Gender & Human Rights

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Chinese Government Pushes Harmful Gender Roles Onto “Leftover” Women

 

China’s state-run organization on gender equality is promoting a damaging narrative about women’s subservience in an attempt to fix social issues, Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson writes.

“BEFORE JOINING THE women’s school, I couldn’t imagine that a careless and unreserved northern girl like me could gracefully sit here showing everyone how to make tea.” These are the words of a Chinese college student from the Kunyu Women’s School, a partnership between Industrial and Commercial College at Hebei University and the local branch of the government-controlled All-China Women’s Federation.

Claiming to enhance female students’ “overall quality,” the school offers students courses on “psychology, etiquette, image, art and family,” according to an April article on the local government’s website, qualities you might expect to be on offer at a finishing school, not a state-backed university. But this is just one example of the Chinese government’s harmful and discriminatory efforts to push women into subservient gender roles.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic, the Chinese Communist Party has asserted that it is deeply committed to gender equality. The All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), along with its local branches, is the party’s primary organization for promoting gender equality. In the past, it has advocated for women’s advancement in the labor force and spoken out against gender discrimination in employment. But in recent years it has also begun to sponsor programs promoting specific, stereotyped gender roles that emphasize women’s subservience.

In April 2017, the Deyang Women’s Federation in Sichuan province promoted a training course in knitting and weaving as a “virtue and wisdom class.” In March 2018, the Zhenjiang Women’s Federation in Jiangsu province established the “New Era Women’s School” where classes on “proper sitting posture for women” are offered. That month the Minqin Women’s Federation hosted a workshop where an expert on “family education” discussed how women should best play the roles of mother, wife and daughter.

A search by Human Rights Watch on the website of the Zhaotong Women’s Federation in Yunnan province showed several articles espousing notions such as “woman was created from the man’s rib,” and “women’s biggest virtue” lies in “what she does for her husband and children.”

The new push is part of the All-China Women’s Federation’s campaign to stigmatize unmarried women. In 2007, the ACWF started to describe unmarried women over the age of 27 as “leftover,” and has since run numerous essays critical of educated women who are single.

Chinese authorities have motives for promoting traditional roles. China faces an unprecedented sex ratio imbalance: there are nearly 34 million more men than women in the country, partially as a result of gender-selective abortion practiced under the country’s famous one-child policy.

Chinese society is also rapidly getting old. Around the middle of this century, one in three Chinese people is forecast to be older than 60. Encouraging women to stay home and care for family appears to be part of the government’s strategy to deal with its aging population.

While the All-China Women’s Federation promotes subservient roles for women, its own studies have shown that women face pervasive discrimination and even violence. A 2014 ACWF survey showed that 87 percent of female college graduates reported that they had been subjected to one or more forms of gender discrimination while looking for their jobs.

Human Rights Watch’s recent report on gender discrimination in job advertising found that 19 percent of the 2018 national civil service job listings specified a requirement or preference for men and only one specified a preference for women in the list. A 2013 ACWF study shows that a quarter of all women in China have been victims of domestic violence.

Every woman is entitled to live her life as she wishes, be it in a traditional or non-traditional role. But the Chinese government is undermining equality in its own country with its messaging to women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which China has ratified, requires governments to “take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customs and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”

Instead of upholding their international legal obligations, the highest levels of the Chinese government have endorsed a return of women to subservient gender roles. In a 2013 meeting with leaders of the ACWF, President Xi Jinping said women should play their “unique role” in “promoting Chinese traditional family values and establish good family ethics,” and “voluntarily shoulder the responsibility of respecting the elderly and caring for the young.”

Telling women to marry, give birth, and stay at home taking care of children and older people may strike some as a solution to the social issues of gender imbalances and care for the elderly. But the All-China Women’s Federation should know that discouraging women from asserting equality in all aspects of their lives fosters discrimination and is harmful to Chinese society – never mind the actual women whom the federation claims to serve.

