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Bridging the gap: How the SDG Fund is paving the way for a post-2015 agenda

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Photo: UNDP/Peru

We are fast approaching this September’s Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with world leaders debating the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group. The post-2015 development agenda will focus primarily on strengthening opportunities to reduce poverty and marginalisation in ways that are sustainable from an economic, social and environmental standpoint. The SDG Fund, created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with an initial contribution from the government of Spain, has been designed to smoothen the transition from the Millennium Development Goals phase into the future Sustainable Development Goals. The rationale of the joint programme initiative is to enhance the development impact of technical assistance by combining inputs from various UN entities, each contributing according to its specific expertise and bringing their respective national partners on board. To illustrate, we are currently implementing joint programmes in 18 countries addressing challenges of inclusive economic growth for poverty eradication, food security and nutrition as well as water and sanitation. The majority of our budget is invested in sustainable development on the ground and is directly improving the lives of more than one million people in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Arab States and Africa. National... Read more

Whatever you call it, violence against women is never acceptable

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Although local activists continue their efforts to stop the tradition of bride kidnapping, more work is needed to make a difference. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Along with the beauty of its mountainous landscapes, one of the first things associated with Kyrgyzstan is the cruel phenomenon of bride kidnapping. This ritual involves ambushing a young woman and detaining her until she agrees to marry her kidnapper. I read a lot of sad stories about this practice coming from different countries in Central Asia and Africa, as well as trite justifications based on culture and poor economic conditions. But perhaps the most striking story I’ve heard is the personal account of a young woman I will call Roza. Roza has been kidnapped twice, first at the age of 19, then at 23. In both cases she clearly remembers the applause welcoming the kidnapper when he brought her home. It was as though they were heroes coming back from a victorious battle. She was the spoils. The first time, Roza was taken to a nicely set room and offered tea and plov while her potential mother-in-law praised the virtues of her son – “a hard worker and mild person”. Roza stubbornly refused the marriage. Many other female relatives joined the effort, the discussions eventually becoming very tense with shouting and threats. After a long night, she was eventually allowed... Read more

Gender equality: A human right critical for development progress

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In Sonsonate, El Salvador, UNDP promotes women’s economic empowerment as a way of reducing violence. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

This week, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women. The review of this visionary roadmap, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, is an opportunity to celebrate the world’s progress toward ensuring the rights and opportunities of women and girls, and also to renew and reinvigorate commitments to achieve gender equality. One of the great achievements of the Beijing Platform for Action was the clear recognition that women’s rights are human rights. Since that historic gathering in Beijing, when 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists gathered to voice and demonstrate their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment, there has been increasing recognition that gender equality, in addition to being a human right, is also critical to making development progress. If women and girls are not able to fully realize their rights and aspirations in all spheres of life, development will be impeded. Twenty years on, we can see both progress and challenges in the twelve areas of critical concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. Gender parity in... Read more

Zero Discrimination Day: a call for freedom, equality, and inclusion

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At the opening of the BeingLGBT in Asia dialogue, New Zealand parliamentarian Honorable Louisa Wall; Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator, Thailand; Trans activist Geena Rocero; and LGBT activist and TV host Sophon Shimjinda show their support for Zero Discrimination.

Zero Discrimination Day is an international call for freedom, equality and ending exclusion. This day, and every other day, for effective HIV and development responses we must work towards creating a world that is free from stigma and discrimination. Intolerance is often fueled by and mirrored in harmful laws, policies and practices – laws, policies and practices that are not founded on human rights but based on moral judgment, fear and misinformation. These laws, policies and practices exclude or punish those that are marginalized. They perpetuate stigma and discrimination by dehumanizing and criminalizing those who are most vulnerable and they place a disproportionate burden on those affected by HIV such as sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. In a number of countries, discriminatory laws criminalize transgender people on the basis of their gender identity. These laws, which often reflect the social marginalization of transgender people, do not recognize their existence. Without legal recognition and access to justice, transgender people are unable to get official documentation with their names and sex reflecting their gender identity. Without the accurate identification, they are unable to access even the most basic of services that they are... Read more

Peaceful Societies Need Security Reforms

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In Haiti, UNDP has contributed to the professionalisation of 2,700 people in areas critical for recovery and development, including vocational training for all judicial actors (judges, registrars, police officers).

