Category Archives: Women

Winners of ‘Green Nobel’ fight deforestation, coal power

2021 Goldman Environmental prize winner Liz Chicaje paddles on the Ampiyacu River in Peru. Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize.

BOGOTA, – As a teenage mother and activist, Liz Chicaje would travel by boat and foot across Peru’s Amazon rainforest with her young daughter campaigning to protect the ancestral lands of the Bora indigenous people from illegal logging and mining.

To preserve the forest that the Bora and other indigenous people depend on for hunting and fishing in Peru’s northeastern region of Loreto, Chicaje spearheaded the creation of a two-million-acre (809,370-hectare) national park.

On Tuesday, Chicaje’s activism and leadership earned her a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize – known as the “Green Nobel” – which honors grassroots activism, along with five other winners.

“We live off the forest. It’s our wealth. If it wasn’t for the forests, we wouldn’t have the food and pure air that we breathe,” Chicaje, 38, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a Zoom interview.

“We all have to continue to advance in the protection of the environment and reforest areas,” she said.

Chicaje and other indigenous leaders worked with government officials, environmentalists and scientists, using satellite imagery to map areas that would be placed under protection.

Chicaje convinced other indigenous communities to endorse the park, and in January 2018 Peru’s government declared the creation of the Yaguas National Park.

With deforestation rates rising in parts of Peru’s Amazon, the national park is seen by environmentalists as vital in safeguarding ecosystems and carbon-storing peatlands and rainforest.

CUTTING COAL

Announced in San Francisco, California, during an online ceremony, the Goldman Environmental Prize provides each of the six winners with financial support to magnify their environmental activism and continue local campaigns.

Among this year’s other prize winners are Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, a Malawian anti-plastics campaigner; environmentalist Maida Bilal from Bosnia-Herzegovina; and American Sharon Lavigne, a campaigner against toxic waste and pollution.

They also include Thai Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese wildlife conservationist, and Japanese environmentalist Kimiko Hirata.

Hirata’s work has focused on eliminating Japan’s old and inefficient coal-fired power plants – a major contributor to carbon and other emissions that fuel global warming.

After Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was severely damaged in a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the government closed many of the country’s nuclear plants and ramped up coal power, Hirata said.

“We needed to start from zero. People didn’t really know anything about coal … they didn’t see it as a problem,” she said over Zoom.

“There was no knowledge among the Japanese people where coal power exists, how many coal plants exist and the risks it has,” said Hirata, who is the founding member of the Kiko Network, a local climate change nonprofit.

As part of a national anti-coal campaign Hirata began in 2011, a website was created to track new proposed coal plants, along with a network of activists living in areas where new coal stations were being planned, she said.

Working with scientists, academics, lawyers, journalists and local community leaders, Hirata sought to raise awareness in public meetings and hearings about the negative impact of coal power on the environment and Japan’s pollution levels.

The campaigning paid off. By 2019, Japan’s government had canceled 13 planned coal plants across the country, averting the emission of about 42 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, the Goldman Prize committee said.

“When I see the map of Japan, and where (coal) projects were canceled, those are mostly the areas where we mobilized local movements,” said Hirata, adding that there are currently no plans to build any new coal plants in Japan.

Hirata is now putting pressure on Japan to phase out the use of coal power altogether and to commit to only renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, by 2050.

But achieving this goal will be more difficult in a country where coal is seen as an important part of the energy mix, and where healthcare and economic issues often take priority over climate action, Hirata noted.

Japan’s energy policy aims to have renewable energy contribute 22% to 24% of total power by 2030. Currently, the country gets about 18% of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

“We can’t just shout, ‘Do not build more coal plants!’ We have to show a solution for the people who are involved in the coal business,” Hirata said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210615062001-dri19/

Britain passes “life-saving” law on domestic abuse

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman and children cast their shadows as they stroll in the sunshine on the Southbank in London, Britain September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON, – Britain passed “life-saving” domestic abuse legislation on Thursday that campaigners say will protect millions of women, hold more abusers to account and clamp down harder on revenge porn.

About 2.4 million people, mostly women, experience domestic abuse every year, according to the government.

The legislation comes amid wider efforts to tackle the issue after lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 left many women trapped at home with violent partners.

