Category Archives: gender equality

On gender, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development

feng min kan

 “Gender equality in DRR does not mean merely addressing women’s
issues – it means addressing concerns of both men and women, the
relations between them and the root causes of gender imbalances”

Since 2005 Feng Min Kan (China) has been the Senior Coordinator for the Advocacy and Outreach Coordination Unit within the UNISDR (The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) secretariat in Geneva. In this position, she has fostered the idea that both gender equality and disaster risk reduction are imperative to achieve sustainable development.

One of the first things reported in “Making disaster risk reduction gender-sensitive” (published in 2009 by UNISDR, UNDP (UN Development Programme) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Geneva, 2009) is that “While women’s vulnerability to disasters is often highlighted, their role in fostering a culture of resilience and their active contribution to building it has not been adequately recognized”.

Disaster management has been traditionally considered as a men’s field. Women have not been really represented at policy and decision making level of disaster management, this also reflects the situation of women in disaster risk reduction at country level, therefore the gender perspective has not been really considered but the reality is that women bear a large proportion of population living in poverty. When people are poor they also live in the most vulnerable areas other people would not even think of living.

In a community for instance prone to the impact of floods, if most of the women do not have much formal education, also due to poverty, they won’t have real access to information nor will they probably understand what exactly the fact that a cyclone with a certain speed is coming implies. If they don’t, they cannot take actions to protect themselves and their families. In this kind of situation women are much more vulnerable than others.

The report also highlights physical and environmental vulnerabilities women face in many contexts. What are they?

In some cultures women are not supposed to learn to swim and climb for instance.

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On sexual and reproductive rights, Meet Jacqueline Sharpe


Jacqueline Sharpe is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist from Trinidad and Tobago and the president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global service provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights working in 150 countries. Its areas of action include abortion, access, adolescents, advocacy and AIDS/HIV.

Although there is an area of over-lap between them, sexual and reproductive rights are two separate issues.

Sexual rights include the right of all people to make free and responsible decisions about all aspects of their own sexuality, including deciding to be sexually active or not and protecting and promoting their reproductive and sexual health; The right to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence in one’s sexual life, and when making sexual decisions; The right to expect and demand equality, full consent, mutual respect and shared responsibility in all sexual relationships and to pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.

On the other side reproductive rights include the rights of couples and individuals to freely and responsibly decide the number, spacing and timing of their children; The right to have the information, education and means to make the above decisions; The right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health and the right to make decisions free from discrimination, coercion and violence.

Sexual and reproductive rights are included in international conventions such as CEDAW (see blogroll), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, and the Plan of Action which emerged from the International Conference on Population and Development (El Cairo, 1994).

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Between sexuality, gender and rights: A story from Sub-Saharan Africa

sub-saharan africa

Both the majority of worldwide countries  (38 out of 76) criminalizing same-sex sexual activities and the one with the first constitution in the world to explicitly prohibit unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (South Africa) belong to the African continent.

Last month the first ever African Same Sex Sexualities and Gender Diversity (ASSGD) conference took place in Pretoria, South Africa. A country that in these matters has carried out some other legal steps that constitute records world-wide. In 2006 it became the fifth country in the world –and the first in the continent- to legalise same-sex marriages and it is one of the few countries where it is explicitly permitted to change gender on official documents (the others are Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina).

“The reality on the ground is very different from the laws”, says He-Jin Kim, the representative at the conference of GenderDynamiX, a South African Human Rights organisation dedicated to promoting the rights of transgender people and one of the organizers of the event.

“The so called ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians is very common in black townships in South Africa. Besides, while the law allows changing gender without the need for actual surgery its implementation is lacking and it is rare that transgender people succeed in accessing this legal provision. There is also little access to transgender related healthcare and in light of the gravity of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, it must be noted that sexual health services are for the most part inaccessible to transgender people due to prevailing stigma and ignorance”, she says.

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Gender inequality as HIV social driver

hiv sadik

According to the UNAIDS (UN programme on HIV/AIDS) 2010 report 22.5 out of around 33.3 million people globally living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, where young women between 15 and 24 years old are 8 times more likely than men to be HIV positive. 80% of the women living with HIV worldwide live in the region.

Gender inequality remains one of the main HIV social drivers. According to the UNAIDS report the HIV epidemics and sex and reproductive health are intertwined. HIV related causes contribute to at least 20% of maternal deaths and countries with high HIV rates also have high teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion rates while very few countries involve men in reproductive health programmes. Violence and HIV rates are also often associated.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the only regions where the number of people living with HIV has almost tripled since 2000. The proportion of women living with HIV is also growing. Female sex workers, people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men, whom remain often underserved in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, account for most of the new infections both in these regions and worldwide.

Nafis Sadik is Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General and UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. As former head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) she became the first woman, in the history of the United Nations, to lead one of its major voluntarily funded programmes. She is an expert on international maternal and child health, reproductive and sexual health, including family planning, on population and development and gender and development. She was born in Pakistan and lives in the United States.

