mapped allies in government and UN agencies, and developed technical language for negotiators to use in talks. “We talked to every government that was present in these negotiations to say, ‘This is what we want, and this is why it’s so important,’” said one member.

Lessons we can draw from this experience include: the significance of building transparent and inclusive structures and processes; organising early; prioritising demands; developing clear, unified positions; identifying champions; building relationships; and putting persistent pressure on decision-makers.

Of course, the women’s movement also faced a number of challenges. The IWHC study for instance identified fierce opposition on sexual and reproductive rights, as well as resistance to progressive demands related to global financial structures and systems.

Women’s groups had to balance bold demands with political pragmatism – working within the boundaries of what governments might realistically accept, while still pushing the agenda as far as possible. Despite continual fundraising, limited budgets were an ongoing constraint.

Women described solidarity and advocacy on the SDGs as an example of what can happen when feminist organisations come together to use a political opportunity to fight for rights and social justice. The impact they had shows the power and necessity of strong women’s rights movements.

The 2030 agenda is not perfect. But gender equality is woven throughout its goals and targets.

Amid volatile geopolitics and narrowing space for civil society, feminist advocates will need to sustain the intersectional approach they took to influence the SDGs. Inevitably, governments will “cherry pick” the most politically expedient goals and targets to focus on.

Some states are already backtracking on critical issues, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, property rights, and challenges to the economic status quo globally and nationally.

At the same time, some governments are taking action and reallocating funds, showing political will to implement the SDGs. Feminists should take advantage of such opportunities and push to ensure that the goals are realised.

They must continue to work together, champion each other’s issues, and monitor SDG implementation at the local level. In the words of one advocate: “We’ve built our solidarity in ways that others haven’t… we should recognise that, and figure out how to sustain that power.”



By            :               Michelle Truong and Susan Wood

Date         :               March 6, 2018

Source     :               Open Democracy

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Gender inequality begins with bedtime stories


We all know how the children’s fairy tale usually ends: “the beautiful princess and the handsome Prince Charming married and lived happily ever after.”

But according to a new report, this sort of gender stereotyping we feed to children under three – conscious or unconscious – plays a part in contributing to domestic violence in Australia, where on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.

The gender report by Our Watch, a non-profit chaired by former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, to prevent violence against women and children, is launched on Wednesday in time for International Women’s day tomorrow, March 8. It will also launch a digital campaign, #Becausewhy to support parents to challenge limiting gender stereotypes.

As OurWatch Abassador Tasma Walton said: “For the most part, in both classic and contemporary tales, women and girls either have a peripheral role or are portrayed as stereotypically feminine. The princesses, the stepmothers, the cheerleaders, the maids; waiting for princes, sitting on the sidelines or cleaning up the mess.

“The brave, heroic ones, getting their hands dirty and leading from the front, are almost always male. And the quirky ones, or silly ones, or clever ones, or naughty ones are also mostly male.”

In early 2017, Our Watch conducted a national survey to ask 858 parents of children aged under three, what they thought about gender equality and violence against women, how they divided key household tasks and childrearing responsibilities within their family, and whether they believe that gender has an impact on their children.

The report Challenging gender stereotypes in the early years: the power of parents, showed that parents of young girls were more comfortable with the idea of them engaging in masculine-typed play, such as playing with trucks, whereas parents of young boys had lower levels of comfort in regard to their sons’ participation in feminine-typed play, such as playing with dolls.

Furthermore, more mothers were comfortable with the idea of their child acting in opposition to gender stereotypes than fathers, for example, more mothers than fathers were comfortable with the idea of their young sons crying when feeling sad.


By            :               Helen Pitt

Date         :               March 6, 2018

Source     :               The Sydney Morning Herald


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Single Mothers Are Not the Problem


No group is as linked to poverty in the American mind as single mothers. For decades, politicians, journalists and scholars have scrutinized the reasons poor couples fail to use contraception, have children out of wedlock and do not marry.

When the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution formed a bipartisan panel of prominent poverty scholars to write a “Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty” in 2015, its first recommendation was to “promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage.”

