Category Archives: New links

Q&A: Africa – High On Political Empowerment, Low On Education

Miren Gutierrez interviews SAADIA ZAHIDI, co-author of Global Gender Gap report

Saadia Zahidi: The GGG index

Saadia Zahidi: The GGG index "looks at women as resources"

ROME, Dec 3 (IPS) – “It is clear that there are huge discrepancies within Sub-Saharan Africa, but overall the region is doing extremely well in terms of political empowerment,” says Saadia Zahidi, head of the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in a telephone interview from Geneva. But what are the pending matters in the region?

The Global Gender Gap (GGG) index ranks 134 countries according to gender equality, and it is designed to measure gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in individual countries rather than the overall levels of the available resources in those countries. It looks at four factors: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; political empowerment; and health and survival of women.

Zahidi discusses concrete cases based on the data dug out for the GGG report, and comments on the emergence of South Africa as a country with one of the lowest gender gaps in the world and other trends in the Sub-Saharan region.

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Media: The Untold Stories of Violence Against Women

Robert Dijksterhuis, Jac SM Kee, Monia Azzalini,Paula Fray, Thenjiwe Mtintso and Laila Al-Shaik. / Credit:Miren Gutierrez/IPS

Robert Dijksterhuis, Jac SM Kee, Monia Azzalini, Paula Fray, Thenjiwe Mtintso and Laila Al-Shaik

By Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli

ROME, Nov 26 (IPS) – “You don’t need to go far, it is all around us,” said Robert Dijksterhuis, head of the gender division in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to a room mostly full of women. “Up to one in three women around the world has been abused in some way – most often by someone she knows,” he added, quoting UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) numbers.

The audience, a group of committed women – and men -, had gathered in Rome to discuss this widespread emergency and the role media have in relation to it in a conference organised by the IPS news agency and supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the city of Rome.

The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) reports in the paper “Violence against women worldwide” that up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority from husbands, partners or someone they know. Among women aged 15–44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.

And violence against women is pervasive.

During the conference, IPS launched the handbook “Reporting Gender-Based Violence”.

Violence against women has presented particular challenges to the media and to society because of the way in which it has been consigned to the private sphere -dampening public discussions and stifling media debate. Yet, the media has the potential to play a lead role in changing perceptions that, in turn, can help galvanise a movement for change – says the introduction by IPS Africa, Director Paula Fray

The handbook deals with issues such as religious and harmful traditional practices, domestic violence, sexual gender-based violence, femicide, sex work and trafficking, sexual harassment, armed conflicts, HIV and AIDS, child abuse, the role of men, the criminal justice system, and the costs of gender-based violence, with real stories illustrating how these issues and trends can be tackled by the media, discussion points, fact checks and additional resources.

In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by someone she knows; in Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day. In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds. Rape of women is widespread in armed conflicts such as those of Colombia and Darfur, Sudan.

This phenomenon affects not only developing countries, but also the developed world. In the U.S., 83 percent of girls aged 12–16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools, and one-third of women murdered each year are killed by partners; in the European Union between 40 and 50 percent of women experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.

However, according to UNFPA, civil society, media and politicians have begun only recently to join their efforts to change the perception of the phenomenon of violence against women, trying to knock down the wall of indifference and misconstruction that has always surrounded it.

And this is where the media comes in.

According to the Italian Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Vincenzo Scotti, “communication can be one of the most powerful tools” in the fight against this type of violence.

In “Changing cultural and social norms that support violence”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that media – which have been successful in addressing a wide range of health issues – could play a bigger role in fighting violence.

Meanwhile papers like “The influence of media violence on youth”, published by the American Physiological Society, show how female victimisation in storylines reduces the perceptions of violence in the reality.

This problem is exacerbated by the under-representation of women in media and misrepresentation of their role. Media Monitoring Africa – a watchdog organisation that promotes fair journalism – denounces the scarcity of women working in the media and the marginalised way in which they are portrayed, often limited to victims or someone’s relative.