In its action items on gender equality the UNAIDS 2010 report calls for the need of countries to address the needs of men who have sex with men through prevention interventions that go beyond health service provisions. What could these be and where are there positive examples that go this way?

We need to make men more responsible and educate them in the importance of women and in the need to keep them safe.

The issue has to be discussed also at policy level because even if now many governments have special programmes for men who have sex with men they haven’t changed the laws in their countries (for instance 79 countries criminalize same sex relations between consenting adults) nor they address the problems of the laws enforcement agency.

The effort is now for governments to have public advocacy programmes at national, regional and local level also by talking to religious and tribe leaders and to strengthen attention and prevention of HIV and AIDS.

HIV is socially not accepted and so are MSM (a medical and social research designation for men who have sex with men). Many of these men are also married, so they go to their male partners, get infected and then bring the infection back to their female partners. In a sense, there is a need not only to prevent HIV among them but also to protect the general population.

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“Gender-based violence is systematically being questioned throughout a fallacy”

miguel lorente

Forensic doctor, since 2008 Lorente is the delegate of the Spanish government for Gender-based Violence.

In an article of yours recently published in Pikara Magazine entitled “El posmachismo está aquí”( Post male-chauvinism is here) you state that “The critical reaction towards equality is not very different from those that took place before when trying to put an end to privileges of blood, religion or race”. What privileges do you think you have for being a man today in Spain?

I think I am a little different man in this sense. Since I was a child I was aware of the privileges that I had for being the son of a rural town doctor, but I did not want them because they did not depend on me. I wanted to be more myself in the sense of being one more, to be able to keep in touch with more people, to break the norms of behaviour that were supposed I would have followed for being the son of the doctor, for being a man.

Nevertheless men do have privileges, the fundamental of which is being a man in an unequal society. It is not the fact of obtaining certain things as much as that all of them are designed so that there are men who can benefit from them. This does not mean that all men do it, but we have an added value, especially as far as the concept of authority as a reference is regarded.

When I’ve talked about gender-based violence my words have had more weight and credibility than those of many women with more experience and knowledge. Not to mention that delegating certain elements of care and affection to the woman and profiting from this situation without ever questioning why something doesn’t work is an injustice that we cannot allow neither as a society nor as men. There should be no situation where a man doesn’t have to take responsibility for the simple fact of being one.

How do you deal with this in your private life?

I think we, as men, need to resign our privileges and to take on our responsibilities. From a personal point of view there is nothing my wife and I have in common that is not the responsibility of both of us.

Equality needs to be a value and not only an arithmetic operation. People are understanding that equality is equating, that is to adopt a similar position before a reference that, moreover, would be a masculine one. The evolution of society has tended to bring the women to the men’s place but not the other way around. This situation makes it easy for equality as a value to exist in similar circumstances, but if we don’t do a transfer in the contrary sense we are strengthening the male model and giving it legitimacy.

We need to transmit feminine references to men and to act in the name of equality.

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November 25 reflections

25 nov forum

The sentences in the drawing came out of a three days European and Spanish forum against gender-based violences that took place last weekend in Barcelona. I thought I would only dedicate this post to it so to have for this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against women more data, rational analysis and facts to contribute to an understanding of the issue. Then I thought that maybe, if I really wanted –as I do- to do my small part to keep changing things- that for once I would also express my feelings, something ‘women’ are often not taken into account for doing and ‘men’ are better avoiding.

When do I myself feel I receive violence for being considered a woman?
Anytime I am scared to walk alone at night. Anytime I am treated as a possession, a doll to dress and undress, an everlasting kid or ‘condemned’ as a witch, a slut, and a hysterical if I rebel. Anytime I hear a male-chauvinist comment or someone calls me whistling in the streets like if I were a dog. Anytime I receive the message that I would do better hiding my intelligence. Anytime I see that in spite of the immense cultural, social, economic, sex and gender orientational factors (that make it impossible to reduce it all to men and women and least at a global level) the basic message of the patriarchy is one, common and mostly accepted and I don’t know how to fight against it. Anytime I hear some high school student I am working on gender issues through theatre with that it has always been like this and it will always be. Anytime my will of doing well my job and to have a child collide with a system that desperately need them both but doesn’t allow them to be possible unless I am willing to fight it all in an uneven game. Anytime I need a 25 November.
And I am undoubtedly a lucky woman.

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Meet Haleh Esfandiari


Haleh Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She is an expert on women’s issues and democracy in the Middle East, as well as contemporary Iranian politics, and she has also worked as a journalist. A dual citizen of Iran and the United States, in 2007 she spent 105 days in Tehran’s Evin Prison, accused by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence with espionage and “endangering national security through propaganda against the system.” In My Prison, My Home: One Women’s Story of Captivity in Iran (2009, Ecco Press), Esfandiari recounts her experience while setting it within the context of Iran’s recent history.