“This is a fantastic and ground-breaking day,” Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The new law will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of domestic abuse victims, and definitely save lives.”

The act establishes a new offence of “non-fatal strangulation”, closing a loophole that campaigners say has let some abusers escape justice for choking attacks – which can cause brain damage, strokes and other serious injury.

Men who throttle their partners risk five years in prison.

The act also makes it a crime to threaten to share intimate images – or revenge porn – with a sentence of up to two years.

TRANSFORMATIONAL

Domestic abuse charities said the legislation’s explicit recognition of economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse for the first time was “transformational”.

Economic abuse, in which someone may restrict a partner’s access to money and other resources, can prevent them leaving a dangerous relationship.

The new law also stops defendants in murder trials from relying on a defence of “rough sex gone wrong”.

Campaigners said Britain was the first country to outlaw the “rough sex” defence.

The issue gained global attention following the 2018 murder in New Zealand of British backpacker Grace Millane, whose killer said she died accidentally during consensual sex.

Other new provisions in the law include imposing a legal duty on local authorities to provide shelter for abuse victims, a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in family courts and the creation of domestic abuse protection orders.

Interior minister Priti Patel hailed the new law as “long overdue”, saying in a statement it would ensure “perpetrators  of these abhorrent crimes  are brought to justice”.

The act – which applies to England and Wales – also establishes the post of domestic abuse commissioner to hold local and national government to account in their handling of an issue that affects an estimated 1.6 million women a year.

Domestic abuse charity Refuge said the legislation, while progressive in many respects, was “far from perfect” and failed to protect many migrants, who cannot access benefits and may be afraid to report abuse to police.

“This is a missed opportunity to ensure all woman experiencing abuse are protected,” said Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison.

Refuge said it was also worried about a 50-million-pound ($69.78 million) shortfall to finance shelter.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210429132610-6yg8k/

Vatican COVID-19 commission: Church can help combat rising violence against women

Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.
Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, – The Vatican COVID-19 Commission called on Monday for the Catholic Church and governments to increase support for women suffering from violence amid the coronavirus crisis.

In a seven-page document released March 8, International Women’s Day, the commission said that the pandemic had “increased the vulnerability of countless women across the globe.” 

The text, entitled “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration,” said that domestic violence had risen during pandemic-related lockdowns. 

The commission asked governments to provide “safe spaces and services for those facing domestic violence.”

It also encouraged the Church to “denounce direct and systemic violence against women.”

The document suggested that an effective way to do this would be for Church leaders to back an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for a domestic violence “ceasefire.” 

It also said that “messages countering violence against women could be encouraged in homilies and in catechesis.”

Domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% in the United States following lockdown orders, according to a Feb. 23 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

Pope Francis dedicated the month of February to prayer for women suffering from violence. 

In a video released Feb. 1, he said: “It is shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped … We must not look the other way.”

Pope Francis asked the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to create the Vatican COVID-19 Commission on March 20, 2020. Working with other curial departments and outside organizations, the commission seeks “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The body, unveiled on April 15, 2020, consists of five working groups, which focus respectively on “acting now for the future,” “looking to the future with creativity,” “communicating hope,” “seeking common dialogue and reflections,” and “supporting to care.”

A note said that the new document was “elaborated by the four different taskforces of Working Group 2,” which tackles topics related to ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security. 

“While women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from much of the COVID-19 decision-making in many countries, largely due to enduring underrepresentation in senior positions in key fields of medicine and politics,” the text said.

“This may have contributed to the lack of explicit attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impacts on women and girls.”

“Countries with women leaders, however, have generally fared better overall during the pandemic. These leaders approached the crisis in a similar way: they consulted early with health experts and implemented containment measures early.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-covid-19-commission-church-can-help-combat-rising-violence-against-women-95019

Eliminating violence against women begins in child upbringing

A mother and children in Nigeria: Through their privileged position in child upbringing, women have the power to contribute to eradicating victimization and injustice against themselves. (Caroline Mbonu)
A mother and children in Nigeria: Through their privileged position in child upbringing, women have the power to contribute to eradicating victimization and injustice against themselves. (Caroline Mbonu

I had the privilege of participating in this year’s annual World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO) Day celebration on Oct. 13 at the Corpus et Sanguis Christi Cathedral, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The president of the parish Catholic Women’s Organization asked me to share with the women of there the WUCWO celebration theme, “Let us eliminate discrimination and violence against women.”

