Why we need to stand in solidarity with Afghan women

Kate Hughes, campaigner for the Rights in Crisis Team at Oxfam write for us.

Ten years ago, Afghan women were promised a bright future. After decades of civil war, and repressive Taliban rule, they have entered a new era in which they are once again able to work, send their daughters to school, and even stand for parliament. But now these hard-won gains are under threat, and women fear that they will be abandoned as international military forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. A new international campaign has recently launched, “Green scarves for solidarity with Afghan women”, that aims to support Afghan women’s groups and keep their fight for better rights at the forefront of the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan.

When international forces first went into Afghanistan, women’s rights were much discussed.  Wives of Western leaders came out publically in support of Afghan women; notably Cherie Blair and Laura Bush, spoke about the importance of supporting Afghan women.  Cherie Blair said this support was vital “so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

Yet, as the conflict has continued and Western nations have become wearier of war, focus has shifted away from women’s rights, and more towards how and when to bring troops home.  Advocates of women’s issues have increasingly struggled to get the funding from donors that they deserve.  For example, even though Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with 1 out of 11 women dying in pregnancy or child birth, The Independent reported in August that the coalition government is failing to support Afghan women.  “Not a single penny of the British government’s £178m annual Afghanistan reconstruction budget is being spent trying to save the tens of thousands of women who die in childbirth there”.

Despite the increasing challenges for Afghan women, a brave and bold women’s movement is pushing for change.  The Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) is a decidedly mobile and active campaigning group that serves as a well-established network for the growing number of women’s organisations operating in the country
“ One of the major concerns is the absence of Afghan women in discussions and decisions on peace, “ says Samira Hamidi, AWN’s director. “No negotiation or decision can be complete if half the population’s views are ignored.”
AWN campaigns vigorously in the political sphere. They specialise in global advocacy in conversations that will shape the country’s future, as well as in country campaigning.  For the 2009 presidential elections, AWN launched the 5 Million Women Campaign.  The campaign mobilised women to influence the political agenda of different candidates.  The campaign did not try to appeal or align itself with any one candidate.  It instead aimed to unite women as a strong voting block and present women’s issues as a vote winner to candidates.
To give the campaign a strong visual identity, women wore green scarves edged in red and black stripes (the other colours in the flag of Afghanistan), into which they sewed messages such as, “Our vote is our future”.  Men joining the campaign wore green caps, edged with red and black.
Another group trailblazing women’s activism in Afghanistan is Young Women for Change (YWFC).  Founded in April 2011, Young Women for Change is made up of young activists who have grown up in the more liberal Afghanistan of the last 10 years.

YWFC organised Afghanistan’s first ever march against street harassment July this year, something that would have been unimaginable, and quite frankly impossible, 10 years ago.

Though their messages and issues may echo feminist issues globally (violence against women and issues of political participation) – their campaigning environment is exponentially tougher.  One must remember that women in Afghanistan still face acid attacks, violence in the home or even being killed for working outside the home.  This summer, two women in Kandahar were murdered on their way home from their offices precisely for this reason.

Activists globally supporting women in Afghanistan

Activists globally have an important role to play in supporting the struggle of Afghan women.  For those of us in the UK, our government contributes troops to the intervention in Afghanistan and is also contributing millions of pounds each year in aid.  The UK has both a role and a stake in Afghanistan and we have a role to play in lobbying and monitoring the coalition government so that women’s rights remains high up on the agenda.

On December 5th the international community will meet at Bonn in Germany for a conference that will chart the course for the international community’s involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  It is a vital opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm their commitment to Afghanistan’s women and girls, and ensure that their access to basic services – so vital to Afghanistan’s future – is supported for the next decade.

How can you help?
We need to demand that the government does not to sell out Afghan women for the sake of peace at any price.  We need to stand in solidarity with the struggle of Afghan women.