 

Sophie Richardson is China director at Human Rights Watch. She is the author of “China, Cambodia, and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” (Columbia University Press, Dec. 2009), an in-depth examination of China’s foreign policy since 1954’s Geneva Conference, including rare interviews with policy makers. Follow her on Twitter at @SophieHRW

 

 

By            :               Sophie Richardson

Date         :               June 5, 2018

Source     :               https://www.newsdeeply.com/womensadvancement/community/2018/06/05/chinese-government-pushes-harmful-gender-roles-onto-leftover-women

 

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Sexual violence is off the charts in South Sudan – but a new female head chief could help bring change

 

A woman was recently elected as a senior chief in South Sudan – a not unheard of, but very unusual occurrence. This surely a positive change in a country ravaged by civil war and attendant sexual violence.

Rebecca Nyandier Chatim is now head chief of the Nuer ethnic group in the United Nations Protection of Civilians site (PoC) in Juba, where more than 38,000 people have sought sanctuary with United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers. Her victory is of symbolic and practical importance.

South Sudan’s chiefs wield real power, even during wartime. They administer customary laws that can resolve local disputes but also reinforce gender differences and inequalities, to the advantage of the military elite.

So could a female chief work towards changing this? Admittedly, even if the new female chief is determined to effect change — which remains to be seen — the odds are against her. The chief and her community are vulnerable, displaced persons, living in a sort of internal refugee camp, guarded by UN peacekeepers. Fighting and atrocities have continued outside, especially in the devastated homelands of the Nuer people. But the new chief has the support of the former head chief and a group of male paralegals, who have celebrated her victory as an advance for gender equality. Together, they might make a difference.

Women in power

South Sudan needs more women in positions of authority. The appointment of a female chief gives a boost to the cause of women’s empowerment and provides a welcome distraction from the general despair and frustration with the country’s militarised, masculine leaders. In their internecine civil war, which broke out in December 2013, they have targeted civilians and killed more than 50,000. They have forced over 200,000 people into UN protection sites within South Sudan, and over 2m across its borders.

Reports of sexual violence are off the charts: the UN found “massive use of rape as an instrument of terror”, and Amnesty International reported it was “rampant”. Domestic violence is rife, too. A recent study from the Global Women’s Institute estimated that over 65% of women and girls had experienced some form of gender-based violence, double the global average. And recently accusations emerged of rape and sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and aid workers.

Of course, women leaders cannot be expected to transform a violent patriarchal order alone. They often have ambiguous identities; and they can even have negative impacts. Chief Nyandier is now a chief but she was formerly a general in a rebel army, the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition (SPLA-IO). No doubt her military record has contributed to her status.

The appointment of a female chief is very unusual, although not unprecedented. There have been female Nuer chiefs since the 1990s, and there are other established ways in which women can gain authority within Nuer society, by becoming “socially men”, or through claims of divine possession as prophets. But such women may even be directly involved in violence. For example, in the current war, the prophetess Nyachol has wielded spiritual authority over armed young men, cultivating some limits on the use of violence, but also mobilising her followers to fight in defence of the community and in revenge attacks on their neighbours.

Still, South Sudanese women are uniting across ethno-political divides in protests against atrocities or calls for inclusion at the peace table. They have yet to gain real traction. But in the latest round of peace talks, one women’s activist put their agenda succinctly: “Peace is for the people, not the leaders.”

Patriarchal chiefs

Chiefs are in a position to make changes to social norms and arrangements. They derive authority from their status as a formal institution of local government. Their legitimacy rests upon their relationships with the people who select them.

Chiefs act as mediators at community level and also try to “deal with government”; they have variously adapted to or resisted successive predatory colonial and authoritarian regimes. Their customary courts are transparent, participatory affairs that can deliver swift, tangible judgements. They provide the most accessible, often the only available, judicial mechanism and they have continued to preside over cases, amid the disruptions of conflict, with little or no salary.

They rule on all manner of disputes and accusations, but are especially engaged in family matters, including domestic abuse, sexual violence, divorce and adultery. Overwhelmingly, chiefs’ judgements privilege the interests of husbands and families over those of women and girls; they can trap women in abusive marriages and administer harsh adultery or “elopement” punishments to unmarried couples.

