Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Empowering Women

Despite many international agreements affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

The ability of women to control their own fertility is absolutely fundamental to women’s empowerment and equality. When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life. When she is healthy, she can be more productive. And when her reproductive rights—including the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of her children, and to make decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence—are promoted and protected, she has freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.
Understanding gender equality and women's empowerment

Gender equality implies a society in which women and men enjoy the same opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life. Equality between men and women exists when both sexes are able to share equally in the distribution of power and influence; have equal opportunities for financial independence through work or through setting up businesses; enjoy equal access to education and the opportunity to develop personal ambitions. A critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Women's empowerment is vital to sustainable development and the realization of human rights for all.

Where women’s status is low, family size tends to be large, which makes it more difficult for families to thrive. Population and development and reproductive health programmes are more effective when they address the educational opportunities, status and empowerment of women. When women are empowered, whole families benefit, and these benefits often have ripple effects to future generations.

The roles that men and women play in society are not biologically determined -- they are socially determined, changing and changeable. Although they may be justified as being required by culture or religion, these roles vary widely by locality and change over time. UNFPA has found that applying culturally sensitive approaches can be key to advancing women’s rights while respecting different forms of social organization.

Addressing women’s issues also requires recognizing that women are a diverse group, in the roles they play as well as in characteristics such as age, social status, urban or rural orientation and educational attainment. Although women may have many interests in common, the fabric of their lives and the choices available to them may vary widely. UNFPA seeks to identify groups of women who are most marginalized and vulnerable (women refugees, for example, or those who are heads of households or living in extreme poverty), so that interventions address their specific needs and concerns. This task is related to the critical need for sex-disaggregated data, and UNFPA helps countries build capacity in this area.
Key issues and linkages

Reproductive health: Women, for both physiological and social reasons, are more vulnerable than men to reproductive health problems. Reproductive health problems, including maternal mortality and morbidity, represent a major – but preventable -- cause of death and disability for women in developing countries. Failure to provide information, services and conditions to help women protect their reproduction health therefore constitutes gender-based discrimination and a violation of women’s rights to health and life.

Stewardship of natural resources: Women in developing nations are usually in charge of securing water, food and fuel and of overseeing family health and diet. Therefore, they tend to put into immediate practice whatever they learn about nutrition and preserving the environment and natural resources.

Economic empowerment: More women than men live in poverty. Economic disparities persist partly because much of the unpaid work within families and communities falls on the shoulders of women and because they face discrimination in the economic sphere.

Educational empowerment: About two thirds of the illiterate adults in the world are female. Higher levels of women's education are strongly associated with both lower infant mortality and lower fertility, as well as with higher levels of education and economic opportunity for their children.

Political empowerment: Social and legal institutions still do not guarantee women equality in basic legal and human rights, in access to or control of land or other resources, in employment and earning, and social and political participation. Laws against domestic violence are often not enforced on behalf of women.

Empowerment throughout the life cycle: Reproductive health is a lifetime concern for both women and men, from infancy to old age. UNFPA supports programming tailored to the different challenges they face at different times in life.

Experience has shown that addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policy-making.

thnx mustapha, for sharing

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gender Justice Key to MDG Progress

