NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.
A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.
“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.
“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”
An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.
The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.
Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.
It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.
“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.
It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.
But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.
KOLKATA, India, – Since he was a child, Santipada Gon Chaudhuri had sought ways to help India’s rural poor, so when the electrical engineer was invited to visit a co-worker’s home in the Himalayan village of Herma in the early 1980s, he saw his chance.
“I was appalled to see how local communities were living in darkness after sunset,” remembered Chaudhuri, 71, who then worked for the government in the northeastern state of Tripura.
“Some used kerosene lamps, but even kerosene was not always easy to get. Since I had both the skill and position to try and provide power to them, it made me act,” he said.
The villages of Tripura are located on tough, hilly terrain, where Chaudhuri realised it would be hard to put up power lines.
“But they had solar energy in abundance,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
In 1983, he used government funding to install solar panels for 70 homes, as well as running a community television and water pump – the first time anyone in the hamlet had seen electric light.
That small project sparked a career dedicated to bringing energy to people in impoverished, remote communities, a mission that earned Chaudhuri the moniker of India’s “Solar Man”.
Today, more than 100 homes and businesses in Herma are lit by an updated solar energy system, allowing villagers to be more productive while reducing their use of expensive, polluting fuels like kerosene.
“Life in the village would come to a complete standstill after sunset. But with light in our homes now, our children are studying until night,” said villager Sumoti Riyang, 33.
“Shops and business establishments remain open in the evening. We can work more. All this is generating more income for us,” she said.
In his Kolkata office, adorned with awards he has won since his first project nearly 40 years ago, Chaudhuri said he gets “great satisfaction” from seeing how solar power has changed lives in Herma, connecting residents to the modern world.
CAREER OF FIRSTS
Herma was the first tribal village in the country to gain access to solar power, and by 1989 Chaudhuri had led the installation of solar technology in nearly 40 villages across India’s northeastern states.
Four years later, he developed India’s first centralised solar power station with a distribution network on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans, home to one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, supplying 100 households through power lines.
The project was considered a breakthrough at a time when solar technology “was largely confined to laboratories and prototypes”, said Samrat Sengupta of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a nonprofit think-tank.
By 2000, more than 400,000 people in villages around the Sundarbans national park were using solar power, through a mix of mini-grids and domestic solar-power systems.
At the time, the area had the highest per-capita consumption of solar power in the world, Chaudhuri noted.
The project earned him an Ashden Award, known as the “Green Oscars”, and the Euro Solar Award from Germany.
In 2006, it also inspired India’s then-President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to invite Chaudhuri to design a captive solar unit for the presidential palace.
“Chaudhuri’s work is a classic example of empowerment of indigenous communities through solar power,” said Arun Tripathi, director general of the National Institute of Solar Energy, an autonomous body under the renewable energy ministry.
In 2009, Chaudhuri installed the country’s first grid-connected solar plant in West Bengal’s Jamuria village, a 2-megawatt (MW) project serving 5,000 families.
This was lauded as an “environmental breakthrough” because, until then, solar power had been limited to remote areas without access to electricity, said CSE’s Sengupta.
Jamuria was the first location to use solar to replace coal power in the grid, bringing clean energy into the mainstream, he said, noting it cut the amount of coal burned locally by 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) per hour and decreased carbon emissions.
Sengupta and others said Chaudhuri’s work helped pave the way for India’s National Solar Mission, launched in 2010.
The initiative, on which Chaudhuri consulted, had an initial target of producing 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022.
Having already nearly doubled that ahead of time, India has set a new goal of 100GW.
But as its solar power expansion has gained pace, a growing population and increasing urbanisation have made finding enough land for big projects more difficult.
In 2014, after joining the nonprofit NB Institute for Rural Technology, which he now heads, he led construction of an experimental 10-kilowatt government-funded floating solar panel on a lake in Kolkata’s New Town.
“Designing the floating structure of the panel and anchoring it in the water body were major challenges,” he said.
That project grew into a national programme that now generates more than 1,700MW of solar power from floating panels in various coastal states around the country.
Despite its progress, India’s solar push has some limitations including high capital costs, scarcity of land and the need for sunny weather, said Partha S. Bhattacharyya, former chairman of Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer which is also investing in solar energy projects.
“Thermal (coal) power is reliable and consistent, due to greater grid stability,” he added.
Chaudhuri and his team are currently experimenting with solar-powered pumps that push water up to a higher storage reservoir that can then generate hydro-electricity using micro turbines, supplying villages when needed.
