Post-2015 Must Address Plight of Poor Urban Mothers and their Children

Child in slum in Kampala, Uganda next to open sewage -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Child in slum in Kampala, Uganda next to open sewage – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

May 8, 2015 – Save the Children says UN member states must make a commitment to tackling inequality in the post-2015 development agenda and in particular the disparities in urban settings where the poorest kids are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as the richest.

The organization’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report examined child death rates in cities. And from Delhi to Washington DC, the data showed that the poorest lack access to pre-natal care, skilled birth attendance and proper nutrition resulting in “alarmingly high risks of death,” according to the report released this week.

“We specifically looked at the urban inequities because more and more families are going to cities to have a better life for their families,” Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles told UN Tribune. But the poor are often confined to slums without access to proper sanitation and clean water supply.

“It really is about inequity and for us it’s about how do you reach those poorest children and more and more of those children are in urban slums,” Miles said.

The report says the post-2015 agenda must set specific targets for improving the wellbeing of urban mothers and children. While generally there has been good progress in reducing child and maternal mortality globally, this is not the case for the urban poor.

Specifically, Save the Children says the post-2015 framework should:

Ensure that all mothers, newborns and children have access to quality essential health services and other basic resources no matter where they live, how wealthy they are, or on the basis of their ethnic identity.

Include an explicit commitment that no target will be considered to have been met unless it has been met for all social and economic groups. This means that the proposed targets for child and newborn mortality should be achieved by all sectors of society within a country, not just at the national level.

Asked what low-cost high-impact interventions work best for tackling hight rates of child mortality in urban settings, Miles explained the work her organization does in community healthcare.

“A big part of what we do in urban settings are these community healthcare programs. They are local people – they could be women or men – who live in those communities and we train them on basic healthcare and we train them on working with mothers during pregnancy and making sure they’re eating the right things as much as possible, they’re going to the clinics for regular checkups, they have a plan for when they give birth for where they’re going to go – they’re not going to have their baby at home – they’re actually going to go to a hospital,” Miles explained.

“Those community health workers are really important and they look after that baby in that first really critical month for newborns,” she added. “You can implement that program for not a lot of money and you can do it in large numbers in urban slums, it’s very effective.”

Besides economic inequities, there are gender inequalities too with more girls than boys dying in their first five years. This is often a result of the prioritizing of boys over girls when it comes to health and nutrition, Miles said.

There are also more poorer women than men living in urban areas due to a number of factors including employment and wage discrimination and an increase in lone-mother households.

It is no surprise then that the report found that countries that come tops for gender equality – the Nordic states – are also the best places to be a mother while countries that rank low on gender equality indexes are at the bottom.

Top Five Countries
1 Norway
2 Finland
3 Iceland
4 Denmark
5 Sweden

Bottom Five Countries
175 Niger
176 Mali
177 Central African Republic
178 Democratic Republic of the Congo
179 Somalia

Source: Save the Children 2015 Mothers’ Index  Rankings

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Moldova's Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

Moldova’s Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

April 30, 2015 – The buzz surrounding the election of Ban Ki-moon’s successor continues to gather pace and this week in New York, 32 member states plus the EU spoke at a General Assembly debate on transforming the way the UN appoints its secretary-general.

Twenty-one of the speakers said it was high-time the UN seriously considered appointing its first female secretary-general. Eight men have held the post since the organization’s founding in 1946 and the UN as a whole – the secretariat, member states and the Security Council – has a less than stellar record on promoting gender equality.

There’s also wide agreement inside the United Nations that the next UN chief should come from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group that has not occupied the position, whereas three secretaries-general have come from the Western group, two each from Asia and Africa, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among the female candidates mentioned for the post are current UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and fellow Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, the EU’s budget commissioner, as well as Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite – who is unlikely to get a pass from veto-wielding Russia.

But there are others.

Of the five female foreign ministers among countries that are members of the Council of Europe, four of them are from Eastern Europe: Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Georgia’s Maia Pandjikidze, Estonia’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Pusic has been mentioned as a possible candidate while Pandjikidze and Pentus-Rosimannusis appear to be out of the running as long as Russia holds a veto over the process and, while there are mounting calls for the UN to change the way it elects the secretary-general, at Monday’s debate China, Russia and the US all voiced support for maintaining the status quo.

But Gherman may well fit the bill. Moldova lies at the crossroads of Slavic and Latin Europe. The tiny republic is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and also has aspirations of joining the European Union, signing an association agreement with Brussels last year.

Moldova’s ties to Russia are long and complicated. There are Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transnistria, ostensibly they are there as peacekeepers. Russia is also Moldova’s second biggest individual trading partner – behind Romania – and a major destination for Moldovan migrant labor. Their remittances are vital for Europe’s poorest country.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 at 4.42.52 PM

Gherman met with Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov when she was in New York last September. (photo/Moldova MFA)

Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine after it signed the EU association agreement and has threatened to cut off the country’s energy supply. Gherman’s party is decidedly pro-EU and she is at the forefront of pushing for the country’s membership in the bloc but it will likely be years before Chișinău fully meets the accession criteria

Its relations with Moscow are far more important currently and while a pro-EU party rules, support inside the country for joining the EU is lukewarm. More importantly, unlike most of its Eastern Europe neighbors, Moldova is not a member of NATO nor an aspiring member. Its constitution enshrines permanent neutrality.

