Female Genital Mutilation: Not just an Emotional and Health Impact on Women but a $1.4 Billion Dollar Cost to Communities

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The World Health Organisation has released a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) “Cost Calculator” that highlights the massive economic costs societies have to go through as a result of the practice that’s considered a human rights violation by advocates. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, – When society doesn’t act to prevent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) it has a massive economic cost — over $1 billion — on communities globally. And while the practice is starting to become less common over time, experts say a large number of women and girls still remain affected.  

“By calculating the costs of FGM to women and society, this study shows that inaction has an economic cost and that investment in prevention will reduce costs in the long-term,” Elizabeth Noble, Information Officer of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Unit of the World Health Organisation (WHO), told IPS.

She was referring to last week’s release of FGM “Cost Calculator” by the WHO, that highlights the massive economic costs societies have to go through as a result of the practice that’s considered a human rights violation by advocates.

The interactive tool, available here, was launched on Feb. 6 to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

  • Currently, the economic burden of treating health complications arising out of FGM practices across 27 countries included in WHO’s dataset, stands at a staggering $1.4 billion annually.
  • Taking into account population growth, the amount can increase by 50 percent in the next 30 years, given that the prevalence of FGM remains as it stands today, explained Noble.
  • However, abandoning the practice would lead to a projected decrease in 60 percent of that cost, she told IPS.

The calculator, she says, “allows the user to visualise the costs of treating the health complications of FGM, by country, over a 30 year period, while also showing the costs averted by preventing FGM”.

An official from Plan International told IPS that there are currently 200 million girls and women alive today who have been affected by FGM.

“It is believed that by mutilating the girl’s genital organs, her sexuality will be controlled and her virginity before marriage will be guaranteed. This has severe consequence for girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights,” Alex Munive, Head of Gender and Inclusion of the Girls 2030 Programmes at Plan International Global Hub, told IPS.

He also detailed the long-term and short-term effects of the practice: infection, haemorrhage, psychological trauma and even death as seen in the immediate aftermath of the practice, and chronic pain, chronic urinary problems, obstetric complications including fistula and sexual problems seen in the long-run.

Munive says the practice, while becoming less common overtime, still has a large number of girls and women affected when taking into account population growth.

Beyond health, it also affects girls in their education.

“FGM is seen as initiation rite preparing girls for marriage,” Munive told IPS. “Once a girl is cut, they are married off quickly and are taken out of school. They are treated like adult women and lose all their child rights.”

Education itself can be means to address the concerns, he says.

“We recognise that education is a powerful tool for preventing FGM,” he said. “Girls who benefit from a quality education are less likely to marry while they are still children.”

It’s also pertinent to take into account that FGM is often done as part of cultural practices, which means advocates have to tread softly when approaching communities to address this issue.

To this, Noble of WHO said “strategies towards abandonment must take into consideration the underlying social and cultural beliefs about the practice.”

“It is therefore important to engage with opinion leaders in practicing communities,” she told IPS. “WHO is also working with nurses and midwives and other health care providers to strengthen their role as opinion leaders in abandonment of the practice.”

 

 

http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/02/female-genital-mutilation-not-just-emotional-health-impact-women-1-4-billion-dollar-cost-communities/

Macron says Mont Blanc glacier melting proves global warming

Screenshot_2020-02-14 Macron says Mont Blanc glacier melting proves global warming
French president Emmanuel Macron looks at the Mer de glace glacier from the Montenvers railway station near Chamonix, at the Mont Blanc mountain range in the French Alps, February 13, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

CHAMONIX, France, Feb 13 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday the melting of Mont Blanc’s main glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming, as he sought to burnish his environmentalist credentials ahead of municipal elections next month.

During a visit to the “Mer de Glace” (sea of ice) – France’s largest glacier which has shrunk dramatically in recent years – Macron met scientists and announced new protective measures for the area, including higher fines for littering.

“What we are seeing with the evolution of the glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming and climate change and the toppling of an entire ecosystem,” Macron said in a speech after going up the glacier.