Judgements that violate human rights and treat women as a commodity have persisted even in PoC sites controlled by the UN, such as the one in Juba where the new chief takes up her post. But the chief’s authority is to some extent constrained by the setting, as UNMISS has established its own bodies for camp management, involving UN police, humanitarian organisations and local community structures, and they do not recognise the judicial authority of the chiefs’ courts.

However, internationals have no mandate to administer justice within the sites, and violent disputes, criminality and interfamilial conflicts have proliferated. Women have turned to the chiefs and appear in the court as complainants and defendants on myriad cases, ranging from arguments with neighbours to sexual violence and domestic abuse, as colleagues and I show in a recent research project that documented over 300 court cases in the PoC. Among these cases, we find many examples of discrimination and violations of women’s rights. But we also find a few cases suggesting innovation and adaptation. This begs a question of whether and how good precedents might be sustained.

Pros and cons

The notion that chiefs might be trained to secure human rights has cropped up in optimistic proposals of international agencies in South Sudan for years. But there are many obstacles.

The chiefs are themselves a product of a system of repressive government. Customs have been forged in interaction with the predatory state since the colonial era, and customary laws serve the interests of what political scientist Mahmood Mamdani called the “decentralised despotism” of administrative tribalism, which includes the ethnic and gender segregations and hierarchies that enable repression and violent mobilisation. There are powerful interests in preserving this status quo.

But custom is also resilient for material and social reasons. It provides predictability and order in a radically unstable political environment. And it upholds the dignity of people as members of a community, even while it violates some individual rights.

Even under UN governance, customary law has flourished as a bulwark against insecurity. The painful irony that custom is also often at the root of conflicts makes reform necessary; but does not make it any easier to achieve where immediate responses are needed.

Hope

Yet the new chief, Nyandier has unique opportunities to take a lead on women’s rights under UN governance, whatever her previous experience or allegiances. Not least because she has allies in an informal network of young men trained as paralegals who are determined that their sisters and daughters should not be “treated as resources”.

The paralegals have learnt the basics of human rights law, are familiar with inherited custom, and have themselves experienced multiple injustices. They have engaged in the creative practical responses to disputes and they understand the opaque social, economic and cultural considerations that drive them. In contrast to the technical, idealised approaches to law reform often adopted by international “rule of law” programmes, these legal activists act at the margins in ways that resonate with problem-solving customary approaches. They are able to respond to a reality that everyday practices and social networks govern in South Sudan, more so than ideas and institutions.

This is why relationships between the new chief and young paralegal activists matter. And the stakes are higher than they may seem. My wider research suggests that political elites rely upon pernicious combinations of statutory and customary law to sustain their violent kleptocracy in South Sudan. And legal activism at the margins might just help to transform it.

 

 

By            :               Rachel Ibreack (Lecturer, University of London)

Date         :               May 31, 2018

Source     :               The Conversation

https://theconversation.com/sexual-violence-is-off-the-charts-in-south-sudan-but-a-new-female-head-chief-could-help-bring-change-96946

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The globalisation of anti-gender campaigns

 

Transnational anti-gender movements in Europe and Latin America create unlikely alliances

In 2012 and 2013, thousands of people demonstrated against same-sex marriage in Paris and other French cities. The success of these protests came as a surprise in a country often associated with secularism and sexual freedom.

The organisation La Manif pour Tous led some of the demonstrations, taking to the streets with pink and blue flags. It urged activists abroad to emulate the French with slogans, posters and strategies travelling across borders. While similar mobilisations happened earlier in Spain, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, 2012 appears to have been a turning point.

Spectacular mobilisations have also taken place in Latin America, which is both a key target and a production hub of anti-gender campaigns. A first flare was registered in 2011 in Paraguay, when the term ‘gender’ was contested by the Catholic right during discussions on the national education plan. In 2013, in one of his weekly TV programmes, Ecuador’s leftist president Rafael Corrêa similarly denounced ‘gender ideology’ as an instrument aimed at destroying the family. Since 2014, these attacks have intensified, with massive demonstrations in numerous countries, and they decisively impacted the Colombian peace agreement referendum in 2016.