The reality, however, is that single motherhood is not the reason we have unusually high poverty in the United States, compared with other rich democracies. In fact, we recently published a study in The American Journal of Sociology, using data from the Luxembourg Income Study, which demonstrates that reducing single motherhood here would not substantially reduce poverty.

Single-mother families are a surprisingly small share of our population. Among households headed by working-age adults, 8.8 percent of people lived in single-mother households in 2013 — the most recent year we were able to analyze. The share of people in single-mother households actually declined from 10.5 percent in 1980 and has increased only modestly since 1970, when it was 7.4 percent. True, compared with other rich democracies, America does have a relatively high portion of families headed by single mothers. Nevertheless, we still fall below Ireland and Britain and are quite similar to Australia and Iceland.

Because fewer people are in single-mother families than you’d think, even large reductions in single motherhood would not substantially reduce poverty. We can illustrate this in two ways. First, what would the poverty rate be if single motherhood in the United States was as common as it is in the typical rich democracy? Second, what would poverty in America be if single motherhood returned to the rate it was in 1970?

If single motherhood in the United States were in the middle of the pack among rich democracies instead of the third highest, poverty among working-age households would be less than 1 percentage point lower — 15.4 percent instead of 16.1 percent. If we returned to the 1970 share of single motherhood, poverty would decline a tiny amount — from 16.1 percent to 15.98. If, magically, there were no single mothers in the United States, the poverty rate would still be 14.8 percent.

What really differentiates rich democracies is the penalty attached to single motherhood. Countries make political choices about how well social policies support single mothers. Our political choices result in families headed by single mothers being 14.3 percent more likely to be poor than other families.

Such a severe penalty is unusual. In a majority of rich democracies, single mothers are not more likely to be poor. Denmark, for example, has chosen to provide universal cash benefits and tax credits for children, publicly subsidized child care and health care, and paid parental leave. Because of these generous social policies, single mothers and their children have a similar level of economic security as other families.

A common knee-jerk reaction against generous social policies for single mothers is that they pose a moral hazard and encourage more single motherhood. The problem with this argument is that it is overwhelmingly contradicted by social science. Did the 1996 welfare reform, which made social policies less generous for single mothers, cause a large reduction in single motherhood? No. Do rich democracies with more generous policies for single mothers have more single mothers? No. Do rich democracies with higher penalties for single motherhood have fewer single mothers? No.

Single motherhood is one of four major risks of poverty, which also include unemployment, low levels of education and forming households at young ages. Our research demonstrates a broader point about the risks of poverty. Poverty in America is not unusually high because more people have more of these risk factors. They are actually less common here than they are in the typical rich democracy, and fewer Americans carry these risks today than they did in 1970 or 1980. Even if one infers that risk factors result from bad choices and behaviors, Americans apparently make fewer such choices and engage in fewer such behaviors than people in other rich democracies or than Americans in the past.

The reality is we have unusually high poverty because we have unusually high penalties for all four of these risk factors. For example, if you lack a high school degree in the United States, it increases the probability of your being in poverty by 16.4 percent. In the 28 other rich democracies, a lack of education increases the probability of poverty by less than 5 percent on average. No other country penalizes the less educated nearly as much as we do.

More generous social policies would reduce the penalty for all four risk factors. In fact, increasing the generosity of American social policies would lower poverty more than increasing high school graduation or employment, and more than decreasing the number of people heading a household at a young age or the number of single mothers. Nor would reducing these penalties encourage people to drop out of high school, be unemployed, form households too young or become single mothers.

Ultimately, there simply aren’t enough single mothers to explain our high poverty. Even if they all married or never had children, poverty would not be substantially lower. We should stop obsessing over how many single mothers there are and stop shaming them.

Instead — even though we all get sick of hearing about how great Scandinavian countries are at handling these issues — we should be following the lead of countries like Denmark. If we did, we could reduce poverty among all American families, including those headed by single mothers. No amount of stigmatization could do the same. Rather than falsely claiming that single motherhood is a major cause of poverty, we should support single mothers in raising America’s children.

David Brady is a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside; Ryan M. Finnigan is a sociologist at the University of California, Davis; and Sabine Hübgen is a research fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.


By            :               David Brady, Ryan M. Finnigan and Sabine Hubgen

Date         :               February 10, 2018

Source     :               The New York Times

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Policy | Leave a comment

How the Rohingya crisis is affecting Bangladesh — and why it matters


As of February 2018, the United Nations estimates that almost 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Burma’s violent campaign of ethnic cleansing. Almost universally, they’ve moved into refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

That is straining Bangladesh, which has absorbed a remarkable number of people in just six months, leading to desperately cramped conditions in the camps. Bangladesh is small, low-lying, under-resourced and overcrowded. And its leaders and citizens are growing impatient with the fallout of Burma’s purge of the Rohingya. Here are five ways this massive number of refugees is straining their host nation.

Political impact

When the military of Burma, also called Myanmar, launched its mass violence campaign in late August 2017, Bangladesh was initially reluctant to open its border to Rohingya refugees. Under international pressure, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quickly relented. Since then, Bangladesh has been unable to organize the international diplomatic support needed to decisively end the crisis.

With China and India both standing behind Burma, and a general election scheduled for later this year, Hasina’s government recently reached a controversial bilateral “arrangement” with authorities in Naypyidaw, Burma’s capital, to repatriate refugees. Dhaka initially insisted that repatriation be completed within two years — but the deal’s terms are ambiguous and impractical. Neither international organizations nor refugees were consulted in devising the plan. Many Rohingya are apprehensive about hasty forced repatriation, and opposition to the plan is growing within and beyond the camps.

Security challenges

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group, whose attacks on Burmese security posts last year triggered the army’s indiscriminate “clearance operations,” has pledged to continue its insurgent campaign against what it calls “Burmese state-sponsored terrorism.” The Bangladeshi security establishment is concerned both that ARSA will try to recruit within camps, and that it will use the camps as a base for cross-border fighting.

Is ARSA linked to other regional or international terrorist organizations? So far, that’s unclear. Shortly before the new year, al-Qaeda in the subcontinent issued a declaration urging Bangladeshi Muslims to mount an armed rebellion in support of the Rohingya. It’s hard to tell whether that resulted from links between the two groups. But extremist networks in Bangladesh and Burma, whether led by hard-line Islamist preachers or radical monks, are gaining influence.

Economic effects

Bangladesh’s GDP per capita is a meager $1,400. However, in 2016 the national economy grew by 7.1 percent, and the country has made remarkable progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. While extensive international humanitarian relief has poured in to support the refugees, that doesn’t cover all the economic costs to the government or to the border region’s Bangladeshi citizens. The influx’s full effect may not be apparent for some time.

The coastal town and beaches of Cox’s Bazar used to be Bangladesh’s main tourist destination; now the area is awash with foreign aid workers. The area’s hoteliers are prospering, and many Bangladeshis have found jobs with humanitarian organizations. But day laborers and poorer locals have complained about price hikes for basic goods and about losing work to refugees willing to accept far lower wages.

 Social strains

The refugees have changed the demographics of Bangladesh’s Ukhia and Teknaf areas, where Rohingya now outnumber locals 2 to 1. Of the approximately 900,000 Rohingya, 73 percent are living in new spontaneous settlements, 13 percent in makeshift settlements, 9 percent among host communities, and 5 percent in formal refugee camps. Kutupalong camp is the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.

Authorities want to prevent Rohingya from assimilating into the local population. Camps are educating the Rohingya in English and Burmese, but not in Bengali. New refugees are barred from Bangladeshi citizenship through either birth or marriage.

The birthrate among the Rohingya is also much higher than that of Bangladeshis; in 2018 alone, experts expect refugees to give birth to 48,000 babies — who will face severe risks of malnutrition, disease and death. After diphtheria broke out in December, authorities launched a massive vaccination campaign. Although immunization has long been available to Bangladeshis — including in rural areas — public health officials worry that waterborne and other communicable diseases might spread beyond the camps.

Refugees are also at risk for trafficking, including for sex, drugs and labor. Abul Kashem, head of Help Cox’s Bazar — a local nongovernmental organization working to prevent trafficking and raise awareness among youth — warns that organized crime networks are eager to exploit those displaced by the crisis.