To show support of the green scarf that has come to symbolise Afghanistan’s women’s movement –Oxfam, and others, have launched the “Green scarves for solidarity with Afghan women” campaign.   We are calling on people to wear green scarves in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and to upload images to a photo petition. These images will be handed over to ministers and used to build a photo wall at the Bonn conference, demonstrating the movement of global solidarity with Afghan women.

Aqlima Moradi from YWFC is featured in the campaign video, where she sums up the importance of global solidarity by saying “the fight for human rights is something that is everyone’s responsibility”.  It is our responsibility to act.
Add your face to the photo petition:  http://ch16.org/afghanwomen

Our #BAD11 contribution – How could a UK forest company be keeping people hungry in Uganda?

LCID member Serena O’Sullivan writes for us on World Food Day

Today, October 16th 2011, is World Food Day. And it coincides with Blog Action Day (or #BAD11 for tweeters) – 24 hours of social action by bloggers around the world, who write on a different subject every year, this year being FOOD. A happy coincidence!

The Labour Campaign for International Development and its supporters blogged on water last year for Blog Action Day and today we’re blogging about the impact of a UK forest company on hunger in Uganda, and it’s not the simplest story.

A couple of weeks ago, Oxfam International launched a damning report regarding the ‘land grabs’ happening across the developing world, and presented a detailed case study on one incident in Uganda. ‘Land grabs’ are the result of land becoming a very valuable and scarce resource for companies, so they are simply reaching into developing countries and taking land to serve their purposes, with a complete disregard for legislation, and the human rights of those living and working on that land. Results are horrifying – with people unable to grow their own food from the land and hunger and food aid dependency swiftly following.

Oxfam has found that the UK-based New Forests Company (NFC) may have been grabbing land in Uganda – making up to 22,500 homeless and taking land which was used for school buildings and for crucial agriculture. The land was keeping these people sheltered, educated and fed.

Since the report was launched, there have been serious developments. Oxfam say in the past week, members of the evicted community have reported feeling intimidated and harassed after questioning by workers from NFC. They want people to take action by emailing NFC’s Chairman Robert Devereux, and demand his immediate attention to the issue.

And what role must the coalition government take in ensuring these atrocities stop? Oxfam recommends home country governments to:

  • require companies investing overseas to fully disclose their activities
  • ensure that standards and safeguards are implemented to protect small-scale food producers and local populations, including through development finance organisations like the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation.
  • remove measures in national legislation that support reckless large-scale land acquisitions, including biofuels mandates, and avoid introducing new ones.

As LCID members – what do you think we could do to support government reform and to make sure UK registered companies are held accountable for their actions abroad?

Should we lobby the coalition for tighter regulations of UK companies? Should we highlight to the coalition and Labour of the atrocities taking place? In the meantime, do read Oxfam’s report, and take action on their site.

David Morrissey says ‘Keep the Promise’

At the Gleneagles summit in 2005, the G8 countries made a promise: their aid budgets would be increased to 0.7% of their national income. Now, just 6 years later, there are already signs that some of those countries are failing to live up to their word. The Labour Party, with Harriet Harman at the helm as Shadow International Development Secretary, is demanding that the UK is not added to this list.

Speaking out today, actor David Morrissey has spoken out today, saying “there is much to be proud of, but there’s also much to be done. You can watch the video here

Visit the Keep the Promise website to find out more about Labour’s work, both in Government and in opposition, on increasing aid for the world’s poorest.

On International Women’s Day call on the Government to back up UN Women

Today is International Women’s Day, Labour is holding the Conservative-led Government to account on its promise to women around the world. This comes a week after support for UN Women was left out of the aid review. In an email, Harriet Harman asked people to ask them why:

Today is International Women’s Day. Join me in calling on the Government to answer the question they failed to answer last week when they published their review of the UK’s international aid programme – how much will they commit to spending on the new UN women’s agency?

This new UN agency has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of women in both the developed and the developing world but it needs resources.