It culminated in November 2017, when American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler was viciously attacked in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Although the attack received global attention, it is only the tip of the iceberg in Latin America.

Transnational campaigns

In both regions, these movements contest what they call gender ideology. Sometimes referred to as gender theory or genderism, it is presented as the matrix of the combatted policy reforms, and should therefore not be confused with gender studies or specific equality policies. No less importantly, gender ideology is seen by some as the cover for a totalitarian plan by radical feminists, LGBTQI activists and gender scholars to seize political power.

Crucially, this discourse recaptures and reframes Cold War Catholic discourses against Marxism and stirs anti-communist sentiments in Eastern Europe as well as in Latin America. There, the ‘evils of gender’ are entangled by right-wing activists with the ‘spectres of Venezuela’ or calls for a military intervention. Although national triggers vary (abortion and reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, LGBTI parental rights, gender mainstreaming, gender violence, sex education, anti-discrimination policies and so on), the explanation given by anti-gender campaigners is always the same: all this is due to gender ideology.

These movements not only share a common enemy, they display similar discourses and strategies as well as a distinctive style of action. We label them transnational anti-gender campaigns to emphasise their global scope and underline their particular profile in the wider landscape of opposition to feminism and LGBTI rights.

A Catholic cradle

Numerous scholars have traced the origins of gender ideology back to the Vatican and their political allies. Building on previous projects such as Pope John-Paul II’s Theology of the Body lectures or the New Evangelization, it was designed in response to the 1994 Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, when the term ‘gender’ entered the United Nations vocabulary, surrounded by demands for rights relating to reproduction and sexuality.

This discourse, which relies on ideas espoused by Cardinal Ratzinger in the early 1980s, was developed in Europe and Latin America in the late 1990s and early 2000s, leading to the Lexicon: Ambiguous and Debatable Terms Regarding Family Life and Ethical Questions (2003) and the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and World (2004).

Gender ideology is not only a lens through which to analyse what happened at the UN, but also a Catholic strategy of action. Based on philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony, it propagates its alternative interpretation of gender through means that subvert the notions it opposes. While John-Paul II and Benedict XVI designed this project, Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his support, describing gender as a form of  ‘ideological colonisation’.

Campaigns on the ground

Contemporary mobilisations, however, cannot be reduced to a Catholic enterprise, but intersect with other political projects and wider sets of actors. First, present strategies are reminiscent of the US Christian Right, and US organisations are active across continents, propelling transnational networks such as the World Congress of Families.

***

Since evangelical voices, which are new in Latin America, are more strident, the intellectual role of the Catholic hierarchy is often overlooked.

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Second, while the Vatican has been instrumental in elaborating a frame of action, actors on the ground are more diverse. They include other religious groups as well as secular voices, and form coalitions that vary considerably according to local contexts.

The European situation cannot not be understood without looking at intersections with right-wing populisms. Both rely on attacks against corrupt elites and pretend to defend ‘innocent children’. They invoke common sense against decadent ideas and claim that things have ‘gone too far’, depicting themselves as the defenders of a majority silenced by powerful lobbies. These encounters explain why, in several European countries, right-wing populists have joined anti-gender campaigns without being particularly religious. This overlap offers a springboard to anti-genderists while fuelling anti-liberal discourses and sentiments.

Campaigns in Russia and the parts of Europe under Russian influence have been directly engineered from the Kremlin with the support of the Russian Orthodox church. As part of the state machinery, they are instrumentalised to restore the international status of Russia through a global defence of national sovereignty and ‘traditional values’. Poland and Hungary are currently following this path, with Hungary’s prime minister, Victor Orban, increasingly vocal on the issue.

Latin America campaigns displays distinctive features. First, more than anywhere else, the criticism of gender ideology is no monopoly of the right, even though right-wingers are usually on the front lines. Second, these campaigns involve both conservative Catholics and evangelicals (mostly neo-Pentecostals). Since evangelical voices, which are new in the region, are more strident, the intellectual role of the Catholic hierarchy is often overlooked. However, Latin American Catholics have significantly contributed to the development of the anti-gender discourse and current anti-gender formations rely on older Catholic anti-abortion structures.