For societies to be inclusive, they need to be peaceful and safe for all. They need to be safe for those who most need protection. They need to be safe for women. Last week, the Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform (SSR), and its Slovakia and South Africa co-chairs, convened a meeting to discuss how national governments can enable reform, with the United Nations supporting them in their efforts.   In April 2014, with support from more than 40 Member States, the Security Council unanimously passed the first-ever stand-alone resolution (2151) on security sector reform.  This highlights the broad political support for such reform and its links to crisis management, post-conflict stabilization and sustainable development. The latest report of the Secretary-General on SSR emphasizes community and citizen security.  This is where we see strong linkages to the post-2015 Development Agenda and where Member States, within the context of the Open Working Group, have placed rightful emphasis on violence reduction and accountable, responsive governance. 2015 marks the 10 year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  Security for women is part of our quest for gender equality.  We continue to see unacceptably high levels of sexual violence... Read more

Climate change and inequalities: How will this impact women?

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Women are key drivers of sustainable development. (Photo: UNDP)

Of all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, one does not get the attention it deserves: exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women. In poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment. Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life. But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful. Just look to Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development. With our support, the association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate. In the process, women... Read more

A rural community calls for an end to FGM

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Communities in Qena are joining forces with international organizations and civil society to end FGM in Egypt. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP Egypt

I recently visited the village of Beir Anbar in the district of Koft, Qena governorate, and listened to the powerful statement this community is conveying to the rest of the country to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The whole village, from young schoolchildren to village elders came together to denounce FGM as "violent", "wrong" and "harmful". Even today, many girls and young women are subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91 percent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation. The people of Beir Anbar made it clear that Egyptian girls and women deserve a new tradition – a tradition of protecting and safeguarding their rights. The joint efforts of families, community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out this traditional harmful practice. Let us be clear: there is no justification – moral, religious, cultural, medical or otherwise for this practice. ‘Cutting’ demeans, dehumanizes and injures. It is a human rights violation that must be actively opposed until it is ended. As we gathered inside the community centre, a group of... Read more

The lessons from the ground on Gender-based Violence

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Girls from Qena where the whole community has joined forces to end FGM. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP

To commemorate this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, our innovation lab in Egypt will work with young people to develop an IT application that helps victims report cases of gender-based violence (GBV). The space offered to these young champions of the GBV cause is just one of many examples of how social innovation is providing solutions to tackle and prevent violence.   Across the world, similar bottom-up initiatives pick new angles to address GBV. In Uganda, the organization Raising Voices has developed an ambitious project called SASA! It explains to social activists  what power means, both its positive and negative uses, and has successfully reduced community tolerance of GBV. In Azerbaijan, an  organization for gender equality explores different cultural values –what they call “national values”- that can help raise awareness about the need to reduce GBV. Many of these initiatives focus on making the voices of the people heard. Also in Uganda, the Manya Human Rights International Film Festival is providing film training for marginalized women so that they can tell their own stories through documentaries. As the UN-led consultations on the Post-2015 agenda have shown, people who participated in the discussions care and are willing... Read more

Making innovation work to end gender-based violence: The search for better feedback loops

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In Egypt, the joint efforts of community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out the traditional harmful practice of FGM. Photo credit: UNDP/Egypt