“The very concept of solar power has changed from simply providing lights to controlling carbon emissions,” Chaudhuri said. “It is time that we seriously think about how to leave behind a more livable world for future generations.”
Palabek Refugee Camp, Uganda — It is just after midday and the sun is high up in the sky above this dusty, sprawling settlement of 55,574 people in northern Uganda. Rose Geno with her three children sit inside their grass-roofed mud hut to escape the scorching heat as she prepares a meal of corn and beans.
The 30-year-old South Sudanese refugee said her school-age kids now eat smaller meals more often after she managed to harvest enough crops during the previous season (June-November). She is among thousands of refugees who have received seeds and farming support from the Salesian missionaries and a nun to help mitigate food shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My life became unbearable when the pandemic hit us,” she said. A lack of funding from international bodies reduced food rations at the camp. “We slept hungry many times because the ratio was cut by 40% at first and it was later reduced to 20%,” she said.
Geno fled from Pajok, a town in South Sudan located 10 miles from the border with Uganda, in April 2017 after fighting intensified between government forces of President Salva Kiir, and forces loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar. She escaped with her children after her husband was killed by soldiers, walking for three days in the bush before reaching Palabek.
“We nearly died from hunger during the peak of the pandemic but thanks to the priests and a nun who came to our rescue in our time of need,” she said.
Sr. Lucy Akera of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu said they had to act quickly to save the lives of refugees. “We distributed the little food we had in our store to refugees and we quickly realized we had to look for a long-lasting solution to hunger, which was farming,” she said.
Over 1.4 million refugees in more than 14 refugee camps across Uganda bore the brunt of the pandemic after the East African country registered its first case of COVID-19 a year ago.
Catholic groups moved swiftly to provide food, clothing and counseling to thousands of refugees. Salesian Fr. Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek, said his congregation gave packets of food including corns, flour, beans, rice and cooking oil to the refugees and also distributed blankets, dozens of pairs of shoes and clothes.
“When the pandemic hit the world, it came to us as a shock.We were not prepared at all. Everything was closed down and refugees were left for dead,” said Arasu, who is among the five Salesian missionaries living and working in the Palabek refugee camp. “We were forced to share our little food and other essential goods with the refugees to keep them alive amid the pandemic.”
However, Akera had a different way of tackling food shortages in the camp. With the help of the Salesian missionaries, she began providing training, tools and seeds for refugees to plant and harvest crops to support their families in the midst of the pandemic.
She and the Salesian missionaries distributed fertilizers and several hundred kilos (thousands of pounds) of beans, maize, soya beans, simsim or sesame, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds such as collard greens. They also distributed tons of cassava cuttings.
“The only way we could tackle hunger during the pandemic was through farming. So we had to train and support refugees with seeds and fertilizers to plant and harvest enough crops to feed their family,” said Akera, the only nun working at the Palabek camp. She lives in a small mud hut built of sticks, mud and metal scrap. “I also did farming and I planted groundnuts, soya beans and maize. I have enough food which I share some with my neighbors who are refugees.”
Akera, who grew up in a farming family, has been able to transfer her agricultural skills to the refugees. The 58-year-old nun, who comes from Gulu town, 60 miles away from Palabek, said her calling to serve led her to work in the camp despite the hardships, though she sometimes feels lonely.
“I feel happy being in the camp though I’m lonely. No sister wants to come and live in this hardship area,” said Akera, whose congregation is in Gulu. “I was born and raised in a rural area so living in the camp for me is a normal thing.”
The East African country of more than 44 million is celebrated around the world for providing refugees with the land for shelter and agricultural use. Arasu said his congregation has been renting land from the local Ugandans for refugees who don’t have enough land for farming to help them grow enough crops to feed their families.
“I rented some farms from the hosting community. The money I used was provided by the Don Bosco missions and since children were home, they helped their parents in farming,” he said. “God was also faithful; it rained a lot and since the land was virgin land, it produced really well.”
Akera came to the camp in 2018 after the Salesian missionaries requested the Archdiocese of Gulu to ask sisters to come and help serve the people in the camp. Before the pandemic, she tried to provide hope and solidarity to refugees while helping to distribute aid. But she now has a new ministry amid the pandemic: sensitizing refugees on the importance of farming.