Third, anti-gender political formations are not exclusively religious but encompass secular actors whose profile differs substantially across countries. In Brazil, they include politicians playing electoral games, extreme-right actors, centre-liberals articulating anti-state arguments alongside anti-gender arguments, middle-class activists longing for social order and transnationally connected Jewish right-wing activists.

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Indeed, if anti-gender campaigns are so efficient, it is precisely because they amalgamate actors who would not usually work together.

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Despite this unexpected diversity, however, the populist analytical frame, so common in Europe and the US, is inappropriate. Indeed, populist practices have long been deeply ingrained in the regional political culture. As a result, populism has no side and cannot be easily mapped on to the left-right divide in the region.

A complex constellation

Anti-gender movements include a complex constellation of actors that goes far beyond specific religious affiliations. Research has shown that ‘gender ideology’ is an empty signifier, which can tap into different fears and anxieties in specific contexts and therefore be shaped to fit distinct political projects. Furthermore, as stressed by Andrea Peto, Eszter Kováts, Maari Põim and Weronika Grzebalska, the vague notion of gender ideology operates as a ‘symbolic glue’ that facilitates cooperation between actors despite their divergences.

This is precisely what must be understood: what are the specific constellations of actors in each context and how can different sorts of actors, who usually do not work together and can even compete with each other, find a common ground on which to collaborate?

In brief, how to explain joint ventures between believers and atheists, Catholic and Russian Orthodox or Latin American evangelical, or opposed strands within contemporary Roman Catholicism? It must also be reiterated that the debate is not about faith against atheism, and that not all believers of a specific denomination are involved in these campaigns.

A more sophisticated analytical frame would allow us to move away from simplistic grids such as populism, the global right or a global backlash, and pay more attention to the specific political formations at play on the ground. It would also avoid narrow binary frames opposing ‘us’ to ‘them’ that unduly homogenise distinctive contextual conditions and a complex array of forces and actors.

Finally, contextualisation and complexification are not only needed analytically, but are politically essential. Indeed, if anti-gender campaigns are so efficient, it is precisely because they amalgamate actors who would not usually work together. Today, it is crucial to further understand how these mysterious coalitions are forged and sustained.

 

By            :               Sonia Correa, David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar

Date         :               May 31, 2018

Source     :               International Politics and Society

http://www.ips-journal.eu/topics/human-rights/article/show/the-globalisation-of-anti-gender-campaigns-2761/

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The struggle of African women in politics continues

 

Most African countries are signatories of numerous protocols that encourage gender equality in politics, yet analysts say more still needs to be done to implement these protocols and ensure women are not sidelined.

Women in the region and beyond are breaking the glass ceiling in politics as evidenced by the likes of former Malawian president Joyce Banda and other women who have managed to occupy important positions in national governments and multilateral organisations.

Despite this development, statistics indicate that worldwide at least one-fifth of the seats in parliaments are occupied by women.

Countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe are amongst the signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) .

CEDAW defines discrimination and provides a practical blueprint to promote human rights and open opportunities for women and girls in all areas of society.

The treaty calls on each ratifying country to overcome barriers to discrimination in the political, social, economic, and cultural fields.

Recently, Zanu-PF, the ruling party in Zimbabwe, held its primary elections and the large majority of female candidates fell by the wayside. Out of 190 national assembly constituencies being vied for, only 21 will be represented by women in the harmonised elections scheduled for July or August.

Women constitute 54 percent of Zimbabwean population but have been lacking when it comes to occupying high ranking positions in political parties.

According to female politicians in the country, women continue to face challenges due to lack of finances, stereotyping, political violence and low support from fellow women.

The incumbent Goromonzi Member of Parliament, Beater Nyamupinga, who lost in the Zanu PF primaries, said Government should financially empower women ahead of elections.