Inés Alberdi. Credit: UNIFEM
With five years remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the 2010 MDG Summit challenges world leaders everywhere to commit to actions to accelerate progress. A UNIFEM briefing, excerpted from its forthcoming report on women’s access to justice, points to key areas where such actions are critical.
It shows that despite promising progress on many of the MDG targets, national averages mask large disparities in terms of gender, income and location, with large numbers of women and girls being left behind, especially in rural areas.
Gender justice entails ending the inequalities between women and men in the family, the community, the market and the state. It also requires that mainstream institutions – from justice to economic policymaking – are accountable for tackling the injustice and discrimination.
The briefing identifies four critical areas where action is essential: expanding women-friendly public services; increasing women’s leadership, voice and influence in society; strengthening women’s access to employment and livelihood opportunities; and ending violence against women and girls.
Ensuring universal access to services is vital to efforts to eliminate hunger, expand education, reduce maternal and child mortality, improve reproductive health and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Inequalities in access to services impede progress on the MDGs. People living in rural areas are at a marked disadvantage, because poverty rates are higher and access to services and markets are lower.  Removing user fees, providing educational stipends and ensuring safe and reliable transport have been shown to increase access to education and health care and reduce infant mortality. Employing more female service providers has been shown to increase women’s use of services and offer positive role models for girls.
Women’s participation is essential to gender-responsive governance. Where women’s voices are heard, policies better reflects their lives; where under-representation persists, their interests are repeatedly ignored.
Globally, women’s share of parliamentary seats averages 19 percent and women occupy 16 percent of ministerial posts, primarily in the social sectors. Stronger action is needed to increase women’s leadership not only in elected office, but in economic policy-making, agricultural and rural development, peace negotiations and many other fields. The most effective way to do this is through special temporary measures, including quotas; of the 29 countries that have reached or exceeded the 30 percent benchmark for women in parliament, at least 24 have used quotas.
Increasing economic opportunities for women underpins gender justice and propels progress towards the MDGs; increasing women’s employment and earnings is associated with reduced poverty and faster growth, better education and health outcomes for families and children and less rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.
Yet gender discrimination persists. In every sector women have fewer opportunities, less job security and lower pay than men. In rural areas, the vast majority of women earn their livelihoods in small scale agriculture, lacking secure land access, agricultural services or credit.

The MDG Summit draft outcome document emphasizes that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity and sustained economic growth. It includes commitments to increase women’s access to decent work, close wage gaps, and other investments, especially for rural women.
Violence against women and girls is widespread and persistent in all countries, retarding progress on all the MDGs.  Cost estimates of such violence to public budgets and lost productivity also run into billions of dollars each year.
The draft outcome document commits to strengthening comprehensive laws, policies and programmes to combat violence against women and girls. . These provide a solid basis on which to move forward, in line with the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign to End Violence Against Women, particularly at country level.  A key goal of the UNiTE campaign is to increase resources for the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which supports actions to combat violence against women and girls to $100 million annually by 2015.
The creation of UN Women, a strengthened and consolidated UN entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, by the General Assembly this year is an indication that the political will is there. Strong political and financial support for UN Women by countries around the world will send a strong message that the world is ready to match commitment with investment.
*Executive Director, UNIFEM (part of UN Women)

Black Women Face Double Discrimination, Half Century After Revolution

By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Sep 21, 2010 (IPS) - Cuban women have to work twice as hard as men to get ahead in their careers. But things are even tougher for black women in Cuba, although discrimination by reason of gender or skin colour is prohibited by law and by the constitution itself.

"My mother, who was a simple farm worker, used to always say to my sisters and me: 'You girls have to study hard to show everyone you can be just as good as any white boy or girl in whatever you choose to do.' And that’s exactly what I tell my daughter now," Maritza Rodríguez, a 51-year-old elementary and high school history teacher, told IPS.

She said she has never felt less than anyone else, not even when she feels the eyes of all the sales staff on her as she looks around a store. "They look at me suspiciously because I'm black and I'm not all dressed up; it doesn't occur to them that I'm a professional. That's a form of discrimination," she said.

Like most people in Cuba, Rodríguez was severely affected by the economic crisis of the 1990s, brought on by the fall of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist bloc, Cuba's main aid and trade partners. But she doesn't dwell on that. She does complain, however, about the lack of opportunities she as a black woman has to get ahead in her profession.

"In 2005 I completed a master's degree, and now I'd like to write a book," she said. But her ambition alone is not enough to overcome financial difficulties, poor access to sources, and a limited network of contacts. "In that sense I feel marginalised as a woman and as an Afro-Cuban. I don't see many black women writers in Cuba; most female writers here are white," she said.

More than 60 percent of the 11.2 million people of this Caribbean island nation are of African or mixed-race descent, according to studies by Esteban Morales, an academic who specialises in racial issues.

Racial inequality in Cuba was for many years a taboo issue, and it is only recently that people have begun to talk openly about it. Public debate was prompted by calls by the Cofradía de la Negritud (roughly, 'The Black Guild'), a project that seeks to raise awareness about the problem. One of its most recent workshops focused precisely on the double discrimination faced by black women in Cuba.

The Cofradía de la Negritud is also attempting to address the lack of proper media coverage given to race issues, as well as the lack of a gender perspective.