Founded 110 years ago, in 1910, WUCWO now represents nearly 60 Catholic women’s organizations worldwide and is active in around 60 countries, representing around 8 million Catholic women. The size and diversity of membership provides enough space from which to discern and fight the various kinds of injustice against women.

Rather than bemoaning obvious problematic gender-based violence and discrimination, I took the long view in my presentation by exploring women’s vantage point at the grassroots, the household. What informs the long view approach is the privileged position of women in child upbringing.

Addressing violence against women from the cradle would go a long way to reset the chauvinist mindset acquired from a tender age. Because gender sensitivity may not be consciously promoted during the first few years of a child’s life, women in some way are implicated — inadvertently — in their own discrimination.

If we must work against structures and cultural texts that dehumanize women, we must rethink the various methods of child rearing, and include a gender-based child upbringing. In other words, women have the power to contribute to eradicating victimization and injustice against themselves.

Thinking about this, I employed the Gospel of Luke 11:27 as a guide: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that nursed you!”

The context of this passage is during one of Jesus’ public preaching episodes, where according to the evangelist, an unnamed woman in the crowd raised her voice, blessing Jesus’ mother; the expression “the womb that bore you and breast that nursed you” is another way of showering praise on his upbringing. Such warm expressions about mothers are not uncommon among African people.

Among the Nigerian Igbo, for example, a well-mannered child is said to have had an abundance of breast milk (o nujuru mmiri-ara afo). The idea is that blessing a mother validates the decency of the child and confirms a proper upbringing. This is a recognition of the “feminine genius,” which brought forth a sensitive individual, fully alive to his environment and the needs of the people around him.

The outburst of the unnamed woman — who could be anyone — draws attention to two significant points. First, the earthy quality of motherhood, and second, child upbringing. Of course, motherhood goes beyond having biological offspring. Every woman bears within her the seed of motherhood — a seed that sprouts, blossoms and fruits in different ways. Motherhood is a call to self-giving and sacrificial love.

We remember that the Blessed Mother was chosen as a model of Catholic motherhood, a woman of whom Dante Alighieri wrote: “Mercy, might, compassion / Grace thy womanhood.” To eliminate the prejudices against women, therefore, challenges us all to take a journey inward to rediscover the feminine genius within and work hard to reawaken it. From within is the domain of the womb and the source of breast milk that nourishes a child’s love.

We cannot deny that persons involved in the discrimination and violence against women are also products of women’s tendering and nurturing. And if it is true that women actually beget their own oppressors, they can surely redesign the grassroots of the system that produced such undesirable behavior in children.

Women can change those processes that tend to instill oppressive tendencies in a child, male or female. William Ross Wallace’s 1865 poem “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World” captures the unique power for change exclusive to women, the possessors of the cradle. Undoubtedly, Wallace points to the feminine genius as an instrument of construction of a more humane world, with child upbringing as the building block. Where that fails, the ills of unredeemed patriarchy would continue to hold sway.

Furthermore, other considerations of child upbringing demand attention for the benefit of humankind. Humankind continues to make positive advances in science and technology, as well as in other fields of human endeavor. Numerous developments enable us to create new ways to make certain tasks easier, and to correct errors in others.

It appears that not much is done to develop new patterns of child upbringing that take gender sensitivity into consideration. Ways of child upbringing that reinforce gender discrimination continue to be taught as the norm, even after the structures that such arrangements serve have changed.

Assignment of household chores, choice of careers, and even marriage can be degendered. Even apparently harmless acts like name designation in families that have mostly female children convey a profound sense of discrimination and violence.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/social-justice/column/eliminating-violence-against-women-begins-child-upbringing

Trailblazing woman mechanic changes wheels, oil and stereotypes in Egypt

Trailblazing woman mechanic changes wheels, oil and stereotypes in Egypt

ESNA, Egypt, – Lekaa El Kholy’s father used to rub a little blackened engine oil onto her face and tell her to wear overalls when they went to the Egyptian city of Luxor to buy supplies for his car repair workshop.