The Government say they are putting women and girls at the heart of their development work. Sign up and ask the Government to put their money where their mouth is and show the world that the UK is still a leader for women

The Labour Government played a key role in establishing “UN Women”. The new Government must continue that support. Empowering women is not only right in principle but essential for fighting poverty and achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals, such as reducing the number of women who die in childbirth, and increasing the number of girls who go to school.

It is women in developing countries who are best placed to fight for maternal health care, and for their daughters to go to school. UN Women must help them in that fight. Support UN Women by signing up to ask the Tory-led Government for a real commitment to back up women throughout the world

Decisions are being made on this now and women the world over need the UK to play its part. The women of the world shouldn’t have to wait any longer for this Government to make up its mind.

Best,

Harriet Harman
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

 

Standing up for women around the world

Speaking yesterday at the start of the 55th Commission on the Status of Women, Harriet Harman took the opportunity to welcome the launch of UN Women, which was officially launched.

“This is a very important meeting. It will see the official launch of UN Women and bring together women from around the world.

“There can be no retreat from the Government’s promise to spend 0.7% on development aid by 2013. Women and girls around the world are helped by aid– from the woman in Nigeria who no longer has to walk for miles to get water, to the girl in Bangladesh who can now go to school. We must not turn our backs on them now.

“Women in the developing world must not be made the victims of deficit reduction programmes, as they are in the UK, where the government’s cuts are hitting women the hardest.

“UN Women will support the women in parliaments and in governments across the world – they are the ones who will fight hardest for the women in developing countries. UN Women will play an important role in backing them up to ensure progress for the women they represent.”

Harriet was joined by Fiona Mactaggart, Shadow Equalities Minister, who will sit on the Commission, highlighted the importance of UN Women. She said: “At the Interparliamentary Union meeting which coincides with the session I will be working  with colleagues in other parliaments and governments to make sure that UN Women works with elected women to advance the condition of women throughout the world.”

As Shadow International Development Secretary, Harriet Harman has made it clear that female elected representatives will be key in improving the lives of women across the developing world. This was a fact that she reinforced last week at the launch of the Keep the Promise campaign, which was hosted by LCID.

 

Select Committee reports on DfID

In this guest post, Anas Sarwar MP writes again for LCID about the work being done on the International Development Select Committee.

Last week saw the publication of the International Development Select Committee report looking into DFID’s Annual Report & Resource Accounts for 2009-2010.  It offers a valuable insight into the key policy areas the coalition government wishes to pursue going forward.  

Some of the main policy areas it touches on include; a major push for efficiency, which will see DFID become the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world; the establishment of a new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), which has been set up to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes; and more work with fragile and conflict affected areas.

 Greater Efficiency and Greater Effectiveness

The Report begins by expressing the Committee’s support for the coalition Government’s commitment to meet the UN agreed target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2013 which was put in place by Labour.  Unfortunately, the government hasn’t yet taken the final step and given a timetable for enshrining this commitment in law. That is what Labour and our campaign for international development must continue to keep pushing for.

The Government hopes to see DFID becoming the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world, by reducing its running costs to 2% of its total budget.  This is to be done through cutting DFID’s back office costs and increasing spending through multi-lateral organisations.  Although, the Committee’s Report welcomes efficiency, it is imperative that we do not compromise our long term strategic goals and objectives. 

As a Select Committee, no matter where we go or whoever we meet, we are always being told that DFID’s greatest assets are its staff.  I sincerely hope that the Governments efficiency drive will not undermine the fantastic image that DFID staff project of the UK all around the world and more importantly the incredible work of vital frontline staff.

A new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), has been established to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes.  The ICAI –which will be accountable to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee – builds on foundations laid out by Labour in Government, and should ensure that money being spent overseas is effective.  

Where should the focus be? 

At a time when 32 out of the 34 countries furthest away from reaching the Millennium Development Goals are in or emerging from conflict it is right to focus aid on such areas.  The Report therefore welcomes the increased priority being awarded to working with these areas as part of a broader development and conflict prevention/resolution agenda. 