This may explain the surprised reaction by many of the participants in the late August workshop to Desiderio Navarro's presentation on the portrayal of Afro-Cuban women in advertising.

Navarro, a writer and cultural activist, used images to illustrate what he argues is a racist ad campaign designed to attract foreign tourists to Cuba through post cards, posters and billboards showing young black women on the beach. The scantily-clad women in the images are always on their own; for Navarro, an underlying suggestion -- and the key part of the message conveyed -- that these women are available.

"Afro-Cuban women took advantage of the opportunities afforded by the (1959) revolution, and we now see them engaged as professionals in every area, including education, health, science, and culture," but in advertising they are being "sold" as sex objects, Cuban art critic and writer Inés María Martiatu told IPS.

Mayra Espina, a psychologist and writer who works at the Psychological and Sociological Research Centre, said that several studies concur that the 1990s crisis aggravated poverty and social inequalities.

Black Cubans are more likely than their peers of European descent to live in poor housing conditions and earn low incomes, she pointed out. Women in general and Cuba's eastern provinces are also more acutely affected by the gap in socio-economic conditions.

Some of the participants in the workshop said Afro-Cubans are always at a disadvantage and that more than half a century of social change under the socialist government has done little to erase social differences, which date back to colonial times, when the population was divided between white slave-owners and African slaves.

Espina said that Cuba's social policies are "universalistic" in nature, and that there was never an attempt to specifically address the prejudice and discrimination faced by any group in particular, on the argument that such an approach only serves to perpetuate stigmatisation and inequalities.

But, "exactly the opposite has happened, as extremely egalitarian policies have not been able to overcome the enormous inequality we started out with" in terms of discrimination, she said.

Espina agreed with Morales -- who has written several essays on the issue of race -- that affirmative action is needed to tackle inequalities rooted in a person's gender, skin colour or the area they live in. The particular problems of each group must be addressed, she said.

According to Espina, gender, race and social class are intricately connected sources of discrimination. Thus, she says, "It is not enough to provide free education for all; more funding and greater quality education must be made available to the most vulnerable groups and to those living in the worst conditions."

In a recent article, Morales said that Cuba would benefit from an affirmative action approach to development, aimed at eliminating the disadvantages faced by the black and mixed-race populations and other disadvantaged groups.

ips news 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Women, Children Top U.N.'s Anti-Poverty Agenda

By Matthew O. Berger 

Sept 2010 (IPS) - All eight of the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are critical to development, but numbers four and five on child and maternal health are the real priority areas for this year. That was the main takeaway from a series of briefings with U.N., NGO and country officials in which IPS participated this week.

When the MDGs were agreed in September 2000, they laid out a clear pathway to the often vague goal of "development". Taken together, the accomplishment of these eight individual milestones would mean a more prosperous, equitable world.

But two-thirds of the way to the goals' 2015 deadline, the progress that has been made is only partial and sporadic.

While some of the developing world has seen significant advances, the poorest countries have been left behind. Likewise, while some of the goals are on track, others have not yet gotten the attention and investment they require.

Goals four and five fall into the latter category.

MDG four seeks to reduce deaths of children under five by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Five aims to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters and achieve universal access to reproductive health care.

It is in these goals that there is the widest gap between the countries somewhat on track for the MDGs and those that are not, the experts agreed.

"MDGs four and five are the most off-track of the MDGs 10 years in," said Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the United Nations.

These goals, therefore, will receive the bulk of the attention at the MDG summit to be held at United Nations headquarters in New York on Sep. 20 to 22.

Maternal health and children's health are two of the most lagging of the MDGs, and the lagging on maternal health in particular is having an echo effect, said Robert Orr, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning.

"We need to move these lagging MDGs from the back of the train to leading it, and we're going to do just that," he said. Orr sees the lagging MDGs as "dead weight at the back of the train, dragging the whole set of MDGs down."

Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, agreed, but pointed out that no matter how important maternal and child health are they cannot pull the train along by themselves.

The focus cannot be solely on two or three MDGs, he said. "We need to do several things at once because you can't just have health, or just education, or just poverty reduction."