It was his way of showing people his daughter was a mechanic just like him, and of confronting deep-rooted beliefs about gender roles that keep all but a few women out of traditionally male professions in socially conservative Egypt.

Today, El Kholy, 24, has been fixing cars for more than a decade in the village of Esna and has captured national attention – with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hailing her as the Upper Egypt region’s first female motor mechanic.

This month, she opened her own car maintenance centre in nearby Luxor and is also helping other aspiring female mechanics enter the male-dominated trade, especially those facing social or family pressures over their career choice.

“It’s not only about achieving my career dreams but also giving a helping hand to other women who are facing social challenges to become mechanics,” El Kholy said in her office, her late father’s portrait standing on a desk behind her.

She said she had been lucky because her father, who died in 2016, had supported her since she first showed a passion for the profession at the age of 11.

“I’m sure there are many other women out there who are passionate about the job but don’t find adequate support and help,” El Kholy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

According to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, Egypt ranks low in gender equity compared to other nations.

The Index, which measures disparities between men and women across countries, ranked Egypt 136th out of 145 nations and noted that only about a quarter of Egyptian women have paid jobs compared with nearly 80% of men. El Kholy has been organising training workshops for women interested in car maintenance in her hometown and in Tanta, a city north of Cairo where she used to work in a repair business.

So far, about 20 women have taken part and El Kholy said she planned to hire some of them at her new centre.

“From my training experience with men and women, I can confidently say that women are far better because they are more passionate about anything new they do,” she said.

One of El Kholy’s students, Nourhan Ahmed, 25, is already working at the car maintenance centre.

Ahmed said she had always loved cars and wanted to learn about vehicle maintenance – either for a possible job or for when she buys own car – but had never been able to find courses aimed at women.

Alongside her efforts to help other women enter the profession, El Kholy has ambitious plans for her business and hopes to open several branches in Egypt and even launch a brand that can be franchised abroad.

“This is a dream for me and I believe that I will achieve it one day,” she said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210105100959-worhk/

Climate woes growing for women, hit worst by displacement and migration

Flood-affected women are seen in a temporary shelter on a nearby dry land in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

BARCELONA, – From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work and greater risk of illness, women shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, a global aid group said on Tuesday.

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, CARE International noted in a new report.

“This report shows us that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities, with women displaced on the frontlines of its impacts bearing the heaviest consequences,” said CARE Secretary General Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro.

For example, women and girls uprooted by Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019, are still facing serious health threats due to poor access to basic services and sanitary products, the report said.

And in Ethiopia, where about 200,000 people were forced from their homes last year by drought and floods, women living in overcrowded shelters face higher levels of sexual violence there and on longer, more frequent trips to fetch water and firewood.

Sven Harmeling, CARE’s global policy lead on climate change and resilience, said displacement linked to climate stresses was already “a harsh reality for millions of people today”.

If global warming continues at its current pace towards 3C or more above pre-industrial times, “the situation may irrevocably escalate and evict hundreds of millions more from their homes”, he added.

Climate change impacts are likely to strengthen and “unfold over the next couple of years, and not only in the distant future”, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Failure to prepare for them will lead to more suffering and people having to abandon their land, he said. Many places already are affected by multiple climate shocks and rising seas, making it harder for those displaced to return, he added.

“(Climate extremes) may mean more men are leaving to try to find income elsewhere, and that puts additional burden on the women who stay back and have to try to earn (money) while taking care of the family,” he said.

MEANS TO ACT

The report said governments and aid agencies needed to gather more data on how women and girls are affected by climate-linked displacement and migration so they can better understand and try to alleviate their situation.

It also called for more women to lead efforts to respond to climate threats, including in their own communities.

And it said more funding should be allocated to help women adapt to changing conditions on a hotter planet, such as by choosing resilient crops or being able to access micro-credit, so that fewer will be uprooted from their homes.

In most countries, climate measures supported by public finance do not adequately prioritise women, CARE noted, calling for at least 85% of funding for adaptation projects to target gender equality as an explicit objective by 2023 at the latest.

But some projects are making women a priority, it said.

In two rural districts of India, CARE worked with 4,500 tribal women in 50 villages whose rice harvests were falling as rains became erratic, water scarcer and soils less fertile.