What is it that you think you’ll never forget about those months in prison?
Prison leaves its marks forever and little things keep triggering your memory. For example, if I see the moon I always remember that the third time I saw it from the bars of my cell I knew that I had been in jail for three months or every time I see a butterfly I remember that one day, when I was walking on the small terrace of the women’s ward, I saw a white butterfly and I thought to myself ‘I am stuck here, what are you doing here?’ I will never forget being blindfolded during my interrogation for days and weeks and months, I will never forget being interrogated for eight, nine hours a day, I will never forget the day I was released, I will never forget the day my mother passed away and I wasn’t there.

Why didn’t you go back to Iran for your mother’s funeral?
Given what has happened since my incarceration, I don’t feel safe or comfortable in Iran anymore. I am sure I wouldn’t have problems getting in the country but I might have problems leaving Iran.

I often read about how Muslim women and men are adopting progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. Where is this actually happening and in which way?
For the last four decades there have been new interpretations of Islamic law when it comes to family law and they have been pushed by women. For example, the One Million Signatures campaign in the early nineties in Morocco led to an overall reform of the family law in the country. In Iran there is an ongoing campaign by women activists to collect a million signatures for equality under the law. There is this effort but it’s not easy.

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pre November 25 reflections


“The majority of the aggressors are common men, typical citizens, often models, recognized and many times respectful and cordial at work. They are men who base their personal safety in values that represent the traditional male stereotype; power through physical strength, competitiveness, aggressiveness and a superiority and privileges status towards women. Men who are not able to reconvert themselves to a new kind of egalitarian relationships based on mutual respect. But they are not the majority at all. So, what about the rest of us? Where are we and what do we, the rest of the men, do?” asks rhetorically Guillermo Perez, sociologist and social psychologist, to the people gathered in front of the Barcelona town hall.

As it was happening in that precise moment of the evening of October the 21st in numerous Spanish cities, men and women assembled in a circle and with their hands joined before candle-lights listened in silence.

“Violence is possible because the rest of the men keep maintaining some kind of complicity and tolerance. Might it be for selfishness, for resentment or for a misunderstood male solidarity, what is given is that many of us are not doing enough to stop gender-based violence. What is given is that many of us simply don’t do anything. Until now the majority of us have only looked at this problem from the distance, feeling free of blame and thinking it was enough not to be the abusers. But it is not enough because silence makes us collaborators. Let us break silence”.

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The gender of the news

gmmp drawing buono

On 10 November 2009, an ‘ordinary’ day of almost one year ago, teams of volunteers belonging to universities, media research centers and civil society organizations in 108 countries around the world monitored 1,365 newspapers, radio and television newscasts and internet news websites with the objective to find out what was the world portrayed in the media from a gender perspective point of view. They analyzed 17,795 news stories and 38,253 people in those stories.

“The idea of the Global Media Monitoring Project was mooted at the conference ‘Women empowering communication’ the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) organized in Bangkok in 1994 in collaboration with the International Women’s Tribune Centre (based in New York) and Isis-Manila conference”, remembers Sarah Macharia, Programme Manager for Media and Gender Justice at WACC. “Several months after the first Gender Media Monitoring Project (February 1995), coordinated by the Canadian NGO Media Watch, media monitoring was officially recognized as a tool for change towards gender equality in the Beijing Platform for Action. WACC took up the challenge to coordinate all subsequent GMMPs, which fall well within the organisation’s overall goal to promote communication rights, in particular the rights of marginalized groups”.

The 2010 GMMP, which covered 55% of the world’s countries with 82% of the world’s population and whose results were published recently, shows that only 24% of news subjects – people who are interviewed or whom the news is about – in the traditional media are women. In the internet news, monitored as a pilot basis in what was the forth edition of the project, females turn out to be even less present (23%).

Three out of four of the people in the news are therefore males.

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Meet Suraya Pakzad

We shall prepare the path for you and your children

We shall fight now so that you shall survive

We shall die now so that you shall live.

Suraya Pakzad

suraya pakzad disegno

Suraya Pakzad grew up during the years of armed resistance against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. Fearing for their teenage daughter’s future, her parents arranged for her to marry at the age of 14. At 15, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter. Her father and her husband were both educated men, and neither of them stopped her from studying. But she hid her marriage from classmates and teachers, since school rules prohibited wives from studying alongside unmarried students.

By the time she earned her literature degree at Kabul University in 1992, Suraya already had three daughters. In 1998 she began to help Afghan women in Kabul by setting up covert schools for girls under the oppressive rule of Taliban. She started in her home in defiance of them, who banned females going to school or being educated.  Pakzad was the first to register a woman NGO in the post-Taliban era and quickly got the attention of international donors for her work. “Then I never looked back and was able to build a core team of not highly qualified but dedicated people that helped me a lot to support vulnerable women and families”.

In 2004, the Board of Directors of Voice of Women Organization (VWO), the non-governmental, non-political and non-profit organization she created, realized that the need for assistance to the women of the Western Region of Afghanistan was largely unfilled and the Head Office of the organization was shifted to the Western city of Herat.

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