Sunday, May 31, 2015

Marcela Turati

A freelancer for the magazine Proceso and founder of the “Journalists on Foot Network,” Marcela Turati became a journalist because she thought it was “a way to change things.” She specializes in covering violence, especially cartel-related violence, focusing on its victims and its impact on Mexican society with the aim of increasing awareness of this issue. It was not an easy choice in what is the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for journalists, one where physical safety is a constant challenge for those daring to cover sensitive subjects.

When she started out, she assumed there was no difference between a male journalist and a female one. Nowadays she thinks otherwise. “It’s much more difficult for a woman to be sent to a dangerous area (...) you have to work two or three times as hard to be able to go. I don’t know if it’s due to machismo or overprotectiveness, but you have to work harder than the men.”

She is concerned not just about this form of discrimination but also about the sexual harassment to which women journalists are exposed. She has found that the problem is not taken seriously. Women are doubted when they report sexual harassment. They are regarded as crazy or hysterical. People think they are seeking attention. To improve the situation of women journalists, Turati insists on the importance of combatting impunity, conducting investigations with a gender perspective and offering appropriate protection to victims.
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Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 28, International Day of Action for Women’s Health

May 28, International Day of Action for Women’s Health
Our Health, Our Rights, Our Lives!
End Violence Against Women in ALL its Forms
On May 28 International Day of Action for Women’s Health, women’s rights activists and allies advocate worldwide for women ’s comprehensive health and well-being, particularly their unmet sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This May 28, we call on governments worldwide to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s right to health, dignity and bodily integrity, and end violence against women in ALL its forms.Governments around the world are currently in the final stages of establishing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will include a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will guide international development policies, priorities, and funding over the next 15 years. Throughout this and other recent global review processes, violence against women has rightly received due attention from governments and UN institutions alike as “one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violations worldwide,”  constraining women’s empowerment and impeding sustainable development. Yet one form of violence, particularly experienced by women and girls if they are young, unmarried, poor, HIV affected, of diverse sexual orientations or gender identities, living with a disability, or in other vulnerable situations, remains rampant and unaddressed: namely, the institutional violence they experience when they are denied their right to health and are unable to access sexual and reproductive health services.
“Institutional violence,” or violence perpetrated by the State, has traditionally been understood as largely occurring within extreme circumstances of conflicts, disasters, and economic crises.  As defined by the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, however, violence against women includes “physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State or its agents regardless of where it occurs.”  With this definition in mind, examples of violence and discrimination resulting from the violation of women’s right to sexual and reproductive health are far too common and widespread, such as:
•    The denial of the right to access safe and legal abortion services.
•    Forced or coerced sterilization.
•    Obstetric violence.
•    The denial of access to contraceptives including emergency contraception.
This May 28, we must remind governments worldwide that#WomensHealthMatters, hold leaders accountable, and ensure that commitments related to sexual and reproductive health and rights are retained if not strengthened in future development efforts.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Solange Lusiku Nsimire

The only newspaper editor in the eastern Kivu region who is a woman, Solange Lusiku Nsimire is very proud of Le Souverain, a monthly that does investigative reporting, and continues to pursue its founder’s goal of producing an independent publication that reflects a range of opinions. “When we denounce embezzlement, inter-communal tension or the working conditions in mines, we do it for everyone, in the name of media freedom,” she said.

A mother of seven, she is also trying to revive an appreciation of the written word that 30 years of war have destroyed. “I want to contribute to Kivu’s collective memory, to document events for future generations and to prevent the spread of rumour and disinformation.” Her mission of peace is challenging but she tackles it with energy and, for her pains, is the constant target of threats not only from the government but also the opposition and sometimes even civil society. “We pay a high price for our neutrality.”

As well as producing the magazine, she likes to stimulate a public debate and organizes participative press reviews in which members of the public and local government officials join in discussing press articles. Her political and social investigative reporting has resulted in her being banned from news conferences held by the provincial authorities. But she can rely on being fed information by colleagues working for less serious media outlets.

Is she ever tempted to stop? “This would be to disown myself. I don’t know how to do anything else.” Unfortunately, members of her family have also been the victims of threats and attacks as a result of her commitment. “I chose my profession but what about them? What have they done?”
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani

A journalist, writer and translator, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani is the founder and editor of the Feminist School website and one of Iran’s leading women’s rights advocates. For the past 20 years, she has tirelessly used her writing skills to condemn discrimination and abuses against women and to promote change in Iran.

She is also one of the founders of the campaign for “One Million Signatures” to a petition for changes to Iranian laws that discriminate against women – a campaign for which she and her fellow activists have paid a high price. Harassed constantly by the authorities for the past 20 years because of her writing and her defence of women’s rights, she has been arrested several times and was given a one-year suspended prison sentence in 2012.

Although blocked inside Iran, her website is a key source of information about the problems of women in Iran, and a forum for debating these problems. Leading writers on women’s rights such as Mansoreh Shojai and Azadeh Davachi are regular contributors. In all, Khorasani has written around 20 books and 100 articles, from those she wrote for Jense Dovom (The Second Sex), a periodical published in the early 1990s, to “Shirin wants to be president,” her latest book.
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Farida Nekzad

Co-founder and former editor of the Pajhwok Afghan News agency, Farida Nekzad has spent the past 12 years being threatened by media freedom’s enemies, who have repeatedly tried to kidnap or kill her. While investigating female journalist Zakia Zaki’s murder in 2007, she received phone calls and emails promising her the same fate. They just reinforced her determination to defend freedom of information and women’s rights.

She launched the Wakht News Agency in 2008 and still runs it, employing women journalists to cover a range of issues including women’s rights. Despite financial difficulties, the agency has a network of correspondents throughout Afghanistan and continues to be one the country’s leading independent news outlets.

In 2014, Nekzad was put in charge of the Independent Election Commission’s media commission, with the job of monitoring media impartiality during the presidential election campaign. Despite a climate of extreme tension, she spent several months investigating media violations of the electoral rules and complaints from the public about election coverage.