However, it issues a cautionary note to the Government in the need for it to recognise the challenges that may arise in redirecting assistance from countries with good governance – where aid is likely to be better spent – to countries that are conflict affected where corruption and bad administration often mean the impact is more difficult to manage and even more difficult to measure.  This is important at a time when the Government is keen to ensure the effectiveness of aid.

Currently 90% of DFID aid goes to low income countries, many of which are graduating from low income to lower-middle income country status.  To support sustainable growth and development, and ensure earlier work is not wasted, we cannot afford to overlook the need for providing ongoing support for these countries, where the prevalence of poverty in the general population remains high. DFID should ensure they continue to focus on the people most in need, not just the countries most in need.

We must now press the government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in to law, and we must provide strong scrutiny to ensure that defence or diplomatic spending is not compromised by being claimed as ODA.   Working with the Shadow DFID team and LCID we must ensure Labour remains the leading voice for development.

Could AV mean a fairer deal for the world’s poor?

LCID is not endorsing either campaign in the upcoming referendum on voting reform, however, we recognise that many people are. In this guest post, Stephen Doughty, Former Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for International Development, writes for the Yes to AV campaign about why he is backing the change.

Make trade fair, drop the debt…say yes to fairer votes?

It’s not the most obvious thing that comes to mind when putting together a list of things we could do here in Britain to help make a greater difference for the world’s poor, oppressed or marginalised – but there’s a closer link than might at first be obvious.

Our voting system is at the core of how we function as a democracy here in Britain, and determines what issues parliamentarians and governments see as important, and ultimately prioritise.

In simple terms – making votes fairer will mean a stronger voice for those who care about global issues like poverty and climate change.

The current electoral system unfortunately helps to encourage a lowest common denominator type of politics.
Issues like the economy, crime and public services will always dominate our political debate for a number of reasons – but the electoral system as it stands also ensures that our elected representatives and candidates often have little incentive to respond to other passionately held concerns about global issues such as poverty, injustice, human rights and climate change, unless they find themselves in a highly marginal race, or when a candidate is personally motivated.

Under the fairer alternative vote system, candidates in elections will have to listen and respond to the concerns of engaged citizens and campaigners in order to win.

Candidates would need to secure at least 50% support of local people to win an election, including getting second and third preferences to help them over the finish line, if they did not win outright on first preferences.

This would be a big change from the just one in three votes that in many seats put them in power today.

It means that candidates will have to work harder to win the widest range of support and listen to people who care about global issues, in order to secure their second or third preference which might help them to get elected. Whether a candidate is willing to back fair trade, a global deal on climate change, or maintaining our aid promises – could make the difference for many when deciding how to place their second or third preference vote. And a fairer voting system also punishes those candidates who take extremist positions.

A fairer voting system also importantly means that tactical voting is no longer needed. You will be able to vote for the candidate you think has the best policies on global issues like tackling poverty or climate change, without worrying that your least favoured candidate might benefit from your decision.

If your favoured candidate doesn’t win, you will have still have impacted on the result by picking others in order of preference, perhaps based on their record on global issues – and punish those with strongly opposed positions.

So what would be the result? And why does this matter? Essentially – it means that the next House of Commons would be filled with more people, who had to think more widely when getting elected about their positions and attitudes to global issues.

They would have had to listen to campaigning organisations and committed individuals more than ever in the past. And the net result should be a more outward thinking and globally aware set of parliamentarians forming the next government – and ultimately British policies which make a difference for poor and marginalised people globally.

But I also think there is another reason.

Global campaigning organisations have often been at the forefront of the fight for better political systems in some of the world’s poorest and most fragile states – from the fight against apartheid to support for the Burmese democracy movement. Or in other countries fighting for a greater voice for ordinary people with those who are elected to govern.

We thankfully live in a democratic country, with significant freedoms, liberties, checks and balances – far from the challenges that many sadly still face today in the world.

But that doesn’t mean we should sit back and be satisfied with a system that could be even better.

Making votes fairer is about being part of a global movement to ensure the concerns of ordinary people are better heard in the political system.