“My new ministry is to ensure refugees support themselves through farming because COVID-19 has taught us the biggest lesson of not relying completely on food aid distributions,” she said. “We want to keep on training them on how to plant crops and ensure they have enough harvest.” She began training refugees on farming in May 2020 after the pandemic reduced food rations for refugees.
Every morning, Akera visits various villages within the camp to train and emphasize to refugees the importance of farming. She recently demonstrated to a group of farmers how to plan their farms from the beginning of the season up to harvest without encountering any problems.
The training involves land preparation, seed selection, planting, weed management, soil fertility management, harvesting, postharvest handling and storage, she said.
Stang, a longtime champion of farmers’ land rights in rural Brazil, was assassinated in 2005 in the northern Brazilian state of Pará in the Amazon Basin. A native of the United States, Stang became a naturalized citizen of Brazil. Her death led to the creation of a reserve of more than 1 million hectares devoted to sustainable use of rainforest land by the local population, whose rights she championed.
Earlier this year, researchers from Brazil, Finland and the United States discovered, or “described,” two new species of screech owl in Brazil, and one of those species, the Xingu screech owl, received a scientific name in honor of Stang. The name, Megascops stangiae, honors Stang’s work “on behalf of poor farmers and the environment in the Brazilian Amazon region,” the congregation’s Ohio Province said in a statement.
The common name, Xingu screech owl, is a reference to an area where the new species is found, the statement said. That area is located between the Tapajós and Xingu rivers, the area where Stang worked and was killed.
Congregational leader Sr. Teresita Weind said biologist Therese Catanach, a member of the research team, contacted the congregation about naming the owl for Stang, as the team was moved by Stang’s life story.
“Sister Dorothy’s murder left a big impression on me, especially when I started research in tropical forests,” Catanach said.
Two other researchers, Brazilian biologists Sidnei Dantas and Alex Alexio, discussed what to name the owl. Dantas had visited Stang’s gravesite, and Alexio suggested one of the owls be named after Stang as “a way to raise awareness about the Amazon, being the ‘lungs of the planet,’ and home of tropical medicinal plants, birds, animals, and human lives,” the congregation said.
Bon Pasteur Kolwezi received the award in a ceremony in February. In accepting the honors, Sr. Jane Wainoi Kabui, the program’s director, noted the role of the organization’s staff, fellow congregational members and the Good Shepherd International Foundation and their “unremitting support to our communities and shared commitment to fight modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The ministry has its roots in an initiative that began in 2012, when the congregation’s Province of Eastern Central Africa established a community development program “to combat child labor, human rights violations, and modern slavery in the copper and cobalt mining region around the city of Kolwezi in the DRC,” the congregation said in an announcement of the award.
The ministry now works in eight communities where cobalt mining is dominant.
“It has helped more than 3,000 children quit the mines and attend school, 500 families to secure alternative and sustainable livelihoods, 300 girls and women to gain new skills and make a decent living away from the mines, and educated more than 20,000 people on how to campaign for better working conditions,” the congregation said.
The project inaugurated a new Bon Pasteur Center in Kolwezi in 2019 in an initiative that includes 14 classrooms to instruct roughly 1,000 children whose families live in the nearby mining communities. The demand for that schooling has been so great, Kabui said, that “the biggest challenge has been that the center can only accommodate a given number of children, and so sometimes we have to turn children away.”
Advocacy is also part of the ministry’s work, and Kabui said in the congregational announcement that she hopes more people will “become conscious of the dehumanizing conditions the artisanal miners have to go through.”
The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of the global news and information company Thomson Reuters. The foundation’s focus includes promoting media freedom, human rights, and more inclusive economies.
LONDON, – Keeping girls in school and taking young climate leaders seriously are keys to tackling climate change, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said on Friday.
Speaking to a virtual panel, Malala, 23, said educating girls and young women, particularly in developing countries, would give them a chance to pursue green jobs and be part of solving the climate crisis in their communities.
“Girls’ education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues. Girl’s education and gender equality can be used as solutions against climate change,” Malala told an online event by British think-tank Chatham House.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some 130 million girls worldwide were already out of school, according to the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, which said more than 11 million may not return to classes after the pandemic.
“When we educate girls … they can become farmers, conservationists, solar technicians, they can fill other green jobs as well. Problem-solving skills can allow them to help their communities to adapt to climate change.”
From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work, women and girls shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, global aid group CARE International says.
Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Climate disasters have also been linked with early marriage, school drop-outs and teen pregnancies, says U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
Malala also called on world leaders to pay attention to youth climate activists, citing movements like “Mock COP” in November when young people launched a two-week event designed to mirror the format of the delayed U.N. climate talks.
“Listen to young people who are leading the climate movement. Young people are reminding our leaders that climate education and climate justice should be their priority.”
Apple produced a documentary about Malala in 2015 and teamed up with her Malala Fund in 2018 to promote secondary education to girls across the globe.
In 2009 at age 12, Malala blogged under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban. In 2012 she survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning against its attempts to deny women education.
In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17. In 2018 she launched Assembly, a digital publication for girls and young women available on Apple News. She graduated from Oxford University in June.
Tiny plastic particles in the lungs of pregnant rats pass rapidly into the hearts, brains and other organs of their foetuses, research shows. It is the first study in a live mammal to show that the placenta does not block such particles.
The health impact of tiny plastic particles in the body is as yet unknown. But scientists say there is an urgent need to assess the issue, particularly for developing foetuses and babies, as plastics can carry chemicals that could cause long-term damage.
Prof Phoebe Stapleton, at Rutgers University, who led the rat research, said: “We found the plastic nanoparticles everywhere we looked – in the maternal tissues, in the placenta and in the foetal tissues. We found them in the foetal heart, brain, lungs, liver and kidney.”
Dunzhu Li, at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in Ireland and not part of the study team, said: “This study is very important because it proves the potential to transfer [plastic particles] in mammal pregnancy – maybe it is happening from the very beginning of human life as well. The particles were found almost everywhere in the foetus and can also pass through the blood-brain barrier – it is very shocking.”
Prof John Boland, also at TCD, said: “It is however important not to over-interpret these results. The nanoparticles used are near spherical in shape, whereas real microplastics are irregular flake-like objects. Shape matters, as it dictates how particles interact with their environment.” In October, Li, Boland and colleagues showed that babies fed formula milk in plastic bottles are swallowing millions of particles a day.
The rat study was published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology and involved placing nanoparticles in the trachea of the animals. Stapleton said the number of particles used was estimated to be the equivalent of 60% of the number a human mother would be exposed to in a day, although Li’s opinion was that this estimate was too high.
The 20 nanometre beads used were made of polystyrene, which is one of the top five plastics found in the environment, said Stapleton. They were marked with a fluorescent chemical to enable them to be identified. A separate experiment showed that the nanoparticles crossed the placenta about 90 minutes after the mothers were exposed.
Twenty four hours after exposure, the weight of the foetuses was an average of 7% lower than in control animals, and placental weights were 8% lower. Weight loss was also seen in other experiments using titanium dioxide particles. The rats were exposed to the plastic nanoparticles on day 19 of gestation, two days ahead of the usual time for birth and when the foetus is gaining the most weight.
“Our working theory is that something in the maternal vasculature changes, so you get a reduction in blood flow, which in turn leads to a reduction in nutrient and oxygen delivery,” said Stapleton.
She said more research was needed: “This study answers some questions and opens up other questions. We now know the particles are able to cross into the foetal compartment, but we don’t know if they’re lodged there or if the body just walls them off, so there’s no additional toxicity.”
Stapleton said the nanoparticles used in her research were a million times smaller than the microplastics found in human placentas, and therefore currently much more challenging to identify in human studies. “But we know nanoparticles have greater toxicity than the microparticles of the same chemical, as smaller particles get deeper into the lungs.”
The next step for the researchers is to place the rats in an “inhalation chamber”, where the particles can be breathed in, rather than being placed in the trachea. This also allows the assessment of chronic exposure, in which lower doses are given over longer periods, rather than one large dose.
Previous research in rats has shown that silver and carbon nanoparticles pass from mother to foetus and harm health. In humans, gold nanoparticles breathed in were then found in the blood and urine of volunteers and were still present after three months.
SINGAPORE, March 17 (Reuters) – About 10.3 million people were displaced by climate change-induced events such as flooding and droughts in the last six months, the majority of them in Asia, a humanitarian organisation said on Wednesday.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said about 2.3 million others were displaced by conflict in the same period, indicating the vast majority of internal displacements are now triggered by climate change.
Though the figures cover only a six-month period from September 2020 to February 2021, they highlight an accelerating global trend of climate-related displacement, said Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement Coordinator for the IFRC.
“Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability,” Brunt said. “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”
Some 60% of climate-IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the last six months were in Asia, according to IFRC’s report.