That sentiment was echoed by other officials. "These eight are the priority areas – that's why there's eight of them and not 28," said Sigrid Kaag, assistant secretary-general and assistant administrator and director of the Partnerships Bureau of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), after being asked to name the most important MDGs.

But this year does appear to be the year for women and children as far as the MDGs are concerned.

"For the first time, we can say that all the key sectors are cooperating to address these lagging MDGs," says Orr.

Those sectors will work to drum up attention and support for the neglected issues.

"Spending on women is too often seen as an expenditure, but it is an investment," noted Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund.

The bottom line, said Sachs, is "it costs money to make sure a mother doesn't die in childbirth – not much money."

The U.S. spends 7,000 dollars per person per year on health care and other industrial countries spend 300 to 400 dollars, said Sachs, but the developing world mostly only needs 50 to 60 dollars. "That's about as cost-effective as something can be," he said.

And where has that money been? There are numerous factors, but in part it comes down to communication. The MDGs, the experts said, are both a boon and bane to communications.

The MDGs are particularly useful as tools for gaining attention for development issues, said John McArthur, CEO of the NGO Millennium Promise. "They have shown us what development success would look like." Without the MDG framework, he explained, people would not be able to point to lagging MDGs and focus on gaps in aspects like maternal health.

On the other hand, the fact that the goals are laid out as individual targets belies how connected they are.

"The MDGs are a great communications tool but they're also a cage" in that the individual goals are connected more than they appear to be, noted Dujarric.

In the 10 years leading up to this month's summit, progress has been mixed, the officials reported.

Sachs said they have not seen achievement at the pace laid out in 2000 and are not on track to achieve most of the goals. But it would be wrong to think cynically of the MDGs because "all over the low-income world countries have stepped up in a way they haven't before," he adds.

"My summary is that a remarkable number of governments are taking the goals seriously," he says. In his opinion, the limiting factor so far has been the U.S., where the MDGs are not really on the public's radar, and when they are they are only thought of in a cynical way.

In part, the summit, which many world leaders are expected to attend, should help to raise the goals' profile. "In a way, the summit is about raising awareness…shaking the world up a little bit and saying you're doing a great job but you need to do a lot more," explained Sharon Kinsley of the U.K.'s permanent mission.

"In our view, it is the event and the side events that will be the mark of success for the event rather than the document, which will be read mainly by experts rather than the general public," said Lyall Grant.

Michelle Bachelet's Appointment to Head UN Women Widely Applauded

By Daniela Estrada*

Sept 2010 A level of enthusiasm seldom expressed at United Nations appointments welcomed the naming of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as the first head of UN Women, the new agency created to raise the profile of gender and women's issues.

Bachelet (2006-2010), a 59-year-old socialist pediatrician and epidemiologist, will formally assume her post, which will also make her a UN under secretary-general, on Sunday Sept. 19.

UN Women -- whose longer name is the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women -- was created on Jul. 2 by the General Assembly and will begin its work on Jan. 1, 2011.

"Bachelet's designation was a cherished hope of the entire Latin American women's movement," Teresa Valdés, the coordinator of the Gender and Equity Observatory of Chile, told IPS.

In his announcement Tuesday in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills and uncommon ability to create consensus and focus among UN agencies and many partners in both the public and private sector.

"I am confident that under her strong leadership, we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world," he added.

A rumour had been going around in the past few weeks that Bachelet had declined the offer.

"I gave it a lot of thought," Bachelet said Tuesday in Santiago. "But I accepted because I understood that this task is along the same lines of what my personal history has always been: working for equality, in this case gender equality, for the rights of persons, for social protection, and fighting violence and discrimination."

AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organisation that works to promote more urgent and effective global responses to HIV/AIDS, applauded the appointment of Bachelet, describing her as "an eminently qualified, effective and respected leader" who has "an unimpeachable record of feminist advocacy in support of women’s rights and social justice".

But in a statement signed by Paula Donovan, the organisation had harsh words for the selection process led by Ban, saying "Bachelet’s appointment is a rarity at the UN: an excellent outcome emanating from a fundamentally corrupt selection process."

In response to a question from IPS, Ban said the selection process "has been very transparent, and very objective, and fair."

The process began as soon as the General Assembly approved the creation of UN Women, and was opened up to nominations by the member states and civil society, he said.