The winner of many international prizes including the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, Nekzad continues to spearhead the fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan and to campaign for the overhaul of media legislation with the aim of getting more protection for journalists in their often dangerous work.
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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hla Hla Htay

Hla Hla Htay began working as a journalist in Burma under the military dictatorship and has been an Agence France-Presse reporter since 2004. She was the first reporter to get photos of Naypyidaw, the new capital that the paranoid generals had secretly begun building. She covered the bloody crackdown on the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007 and the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis the following year, when the military censored all attempts to expose their disastrous mismanagement of humanitarian assistance.

“Under the military, we were often followed and I had to keep changing phones to contact my sources, which was very expensive,” she said. During the years of military rule, Hla Hla Htay managed to participate in a journalism programme in Rangoon and did a three-month course in Cambodia, despite the dangers involved in any trip abroad. She joined AFP after two years as an editor at Today Publishing House and is now AFP’s Rangoon bureau chief.

“Many people think journalism is a man’s job. I remember that some of my male colleagues used to ‘joke’ that it was thanks to my ‘feminine wiles’ that I managed to get an exclusive or verify information. As a Burmese woman, working as a journalist means confronting gender issues and cultural taboos. As far as I’m concerned, I pay attention to my professional honesty and try not to worry about this kind of discrimination.”
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Brankica Stanković

Brankica Stanković has headed Insajder – Serbian TV station B92’s flagship investigative TV programme – ever since its creation in 2004, paying a high price for daring to expose corruption and shed light on the links between the criminal underworld and Serbian politicians and businessmen. The threats against her have grown with the passing years, to the point that a four-member police detail has accompanied her everwhere since 2009.

The interior ministry ordered this inconvenient but necessary security measure at a time when she was the target of an extraordinary number of threats and insults, especially on social networks. After an Insajder episode about the judicial system’s failure to address crimes by Belgrade football club Partizan’s extremist supporters, an effigy of Stanković in the form of an inflatable doll was brandished in the stands of Partizan’s stadium during a European match on 16 December 2009, as supporters chanted that “the whore Brankica” would suffer the same fate as Slavko Ćuruvija, a journalist murdered in 1999. They finally stabbed the doll.

Stanković has not let up in her investigative reporting, despite the continuing threats and the constraints of her police escort, and wrote a book entitled Insajder: My Story in 2013. Last year, she was profiled in the Reporters Without Borders list of “Information Heroes” and received the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Khadija Ismayilova

Investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova has specialized in covering Azerbaijan’s most taboo subject – corruption and conflicts of interest at the highest government level. To shut her up, a sex-tape was used in a blackmail attempt in March 2012 but, far from putting a stop to her reporting, she re-issued her most important articles.

Ismayilova gives as good as she gets in her relations with a regime bent on silencing all critics. And she has paid the price – smeared in the government media, prosecuted on spying and defamation charges and often picked up for questioning. She was finally arrested on absurd charges last December after spending several months following the cases of detained human rights defenders – organizing legal support and assistance for their families, helping to daw up a list of political prisoners and providing the international community with constant alerts.

The authorities have imprisoned Ismayilova but they have not managed to silence her. In letters smuggled out of prison, she has continued to criticize the government and call for resistance. As a result she has been placed in solitary confinement.

From a cell just a few dozen metres from hers, detained fellow journalist Seymour Khazi paid tribute to her in an open letter in January: “I don’t know if it is due to the extremely patriarchal nature of our society (...) but when they wanted to refer to a woman’s strength, determination or courage, our fathers always said: ‘This woman is like a man.’ Nowadays (...) to refer to a man’s character and strength of will, I would rather say (...) this man in like Khadija.”
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Nhat Chi Mai

The flower known as Chi Mai.
May 16, 1967 . Nhat Chi Mai immolated herself in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, to protest the war.

"I offer my body as a torch 
to dissipate the dark
to waken love among all people
to give peace to Vietnam."

Viet Nam – It was Sister Mai’s wish for all religions to band together in hopes of creating peace throughout the world

Sister Mai's self-immolation death prompted Catholics and Buddhists to begin working harmoniously together in order to encourage further peace efforts.  Her death highlights the essential role of women in the peace efforts. Sister Mai's actions enhanced the position of women as well as inspired many others throughout the community and around the world to become active in the fight for peace.

Along with her extensive community involvement, Sister Mai was extremely opposed to the Vietnam War and was a major proponent for peace. On May 16, 1967, she immolated herself in the courtyard of Tu Ngheim Pagoda (a nunnery) in Saigon, South Vietnam.  Her action, which occurred during Vesak (the holiday celebrating the birth of Buddha), was to protest the ongoing Vietnam War. 

She left behind many writings and poems including this one:  

“I am only an ordinary Vietnamese
woman, without talent or ability. But
I feel pain every time I look at the
situation of my country. I want to say
that the empty words you have been
using, ‘to defend freedom and happiness
  for Vietnam’, have lost all their meaning . . . “

Before she died, Mai placed two statues in front of her, The Virgin Mary and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. In her poems she asked Catholics and Buddhists to work together for peace so that might realize the love of Jesus and the compassion of the Buddha.

It was Sister Mai’s wish for all religions to band together in hopes of creating peace throughout the world.