And it could help make global concerns feature even more strongly in the agenda of the next Parliament and Government.

That’s why I am backing the campaign.

To find out more and to sign up to support the campaign – visit http://www.yestofairervotes.org

 

Save the Children launch ‘No child born to die’

Today, Save the Children, launched their new campaign, ‘No
child born to die’. The campaign focuses on the plight of children
in poverty, both in the UK and abroad. This campaign comes at a
particularly important time, with the first Child Poverty strategy
and the Budget due in March.

We are looking to
the critical opportunities of the government’s first child poverty
strategy and the Budget, both in March of this year, to see
evidence of the government’s commitment to tackle child poverty and
to ensure that ‘work pays’ for poor families… Our campaign ‘No
child born to die’ aims to close the gaps in immunisation
provision, healthcare workers and finance that prevent children in
the world’s poorest countries gaining access to the healthcare they
need. The hope is that politicians will work together with Save the
Children and our partners to save 15 million children’s lives by
2015.

You can lend your support to this campaign
by signing up on the Save the Children website. It is
already supported by many Labour politicians, including Glenys
Kinnock, so please do help get even more of them behind
it.

Anas Sarwar writes for LCID on the 2010 MDG Review

By Anas Sarwar, Glasgow Central MP and  member of the International Development Select Committee

If you’d like to get up to speed on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, the International Development Select Committee’s report on the 2010 Review Summit is the ideal place to start.

Published yesterday, it provides a detailed overview of where things stand and, more importantly, where the shifting sands of global policy will take us in the lead up to the 2015 MDG deadline.

The report looks at three strands: what has been achieved so far; the summit outcomes; and what needs to be done.

Initially, I was pleased to learn that progress toward eradicating extreme poverty and hunger has been generally good – the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.8 to 1.4 billion between 1990 and 2005. 

But when I looked at the figures in greater detail I was dismayed to discover that the number of people living in extreme poverty has actually increased during that same period if the millions of people pulled out of poverty by China’s surging economy are discounted.

This is just one reason why it was so important to bring together 140 heads of state at the recent MDG Review Summit.

You see, progress toward achieving the MDGs before the 2015 deadline has been lethargic.

The select committee report describes the indifference shown by both developing and donor countries in meeting their commitments and underlines the fact that we are no closer to establishing a new international framework to succeed the MDGs post-2015. 

All the while, volatile food and financial markets, more frequent natural disasters, and climate change are restricting development progress.

The committee’s report makes a series of recommendations to DfID. Two of the central suggestions encompass my vision for the future of development: to target development assistance at building democratic institutions and tackling gender inequality.

It’s absolutely vital that DFID supports democratic institutions in developing countries so that citizens can hold government to account. To that end I have stood up in the House of Commons and demanded that our government help developing countries strengthen their tax collection systems. I have also joined charities in campaigning for the introduction of new UK legislation similar to the US Dodd-Frank Bill which improves transparency and regulation of the US financial system.  That would help to give governments in developing countries access to a more sustainable stream of finance, and it would also promote stronger governance by fostering a more accountable state-citizen relationship. It’s what the long-term success of the summit and the MDGs ultimately depends on.

It is also crucial that we develop a global approach to tackling gender inequality. It’s widely known that maternal health is directly affected by the social, cultural and economic inequalities women face based on their gender. My grandfather reminded me recently of the importance of women in society by saying: ‘educating a boy benefits one man; educating a girl benefits a family. Countering gender inequality in the developing world is the key to unlocking many MDGs.

The Labour government accomplished much after setting up the dedicated Department for International Development in 1997.

We trebled the aid budget; cancelled debt owed by the poorest countries; and cut the link between aid and commercial interest. We were the first country to sign up to the UN agreed goal to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on development assistance by 2013; we ensured Britain became the world’s second largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor. We championed the case for development across the world and we cemented Britain’s position as the global leader. 

These are achievements we can be proud of. But if we are to stand any chance of reducing global poverty in the future it’s vital that these achievements are seen as a foundation to build on.