Environmental destruction

The environmental impact of 1 million refugees is difficult to overstate. The U.N. Development Program recently released an environmental assessment, identifying 28 risk factors threatening biodiversity and human security. At the peak of the violence, each week some 100,000 Rohingya — mainly women and children — were crossing into Bangladesh. Where they settled, thousands of acres of national forests were cleared. Areas previously inhabited by wild elephants are now barren. The lush, green, hilly landscape has rapidly transformed into flattened stretches of red earth covered in tarp tents as far as the eye can see.

Bangladesh is highly susceptible to climate change. For years the country has been grappling with soil erosion, rising sea levels and frequent natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. Landslides are extremely likely; many worry about what will happen to the refugee settlements when the monsoon season arrives next month. Groundwater sources are quickly being depleted and freshwater streams have become contaminated. Air pollution in Ukhia and Tekfnaf has increased because of smoke from firewood burned by refugees and exhaust from thousands of trucks, jeeps, and cars bringing people and goods into the camps.

The dramatic environmental consequences of this massive migration and will last for years, affecting people who live inland in Bangladesh and beyond.

As the world continues to grapple with large-scale population movements across borders — whether because of conflict or Mother Nature — much deeper, context-specific research on political, economic, social, security and environmental impacts is imperative to helping neighboring countries manage protracted crises in humane and sustainable ways. This is essential to ensuring that refugees do not become scapegoats in host countries like Bangladesh, where frustration among ruling elites and the local population may result in the forced return or further dislocation of the already dispossessed Rohingya.

Mayesha Alam recently returned from conducting research fieldwork in Rohingya refugee settlements in Bangladesh. She is a Soros New American Fellow pursuing her PhD in political science at Yale University and the author of “Women and Transitional Justice” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 


By            :               Mayesha Alam

Date         :               February 12, 2018

Source     :               The Washington Post


Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Prosecuting ISIS crimes against women and LGBTIQ people would set a crucial precedent


A potentially precedent-setting petition at the International Criminal Court could help human rights advocates and survivors of gender-based crimes in conflict.

In Iraq, including in areas controlled by ISIS, women, girls, LGBTIQ persons, and people perceived as stepping outside of traditional gender roles have been targeted for violence on a staggering scale.

ISIS fighters have tortured women doctors and nurses who have not complied with rigid dress codes, when doing so would interfere with the performance of medical duties. They have executed women who resisted forced marriages, or who served as politicians. Men believed to be gay have been thrown off buildings. Women believed to be lesbians have been threatened with death. ISIS has killed youth because of alternative forms of personal expression, or refusals to join their militia, labeling them “faggots.”

War-time abuses against people who are marginalised within their societies are rarely documented. As a result, such violations are excluded from human rights discourse and from justice processes. In effect, they are left out of history.

For this reason, Iraqi activists, at great personal risk, have been documenting such crimes committed by ISIS but also by Iraqi government forces, and other militias. They have preserved critical information about perpetrators and larger criminal networks. Many have also provided shelter and safe passage to those at imminent risk of sexual slavery or murder.

On 8 November, a historic petition was also filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC), to advance protections of the rights of women and LGBTIQ people during conflict.

This petition was filed jointly by MADRE, the Human Rights and Gender Justice (HRGJ) Clinic of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, and the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), with assistance from the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. It argues that the international community should prosecute ISIS fighters for gender-based persecution and crimes including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Knowledge of egregious crimes committed against women and perceived or actual LGBTIQ persons, for transgressing gender norms during an armed conflict, is not new. But this is the first time the world has seen this kind of robust documentation of such crimes. The petition currently before the ICC therefore offers a new opportunity to challenge this type of violence.

At the world’s first international criminal prosecutions in Nuremberg, Germany, rape and sexual slavery of women and torture of LGBTIQ persons were acknowledged but never prosecuted. It was only in the 1990s, with the ICC’s creation, that gender-based forms of violence were first recognised as violations of international law.