Over the past seven years, it helped them set up and run self-support groups that gave them greater confidence and financial skills to start addressing the problem.

They also received seasonal and weekly weather forecasts so they could plan farming activities.

The aid agency said agriculture production rose by a third, food insecurity declined and the number of days women had to work away from home to make ends meet more than halved.

In Somali villages, women were given business training and organised into groups that pooled and gradually built up savings that were then used to offer loans to their members.

The groups helped their communities ward off economic shocks and hunger during Somalia’s 2016 drought, the report said.

“CARE’s experience tells us that when women lead in crises, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions are found,” said Sprechmann Sineiro.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200707051425-a5d5v/

Electric motorbike gives women in rural Zimbabwe a path out of poverty

Employees charge lithium ion batteries for a Hamba electric motorcycle at a solar-powered recharging station in Wedza, Zimbabwe, 22 May 2020. REUTERS/MacDonald Dzirutwe

WEDZA, Zimbabwe, – In the rural Zimbabwe district of Wedza, a new electric-powered motorcycle is helping bring income to poor women and easing the burden of looking after families.

The three-wheeler, known as Hamba (Go), powered by a solar-charged lithium ion battery, is being piloted by start-up Mobility for Africa, which leases the motorcycle to women in groups of up to five.

The women can now carry farm produce to markets further away from home, offer transportation services to villagers and use the motorcycle for domestic chores.

Mary Mhuka, a 58-year-old mother-of-six who is leasing the Hamba with her daughter-in-law and a neighbour, said the motorcycle had eased the strain of domestic work.

She could now sell her vegetables at a business centre 15 km away for more money than she would get locally.

“We used to carry firewood on our heads for very long distances … but now it’s much easier as this motorcycle has taken away that burden,” she told Reuters after a trip to the community water borehole.

Fadzai Mavhuna, the Hamba pilot coordinator since February 2019, said women paid an equivalent of $15 a month as a group to lease the Hamba, which has a maximum range of 100 km.

It costs between $0.50 and $1 to change the motorcycle batteries, which are charged at a solar-powered station.

Mobility for Africa is now in the second phase of the pilot project before it can go commercial. The Hamba is assembled in Harare with kits made in China and will be sold for $1,500.

“Some of the women have increased their income because they have embarked on … projects like baking, tailoring and horticulture,” said Mavhuna.

Pamhidzai Mutunya, a farm health worker, said before the arrival of Hamba, many women gave birth at home while others had to walk 12 km to the nearest clinic because there was no transport.

“We now have fewer cases of pregnant women giving birth at home,” the 35-year-old mother-of-three said.

She ferries an average of four people to the clinic a day and also collects medicines for patients.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200527101732-38x7z/

Mandela’s granddaughter Ndileka uses social media during lockdown to help abused women

Screenshot_2020-04-23 Mandela's granddaughter uses social media to help abused women
Ndileka Mandela speaking at her book launch in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 2019. George Elize/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation

JOHANNESBURG, – Ndileka Mandela was at her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, just before the start of a national lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, when she got the call.

A container filled with 10,000 sanitary pads for rural South African girls would not be able to leave Geneva due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a donor told her.

“My heart was so sore. These girls are stuck at home, there is no income to buy food let alone sanitary pads. Their dignity and their health are at stake,” she said in a phone interview.

Ndileka, 55, Nelson Mandela’s oldest grandchild, has committed her life’s work to tackling the challenges South African women face – mainly violence and period poverty – and fears the coronavirus pandemic will heighten inequalities.

Since the lockdown started on March 27 she has been using social media to communicate with women stuck indoors with abusers, to let them know they are not alone, and to encourage them to call police hotlines for help.

A few days into South Africa’s lockdown, local media reported that a 14-year-old was raped and murdered in Soweto township in Johannesburg with her body so badly brutalised that her family could only identify her by her clothes and birthmark.

“What makes men like this?” asked Ndileka.

Ndileka’s own experience of surviving a rape in 2012 further catapulted her towards advocating for women’s rights.