From a list of "26 distinguished candidates from all around the world," a selection panel chose three finalists, who "I interviewed personally last week," Ban explained.

But in the view of AIDS-Free World, "the search for a strong under secretary-general to lead UN Women was cloaked in furtive secrecy, marred by backroom wheeling and dealing and thoroughly dishonest in its claims of being a ‘fair, open and transparent’ process with the meaningful involvement of civil society."

Asked by IPS about what he expected Bachelet to accomplish in the medium term, Ban responded that he hoped that under her leadership, UN Women would meet "the expectation of so many millions and millions of women and girls around the world.

"We have a little more than three and a half months," he said. "I will discuss this Sunday, when I appoint her formally, how we can make the process very speedy, so that we can appoint and recruit staff, and we have to have our agendas. Basically we have all these structures in place. Now it is a matter of how we can speedily implement these structures and policy and visions."

The new agency will consolidate four separate entities: the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI).

UN Women will have a minimum budget of 500 million dollars -- twice the budget of all four former organisations combined. But civil society organisations say one of Bachelet's first tasks is to double that amount.

The appointment of Bachelet indicates that "the new agency has been given the highest possible stature" and "it crowns a political decision that equality must be a central focus; that development is not possible without women," said Valdés, the editor of the book "¿Género en el Poder? El Chile de Michelle Bachelet" (Gender in Power? Michelle Bachelet's Chile), presented Jul. 9.

Her leadership "will help strengthen concern for gender issues in the UN system, because she is closely associated with this issue at the international level," political scientist María de los Ángeles Fernández, who is also writing a book on the former president, told IPS.

"Michelle Bachelet is a top notch choice and has long been one of GEAR’s dream candidates," said U.S. activist Charlotte Bunch, a founding member of the Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign launched by 300 organisations dedicated to promote the creation of a more powerful women's agency.

"An effective leader of great integrity, Bachelet has demonstrated strong commitment to women’s empowerment and the ability to shape gender equality policies in a variety of areas. She also has the stature to mobilise the resources crucial to make UN Women a success," said Brunch, the founder of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The legacy left by the government of Bachelet -- who was herself arrested, tortured and exiled by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet -- includes both concrete and highly symbolic achievements, analysts say.

Besides naming the first cabinet with gender parity in the Western hemisphere, she gave visibility in her speeches to the gender inequality that persists in Chile.

Her accomplishments include the 2008 reform of the pension system, which introduced a basic pension for poor homemakers who have never earned a wage outside the home, as well as a stipend per child for all mothers.

Another flagship programme of her administration, which has been replicated in other countries in the region, is the Integral Protection System for Early Childhood "Chile Crece Contigo" (Chile Grows with You), which provides support for parents and children from conception through age four.

Other major gains for women under her government include the large number of free day care centres and nursery schools established throughout the country, which have given women more freedom to enter the labour market, and a law aimed at bridging the gender wage gap, which also grants labour benefits to domestic workers.

Bachelet's naming as head of UN Women "is a promising step because it entails recognition of the importance of a woman who set a precedent in Chile," activist Adriana Gómez, with the Articulación Feminista Por la Libertad de Decidir (Feminist Network for the Right to Choose), told IPS.

"But it is also an opportunity for her to acknowledge the 'debts and omissions' of her administration," she added.

Gómez cited, for example, the failure to push through a broad law on sexual and reproductive rights and a law on the decriminalisation of therapeutic abortion, which refers to the termination of a pregnancy when the mother’s life is at risk, the foetus is deformed, or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Despite the fact that under Bachelet, the poverty rate grew slightly in Chile for the first time since 1990, due mainly to the global economic crisis, and in spite of the institutional negligence and shortcomings revealed by the severe February earthquake, she is still the most popular political leader in the country, according to opinion polls.

Although she has stated that running for reelection in 2014 is not in her plans, the hopes of the centre-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy, which governed Chile between 1990 and March this year, to return to power at that time are pinned on her more than on any other leader.

She was even chosen as the best president in the history of Chile in a recent survey.

By accepting the UN appointment, "she is closing the door to the possibility of an immediate return to the political arena, despite the high expectations resting on her shoulders, as the Coalition's most respected political figure," Fernández said.