McKinsey & Co consulting firm has said that Asia “stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risks than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation”.
Statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) show that on average 22.7 million people are displaced every year. The figure includes displacements caused by geophysical phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the vast majority are displaced by weather-related events.
Globally, 17.2 million people were displaced in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019. Full-year figures are not yet available for 2020, but IDMC’s mid-year report showed there were 9.8 million displacements because of natural disasters in the first half of last year.
More than 1 billion people are expected to face forced migration by 2050 due to conflict and ecological factors, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found last year.
If you peer into the gutters of any big Nigerian city, a filthy sight awaits you: Floating cans, nylon water sachets, empty bottles and other waste materials discarded by humans, swept there by rain, gathering and clogging up the drain.
This is not only a Nigerian problem, it is a global challenge. The world continues to writhe under the burden of waste management. In 2019, the Global Material Footprint (the amount of raw material including fossil fuels, biomass and metal and non-metal ore, extracted to meet total consumption demand), according to the United Nations, was 85.9 billion tonnes – up from 73.2 billion tonnes 10 years before. Meanwhile, the world’s electronics waste – namely discarded smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices – grew by 38 percent in that same year.
Today, March 18, the world celebrates Global Recycling Day with the theme #RecyclingHeroes to draw attention to “the people, places and activities that showcase what an important role recycling plays in contributing to an environmentally stable planet and a greener future which will benefit all”.
In Nigeria, “wastepreneurs” are providing an answer to this by taking waste straight from the dump, transforming it and redefining its purpose. These innovators work with different materials – water sachets, scrap metal, bottles, plastic, tyres and more – with many of them learning on the job, how to manipulate these objects, to make “beauty out of ashes”. These entrepreneurs ask: “If you can recycle it, why waste it?”
Ade Dagunduro: ‘Not trash, but a thing of beauty’
Surrounded by art pieces in his gallery in Dugbe at the heart of Ibadan, Ade Dagunduro, 34, takes us through his creative journey. A graduate of Fine Art from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, his desire to push the boundaries of what he learned within the walls of a university spurred him to take up more training in painting and sculpture.
“School was more theoretical, less practical. When you get out of school and into the real world, you realise there is much more to learn,” he says.
Art has “changed his life”, he adds, and, now, he can help improve life a little for others by taking waste from the streets to make art.
Originally working with regular art materials such as paint, clay and wood, five years ago, Dagunduro decided to challenge himself by thinking beyond those.
“I wanted to see if I could actually think outside the box. I asked myself if I could be more creative,” he says. In his quest to do this, Dagunduro learned to manipulate waste materials like used tyres, which would otherwise be burned – a common cause of pollution in Nigeria.
His first work with waste in 2016 was an ox made out of a tyre, called The Challenge. These days, he also works with metal, ropes and plastic which he finds on the streets in his community. Sometimes, people bring materials to his studio.
“Our environment can now smile because we have people like us trying to ease off its burden by picking the waste off its shoulders. These days, you hardly find cartons, for instance, littering the streets. Humans are exhausting the forests. Now we need more paper, so we have to start recycling what we see on the street,” he says.
Dagunduro’s latest work, titled Torso, is a female form made from dismantled motorcycle chains – which he picked up from a motorcycle mechanic’s workshop – welded together.
“You first craft with clay, then you take the mould which has been constructed and cast it out with cement. After that, you allow it to dry and then ‘liberate’ it out of the clay. So now that it is out, the pattern is already printed on the mould, and you can begin welding the metal around it, which is done in batches. After that, you couple the metal pieces together.”
Dagunduro says this is then followed by cleaning and shining, to prevent rust and preserve the artwork.
The motorcycle chains that would have been thrown on a dump now stand as a sculpture, in the far-right corner of Ade Dag Art Gallery, waiting to be bought; “waiting to re-enter the world that discarded it, not as trash but as a thing of beauty,” he says.
PHNOM PENH, – A Cambodian policewoman has been showered with gifts and messages of support after she was shamed online by superiors and forced to apologise over a photo of her breastfeeding at work went viral on social media last week.
The working mother this week received $2,500 from the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen – the latest public overture to her following intense public backlash over her treatment by superiors at the Stung Treng provincial police department.
“The support from Bun Rany Hun Sen instills pride in the woman to be a mother while working and breastfeeding her son,” the provincial administration said in a Facebook post accompanying pictures of the cash handover.