The Alpine glacier above the mountain town of Chamonix has been a tourist draw since the 19th century, but over the course of the 20th century it lost an average thickness of 50 metres (164 ft). The shrinking has sped up in the past two decades.

“A landscape is being deformed before our eyes and species are disappearing quickly. The fight for biodiversity is a fight for our own survival and is inseparable from the fight against global warming,” Macron said.

Macron launched a new national biodiversity agency and gave an overview of his government’s environmental achievements, including scrapping disputed airport, mining and shopping mall projects. He also listed several international summits in 2020 where he said France would try to convince other nations to join its fight against global warming.

Critics say that following the success of France’s green party at the 2019 European Union election and with municipal elections due in March, the Chamonix visit and other ecology-themed actions are an attempt at courting the green vote.

“We’d prefer that he’d be in his office working on ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industries and tax breaks for trucking rather than doing electoral tourism on the Mont Blanc,” Greenpeace France climate campaigner Clement Senechal said.

French weekly Le Point said the launch of the biodiversity agency is largely symbolic and that the upcoming municipal elections seem to be a bigger priority for Macron than taking action on climate change.

Lawmakers for Macron’s centrist party have said that at a meeting with Macron earlier this week the president had told them that ecology would be a key pillar for his policies in the second half of his five-year mandate, which ends in May 2022.

On Friday, on the sidelines of a visit to Munich, Macron will meet leaders of Germany’s Green party.

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200213165308-nuplw/

Malian architect fights climate change with digital greenhouse

Screenshot_2020-02-14 Malian architect fights climate change with digital greenhouse
Fone Coulibaly ties up tomato plants in one of Amadou Sidibe’s greenhouses in Katibougou, Mali, February 12, 2020. Picture taken February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Annie Risemberg

KATIBOUGOU, Mali, – Climate change has made growing vegetables in Mali today much tougher than it was 40 years ago when Amadou Sidibe used to visit his father’s lush farm outside the capital Bamako.

Hotter temperatures and drought are adding to an already volatile situation in Mali where jihadist groups roam the northern desert reaches. Water reserves are precariously low and arable land is shrinking, causing tensions between communities seeking their share of dwindling resources.

“If nothing is done against climate change, Africa won’t be able to feed her children and that means war,” said Sidibe, an architect turned agricultural developer in southern Mali.

Inspired by his family’s gardening history, and by technology he had come across during business trips in Israel, Sidibe in 2011 began developing Mali’s first automated greenhouse – a hectare-wide metal and plastic structure that looms over the low surrounding scrub, the only vegetation that grows reliably under Mali’s blistering sun.

Inside Sidibe’s greenhouse, fed by a computer-controlled watering system designed by an Israeli company, are hundreds of rows of bushy tomato plants trained on string, their branches thick with unripe fruit.

Each plant gets a designated amount of water and fertilizer, and troublesome insects are kept out by netting that covers the whole greenhouse. Its ribbed roof helps limit the amount of sunlight and heat that penetrates the space. Strawberries grow year round, as do peppers and melons.

It is a sight that occurs naturally less and less across the Sahel, the band of arid land that runs west to east at the Sahara Desert’s southern edge. Temperature increases here are some of the worst in the world and the impact is seen by experts as one of the major root causes of displacement, poverty and violence.

“In the time of our grand fathers it used to rain and the cycles were regular,” said Sidibe. “We no longer control the water. And if we no longer control water, we don’t control agriculture.”

He employs over 30 people in his greenhouse, up from eight when he started out nearly a decade ago. The employees are inspired by the progress.

“Yes of course I want to do the same thing for myself,” said Haby Thera as she tied rows of tomato saplings to some string inside the greenhouse.

“If I had the means I would not hesitate to get involved in greenhouse agriculture. It’s fantastic and you never lose anything.”

Sidibe plans to expand his business inside Mali to 10 hectares and across the whole Sahel. He has clients in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and France and has already sold two greenhouses to businesses in Mali.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200213085457-cs9bd/

Nigeria’s roads: ‘My son died in a car accident – now I control traffic’

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Monica Dongban-Mensem (centre) received training from authorities to qualify as a traffic officer

During her free time, Nigerian Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem controls traffic in the capital, Abuja, eight years after her son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.