“It is very important that women are empowered financially so that they are able to conduct campaigns. Unlike men, women lack the financial muscle to undertake a campaign. We thought that the coming in of a Women’s Bank would ease the financial challenges that we face. We were looking forward to having a project that would give women access to funds to use for campaigns,” she said.

Nyamupinga said political violence discourages women from contesting in elections.

“The primary elections this year were marred with violence. Women vying for a political office are subject to political violence. In most cases women shy away from violence and this leaves a gap for men to participate. There is need for a conducive political environment for women to participate without them fearing for their lives,” she said.

MDC legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said women were ready to take up leadership positions save for lack of support from the Government.

“Women are capable of leading but they face challenges of a low performing economy. This makes it difficult for them to raise money for campaigns, which are very expensive, instead of looking for bread and butter for their families.

“Also, political parties are very patriarchal, we have seen how men hold the top leadership positions and women are just given honorary positions in most cases.  Political violence limits women. In most cases women are beaten up and even raped. This affects women’s participation in politics,” she said.

Bulawayo legislator, Jasmine Tofa, said despite having a constitution that stipulates on gender equality in politics women are still under-represented in the political arena.

“Our constitution is clear and fantastic when it comes to gender equity. However, this is not practiced but it’s just on paper. At the end of the day women are being given a pie in the air. We need to have equal opportunities for women as we have for men to participate in politics,” she said.

According to the country’s Constitution, 60 National Assembly seats are reserved for women, 60 senatorial and 10 persons on each provincial council are elected on the basis of proportional representation.

Tofa said young women must be taught not to shy away from politics.

“Education is very important if we are to have female politicians in the country. Young girls and boys must be educated at a tender age to think like leaders. For example, in Australia, children start learning to vote from school for a class monitor. In Zimbabwe most people vote during national elections and it’s a feared process. Women must be taught not to fear leadership, elections or joining politics,” she said.

According to organisations that advocate for women’s rights, women have made strides in the economy, engineering, science, technology, academia, media, and many more sectors.

However they say this progress does not translate to politics. In 2001, nine out of 191 countries had a woman elected head of state or government.

They say there is a need to implement laws that call for gender equality in politics in order to fully realise women’s potential.

 

By            :               Charity Ruzvido

Date         :               May 21, 2018

Source     :               The Southern Times

https://southerntimesafrica.com/site/news/the-struggle-of-african-women-in-politics-continues

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How the Media Has Helped Change Public Views about Lesbian and Gay People

 

In the United States and beyond, few shifts in public opinion have been as rapid and widespread as attitudes about lesbian women and gay men. In our recent work, we explore how the media has contributed to this major change. Our research shows that the media can play a transnational role in shaping political attitudes towards sexuality and minorities in general, especially affecting the views of more impressionable, younger individuals.

Virtual Contacts with Gays and Lesbians

Information that flows through media – via television, movies, music, books and many other channels – encourages contact and communication between groups and even across national boundaries. Gordon Allport, an influential psychologist, is often cited in scholarly research for his contact thesis – which, put simply, says that under the right conditions, interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority groups. Building on this idea, we argue that “imagined contact” even with characters in a TV show can change perceptions of outgroups. The central question driving our study is: Does the specific nature and context of a nation’s media influence attitudes towards homosexuality?

Increases in representations of gay people in news, television, and movies started in the 1990s – prominently exemplified by Ellen DeGeneres’s coming out on mainstream American television in her portrayal of Ellen Morgen in the ABC-sitcom, Ellen. Portrayals of lesbian women and gay men have continued to increase over the two decades since they were featured in popular shows like Will and Grace and Modern Family; and these portrayals have and recently spread to shows for teenage audiences such as Glee and Teen Wolf.  Beyond entertainment, the news media has also increasingly covered gay rights as such issues have become politicized. In 2014, networks from Russia Today to Al Jazeera extensively covered the gay rights debate surrounding the “anti-gay Sochi Olympics.” Although this shift in media visibility was pronounced in the United States and Western Europe, our data suggest that the influence of the media is not contained by national borders. Media portrayals of new issues and previously marginalized people are an understudied dimension of the ways ideas, values, and principles are spread – transnationally as well as within countries.