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Friday, May 15, 2015


I am honoured to be invited to give the Pamela Denoon lecture for 2015. Pamela was an active feminist in all her activities. With her significant involvement, the Women’s Electoral Lobby was very effective in Australia, and the same organisation was of major support and comfort to me in New Zealand in my parliamentary years. Pamela studied politics and sociology, read widely in feminist theory and was committed to issues of social justice. I have fashioned my address this evening to reflect Pamela’s passionate political work for equality for women.
Women have been the unpaid workers in households and families for millennia. As any of this work moved into the market, women occupied the gender stereotyped low paid positions which replaced the unpaid work. In the C21st globalisation of this significant labour sector has seen many of these positions occupied by ethnic and migrant workers.
In 2015 demographic projections challenge governments on how to cope with the increasing numbers of dependents and the elderly who need a range of assistance to survive. Armstrong (2013) for example describes Canadian long-term residential care interests as including governments at multiple levels, national and international level for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, professions, unions, and organized as well as unorganized workers, residents, families, and volunteers, community organizations, and other groups representing various publics. What options are there to change the dynamic of centuries old expectations of women taking on this unpaid family and household work and underpaid market equivalents? And what are the issues for female human rights and dignity?
I give this address coming from a personal experience of living and being in the so called ‘carer’ environment. For 14 months I managed the care, and cared for, my father, after melanoma roots invaded the nerve tunnels to the brain stem. He was in a rest home for his last 5 weeks. In this time he told me he had lost his sanity and his dignity. It’s an interesting word ‘dignity’. It is the most fundamental of human rights. Article 1 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. My father knew exactly what he meant when he lost his dignity.
For instance, when I insisted my Dad needed to be fed, they replied they did not want to undermine his independence. He had palsy, a swollen tongue, and had lost most of his capacity to swallow, and poured food down his front to his shoes when he tried to help himself. My Dad wanted his dignity, not his independence.
We may not have studied ‘dignity’ in philosophy or law classes, but I suggest we all know a loss of dignity when we see it or experience it. We expect to find dignity in the constitutions of Germany and South Africa given histories of Nazism and apartheid.
Philosophers such as Kant and Dworkin have contended that it is impossible to separate self-respect from respect for the importance of the lives of others. When I treat others with indignity, I am also debasing my own humanness. There have been criticisms – made of UN human rights Covenants in general – that the rights in law are individualistic, not collective or communitarian, and many indignities are aimed at peoples, communities, indigenous and cultural minorities. At the same time, dignity can’t be wrapped up in a rigid box of meaning, as human dignity applies to our individual lives in all their riot of difference. There must always be room for the application of the concept in policy directed towards strategic practical outcomes. Sometimes it does get to be tied down.
A major breakthrough in the human rights issues in the field of those being cared for, and those doing the caring, was made when Cheryl and Philip Hutchinson took on the Ministry of Health and Senior Citizens of British Columbia, in the Human Rights Commission of British Columbia. The case focussed on the validity of a Ministry policy which prohibited the hiring of family members by adults with disabilities, who qualified for and received Ministry funding to cover the cost of long term, in-home, care services.[1] The policy constituted a blanket prohibition against hiring family members and applied regardless of whether the funding arrangement involved direct payment to the individual, or was through a homemaker agency as an approved service provider.
Ms. Hutchinson was born with cerebral palsy, a condition which led to physical limitations in her childhood, and quadriplegia in her adult life. At the time of the case in 2004, Ms. Hutchinson required assistance in all aspects of daily living, including bathing, dressing, and toileting, transfers, mobility, and meal preparation. Ms. Hutchinson’s father, Phillip Hutchinson, had been her primary caregiver since she was 13 years old. In her view, her father was, and continued to be, her most appropriate caregiver and a major contributing factor to her success, accomplishments, and independence, in the face of her disability. In order to provide his daughter with the assistance she required, Mr. Hutchinson was forced to leave the workforce. The family had subsisted primarily on the limited funds available through social assistance since 1983. At the time of the hearing, Mr. Hutchinson was 71 years old and continued to be his daughter’s primary caregiver.
In 1998, Ms. Hutchinson was accepted as a client of the Choices in Supports for Independent Living, a Ministry-funded program that provided funds directly to qualified adults with disabilities, allowing them some discretion to hire their own caregivers. However, the Ministry policy prohibited Ms. Hutchinson from hiring her father to provide for her care using these CSIL funds.
Mr. Hutchinson did not wish to be his daughter’s sole support as he realized that he would not be able to do this work for his daughter forever and wanted her to be independent. He did however, wish to be able to be hired as one of his daughter’s support workers under the CSIL scheme.
Cheryl Hutchinson and Phillip Hutchinson both filed human rights complaints alleging that the Ministry’s policy prohibiting the hiring of family members under CSIL was discriminatory. Ms. Hutchinson alleged that the Ministry’s policy discriminated against her on the grounds of disability and family status contrary to s. 8 of the Code[2]. Mr. Hutchinson alleged that the Ministry’s policy discriminated against him on the basis of family status contrary to s. 13 of the Code in that it prohibited him from being hired by his daughter as her support caregiver, purely on the basis that he was her father.
The case was tightly constructed, so it could not be seen as a universal remedy for all family members who are subject to this sort of discrimination. The Complainants did not challenge the validity of a general prohibition against the hiring of family members. What was challenged was the blanket prohibition against the hiring of family members, without an assessment of the individual circumstances, under CSIL.
The Judgement is very instructive as to the part played by ‘loss of dignity’ in human rights cases. In Ms. Hutchinson’s case, the blanket policy against hiring family members had a significant adverse impact on her dignity given her high care needs and her difficulties in hiring and retaining appropriate support workers. The policy did not address her actual needs as a vulnerable person with a severe disability. On the one hand, it offered her the opportunity to choose her own caregiver and, on the other, it denied her the opportunity to hire her father, her most appropriate caregiver.
The Tribunal found that the blanket prohibition against hiring family members impacted most severely on those, like Ms. Hutchinson, who were severely disabled and required 24 hour care with all of the intimate activities of daily living. It concluded that Ms. Hutchinson had established a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of disability, and found that the Ministry’s blanket prohibition against the hiring relatives offended the Code on the basis of family status. It found that Mr Hutchinson had been discriminated against in seeking employment with no consideration of Mr. Hutchinson’s qualifications or suitability to do the job, and that both Hutchinson’s had had their dignity violated.
In New Zealand a similar story has played out when a group of parents who were the 24/7 carers of adult children with disabilities and who were not paid for their work, complained to the Human Rights Commission. Atkinson’s case was won in the Equal Opportunities Tribunal, in the High Court, in the Court of Appeal – and then the National Government decided to ignore court rulings, to take away the right to recompense and introduced an ouster condition preventing any further challenges to the law on these grounds. This happened in a context where the 24/7 carers of those whose disability was the result of an accident, were entitled to be paid under the New Zealand Accident Compensation regime.
Are there further human rights issues for those responsible for the unpaid work with respect to 24/7 dependents?
Dignity was influencing my thinking when I was invited to work in a Commonwealth Secretariat team – Robert Carr, Anit Mukherjee and Meena Shivdas, on research on the 24/7 care givers of those with HIV and Aids in 11 Commonwealth countries. We purposively selected participants, including grandmothers, child carers, gay men, intravenous drug users, prisoners, rural and transgender persons as participants in our research in both developed and so – called developing member states of the Commonwealth.
Our work was undertaken in an economic climate where the strategy has been to discharge patients earlier from public care facilities. In many countries where HIV and Aids is of epidemic proportions and hospitals cannot cope, they have just sent all patients ‘home’. In making this policy choice, there is a presumption that there is a reserve army of unpaid labour available in the family or community to immediately resume responsibility for the discharged patient.