On the day I met her she was clad in her blue traffic vest, feet spread apart, sweaty arms slicing the air at a frantic pace, as she directed cars in 38C (100F) heat fuelled by the idling cars.

Around her was the busy chaos of the Berger roundabout in the city’s central area.

The cars that were not moving were hunched on their front axles, horns blaring, impatiently waiting for her to say “go”.

She was clearly in charge.

“Many Nigerians are impatient and it shows in their driving,” Justice Dongban-Mensem told me.

She did not know who was responsible for her son’s death but wanted to tackle some of the poor driving she witnessed.

She started going to bus stations to speak to drivers about road safety in Nigeria.

What she found shocked her.

Most of the drivers had not received proper training and were not familiar with the traffic rules.

Such ignorance might have caused the death of her son and she was determined to change that.

The 62-year-old has set up a non-profit organisation named after her late son – Kwapda’as Road Safety Demand – to educate motorists about safety and she also plans to establish a driving school for potential commercial drivers, where they can receive training free-of-charge.

Not content with that, Justice Dongban-Mensem wanted to play a role in controlling the traffic herself. After weeks of training with the road safety commission she qualified as a traffic warden.

It was not until 2016, five years after the accident, that she felt able to visit the scene of her son’s death in the central Nigerian city of Jos.

“My mission was to find someone who could just tell me or describe to me how my son died.”

But once she got there, she was left terrified, sad and angry by the chaos she saw.

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50728800

Ninety-year-old “chef of the poor” cooks it up for Rome’s homeless

Screenshot_2020-02-11 Ninety-year-old chef of the poor cooks it up for Rome's homeless
Dino Impagliazzo stirs a saucepan of soup for homeless living in Rome and outside the Vatican colonnades, Italy, January 18, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

ROME, – Dino Impagliazzo dices onions like a master chef and makes a mean vegetable soup, but most of his loyal “customers” can’t afford to buy even a bread stick.

Sprightly despite his 90 years, Impagliazzo is known as Rome’s “chef of the poor”.

Three days a week, he and other volunteers of the RomAmoR (RomeLove) association he founded make the rounds of food markets and bakeries for contributions from retailers who help him live out his dream of feeding the homeless.

It all began 15 years ago when a homeless man at a Rome train station asked him for money to buy a sandwich.

“I realized that perhaps instead of buying one sandwich, making some sandwiches for him and for the friends who were there would be better, and thus began our adventure,” he said.

Now the RomAmoR volunteers cook the food on the other four days of the week and serve it in various places in the city, mostly near train stations.

“We try to involve more and more people so that Rome becomes a city where people can love each other, you know?” he said while preparing soup in a professional kitchen. “It’s solidarity”.

On Saturday nights, they set up under a portico outside St. Peter’s Square to feed the growing number of homeless who sleep in the area, where Pope Francis has also opened medical and bathing facilities for them.

Impagliazzo, who once worked for Italy’s social security department, launched his mission to feed the needy with a handful of fellow pensioners.

They quickly graduated from making sandwiches to cooking hot meals, first at home and then in a convent, and the group now numbers 300 volunteers, both young and old, and uses its own fully equipped kitchen.

Impagliazzo, who received a honorific award from Italian President Sergio Mattarella recognising him as a “hero of our times,” never dreamed his initiative would become so successful, or generate such good will.

On a recent Saturday night near the Vatican, four extra volunteers showed up.

“I am happy because we never tell anyone ‘we don’t need you tonight’,” he said. “They stay among us.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200206110537-ha6f2/

 

Healthcare networks launch anti-human trafficking training

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Stock image. Credit: HTWE/Shutterstock

– A new partnership is aiming to expand training for medical professionals on how to identify and assist victims of human trafficking.

Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking (Global Strategic Operatives) announced a new collaboration and partnership with the Selah Way Foundation, a global network of leading anti-sexual exploitation service providers at a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 30 in Washington, D.C.

Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski, one of the co-founders of Global Strategic Operatives, told CNA that the organization decided to go into the medical field because studies have shown that about 88% of victims of human trafficking seek medical treatment at some point while they are being trafficked.