In an increasingly interconnected world, we hypothesize that effects from virtual contacts through media exposure to portrayals of lesbian women and gay men should hold cross-nationally, depending on the national media outlets willingness to transmit portrayals. We expect media effects to vary by age cohort since younger audiences in their impressionable years are more likely to have shifted their views in line with new information transmitted since the 1990s. These audiences are less likely to have formed firm opinions about gay and lesbian people.

Why Media Matters Especially for Young People

We test our theory using the combined World Values and European Values Surveys. In a cross-national, multi-level analysis of individual attitudes, our work demonstrates that both media pervasiveness and press freedom are related to more liberal attitudes among young people. We believe that these young people’s exposure to gay and lesbians in the media coincides with contacts younger people have with gay and lesbian people and issues through other avenues of socialization. However imperfect media portrayals of gay people may be – and however poor a substitute for personal contacts – the media does introduce new debates and new frames of reference about homosexuality across multiple domestic contexts.

Our findings have implications for our understanding of how contact with diverse groups shape people’s beliefs and values. They suggest that the effects of contacts with an outgroup involve more than just face-to-face interactions. Researchers, advocates, and policymakers, and producers should take into account how cultural contact through media can shape opinions and values, even across national borders. Television, film, radio and the Internet remain powerful socializing mechanisms through which younger generations come into contact with previously invisible minorities.

In making our case, we do not wish to minimize the contributions of direct, interpersonal contacts to processes of attitude change. Indeed, our data may show joint effects from media contacts and personal contacts. Another route for change may have occurred as new media portrayals increased the interpersonal visibility of gay and lesbian people and the likelihood that they would come out and openly reveal their identities to friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Importantly, we are not arguing that enhanced visibility generated by the media always improves the lived experiences of gay and lesbian people. It depends on the context and exact media content. Media portrayals may arrive in contexts already somewhat open to gay and lesbian people, or in contexts where discrimination and hostility hold sway. In addition, given media portrayal can highlight more or less sensational or controversial aspects of gay life, and indeed often neglects the broad array of issues experienced by members of this diverse community.

Larger Implications

The takeaway of our research is that as the liberalization of attitudes towards gays and lesbians has occurred in many countries across the globe since the 1980s, change has been encouraged in part by communications climates – within and across nations – that allow for the free transmission of minority viewpoints. Yet gaps in tolerance and freedom of expression remain between free countries and those that restrict the sharing of controversial content or minority viewpoints. To close gaps in tolerance and cultural change, movements and leaders must encourage various forms of media to tell more accurate stories about lesbian and gay people. Promoting a more inclusive and representative depiction of queer people in the media may expand tolerance toward all kinds of stigmatized minorities, even across national boundaries.

Our findings support the claim that free media are essential for advancing gay rights and suggests that media freedom may need to precede efforts to secure gay rights legislation. In corners of the globe where homosexual rights are still highly contentious, both personal and virtual contacts conveying positive images of lesbians and gays can lead to constructive change.

 

Read more in Phillip Ayoub and Jeremiah Garretson, “Getting the Message Out: Media Context and Global Changes in Attitudes toward Homosexuality” Comparative Political Studies, 50, 8, (2017): 1055-1085.

 

By            :               Phillip M. Ayoub (Associate Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs, Occidental College

Date         :               May 24, 2018

Source     :               Scholars Strategy Network

https://scholars.org/brief/how-media-has-helped-change-public-views-about-lesbian-and-gay-people

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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

https://www.vox.com/world/2018/3/6/17059744/israel-deport-african-migrants-asylum

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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     :               https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/sustainability/gender-equality/1719-unequal-realities-hold-back-rural-women-says-un-on-eve-of-women-s-confab

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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).

 

Source: http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/how-removal-immigrant-fathers-harms-sexual-health-and-wellbeing-their-daughters

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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

https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/michelle-truong-susan-wood/global-womens-movement-un-development-agenda

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