There are significant economic costs to the national budget in respect of the invisibility of unpaid household and community work. We know this from the growing number of national and other time use data sets, from surveys or pilot studies on unpaid work and health care, from decades of narrative captured in a wide range of social science literature, and from our own observations and experience. Insufficient or inadequate care at the onset of illness can exacerbate its severity, with costs incurred across sectors. This occurs from the loss of labour from the market sector, the loss or diminution of unpaid service, productive and reproductive activities either when the woman of the house is ill, or when she has to forego other daily household tasks to carry out the caring work, or when a child is removed from school to assist in unpaid work, with the known outcomes of longer term illness increasing the possibilities of poverty, poor nutrition or hunger, and a range of other vulnerabilities.
It is also important to remember that in addition to work directly related to assisting dependents, household work – the daily maintenance of well-being – must continue. Household access to water, hygienic practices, transportation, and a clean environment, along with the management and logistics of all expectations, are daily chores that cannot be neglected. When someone is gravely ill, needs don’t happen according to a daily timetable. The work is very complex and difficult and the list of things to do is very long.
I have a major issue with the use of the terms /care/, caregiver, or ‘care economy’ for all this unpaid work. These terms do not describe the management, logistics, administration, resource mobilization, transportation, food production (quite apart from preparation), coordination – that are necessary. So we have all this work as part of the management of ‘caring, then we have all the household work, then we have so called ‘care’ work. I have a colleague writing a case study in New Zealand, of a mother of a teenage girl with multiple complex, severe health issues. In the last 2 years, her mother has had to deal with 22 personnel from 18 years. Imagine that work – the forms, the phone calls, the frustration, the time …If the work would have to be done in institutions caring for dependent residents, then it has to be done in the household for a dependent. Every process in one is performed in microcosm in the other.
Let’s look at what this work involves from at least 2 perspectives of the so called developing and developed world.
The Commonwealth team decided we would use Amartya Sen’s capability approach and developed questions directly from the CEDAW, UNCRC, ICCPR and ICESCR instruments. So for example we asked: Did you feel you had any choice about becoming a care giver? Does anyone ever come to give you rest? How is your own health? Can you describe the meals you have during a day? Are you able to do any work outside the home? Are you able to go to community or political meetings? Etc.
Some of you may know that the Pamela Denoon Trust provides bursaries for young Papua New Guinea women to finish their schooling, so I have chosen one of the PNG participants as the voice responding to this question.
I am 46 years old. I have been a widow for over 10 years now. I cared for my eldest child, Betia, who was 24 years old when she died. My daughter was living at home with me when she got sick. I took her to the Barracks clinic which is about a mile from our house. They said she had malaria and pneumonia. It was only later I heard from others that she had HIV Aids. I took her to the Aids clinic. Many times she would get angry and cry and feel sad and depressed that people were talking about her, the gossip really affected her.
Whenever she was angry I would sit beside her and rub her back to calm her. I could not buy her the foods she wanted to eat because I didn’t have money. But I still tried to do what I could. Our ways of getting food was difficult. My sons were little boys when I took them out of school to help me. “You have to fish, go to the market and sell the fish, buy whatever food you can, buy what she would like, whatever she wants”. They were only young but they were trying to do the job of a man. Her brothers and sister were scared and at times they hated her.
She really wanted hot water or sometimes cold and then I would ask around and try to find some cold water for her. I alone washed her as no one was there to help me wash her or do anything else for her.
My own family turned away from us, no one came to help me with her. With three little children to look after as well, I could not afford to get sick. It was very hard to look after her. My water fetching, and means of earning an income through selling shell-fish and beads or shell necklaces stopped. My time was taken up with her – washing her, feeding her, washing her again and putting her to sleep.
I would go to the barracks clinic and ask for medicine. If they had none, I’d have to find money and go to the pharmacy to try and buy medicine. Medicine was expensive.
In caring for her I would help her around, I would dress her, lie her down, help her up. If she wanted to go to the toilet I would dig a hole beside the house and take her and help her to do her business and then I would bury it. I would take her outside and place a mat on the ground for her to sit on and then I would wash her. I didn’t only wash her in fresh water, sometimes I would take her down to the sea, wash her and then bring her to the house and wash her again in warm water. I would heat the water and massage her body then dress her in clean clothes. By this stage she was very weak. At that time I bought so many clothes from the second hand because she was soiling them and I wouldn’t have enough time to wash them and no one wanted to touch her clothes. We also had to collect water in containers from the barracks and that is a long way to walk. If we were lucky someone would be driving along the road and we would get a lift, if not we would walk the 1 mile or so. I would wash and dress her in the morning and then again at 10am, then in the afternoon. At night I would wash her again then dress her ready for her to sleep, so that her body was cool and clean.
I realized that during this time I was hungry all the time. I would ask for help but no one would help us. We didn’t see any counselors or anyone. I asked around but nothing came our way. When she died I sent message to my family to ask them to come and help me. Nobody came. I washed her and dressed her on my own and waited, a solitary figure beside her body. Only one lady came forward and with her help I lifted her body into the coffin.
After she died people from the Aids clinic came and did a workshop here and they asked me all sorts of questions about how I looked after her. Where were they when she was alive? Now that she was dead, they want to know everything!
One of the very clear findings from our research was that few carers had any human rights. They did not choose this work. They had no choice. They had no time to enjoy their ‘capabilities’. We argued for a finding of capability servitude as the experience of most of these carers.
What might be the equivalent in the West? (For much of this discussion I use the word ‘care’ as it reflects the words in statistical surveys, but as expressed earlier, I have major reservations about the term).
The UK Census 2001 was the first to include a question on health, disability and the provision of care. It showed that more than a million people were working more than 50 hours a week unpaid to care for family members, friends, neighbours or others because of long term physical or mental ill health or disability, or problems related to old age. In the UK, more than 175,000 children under 18 were acting as carers, including 13,000 children under 18 providing more than 50 hours of care a week. Of people aged 65 and over, more than 382,000 cared for 50 hours a week: less than a third were in good health themselves. Even in the 85+ group, 22,000 people were providing at least 50 hours of care a week. Doran et al (2003) commented that paid employees, rather than informal carers, would have been in contravention of the European Working Time Directive.
In 2010 the BBC surveyed more than 4,000 secondary school pupils and found that an ‘invisible army’ of 8% of those participants were working in their households as carers. This was considerably larger than the census figures, but academics who designed the questionnaire said the stigma of admitting some disabilities, and that children were the caregivers, meant there was always going to be under representation in the Census figures.[3] Indeed the figures in the 2007-8 Scottish Household survey showed 657,000 unpaid adult carers and up to 100,000 young carers. (The 2011 UK Census total for Scotland was 492,000, with 137,000 providing 50+ hours a week).
I was interested in the reflections of Young Carer’s in a project in Stirling, who appeared to have ‘capability’ issues[4] such as we found in the Commonwealth research: a lack of transport, lack of services, few if any shops with fresh produce to enable healthy eating, long school journeys, and few leisure activities.
I am especially interested in this as the Scottish Government is moving towards carer’s assessments, as well as assessments of those who use the services. I would hope that a capability assessment based on human rights might be a basic ingredient of these assessments. I am particularly interested in the new regulations which set out the circumstances where the supported person can employ a close relative as a personal assistant. These include where the person requires palliative care, where there are limited service providers and where there are religious or cultural beliefs. The range of appropriate circumstances does not seem to pass the Hutchinson test – being the best possible carer available and being the carer of choice for the patient, having both parties left with their dignity.
When we think of all the hours of unpaid work in what is the single largest sector in any economy, we know overwhelmingly women do this work. Can we think of any equivalent treatment of something men did for centuries unpaid? Yes – it was called slavery, and yes, there are a small number of men, some of them gay men caring for partners, who are among those doing this unpaid work, and in their cases they are often wearing the indignity of stigma, discrimination, and often where there are still criminal sanctions for homosexual men on the stature books.
But what about the human rights of those employed in the market doing front line caring work?
In early February 2015 the Guardian Weekly reported[5] that in the UK around 160,000 care workers out of 1.4 million were being paid less that the national minimum wage, each losing about 815 pounds a year. Overwhelmingly women and often migrants, the wage theft was mainly caused by employers not paying staff for time travelling between clients, despite a legal ruling it must count towards a care worker’s hours, as well as unpaid training and on call time. In a mirror image, the Employment Court in New Zealand in February 2015, ruled that 35,000 women workers in New Zealand have been systematically exploited, in a form of deliberate servitude, by being paid subsidies. Relief carers have not been paid even the minimum wage, not paid for travel time and in some cases have earned no more than $3 an hour for their relief care in the families of 24/7 carers.
In New Zealand other landmark cases have included the case for hourly pay for those on sleepover shifts at IHS homes, and a breakthrough ruling on equal pay. In October 2014 the New Zealand Court of Appeal ruled in favour of an aged- care worker, that the Equal Pay Act of 1972 meant that women have a right to be paid the same as men doing a different job if the work is comparable. The judges said the existence of entire industries that may be underpaid because they are female dominated was undoubtedly something of concern to the 1972 parliament.
But there remains a major difference between paid and unpaid work and its’ treatment. Firstly – in the UNSNA rules which determine the boundary of production for what does and does not count as work, the specific tasks I have been describing when carried out in the household are not counted as work, and are specifically excluded from the statistics used to determine the GDP. In economic theory, the unpaid work of caring, the ‘care economy’ illustrates the space which most challenges the dominant paradigm of the Chicago man busy self- actualising and acting in his own self –interest. The ‘care economy’ is a contradiction to this framing. The needs of the other come first and are the starting point for the carer, not maximising their own rational self- interest (Jochimsen (2003) p 239).
But when I was taking unpaid care of my father, is there a suggestion that I was more imbued with selfless motivations which would improve his quality of care, compared with the young male Filipina nurse who took over in the last 5 weeks, with more skills, experience, expertise and patience than I could ever muster. I would not wish to argue that the nurse’s only motivation was the market income he would receive, and it was my observation that ‘care’ was a professional characteristic that he practiced in all his waged work.
As part of my re-entry into the academic world after ‘caring’, I was able to attend a lecture given in Auckland by Sue Yeandle, from the Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equality at the University of Leeds. She spoke on the Reconciliation of Work and Care – Support to Worker Carers, outlining the UK experience of employer based approaches for those who retained their role in the paid labour force while needing to care for household members. She advised that 6.5 million people in the UK were now caring, with 516,000 in Scotland.
Sue advised that there was committed employer interests in carer’s and a group of Employers for Carers. The NGO Carer’s UK had valued this unpaid care work at £119 billion per year, exceeding the total cost of National Health and more than 4 times what local authorities spend on social services. Sue explained that the generalised replacement cost had been used in arriving at this estimate, and that the reason for this was it was the lowest cost from different estimation models. Sue described the Care Act 2014, which places a new duty on all English local authorities to plan sufficient care services, to enable carers to work, and to meet the assessed needs of eligible carers from 2015.
Sue then outlined the evolution of Employers for Carers. In 2002 Carers UK drew together an employer’s Interest Group, supported by the EU Action for Carers and Employment. The strategic interest was that carers risked falling out of employment. Carer’s had a “right to work” and access to employment.
The Carers Employment and Services study of 2007 showed that over 40% of carers were supporting someone where needs had not been assessed or where there was no support from any service. The demographic projections showed a potential for greater pressures on organisations with staff needing to be carers. In 2014, the Chairman of Employers for Carers and Managing Director of British Gas, Ian Petris, stated that “those people caring are likely to be your most experienced members of staff”. Sue explained that Carers UK’s Caring and Family Finances Inquiry 2014 showed that 70% of Carers were £10,000 or more per annum worse off as a result of their reduced earnings, ‘But hang on a moment’ I piped up. ‘That’s an opportunity cost figure, not a generalised replacement figure. So when the care economy is to be co -opted in the interests of employers, capital and the market, we use the highest replacement estimate?’ What is important in this version of the ‘care economy’, is what the market is missing out on, not the intangibles of care none of us can put a value on.
I know of only one major national initiative which has been introduced. Long-Term Care Insurance (LTCI) was implemented in South Korea on August 1st 2008, to reduce the burden of care on family members and to provide for a rapidly expanding older demographic. The South Korean Government faced a choice between the provision of services, and the payment of a benefit to those in need to purchase those service. A country wide feminist response from women was that elderly men would just spend any money on gambling, smoking, drinking and their social life, and women would still be expected to do the unpaid caring. ‘We won’t do it’ was the loud message for the government. Hence, LTCI was introduced.
Elderly recipients’ eligibility is dependent on the certification of LTCI. Based on their individual needs, care is then (mainly) delivered in kind according to the wishes of the client. The client has the freedom to choose their service provider. Long term care benefits consists of community based home care, institutional care and cash benefits.
Before the introduction of LTCI healthcare spending, welfare expenditure and pension spending were rapidly rising. Since LTCI has been meeting the needs of the elderly there has been a rise in LTCI spending. However, ‘healthy aging’ of the aging population has resulted in a decrease in healthcare spending, and a decrease in hospitalization for the elderly from 15.7 days to 11 days.
The increase in healthy elderly means more elderly are remaining in the working population and 95.8% of families of the elderly have reported that LTCI insurance has helped them participate in economic activity, all of which benefits tax revenue.
In comparison with other sectors where employment levels decreased or were stable because of the economic recession, Health and Social work, which includes the LTCI industry, were the exception. Workers at LTCI facilities have increased by more than 190,000. Increased workers in other sectors include more than 40,000 in the field of technological innovation and manufacturing in elder care support. That’s a very ‘economic’ transformation of the ‘care economy’. The sheer volume of work in this sector is increasing so rapidly many governments are just responding as the New Zealand government has: shut it down, say no, change the laws, keep it at home, we can’t afford it. It is a typically male Chicago man response, lacking in any imagination, good strategic design, a willingness to pay attention to a huge issue in a very large economic sector, when all engaged are counted. It is in all our interests to pay good attention – we are all heading there as carers or as those who will need care.
[1] Hutchinson v. B.C. (Min. of Health), 2004 BCHRT 58
[2] HUMAN RIGHTS CODE R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210 (as amended)
[3] Rachel Williams The Guardian Tuesday November 16, 2010
[4] Which had been themes in our HIV and AIDs research referenced earlier
[5] Monday 9 February 2015
Dr. Marilyn Waring is an author, scholar, environmentalist and social justice activist. She was elected to the New Zealand parliament at the age of 23 and served three terms, chairing the Public Expenditure Committee from 1979-1984. Waring’s distinguished career includes acting as an advisor to numerous organisations not least the United Nations and in 2003 she was appointed to the Board of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. She is the winner of numerous honours and awards including the Amnesty International New Zealand Human Right’s Defender Award and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research Economics Award. In the 2014 anthology, Counting on Marilyn Waring; New Advances in Feminist Economics, 31 authors from nine countries outline the wide ranging impact and resonance of Professor Waring’s work as well as the current frontiers of feminist economics.