As a member of the Order of Malta, a lay Catholic religious order, O’Hara-Rusckowski said she considers her work in combating human trafficking to be an ideal way to live out the three charisms of the order: caring for the sick, caring for the poor, and defending the faith.

“My whole life right now is living out my faith,” she said. “I can’t think of any better way of taking those charisms and really combining them to live out my faith.”

A pilot program has already begun at six hospital systems located around the country–Baptist Health in Florida, Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois, Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, Harris Health System in Texas, Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, RWJ Barnabas Health in New Jersey, and Northwell Health in New York. These locations were chosen due to higher-than-average rates of human trafficking in their areas.

Staff members at hospitals in these healthcare systems have been trained to spot signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking.

Representatives from each of the six hospital systems, Homeland Security Investigations (a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), as well as Congressmen Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Ross Spano (R-FL), spoke at the press conference in praise of Global Strategic Operatives.

Karen Stanford, the manager of the emergency department at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, told CNA that the reality of human trafficking was brought home to her after her daughter was approached by a potential trafficker two years ago. Her hospital is part of the Advocate Aurora Health system.

“We live in a gated community, and so it was a bit of a shock,” she said. The experience prompted her to reach out to Paula Besler, vice president of Selah Freedom, looking to bring some sort of educational program to Lutheran General to better identify survivors of human trafficking.

“Then we had this awesome opportunity to partner with CommonSpirit Health, who brought some of their tools forward. And then we were able to fly in survivors to provide us with education and disbanding some of the [misconceptions] that were barriers to identifying,” said Stanford.

CommonSpirit Health is a Catholic health system that received a grant in 2019 to help combat human trafficking. It partners with Global Strategic Operatives.

As a healthcare professional, Stanford told CNA that there is a tendency to be “non-judgemental,” which has resulted in some red flags going unnoticed.

“If somebody comes in [to the emergency room] who we are suspecting is using drugs or prostituting, we’re oftentimes thinking that it is a choice, when the reality is, and what we’ve learned so very much around here, is that’s not necessarily true. It’s because they’re being forced into it,” said Stanford.

Since the training was put in place at her hospital, Stanford said that there have been increased identifications of people who were trafficked, and next month, the entire health system will launch a task force to further expand the program to 25 additional sites.

“I’m really excited to help that move forward,” said Stanford. “Now that there’s this recognition, there’s a great amount of momentum in emergency medicine to start the education and planning.”

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/healthcare-networks-launch-anti-human-trafficking-training-49853

Elderly black women in S. Africa win property rights in landmark ruling

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Elderly black women in S Africa win property rights in landmark ruling
ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman washes her dishes in Durban December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

JOHANNESBURG, – Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women.

Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law.

“This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988.

“If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Across South Africa, a quarter century after racial segregation and white minority rule under apartheid officially ended through a negotiated settlement, land and property ownership remain sensitive topics.

Sithole’s legal victory in the eastern city of Durban could help an estimated 400,000 women by giving them more economic freedom, said the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a human rights organisation that helped Sithole take her case to court.

Black women in rural South Africa face a “double whammy” said Claassens, as both apartheid and customary laws – where land is handed down from father to son – have deprived them of property rights.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years.

Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust.

Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, a prestigious human rights prize, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

“This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane, 74, who has faced death threats for her activism. “Women can take decisions if they own property. They can have equality.”

Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die.

Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon.

“The symbolism of this judgment is important … hopefully, if enough women know about it they can begin asserting their rights,” said Claassens.

“But unfortunately, since (the introduction of democracy in) 1994 we have seen the space for change continue to be undermined by new patriarchal laws,” Claassens said, highlighting legislation that has bolstered the power of traditional leaders.

The LRC plans to hold workshops in rural areas to educate women, chiefs and the courts about the ruling.

“This will require a lot of hard work and buy-in from other non-profits to show women how they can benefit from this legal change,” said Sharita Samuel, an LRC attorney who worked on Sithole’s case.

For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women.

“We know the courts can protect women,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129111914-05t8e/