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is a reminder that more needs to be done to address gender-based violence (GBV). Globally, one out of three women experiences violence in her lifetime, most likely committed by a partner or family member. Given the prevalence and persistence of GVB across the globe it is necessary to strive to find more effective solutions with the people we work for. In UNDP, we explore innovations to address GVB based on our multi-sectoral approach to prevent violence against women. In this context, innovation is merely the logical result of taking our mandate seriously. While technology is an important accelerator for innovation, we do not equate innovation with technology. “Think change, not technology” is an important principle for marrying gender equality and innovation. Leveraging technology for advocacy provides us with the great opportunity to broaden the scope of influence but this requires dedicated efforts and communications in a language that our target audiences actually understand. In Nepal, for example, UNDP, through short video clips and quizzes, challenged young Nepalese women and men to rethink dominant gender norms. The clips are shared via social media and a specific focus is put on reaching audiences... Read more

The way to stop violence against women and girls

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Everyone has a role to play in ending GBV, but with so many actors involved, we need better coordination and communications. Photo credit: UNDP/Pakistan

An average of 1 in 3 women across the world suffer from violence at the hands of a partner, in their lifetime.  Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects lower and middle income countries, poorer regions within these countries, and in particular vulnerable groups that include migrants, sex workers, and people living with HIV or disabilities. Earlier this year, I took up the role of UNDP Regional Advisor on GBV in Asia and the Pacific.  Since then, I have had numerous conversations that more or less follow the same pattern: “I cannot believe we still have such high rates of violence around the world, but it all seems so complicated and deep rooted in our societies.  What can we actually do to reduce this violence?”    Recently, I contributed to the Lancet Series on Violence against Women and Girls. This project gave me the opportunity to discuss challenges in the field and exchange ideas for ways forward with some of the world’s most renowned experts on violence against women.  It also gave me time to think about an answer to this question: What can we do to reduce gender-based violence? The resulting five papers in the series present the evidence of which methods... Read more

Ebola response cannot be gender blind

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With borders closed and travel restricted, small holder farmers, mostly women, are hard put to get to community markets to sell their produce. © 2014 Morgana Wingard

Years of combatting HIV, malaria and tuberculosis - all of which have taken a harsh toll on women in sub-Saharan Africa - reveal lessons that, if heeded, could help stem the tide of the Ebola epidemic. There is little doubt that women are at the frontline of the Ebola crisis, as they are most often responsible for caring for sick relatives at home, or likely to be working as nurses, traditional healers and health facility cleaners. There is scant reliable data disaggregated by gender on the current outbreak, but reports suggest it has a particularly destructive impact on women. With medical facilities overwhelmed, expectant mothers are often left without pre-natal care, obstetric services and newborn care.  With borders closed and travel restricted, small holder farmers, mostly women, are hard put to get to community markets to sell their produce.  Isolated by quarantines or orphaned by Ebola, girls and young women are at increased risk of gender-based violence and exploitation. Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of Ebola on women is a first step, but it’s not enough. To succeed, responses must put gender-specific realities and needs front and center. It is critical to recognize and involve women as leaders in their communities. Women... Read more

Volunteering the future: A call to arms

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Photo: Zaven Khachikyan/UNDP in Armenia

How does volunteering make a difference? These days, we are trying to do development differently: to partner with less usual suspects for outside insights, and tap into local energy and initiatives. The ethos of volunteerism is exactly the same – it is not a supplement to the work we do; it is a natural component within it. And with whom do we partner up to do this? The answer, of course, is young people. They are the natural choice. To be truly inclusive though, we have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach. Today, we have the largest cohort of youth in human history. Fifty percent of the population is below the age of 30. We cannot shape an effective response to youth matters if we do not include the voices of young people themselves.  We see ample evidence of this already happening in our region. In Belarus, young people volunteer to give free city tours to blind children; others provide orphans with clothes for harsh winters. They don’t see themselves as volunteers per se, but as citizens passionate to create infrastructures for resilience in their communities. So... Read more

Games and apps that build peace

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Photo: Tom Pietrasik / UNDP India

When I was in Liberia last year, my national colleagues were making fun of me because of my ancient Nokia, compared to their flash phones. I will admit that I could use an upgrade, but I was struck by how ubiquitous smart phones have become – even in developing countries. Of course there are big gaps and the spread of technology has not been completely equitable – but 6.8 billion people use mobile phones daily and mobile use in developing countries is growing at an annual rate of 7.5 percent. And in many developing and conflict affected places, phones, tablets and computers today offer a great opportunity for communities to interact and engage with one another – and especially to bridge gaps between young people. When I was growing up video games were all about killing aliens, shooting bad guys and jumping over barrels to save the girl from the angry gorilla. Today however, their scope has broadened. A new breed of games and smart phone apps are being designed to promote peace and development. As my friend Helena says in a recent blog “…is it a crazy proposition to suggest that digital games could also be venues for dialogue and... Read more

Women are still being forcibly or coercively sterilized, it's time to end the practice

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A mom and her newborn baby at the Maternal & Child Health Training Institute for the medically needy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Kibae Park/UN

Though voluntary sterilization is considered an important form of pregnancy prevention in many parts of the world, force or coercion should never be part of the equation. However, there continue to be cases of women, people living with HIV, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, or transgender and intersex persons who are sterilized without their full, free and informed consent. Our report, “Protecting the right of key HIV-affected women and girls in healthcare settings” highlights the persistence of this practice amongst women and girls in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan living with HIV, along with a range of other serious forms of abuse.  These practices are not only discriminatory, they are also violations of fundamental human rights. As reported in 2012 by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, coercive and discriminatory practices in health care settings are rife, including forced HIV testing, breaches of confidentiality and the denial of health care services, as well as forced sterilizations and abortions. Voluntary sterilization is dependent upon a legal environment and social and health programmes, policies and practices that guarantee the rights of all individuals to free, full and informed consent. To this end, countries must prohibit the practice of... Read more

Social media games battle gender stereotypes in Nepal

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Our work will primarily target young people between 13-19 years of age, as research shows that adolescents are still forming their attitudes at this age. Photo: UNDP

The problem with social norms is that even the most conscientious of citizens often stop questioning them. They simply perpetuate. Across South Asia, and in Nepal in particular, despite major strides in women’s economic empowerment in the past decade, gender stereotypes, domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence still continue to cripple society. According to a 2012 study, more than half of Nepali women experience violence in their lifetime. One way to fight these stereotypes and end gender-based violence is to swap roles so that men can experience what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes. At UNDP Nepal, we’re building on that premise as we look to tackle the high levels of violence against women in Nepali society. Behavior change is easier said than done, so we’ve decided to try and break the chain of violence by focusing on young people and their willingness to question social norms.  Here’s our gambit: we’ve designed an online interactive quiz for Facebook that turns how young people view gender roles in society inside-out and back-to-front. Six short animated videos, each followed by multiple-choice questions, depict situations where traditional roles have been inverted so as to raise the user’s awareness of... Read more

Questioning the ‘feminisation of development’ and the business logic

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A PARTICIPANT in A WOMEN ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME IN UPPER EGYPT. Photo: HEEWOONG KIM/undp.

‘Feminisation of development’ is a fancy phrase referring to the recent trend of seeing women as both beneficiaries and agents of change in development. This has become a popular approach and many of our programmes such as micro-loans, or skills trainings for women fit into this category. This new role is bolstered by a so-called ‘smart business’ logic. Based on this view, women’s empowerment is not only a rights or equity issue, but is also a good investment. UNDP and other UN agencies have, to a degree, subscribed to this logic saying that empowering women leads to better health, education and development overall; and many  of our programmes proved to be quite effective in producing results. For instance, the Conditional Cash Transfers programme provided to mothers in Latin America reduced inequality by 21 percent in Brazil/Mexico and 15 percent in Chile. An initiative targeting ultra-poor female-headed households in Bangladesh raised income by 36 percent and food security by 42 percent. But despite such success, there is mounting opposition against this trend, surprisingly, from the feminist schools. Sylvia Chant, a prominent gender and development scholar, strongly argues against this approach stating: “Women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims... Read more

Female genital mutilation: When a harmful traditional practice becomes a crime

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An artistic representation of FGM in Egypt. Photo: UNDP Egypt

Recently I visited Fayoum and Aswan, Egypt, and met with women, men and girls who are actively advocating against female genital mutilation (FGM). A father told me that when he understood that FGM had no religious basis, and was an inherited traditional habit, he actively started advocating against it. A female community activist I spoke to explained that until recently she had to meet families in secret to share her message against FGM, whereas now she is invited to speak openly. As evidenced by these testimonies, once people change their perceptions on FGM, they become staunch advocates against this harmful practice. The National Anti-FGM Day, on June 14th, was established in honor of 12-year-old Bodour Shaker, who died on the same date in 2007. In June 2013, 13-year-old Soheir El Batea suffered the same fate. As heartbreaking as these two tragedies are, their untimely deaths were not in vain. As a result of public mobilization, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalized in 2008 and the first case is currently under prosecution. Data from the Demographic and Health Survey suggests that some improvements occurred over the last two decades. In 2008, among women aged 15-17, the FGM/Cutting prevalence rate... Read more

Beijing+20: Time to fulfil the promise

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UN Women launches the year-long campaign, "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!," to spark global dialogue and actions on women's right and gender equality. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

I was recently among a few thousand people at the public launch of a year-long UN Women campaign marking 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women leaders, celebrities, officials and activists of all ages came together with musicians and performers in New York’s iconic Apollo Theater on 26 June to celebrate the landmark summit which made the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” universal. In 1995, as a graduate student volunteering with the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organization, I went to Beijing, one of more than 30,000 women’s advocates in the NGO Forum in Huairou. ‘Beijing’ symbolized the moment when, as feminist leader Charlotte Bunch put it, “all issues came together. Crossing borders and boundaries, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, age, diversity was key to women’s success in Beijing.” Women’s work and tireless advocacy were in large part behind the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with its 12 critical areas of concern. To date, it is the most comprehensive bill of women’s rights that women have won by consensus. Much has since changed for the world’s women and girls – in health, education, work, rights and opportunities. But celebrations of Beijing are tempered... Read more

A sole woman at the negotiating table for peace

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SHADIA MARHABAN SPEAKS TO REPORTERS AFTER PARTICIPATING IN A CLOSED, MEETING OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN MEDIATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION. PHOTO: UN

Almost ten years ago, I was part of a peace process that produced an agreement to end a 30-year bloody conflict between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Then and now, women are rarely seen in this peace negotiation arena. They are not perceived as adequately prepared for tackling "tough" issues like peace and security. Despite recent international obligations to include women in peace processes, reality has not kept pace with rhetoric. My own presence, as a lone woman among "tough" men, who had been at the helm of the struggle for independence for decades, was unique. As a woman, and a mother of two children, I did not push to go to Helsinki for the peace talks, since it meant leaving my two small children. But as fate would have it, the official negotiators were arrested on the way to the airport and exiled to prison. By default, I then became formally part of the negotiations, as I was a field expert. I was treated with respect by the top leadership. I presented myself not as a woman on the team, but rather as a field expert whose expertise was important to the... Read more

How can we promote peace and development at the same time?

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A woman greets members of the Technical Support Committee of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in Mugunga IDP camp near Goma, DR Congo. Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN

The 2014 Global Peace Index, which was released last week, revealed that the world has become less peaceful every year since 2008. It also showed that the global economic impact of violence is USD 9.8 trillion – or 11.3 percent of global GDP. While many developing countries have made tremendous progress in reducing poverty over the last decade, these are depressing numbers. However, they reiterate that peace and stability – and the prevention of violent conflict — are inherently tied to sustainable development. A less peaceful world is a much more challenging place to fight inequality and want. Countries experiencing repeated cycles of violence face poverty at significantly higher rates. People in unstable and conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be under-nourished as those in other developing countries; and children in conflict zones are more than three times less likely to be able to attend school, and twice as likely to die before the age of five. Nine out of 10 countries with the lowest human development index have experienced conflict within the past 20 years. We must double down on efforts to mitigate risk and prevent the loss of development investment when conflict strikes. Success today depends... Read more

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