Pamela Denoon Lecture – 2015 – Australia
Website Link Includes Video
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Folly of Farring Pregnant Girls from School in Sierra Leone

Pregnant girls are now barred from school in my country Sierra Leone. The government has decided that as schools reopen this week for the first time since the vicious Ebola outbreak that has claimed over 10,000 lives – and plunged our country into fear, lock downs, economic and emotional pain – pregnant girls should simply stay away. According to Dr. Minkailu Bah, the Minister of Education, Sierra Leone is “not going to legalize teenage pregnancy.”

To justify this baffling policy, the Minister and his supporters, including the Council of School Principals and the Head Teachers Association, have invoked custom (it’s not our “custom” to have pregnant girls in class with other girls who are “innocent”) and morality (pregnant girls are a “bad influence” on other girls). Human rights organizations and advocates like myself have expressed outrage and shock (you can sign my petition on the issue here.) As I asked the Minister on a recent BBC interview, show me one person who has seen a pregnant girl and thought, I also want to get pregnant. There’s simply no evidence of this “influence” – yet so far, nothing has convinced Bah to reconsider his position.

Public policy should not be based on notions of custom and selective applications of moral codes. But it’s worse than that. Let me explain.

One reason why this issue gained attention is because the Ebola crisis played a part. Schools have been closed for almost a year due to the epidemic, and girls have been forced to remain in often over-crowded households that have been under government-mandated lockdowns, sometimes for months on end. Sexual activity likely increased during this time and with no way for girls to access contraceptives, there’s a visible number of pregnant young girls around the country.