At the time, women’s rights advocates lobbied drafters of the Rome Statute that governs the ICC to abandon the “outrages to personal dignity” language to describe sexual violence. They succeeded in broadening the category of sexual violence to include not only rape, but also other forms including sexual slavery and forced prostitution, pregnancy, and sterilisation.

These advocates also succeeded in substituting the word “gender” for “sex” in the Rome Statute. This is one of the most important safeguards for gender justice under international criminal law, and a major achievement of global women’s movements in the 1990s. Yet, since then, the full understanding of “gender” under the statute has not been applied.

ISIS’s atrocities meanwhile come at a time when the rights of women and of LGBTIQ people are under threat globally.

Last year, right-wing conservatives curtailed women’s and LGBTIQ rights in Colombia’s peace accords. In 2016, conservative states at the United Nations’ General Assembly sought to revoke the mandate of the first independent UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. In countries around the world, rights to gender expression are being rolled back.

With the help of MADRE and UN Women, CUNY Law School convened an experts meeting in 2017 on LGBTIQ rights and international criminal law. Together these experts honed the strategy for the petition to the ICC and for ensuring the safety and security of those involved, including Iraqi groups named in the petition.

Activists also held a series of consultations with Iraqi women’s organisations. For safety reasons, the decision was taken not to translate the submission into Arabic and several supporting groups decided to leave their names off it.

OWFI, CUNY Law Scool’s HRGJ Clinic, and MADRE are seizing this moment in history to broaden the discourse on gender. The ICC petition could change the landscape of international criminal law, highlighting but also redressing the long-standing targeting of civilians based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in war and conflict.

Appropriate action by the international court would set a new precedent for prosecuting gender-based crimes and create a new tool for human rights advocates worldwide. We continue to update the ICC on the situation in Iraq and are working with a team of international experts on the follow up to the petition. We are awaiting their response.

Lisa Davis is Human Rights Advocacy Director at MADRE, and Clinical Law Professor at CUNY Law School. She provides litigation and advocacy services for women’s human rights organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Follow her on twitter @lisadavisnyc



By            :               Lisa Davis

Date         :               February 1, 2018

Source     :               Open Democracy

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

What Iceland can teach the world about gender pay gaps


‘Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men!’ crowed headlines in January, to a huge collective cheer and social media high-fives.

But the reality is, in most countries it’s already illegal to pay women less than men. From the Russian Federation to Rwanda, it’s against the law. Most nations (and not just in the workers’ paradise of Scandinavia) have had some form of existing anti-discrimination laws in place for decades.

But speaking in Davos, Switzerland, even a very upbeat Pat Milligan, multinational client group global leader for consultancy Mercer, referenced some frustrating findings from the latest World Economic Forum report.

The results show we’re going backwards on gender parity across health, education, politics and the workplace for the first time since 2006. According to WEF calculations, an average gap of 32% (up from 31.7%) still remains and the reversal is being driven in part by declining gender equality in the workplace. And like many other high-profile employers, the BBC is very much part of this debate. 

The latest radical step from Iceland is that the country is trying to flip the legal situation on its head. What makes the Iceland plan different is that the onus will no longer be on a beleaguered employee to prove they are underpaid – which can involve years of court battle. It’s up to their boss to prove they are paying workers fairly.

But is this really so radical? Could this model be scaled up to a much larger island nation?

“Most countries have equal pay laws: the UK established them in 1970,” says Daphne Romney QC, one of the UK’s leading barristers in equal pay litigation. Over and above that, she says, is the European Union right to equal pay, which gives workers the right to go to civil court or a tribunal.

Although most countries allow workers to take action against employers, the problem is that “it takes years of slog to get it to court, let alone get to the point of compensation.”

“Iceland has made it a criminal offence for employers not to take action on unequal pay. They’ve effectively made it like a health and safety violation,” says Romney, adding there will be a penalty for inaction which will trigger job evaluation schemes.

So why can’t this model be made to work elsewhere?

Bridging the gap

“I think it’s very radical but to be honest I don’t think it would get through [passed in to law] here in the UK. Nothing works. The new UK gender pay gap regulations will only apply to 34% of employees, i.e. firms of more than 250 employees,” Romney says.