The former president summed up her decision: "It looked like a wonderful task that I could not turn down."

* With additional reporting by Aprille Muscara at the United Nations.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

U.N. Climate Body Urged to Take Lead in Gender Focus

By Megan Iacobini de Fazio

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 8, 2010 (IPS) - Two weeks before the 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) review summit at the United Nations, concerns are being raised that gender equality is still largely divorced from efforts to address climate change, even though women have a critical role to play in solving - and are often most affected by – the problem.

Rebecca Pearl, a senior policy advisor for Climate Change at Oxfam America, told IPS that the two MDGs "are often seen in isolation and there is little overlap with the streams of implementation to ensure that environmental initiatives include a gender approach".

Many organisations and scientific bodies that deal with climate change still lack a gendered approach to their research and ignore the different ways in which the sexes may be affected by natural disasters, she said.

"It is important to continue building awareness that responses to climate change must address women's and men's different responsibilities and needs," Pearl said. "A gender-sensitive approach is prerequisite to the success of any climate intervention, and many efforts fail because the women are left out."

Although women are more adversely affected by natural disasters, because of their already disadvantaged position within many societies and because of their reliance on the environment, they have also proven more adept at mobilising communities in responding to disasters or motivating them in adapting to climate change.

There are a number of NGOs working on gender and climate change, many of which collaborate under the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) which was launched at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007 and now includes 25 institutions, both United Nations and civil society organisations.

Pearl told IPS that when the GGCA was launched it set out to accomplish a number of goals.

One is to establish a global policy on gender and climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"The UNFCC is one of only three major multilateral environmental agreements that does not have a strong gender approach," Pearl noted.

The other multilateral agreements with no or little reference to gender are the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which is legally binding, together with a number of ECOSOC resolutions should influence the UNFCCC to take action, Pearl told IPS.

However the UNFCCC has so far ignored these mandates, preferring to utilise the globally agreed language of the Hyogo Framework for Action, which deals with disaster risk reduction.

An advocacy group led by Women's Environment and Development Organisation and ENERGIA, an international network on gender and sustainable energy, has worked to put gender on the climate and energy agenda. The two organisations succeeded in making governments include more than 30 references to gender in the text of the UNFCCC in 2009.

The network of NGOs "hopes to build awareness of the gender dimensions of climate change". The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with other NGOs and U.N. agencies, for example, created the first training manual on gender and climate change.

The manual contains a large amount of information for civil society, UNFCCC, NGOs and U.N. agencies on how to conduct global and regional trainings.

Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor for IUCN, told IPS that "the IUCN has been dealing with major environmental conventions for years but decided to adopt a more structured strategy with the UNFCCC, to underline the importance of linking gender and climate change."

The manual describes a number of case studies on small-scale projects which aim to promote environmental sustainability and simultaneously empower women.

One such case is that of the Mama Watoto Group, which has been running an afforestation programme in the Kakamenga region in western Kenya since 1994.

The project, comprised of 28 women and their families, started when, due to soil erosion and infertility, women were forced to collect firewood illegally from the neighbouring National Forest reserve. By doing so, they exposed themselves to the risk of fines while also damaging the surrounding area and contributing to the general degradation of the land.

The goals of the project were initially only to reduce overexploitation of forest resources and find an alternative source of income for the communities.

However, while succeeding in achieving these aims, the project has also empowered women by putting them in charge of the afforestation programme, in which women plant fast- growing trees on their own land.

By having a diverse source of income, women are also less at risk of being the worst affected by future threats of climate change, such as floods, drought and landslides.

This is an example of how, by educating women in climate and environmental matters, considerable benefits can be achieved both in improving the lives and social status of the women themselves and in mitigating the consequences of climate and environmental change.

"The programmes are very well received and applauded at community level, both by women's and men's groups," Aguilar told IPS, adding that "the biggest opposition comes from institutions and decision makers, experts on the environment who however do not understand the social dimension of climate change."

"Often," Pearl said, "women are not included in local decision making bodies even though they may know the most about the local seed varieties, water sources, and the resource needs of their families and communities."

"However, any intervention, whether in the realm of development in general or climate change specifically, has the potential to simultaneously promote women's leadership," she added. 

Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.