“I wanted to show people that even your partner can rape you,” said Ndileka, who shared her story about being raped in her own bed on Facebook in 2017 as part of the #MeToo movement and was messaged by hundreds of women sharing similar stories.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200423110334-of0jz/

 

India PM Modi hands over his social media accounts for Women’s Day

Screenshot_2020-03-05 India PM Modi hands over social media accounts for Women's Day
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets the media prior to the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

NEW DELHI, – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over his social media accounts on Sunday to celebrate inspiring women on International Women’s Day, months after facing criticism over a series of high-profile rape cases.

With more than 50 million followers on Twitter, Modi, 69, has one of the biggest followings on social media among world leaders.

“This Women’s Day, I will give away my social media accounts to women whose life & work inspire us. This will help them ignite motivation in millions,” Modi said in a tweet on Tuesday.

He asked people to share entries of such women using the hashtag #SheInspiresUs, which became the top trending topic on Twitter about an hour after he posted his tweet.

His support for the March 8 event came after he faced flak for failing to check violence against women following a series of rape cases late last year that triggered mass protests.

In November, a 27-year-old vet was raped, suffocated and her dead body set alight on the outskirts of the southern city of Hyderabad.

Another rape victim was set on fire and killed by a gang of men, including her alleged rapists, in December.

In the same month, a court sentenced a former lawmaker from Modi’s ruling party to life imprisonment for raping a teenager.

These cases highlighted India’s grim record of sexual violence against women despite enacting some of the world’s toughest laws after the gang rape of a Delhi student on a bus in December 2012, which sparked global outrage.

One woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in India in 2018, according to government data released in January.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200303094604-h0hgs/

 

Bangladesh’s first female Middle East ambassador hopes to help abused women workers

Screenshot_2020-02-26 Bangladesh's first female Middle East ambassador hopes to help abused women workers
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Garment workers listen to speakers during a rally demanding an increase to their minimum wage in Dhaka September 21, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

DHAKA, – Bangladesh’s first woman ambassador in the Middle East is hoping her appointment will help female migrant workers in the region, with a mission to build a shelter at the embassy in Jordan for women labourers facing abuse or exploitation.

Nahida Sobhan, 52, a career foreign service officer who has worked in Rome, Kolkata and Geneva, starts this week as ambassador to Jordan that recruits thousands of Bangladeshi female workers monthly for its garment industry and as maids.

Bangladesh ranks among the top countries sending its citizens to work overseas, with about 700,000 Bangladeshis finding jobs abroad each year but some end up cheated and become victims of abuse after being promised jobs. “There are certain issues that woman migrants do face and I will try my best to solve those,” said Sobhan, adding that she was keen to set up a shelter at the Bangladeshi embassy in Amman for women workers like those set up in Saudi Arabia and Oman.

“When you are serving … it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman … but it is true that if a Bangladeshi woman falls in trouble, she will be more comfortable to open up to a woman,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Jordan is home to more than 100,000 female Bangladeshi workers, mostly poor women from rural areas, and is the second ranking destination for Bangladeshi women workers after Saudi Arabia, according to government data.

But recruitment is largely carried out by unofficial brokers, which opens the door to trafficking and exploitation.

Last year at least 1,500 Bangladeshi women returned home from Saudi Arabia after being abused, an increase from 2018 when about 1,300 returned, according to Bangladeshi charity BRAC.

Neither the government nor charities have recorded the numbers returning from Jordan although activists and government officials said they received far less complaints from Bangladeshi migrants in Jordan compared to Saudi Arabia.

“In 2019 we received about 20 to 25 complaints from Bangladeshi workers in Jordan and they were mostly related to wage issues. They were not paid properly,” said Lily Jahan, chairman of BOMSA, a Bangladeshi migrants rights group.

“Some of them were beaten when they protested. We informed the government about these cases.”

Sobhan described the labour laws in Jordan as “supportive” and said migrants didn’t face “severe difficulties” there but this would be a focus of her work.

“I won’t say that there are severe difficulties, but there still are certain issues and I will try my best to solve these,” she said in an interview at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Dhaka before leaving for Jordan.

Remittances from migrant workers are key for Bangladesh’s economy, making up the second-highest source of foreign currency earnings after clothes manufacturing, government data shows.

Sobhan, whose previous role was as the director general of United Nations wing of foreign office, said the government wanted to promote as many female ambassadors as possible.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200220105620-ysjrs/