Romney is talking about a 2016 UK law requiring all larger firms – around 9,000 companies – to report their pay data. The idea is to get large firms’ pay data out in the open and subject to public scrutiny.

But Romney feels this is as far as it goes: she feels Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party is opposed to any changes that go further, as they could bring significant costs for the business sector.

If the UK is unlikely to follow Iceland’s lead, are there any other countries looking to try something else?

Professor Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto, points to another model that predates Icelandic legislation – Canada, which is making strides towards closing the gap.

The policies in Ontario and Quebec, for example, focus on equal pay for equal work (through human rights legislation) and also equal pay for equal value work (through pay equity legislation). In Ontario, the Fair Workplaces Bill 148 includes a raft of new laws; from making provision for workers who suspect that they’re not receiving equal pay to ask for a review to banning employers from forcing staff to wear high-heels.

“This is more advanced than the scope of the Icelandic legislation, which only has the former,” she says. “But Iceland has reporting and fines in place which we don’t have in Canada.” Kaplan says that some of Canada’s laws enforce detailed individual audits of a company’s payment practices, which most companies comply with.

Even in the US, some states, such as Massachusetts, have banned companies asking job candidates about former salaries. That’s something that neither Iceland nor Canada has. “So, it is a patchwork of solutions, none of which can be fully effective without the others. No country or jurisdiction has put in the full suite of practices,” Kaplan says.

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the pay gap in different industries and countries, agrees. He says that while Iceland is “at the very edge of reforms” in this space, and that it could be close to breaking real ground in the pay gap problem, it’s unwise to assume that one country’s policies can apply elsewhere.

“However, there are useful lessons to be learned here, including that gender pay equity does not happen by itself.” He feels that the more accountability and transparency, the better: in the UK, for instance, compulsory gender pay audits will help. “Just showing the scale of the problem is an important step.”

Reeves’s own research suggests that the gap will only be narrowed by a fundamental altering not just of organisational practices, but of cultural assumptions about the respective roles of men and women in the workplace and home. “Women continue to ‘juggle’ family and work life, which impacts on their earnings and advancement. Men are not yet doing the same. The revolution we now need is models of masculinity, not just business models.”

The model to follow?

Tiny Iceland, with its population of 336,483, is a heavyweight in gender equality.

It has had the closest gender gap of any country for nine years in a row. And according to European Union data, Iceland is the world leader at including women in the labour force: participation was over 80% in 2017. This ranks Iceland not only at the top of all comparable countries but also puts the nation as the highest of all OECD countries.

Since the 1970s, more and more Icelandic women have entered the workforce and stayed there. This can be attributed to several political decisions, such as a legal right for parents to return to their job after childbirth.

University of Iceland gender studies professor Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir says a strong women’s movement and huge pressure from feminist groups have been behind the political will in Iceland to rapidly introduce a series of radical measures in gender issues, such as paternity leave and gender quotas.

She believes the wider Icelandic culture has also been a significant contributing factor. “There is a historical legacy of strong women [here] who have inspired other women,” she says, mentioning the election of the world’s first democratically-elected female president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, in 1980.

Bringing as many women into the workforce as men would be the equivalent of adding another China and another US to the global economy

She points to other events such as the Women’s Day Off in 1975, a strike when half the country downed tools, this strike was repeated several times. “Maybe also the smallness of the country, close connections, and easy flow of information. It is very easy to mobilise actions where different women’s groups join forces [here].”

And why should anyone care? Because the economic argument for extrapolating this success – albeit with a large caveat that no Icelandic woman believes it’s utopia just yet– is cast iron. More women contributing to the global economy futureproofs against another global recession. As well, bringing as many women into the workforce as men would be the equivalent of adding another China and another US in gross domestic product to the global economy. A “full potential” scenario, in which women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, could add up to $28 trillion to global annual GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey’s research.

So, while moving to Iceland may not be the answer for everyone, learning a little from the Icelandic model could be an excellent start.


By            :               Angela Henshall

Date         :               February 11, 2018

Source     :               BBC

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
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