Provincial governor Mom Saroeun also gifted $125 to the policewoman, Sithong Sokha, who was last week forced to make a public apology for sullying the reputations of Cambodian women and the police force with her breastfeeding post.
Cambodian authorities have come under increased scrutiny for policing how women dress and behave, with campaigners calling out multiple violations of United Nations commitments to end violence and discrimination against women.
More than 30 civil society groups slammed “entrenched cultural norms” behind the censuring of Sokha, and various government departments condemned her treatment in a rare show of discord among officials under the one-party government.
The police backtracked and said she was punished only for posting pictures while on duty, and then published photos of her being handed gifts on behalf of the national police chief and provincial police department.
While the gifts suggest acknowledgement of wrongdoing, the police officials who sanctioned Sokha should be held accountable and forced to publicly apologise, said Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“Appropriate measures must be taken to promote gender mainstreaming not only in the workplace but everywhere,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The blank look on his face … a look of hopelessness … helplessness … perplexed … it wasn’t a silent face at all. The look on his wrinkled, aged face spoke aloud, as he stood passively before the vehicle that was about to leave the slum. He had remained absolutely silent all through our interactions with the people and now his look was disturbing. It yearned for something!
We had organized food distribution for stranded migrants in one of the slums in Mumbai due to the lockdown. This slum area of migrants is not unlike other migrant living areas elsewhere in India. They live in subhuman, pathetic conditions, lacking decent housing facilities, potable water, sanitation facilities and other amenities, and are exposed to inclement weather and a hazardous atmosphere. They work for long hours, sometimes risking their health and lives, and yet are paid less than they are entitled to.
The sad eyes of this aged man seemed to express his resignation to his fate, and I wondered if it reflected the feelings of the rest of the migrant population, who also seem to have accepted their present plight helplessly. This resignation might also arise due to the insecurity, uncertainty and unpredictability of their lives.
As they lack financial and health security and have little or no social support from a caste- and class-ridden society, they are unsure of what they can or cannot control in their lives. This leads to a certain passivity, and they feel locked down deep within, unable to rise above. All that they can do is to sigh, become resigned to their “fate,” accepting life events as bound to happen, and feel helpless to change them.
In my experience, their helplessness also leads to a feeling of alienation, of being severed from the mainstream, no longer deemed worthy of love, care or support. Unable to cope with the dynamics and politics of modern-day society, they experience themselves as deficient, limited and powerless.
Even though they aren’t behind prison walls, the structures of society imprison them and they are forced to face physical and emotional captivity. Their helplessness leads them to feel exposed and vulnerable, like a bird grounded by a broken wing.
As I looked at the yearning eyes of the aged man, it seemed to me that he gazed not at the vehicle which was preparing to leave, but at the complacency of those who were more privileged than he. I think that this complacent attitude towards the plight of the migrants in India stems from ignorance about the real extent of the migrants’ situation, or the migrants’ internalized attitude of “resigning to their fate.” Are we so mired in our complacency that we have become blind to their reality? Have we etched more deeply in them the feeling that they have to be resigned to their fate?
Has our craving for power stripped them naked of their own inner strength and dignity, thus making them powerless and limited?
For me, the recent low point of this societal complacency has been the passivity of a few privileged people in India as they watched the unending trail of desperate migrants, within the city and interstate, trying to reach home to be with their loved ones. The migrants took any means — cycles, motorbikes, or container trucks. Some of them even made treacherous journeys on foot, sometimes walking hundreds of kilometers.
Social media projected photographs of women carrying their children in their arms, and their personal belongings on their heads. In such foot journeys, a few of them even lost their lives before reaching home, due to exhaustion, all because they wanted to escape dying of hunger as they tried to save themselves from the coronavirus. These are India’s nameless, faceless migrants who were unjustly denied time and transport to return home, due to the sudden and dramatic announcement of the lockdown — which was, ironically, to save lives.
But who cares for the lives of the poor?
The yearning eyes hit hard at my complacency and I realized that it is this complacency that continues to enslave them. The eyes that are “resigned to fate,” internalizing helplessness, are knocking hard at hearts filled with complacency. These eyes look into the hard-heartedness of those who wallow in the little charity that they offer and think of it as “great generosity,” but which does little to raise the self-worth and dignity of the neglected poor. The yearning eyes long for freedom and dignity, and they continue to pierce into complacent hearts, seeking a response from me and from you.