The Minister and his supporters have claimed, “If these girls really wanted to learn, they would use condoms or other methods of contraception.” This argument, of course, ignores some basic facts. In Sierra Leone, only 8.2% of females 15-49 years use any method of modern contraceptives. And only about 5% of young people aged 15-24 years said they used a condom the last time they had sex. To make matters worse, during the peak of the Ebola outbreak most of the Reproductive Health Centers were completely shut down, further diminishing an already abysmally limited service. And the use of condoms and other contraceptives often requires negotiation and bargaining clout that most poor young girls simply do not have.

Teenage pregnancy has actually been an issue in Sierra Leone for a long time. One in three girls aged 15-19 in Sierra Leone has been pregnant or had a child at least once. Sierra Leone also has one of the highest rates of early marriages in the world. About 20% of girls between 15-24 years are married by the age of 15, and about half of girls in Sierra Leone are married by the time they reach the legal age of consent (18 years). According to the Population Council analysis of Sierra Leone’s Demographic and Health Survey data in 2008, about 85% of girls in Sierra Leone aged 15-24 years said their first sexual encounter was with a man who was at least ten years older — so many of these sexual encounters are actually statutory rape cases that go unreported. These sets of figures are important because they show that most of what the Minister and his supporters call “immoral behavior” happen within the context of illegal actions committed against the girls; namely child marriage and statutory rape.

In addition, there is the issue of transactional sex. A young girl at a workshop I ran with rural girls in Port Loko, Sierra Leone in April 2013 told me that although she was in school, she helped take care of her younger sibling; whenever she lacked money for basic necessities, she was forced to sell sex. Her story is not unique. Poor girls across the country are often forced to sell sex in exchange for grades, food, jobs and pretty much anything they need from men in positions of power. (For example, Dr. Bah’s former Deputy Education Minister is currently in court for allegedly raping a girl who came to his office to ask for help with school fees.) Yet it’s the girls who are burdened with the moral stigma and condemnation for taking the only option that society often affords them.

Recently some advocates in Sierra Leone — including some prominent gender activists claiming they want to find a middle ground — have called for the creation of an alternative system of education just for pregnant girls. They argue that we can create a special system that takes care of their unique needs. But we already treat pregnant girls as near criminals, shunning them in the community. We have a school system – and economy — that is still struggling to find its feet after the Ebola crisis. Why would anyone believe that the government can create and run a high quality alternative school system? But more importantly — even if such a program were created (as it is in other countries), it should be the girl’s choice to opt into such a system.

Going to school is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution of Sierra Leone and by international law. It’s a right that every child, including pregnant girls, should enjoy – even when it’s inconvenient for someone’s “views on morality.”

The tragedy of this policy extends beyond the impact on individual pregnant girls – it also affects our country. Every year a girl stays in school increases her chance of succeeding in life — of taking care of her family, of immunizing her baby and sending her to school, and of being an active member of a society capable of fighting diseases like Ebola. Every year she stays out of school; it’s twice as likely that she will never return. In a country with one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in the world, we should be busy building bridges for all to access education — instead we are building walls and shutting out hundreds. That has to change.
April 16th, 2015
Photo c/o Chernor Bah
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015


We, the participants of the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 30th African Human Rights Book fair held in Banjul, The Gambia from 16th to 19th April 2015;

Recalling the African Union’s theme for the year 2015 of Women Empowerment and Development in the Realisation of Agenda 2063;

Acknowledging that the Maputo Protocol makes provision for the various rights of women in Africa and that States are required to report to the ACHPR on their obligations under the Protocol;

Concerned that women are subjected to tokenistic participation in key political and decision making spaces;

We the NGO participants,

Call Upon the African Commission to: 

1. Call upon member states to protect and safeguard women and girl’s sexual and reproductive health rights, including but not exclusive to providing safe abortion services to women; 

2. To review and repeal punitive laws relating to abortion; preventing forced sterilization and providing adolescent friendly sexual reproductive health education and services; 

3. Call upon member States to adopt the African Union Land Policy and Initiative to promote women’s access to land and development; 

4. Encourage member States to report on measures taken to enhance women’s representation and participation in political and decision making spaces; 

5. Call upon States to put in place policies and laws to ensure that young adolescent girls are able to continue with their education in a safe and protective environment during and after pregnancy; 

6. Encourage member States to ensure that women are actively involved at the inception, development and implementation of peace and mediation processes in Africa. 

Done in Banjul, The Gambia – 19th April, 2015

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Advancing Tax Justice Through Human Rights

Taxation can play a critical role in advancing or impeding human rights enjoyment, while the norms and mechanisms of human rights offer powerful tools for tax justice advocates. With the aim of building bridges between these communities, a major international strategy meeting, ‘Advancing Tax Justice through Human Rights,’ took place in Lima, Peru, on April 29-30, co-organized by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Tax Justice Network, Oxfam, Global Alliance for Tax Justice, LatinDADD, and Red de Justicia Fiscal en América Latina y el Caribe.

Tax policy is one of the most important instruments governments can deploy to generate the ‘maximum available resources’ for the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, as they are required to do under international human rights law. Taxation also plays a fundamental role in redistributing resources in ways that can redress social, gender and economic inequalities, whilst also strengthening the bonds of accountability between the state and its people.

In recent times the tax justice community has made enormous strides in drawing public attention to the inequities built into many tax regimes, in boosting the capacity of development and social justice organizations to expose tax abuse, and in effectively advocating for some significant legal and policy advancements. This community of practice is just beginning to engage with the norms, tools and mechanisms of human rights. The manifest injustice of regressive fiscal austerity measures, and the significant human rights impacts resulting from tax evasion and avoidance, has meanwhile motivated human rights defenders to push into an area that was often considered too complex or politically sensitive.