While Gherman, whose father Mircea Snegur was the first president of Moldova, is far from an ideal candidate from Russia’s point of view, given her strong pro-EU orientation, if she puts her hat into the ring for the secretary-general race, she may well find that Russia is far more sympathetic to a Moldovan candidate than one from a neighboring NATO member state.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The Report on Sexual Abuse by UN Troops and Staff That Ban Ki-moon Quashed Now Made Public

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Ban Ki-moon speaks at event commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Nov. 2014 (UN Photo)


March 17, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon sent his report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse” in UN missions to the Security Council on March 13, he wrote that “the total number of allegations received (51) is the lowest recorded since special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse were first put in place.”

As part of the UN’s efforts to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse in UN missions, Ban wrote that “an independent team of experts was appointed to assess how four peacekeeping missions were addressing the challenge.” The independent experts submitted their report to Ban in Nov. 2013 but the UN chief has never made it public.

Contrary to Ban’s statement that allegations are at an all-time low, the independent experts report that, “The UN does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA.”

The independent report was highly critical of how the UN secretariat and troop contributing countries (TCCs) handle SEA allegations against United Nations peacekeepers and civilian staff. It says that the United Nations does not know how serious the problem is; there is extreme caution with regard to the rights of the accused but far less for the accuser; that victims are often paid off for their silence; that a number of allegations that are later classified as “unsubstantiated” by the UN are in fact never fully investigated because the UN lacks the expertise and the will to fully investigate; and that the UN pass the buck to troop contributing countries to investigate even though most allegations are against UN civilian staff.

But Ban’s attempt to quash the report have been undercut by the Aids-Free World NGO who were sent a copy of the independent report by a UN staffer who rightly feared that it would be shelved because of the poor reflection it casts on UN headquarters, TCC’s, and civilian personnel working for UN missions.

A copy of the independent experts report has been sent to UN Tribune along with a public letter from Aids-Free World who declare that the report from the independent experts “should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

The experts were tasked to investigate sexual exploitation and abuse allegations at UN missions in the DRC, Haiti, South Sudan and Liberia.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

2013 Expert Team Report

New York City Expected to Adopt CEDAW Legislation in June

Wordle_Visualization_of_CEDAW

Feb. 17, 2015 – As the sixtieth session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women opens in Geneva, the treaty is expected to get a boost in coming months when mayors from several US cities are expected to sign legislation to implement CEDAW at the municipal level.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of 100 mayors that signed on to a resolution at the US conference of mayors last year to enforce CEDAW at the municipal level and he is expected to implement the resolution in June.

The US is one of seven UN member states that have not ratified the 1979 convention, one of nine core human rights treaties, with both Republican and Democrat-majority senates rejecting the convention in part because of what they view as its pro-abortion agenda.

The convention makes no mention of abortion and countries that restrict or prohibit abortion, such as Chile, Ireland and Portugal, have ratified the treaty.

To circumvent the senate’s unwillingness to ratify CEDAW (the US signed the treaty in 1980), the Cites for CEDAW campaign was launched to push cities to pass laws to eliminate discrimination based on gender.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are currently the only two US cities to have passed ordinance to comply with CEDAW, which has been described as an international bill of rights for women.

During its sessions, the CEDAW committee, made up of 23 elected members, receive and review reports from states that have ratified the treaty and then issue recommendations. Some statements by the committee have caused controversy such as one in its 2000 review of Belarus when it said that, “The Committee is concerned by the continuing prevalence of sex-role stereotypes and by the reintroduction of such symbols as a Mothers’ Day and a Mothers’ Award, which it sees as encouraging women’s traditional roles.”

Besides the US, the other UN member states that have not ratified CEDAW are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Tonga. The Holy See, a non-member observer state also has not ratified the treaty while Palestine, also a non-member observer state, became the last country to ratify the treaty in April 2014.

Of the nine core human rights treaties, the US has ratified three: the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

Security Council Inconsistent on Women, Peace and Security

Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts
Jan 6, 2015 – The Security Council, as well as UN officials and member states, lack commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.

A new policy brief from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security notes while there has been improvement in some country situations and in thematic agenda items, overall there is “inconsistency in the Council’s discussion of gender…from the information provided by the UN system, to the discussion in the Council, to the action taken and to implementation on the ground.”

Security Council Resolution 1325, which will mark its 15th anniversary this year, recognized the different ways conflict affects men and women and the important roles both have to play in peace and security. In particular, it calls for the participation of women in peace processes, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and the prevention of violence against women through gender equality, accountability and justice.

The policy brief, which examines the 2013/14 Council, states that the 15-nation body has not “truly internalized” the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

“When considering crisis situations in countries that have peacekeeping or political mandates, the Council rarely addressed WPS concerns… Similarly, briefings from senior UN officials included reference to WPS inconsistently, regardless of the inclusion of WPS in the mandate on which they were briefing,” the paper says.

It adds that while the Council has strengthened the language of several peacekeeping mandates with regard to WPS, this is not matched by financial and human resources. It also says that on-the-ground missions are failing to consult local civil society organizations “despite being well connected and established in their area.”

“Further, there is often a gender-blind approach to civil society engagement; engagement with women’s organizations is not referenced or identified as a priority. Despite some gains, civil society and women human rights defenders are
increasingly targeted, and their rights impinged upon with little official Council recognition of the need for better protective mechanisms,” it says.

While the protection of women in armed conflict is receiving greater attention from the Council, this is still a massive gulf in the number of men and women participating in peace negotiation teams.

Overall the UN system, the Security Council, and all Member States must more consistently address WPS issues across their work in order to meet their obligations, the paper concludes, and it outlines a number of recommendations, including stronger efforts to ensure accountability matched by greater leadership efforts by UN actors, and that Ban Ki-moon’s special envoys and representatives report explicitly on the implementation of the WPS components of their mandates.

Less than 20 percent of the more than 100 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Ban Ki-moon are women while about one-third of his senior cabinet are women.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Related Story: The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality