Posts from May, 2014

A Data Revolution

By Jenna Wallace

Though the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been attributed to many improvements in health, safety, and social justice around the world, experts have expressed concern about the lack of data, especially disaggregated data, on major issues included in the MDGs like extreme poverty, maternal and infant mortality, and violence against women. In an effort to remedy this, the United Nation’s High Level Panel on Post-2015 development goals made a call for a ‘data revolution;’ the goal not only focused on soliciting high-quality and timely data from civil society, companies, thematic and regional consultations, and non-governmental organizations, among others, but also to assess that data. With the central Post-2015 paradigm focused on eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, and greater attention paid to strengthening equality and inclusivity, indicators must be disaggregated by sex, age, social, economic, and ethnic characteristics in order to effectively measure outcomes and impact.

Of course, more data does not necessarily mean better policies unless evidence-based decision making is applied, which speaks to the need for greater political will, government accountability, and tangible commitments from civil society. What data does do is assess international and national capacities, as well as highlight inequalities and inefficiencies in policies and programs. 

One of the interesting data sets emerging from the call for a ‘data revolution’ is focused on extreme poverty, compiled from several different sources and is currently highlighted by ONE’s campaign to end extreme poverty. Twelve interactive graphs show some of the major challenges to eradicating poverty all over the world. 

For example, did you know that 1.2 billion people (that’s almost the whole population of India) do not have access to electricity? An even higher number, 2.8 billion people, are dependent on wood or other bio-sources for cooking and heating their homes. Were you aware that today, there are more people living on 1.25 USD a day than at any other consumption level? Had you heard that in West and Central Africa, where literacy rates are the lowest in the world, men’s literacy rates are 20% higher than women’s on average? Or that in Nepal, over 80% of women give birth without skilled care from a birth attendant or midwife? 

Looking at these startling statistics may make the Post-2015 commitment to ending extreme poverty seem unrealistic; however, what this data points to is greater awareness of the situation on the ground, greater interest in the inequalities perpetuated through poverty, and a more evidence-based approach to tackling contemporary challenges that women, men, and children face every day in all countries around the world. After all, disaggregated data is a first step towards meeting critical development goals. 

VGIF is taking that step too – we have been evaluating our own data from the last 45 years to learn from our past grantees and better evaluate the impact of our grantmaking, as well as the impacts that our grantees’ projects are making on the lives of women and girls in their communities. We’ll be sharing this information on our website, so please check back soon. 

A Roadmap for Advocacy

by Staci M Alziebler-Perkins

A side event entitled, “Indigenous Women Roadmap for Advocacy Heading Post 2015 Development Agenda and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples,” organized by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum during the high level sessions of the Thirteenth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII-13), featured three Indigenous women activists from the Nordic Countries, Indonesia and Kenya, highlighting key political positions, strategies and road maps for advocacy.

Maria Eugenia Choque opened the meeting discussing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples saying for most Indigenous people the rights remain a dream, and that it is crucial for the voice of Indigenous women be heard in issues like climate change, climate violence and traditional values. She said “brothers and sisters we need to note the diversity of our traditional knowledge system, but must ensure we come together…as it is the unity of our organizations which has allowed many political processes to cement our advances.” Agreeing with Maria Eugenia, the moderator said that Indigenous women should not be invisible and marginalized in the process.

The second speaker, Dudrun Eliissa Lindi, from Sami Women’s Forum, discussed the Indigenous peoples in the Sami Women’s Movement which include women from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The Sami Women’s movement has worked hard to ensure Indigenous women’s rights, especially the right to self-determination and land rights. Even though the Nordic countries are considered far advanced in women’s equality and, “gender equality is a key part of the Nordic Identity and cooperation in this area is based on traditions,” Sami people are not part of it.

Romba’ Marannu Saba’ Sombolinggi’, from the Women’s Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (Perempuan AMAN), said Indigenous women were left behind in the Millennium Development Goals. Officially, the Indonesian government denies the existence of Indigenous Peoples based on the assumption that aside from the ethnic Chinese population, all Indonesians are indigenous. Due to extensive activism and advocacy, there is a draft bill on the protection of rights of Indigenous People at the National Committee on Women’s Rights. Perempuan AMAN’s advocacy plan for the Post 2015 Development Agenda is to make sure that there is a women’s rights based approach and a gender perspective in every goal.

Edna Kaptoyo, of the Indigenous Information Network in Kenya, indicated that the biggest challenge facing women in her community is patriarchy. Because of patriarchy, rights in regard to property, economic opportunity, education, basic health care, and sexual and reproductive rights are denied and violence against women both outside and inside the community continues, particularly when gender discrimination is perpetuated by traditional culture. Diminishing and contested ownership over natural resources are creating additional problems and there is a great need for data, especially sex- and age-disaggregated data. There are great changes happening too. Many African countries are transitioning to new constitutions and some are even implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). For Post 2015, Indigenous women in Africa emphasize the need for food sovereignty, to collect disaggregated data, to include a cultural pillar, and to demand accountability from Africa leaders.

Speaking from the floor, the Representative from Bolivia emphasized that her country has been fighting for Indigenous women’s participation at the United Nations so that their voices are heard at all meetings at all levels. Women are facing violence in ALL countries, not just physical, but also economical. She stressed the importance of all uniting, to give a voice to those who cannot be at the meetings, and particularly a voice to those who have been silenced so that we can live well. “Living well is not just about money, but of taking care of Mother Earth, as if we do not take care of Mother Earth, there will be no life, and no living well.”

According to Kristin Hetle, the Director of Partnerships at UN Women, UN Women is committed to ensure that Indigenous women will be heard on any and every issue of concern to them. To this end, UN Women has successfully advocated for a gender goal. At the Stakeholder’s Forum, as well as at the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) and CSW58, UN Women pushed for the inclusion of Indigenous women and strengthened key language regarding women in both CSW outcome documents. UN Women has also been instrumental in advocating for Indigenous women in regard to Violence Against Women and Reproductive Health and Rights specifically.

The side event was insightful, giving a voice to a variety of Indigenous women activists who are passionate about their history, culture, and the earth, but also just as passionate about advancing their rights in an ever more complicated world. 

Sexual Violence in Conflict

By Oletta Semple

Sexual violence in conflict is “a grave human rights issue that is as destructive as any bomb or bullet.” – Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon

Last week, the Security Council held a meeting to present the report of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict. Among those present were Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, a representative from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power. The speakers made explicitly clear that sexual violence in conflict impedes upon peace and contributes to poverty, as well as exacerbates other vulnerabilities. Rape in conflict victims are often alienated from their communities, and if they bear children, their children are outcasts as well. Speakers also called upon the international community to participate in efforts to eradicate sexual violence and help find sustainable solutions.

“Today, it is still cost free to rape a woman, child or man in conflict.” – Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sexual Violence in Conflict stressed how crucial it is for us to address this issue without delay. She referred to sexual violence as “a cheap and devastating weapon” and cited the situation in Bosnia, where over 50,000 women were victims of sexual violence throughout four years of devastating conflict. Twenty years later, the issue has yet to be sufficiently addressed; most of the incriminating evidence has been lost and there has been very little accountability. In fact, many perpetrators of sexual violence during Bosnia’s conflict remain in positions of power. The Special Representative concluded her speech with a powerful message to perpetrators, stating that the spotlight is now on them and promising that the international community will collectively pursue them.

Although rape has long been a weapon of war, it was officially made a war crime, crime against humanity, and crime of genocide by the Security Council under Security Council resolution 1820. This officially put it under the purview of the Security Council. By doing so, the Security Council affirmed that sexual violence in conflict not only affects the health and well-being of women, but also the economic and social stability of nations. However, we need to tackle this issue more aggressively. We cannot stand back silently in the assumption that higher level decision-makers will solve such serious global issues alone. The international community, the United Nations, governments, as well as civil society needs to work together to attain justice. As Ban Ki-moon stated “prevention is our collective responsibility.” We, as the international community, need to progressively fight to end impunity and hold perpetrators of such atrocities accountable for their actions. Without collective action, perpetrators will continue with impunity.

To learn more, go to:

The Human Cost of Conflict and Instability

by Abi Scholz

Last week, a series of thematic debates entitled “Ensuring Stable and Peaceful Societies” took over the UN’s General Assembly, featuring inclusive panels and lively discussion centered on peace, sustainable development, and stability. These talks featured voices from post-conflict states such as Timor Leste and Sierra Leone, as well as representatives from the World Bank, UNDP, and civil society organizations. Though the panelists expressed a wide range of concerns, suggestions, and ideas that sometimes conflicted, there was one uncontested point: that peaceful and stable societies are the foundation for successful sustainable development programs and sustained economic growth.

The immediate human costs of armed conflict and instability are devastating and far-reaching, as the conflicts in Syria and the DRC prove. However, the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods affect communities and nations for generations and have far-reaching, multi-sectorial consequences. By one measure, countries that have experienced armed conflict and instability between 1981 to the present have poverty rates that are 21 percentage points higher than average comparable countries, according to Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Assistant Secretary General, Peacebuilding Support. Not only do these communities experience greater poverty levels, but development programs fight an uphill battle to reverse negative trends. Ms. Yongmei Zhou, Manager for the Global Center for Conflict, Security and Development at the World Bank,said projects in low-income countries experiencing conflict or instability were twice as likely to fail as projects in low-income, peaceful countries.

Panelists and country representatives argued that development programs should not focus solely on rebuilding post-conflict societies once the dust has settled, but on preventing the outbreak and spread of conflict through improved participatory governance, accessible and fair justice systems, and proactive, accountable sustainable development programs. However, this approach is not without challenges. The highly-experienced representative from Pakistan pointed out that peace-keeping missions account for $7.8 billion in the UN budget, while the allotment for sustainable development can be described as modest at best. On a global level, nations spend $1.7 trillion on arms and weapons while global illicit financial flows, estimated at $1 trillion, support insurgencies with illegal arms, drugs and other conflict commodities. As H.E. Sofia Mesquita Borges from Timor Leste ruefully stated, “It is easier to burn down a house than to build it, just as it is easier to disrupt a state than develop it.”

The challenges facing stability and peace are numerous, but representatives from Timor Leste, Sierra Leone and Colombia shared lessons learned and pathways forward to aid development in post-conflict societies. Though it may be easier to burn down a house than to build it, we must continue to build and to develop through global partnerships that support peace and stability at the local level and encourage open dialogue for conflict resolution. Programs at VGIF that support women’s economic empowerment and education lay the groundwork for stable and peaceful societies and can be instrumental to preventing conflict. Building and developing may have a price, but the cost of conflict and instability are far higher than we, as a global community, can afford to pay.