Framing tax as a human rights issue takes it beyond an elite technocratic sphere into the arena of legitimate public scrutiny, debate and mobilization around fundamental values of equality, solidarity and justice. It can also redress the near-hegemonic influence of private interests over tax policy by broadening the platform to incorporate a broader range of social actors, such as budget analysts, corporate accountability campaigners, social movements, litigators and academics. The power of framing tax justice as a matter of human rights lies also in the potential to invoke an array of mechanisms set up at the national and international levels to hold governments accountable to their human rights obligations.

This work remains incipient, however, and there is a pressing need to strengthen the linkages between human rights and tax justice advocacy, and to explore how the principles, instruments and mechanisms of human rights can be deployed in efforts to bolster the resourcing, redistributive and accountability functions of taxation.

The International Strategy Meeting (ISM) was designed to build closer synergies between human rights and tax justice research and advocacy communities, and to bring these previously separate spheres together with the aim of developing human rights-centered tax policies at both the domestic and international levels.

This ISM brought together tax justice organizations, human rights practitioners, UN and regional human rights experts and mechanisms, and strategic litigators. It offered a key platform to share experiences, strategies and skills on the path to building broader alliances to adapt human rights principles into a coherent and enforceable body of tax policy standards. More concretely, the meeting was designed to:

  • Take stock of advances and challenges in bringing human rights to bear in fiscal, budget and tax policy and practice
  • Provide a unique platform for human rights and tax justice practitioners to share experiences, strategies and skills
  • Identify current research and advocacy gaps, and explore opportunities for improved collaborative research and advocacy to both challenge unjust tax policies and implement human rights-centered tax policies and practices at the domestic and international levels

All materials developed in the context of the event will be made available in this sub-site of Drawing on participants’ contributions, a final publication  – ‘Advancing Tax Justice through Human Rights: Opportunities and Strategies’ –  will explore why tax rules and policies are fundamental to human rights realization and outline challenges and opportunities for using human rights norms and mechanisms in the pursuit of tax justice.
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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Costs of Maternal Mortality to Families and Communities

The loss of a mother harms her surviving family members, and her children’s health, education, and future opportunities.
• Maternal death is linked to high neonatal mortality: of the 59 maternal deaths in the study, only 15 babies survived the first 60 days of life.
• Surviving children in some cases were withdrawn from or forced to miss school, because economic
 disruptions made it difficult to afford school fees. When children did continue their schooling, often their grief and new household responsibilities negatively affected their schoolwork.
• A mother’s death suddenly increases the tasks and responsibilities that her surviving husband, mother and mother-in-law have to shoulder. For the grandparents, in particular, this means  that once again they have to shoulder the burden of childcare.

The cost of fatal pregnancy and childbirth complications is a heavy economic burden.

• Regardless of household wealth, families that experienced a maternal death reported spending  approximately 1/3 of their total annual consumption expenditure to access pregnancy and child-birth care, between 3 and 6 times more than households where a woman gave birth safely.
• This approaches what WHO calls a ‘catastrophic’ cost (40% of disposable income), and suggests that some families may avoid or delay emergency care because of difficulty in covering the costs  of transport and services.
• In nearly half of all cases, families needed to look outside the household for money to pay for maternity care — in many cases from sources in their communities, but sometimes by borrowing from a moneylender or even selling household property.

When a woman dies, her funeral costs are a crippling hardship for her family.
• Across all wealth levels, families’ funeral costs exceeded their total annual expenditure on food, housing, and all other household consumption.
• On average, economically active members took a month off from work during the funeral period. Given the already high costs of the funeral, this lack of economic activity is an additional burden for the household.

The sudden loss of a productive woman disrupts the family’s economy and its daily life.
• Many of the women who died were also economically active, many working on their own or family farms, or running their own market stalls, shops, or other small businesses. The loss of their labour or income caused significant economic disruption.
• Many families reported losing crops or being forced to leave their land uncultivated because
 of the loss of the woman’s labour or reduction in work by surviving family members. Others were pushed further into poverty when they had to hire casual labourers to work their fields.

Across the developing world, a woman dies every two minutes from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. This new study from Kenya — conducted in an area of high poverty, high maternal and newborn mortality, and low access to quality health services — clearly demonstrates the devastating impact of these needless deaths on the well-being of families, the survival of newborns, the health and opportunities of surviving children, and the economic productivity of communities.
In Kenya and other countries with high burdens of maternal mortality, these findings must
catalyse renewed and strengthened efforts to:
• Ensure universal access to reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health care
• Improve the quality of health services, including emergency obstetric care
• Strengthen referral services
• Improve financial and social support for women and families facing maternal health crises
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

1st of May

On the 1st of May, we celebrate the work force and the labour movements, to remind ourselves of their importance in changing the working conditions around the world. It is a day of solidarity, a day to recognise the struggles for workers internationally.
This day must triumph the women whose working conditions are among the worst. Whose labour is more often than not unrecognised, uncelebrated, subjugated and discredited.
The normalised exploitation of women’s work is engrained within a neo liberal system of oppression that seeks only to benefit those at the top. The persistent stigmatization of industries in which women are the primary workers have led to an increase in their mistreatment and regressive attitudes towards a woman’s agency in the workplace. The rhetoric of empowerment has become classist when we fail to acknowledge that a woman may find empowerment in whatever manner of work.
It is recorded that women tend to work longer hours than men and yet are far less likely to receive promotions and additional training in their specific field of work. Moreover, on average women’s hourly wages are 25% lower than that of their male counterparts. What is more, while gender dynamics remain the same in the home, more often than not women are working while simultaneously undertaking the primary role when it comes to domestic tasks and responsibilities.
In order for matters to transform the relationships women have within their respective industries of work, we must act towards enabling better access to workers organisations whom can provide women with the provisions and facilities of a fair working environment that can empower, facilitate and enable women to accomplish and progress. By representing women’s rights within the workplace, this holds the potential to ameliorate labour rights for society as a whole. Such a process begins, by celebrating working movements, by commemorating those who are too often forgotten!

Initiative Féministe Euroméditerranéenne, Euromed Feminist Initiative IFE-EFI

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