There is much building work to be done.

And global action to promote stronger governance and gender equality in developing countries must be the cornerstones.

Will Human Rights have their day in Bangladesh?

By Claire Leigh

You may not know it, but today (10th December) is World Human Rights Day. Coinciding the with the day that Liu Xiaobo fails to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his tireless efforts to promote greater respect for human rights in China, this year’s celebration is a good time to reflect on the billions of people worldwide for whom the very concept of ‘human rights’ must seem like a meaningless abstraction.

I recently returned from Bangladesh, where I spent four days visiting projects supported by UK charity One World Action. Among other things, One World Action works with local NGO Nagorik Uddyog to promote the rights of the 5.5 million Dalits currently living in Bangladesh. Dalits (often referred to as ‘Untouchables’) represent the lowest castes in the traditional Hindu hierarchy, historically engaged in trades and occupations that are considered ‘unclean’ such as sweeping, cobbling, disposing of dead bodies and manual scavenging (a euphemism for sewerage work). In an endemically poor country, these people are the poorest of the poor; socially, economically and politically marginalised, Dalits are routinely denied even their most basic rights, ignored in public and despised in private.

The plight of Dalits living in India is well documented, having been brought to light by Ghandi as early as the 1930s. However, as most of the Dalits living in Bangladesh were brought in from India under the colonial regime, the majority-Muslim society has until recently regarded caste-based exclusion as an ‘Indian problem’ that does not concern Bangladesh, or at least a ‘Hindu problem’ that does not concern the vast majority of Bangladeshi society.

In the two days I spent visiting Dalit communities in and around Dhaka, the idea that Dalit exclusion is not a Bangladeshi problem became patently ridiculous.

Most Dalits in Dhaka live in so-called ‘colonies’, physically demarcated areas squeezed into the most crowded parts of the city. The entrance of the first colony I enter is marked by a discreet arch, covering a tiny alleyway which leads into a maze of narrow streets beyond. Like Platform 9 ¾, you would not know it was there unless you were shown. Hidden away like this the colony seems to physically embody the marginalisation and exclusion of its inhabitants; out of sight, out of mind. Our driver Mintu had no idea such areas of town existed and was visibly taken aback by what we saw.

The first thing that hits you in the confusion of smells; open sewers mixed with frying spices and fresh laundry hung over the already crowded alleys, creating a kind of bunting of colourful dripping clothes. Then the inhabitants- not only the dozens of children that we gather as we walk around, but the thousands of flies that make the colony their home. As we tour round a maze of streets we see houses which are no more than small rooms, often home to families of eight people or more. We see the temples and community halls that provide the only large spaces for the community gather. We walk past the toilet block, an open space for showering with no separate areas for men and women, meaning people are forced to wash over their saris and lungis, denied even the privacy of their morning ablutions. The shared WCs are so few in number that they attract an even greater density of flies, gut-churning smells and angry queues of people.

But among the chaos and the squalor you also get a keen sense of a community increasingly aware of its rights and increasingly able and willing to fight for them. I met young women who were studying for college degrees, and who had chosen, rather than escaping their roots, to come back into the community to teach and lead. I met mothers who had started women’s groups, providing the training, support and loans necessary to earn extra income and provide alternative occupations outside the traditional Dalit trades. And I met men and women who through groups such as Bangladesh Dalit Human Rights were advocating at the city and national levels to tackle Dalit exclusion, improve conditions and promote new laws to protect the human rights of all marginalised communities.

A rally organised by BDERM (Bangladeshi Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement) on my fourth and final day in Dhaka demonstrated just how far the movement has come in a few short years. Cars hooted their horns and cycle rickshaws rang their bells in solidarity as Dalit protesters marched past the National Museum proudly holding signs bearing a slogan that is hard to argue with: ‘Dalit Rights are Human Rights.’ As we marched with the crowd I looked to my left and saw that our driver Mintu had joined the protest, the newest convert to a growing movement.