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Gender-South Africa: ‘There Is A Sense Of Vindication’

There Is A Sense Of Vindication – Gender-South Africa

Miren Gutierrez* interviews THENJIWE MTINTSO, Ambassador of South Africa to Italy

'This is our time. We can avoid repeating mistakes and learn from other's experiences' / Credit:Victor Sokolowicz/ IPS

This is our time. We can avoid repeating mistakes and learn from other's experiences

ROME, Nov 26 (IPS) – Born in a squatter camp in Orlando East and raised by a single mother; working in a factory while completing secondary school by correspondence; arrested and banned by the apartheid government: South Africa’s ambassador to Italy is an example of the long road her country has travelled.

In the context of an international conference on gender violence and the role of media in Rome – organised by Inter Press Service and supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the City of Rome – Mtintso, a gender activist and former journalist, spoke with IPS about the story behind the scenes of the fight for gender equality in South Africa.

IPS: South Africa is in the sixth best position in the latest Global Gender Gap index by the World Economic Forum. “The latest data reveal that South Africa made significant improvements in female labour force participation in addition to gains for women in parliament and in ministerial positions in the new government. South Africa holds the top spot of the region in political empowerment.” Do you feel vindicated?

THENJIWE MTINTSO: There is a sense of vindication, yes. Also of awareness, in the sense that, when I was a journalist in the 1970s, (the issue of the discrimination against women) was sometimes considered out of place (within the struggle against apartheid), to the point that some women were wondering ‘are we talking foolish?’ The view among the people undertaking the social struggle against the apartheid regime was that, since women are part of the nation, there was no need to make a difference.

I consider this success story a direct effect of the struggle for equality for women (of that period). It is thanks to the women who were part of the struggle for national liberation and gender equality, women who formed the movement, who achieved a unity across races, that we are where we are.

In that in a particular political environment, in which women felt the pressure from different fronts, that it was possible that white and black women were united. White women were the wives and black women were the domestic help. Men in reality had two wives.

So women were driven closer in the environment previous to the first elections (in 1994). They got together and decided they weren’t going to let men speak on their behalf.

IPS: You have highlighted that fact that South Africa is in a better position than Italy (ranked 72 in the GGG index).

TM: There is a historical difference. We have undergone a huge crisis. The struggles that we went through created a different dynamic that made this possible.

IPS: However we are talking about a country that has the world’s highest number of rapes per capita (1.19538 per 1,000 people), according to Seventh U.N. Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998-2000. More than 25 percent of South African men questioned admitted to raping someone, according to a recent study conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC). What are the main areas in which discrimination is still pervasive?

TM: This problem is very serious. With the improvements, there have been backlashes. What happened is that the faster we were going (in terms of gender equality), the more challenges men were facing. And some of them were not ready to be led by women, they were not ready to have their women earning more, they were not ready to transfer leadership roles to women.

Unfortunately, the violence was a response. We have young men beating young women. The economic strains are making things worse. Men are supposed to provide for their families (while the crisis is affecting their capacity to do so). Men’s frustrations combine against women.

But although the statistics are correct, there is now more reporting (in violence against women). So the increase in reporting is showing too in the statistics.

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En español
In italiano

Teaching at University

As in previous years, I was invited to teach at University of Navarra as Guest Professor last month. As part of the International Media Programme, I spoke about the crisis in the media sector, the coverage of the war in Iraq, propaganda and gender. The International Media Programme is part of a one academic year in universities in Europe, North America or Asia. The IMP, the first qualification of its kind in Spain, is awarded by the School of Communication at the University of Navarra; its purpose is to provide graduates with an international profile in the communications sector.

Revista Emakunde – Sobre género


La revista Emakunde publica una entrevista -en euskera- sobre el nuevo servicio de noticias sobre asuntos de género creado por Inter Press Service, que dirijo. El servicio se centra en cuatro temas fundamentales: el traspaso o herencia de la propiedad (que en muchos países está vedado a las mujeres), la violencia llamada “de género”, la igualdad de oportunidades en el mercado de trabajo, y la representación de las mujeres en el ámbito político.

En castellano: mirenemakunde1.doc

DEVELOPMENT: Plenty On the Plate – Part 2

By Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli

An internally displaced person in Congo carries rations distributed by the World Food Programme. / Credit:U.N.
An internally displaced person in Congo carries rations distributed by the World Food Programme.


ROME, Oct 4 (IPS) – “From a current 6.5 billion population, a billion don’t get enough to eat right now. Extrapolate that to 2020, and you begin to recognise why this is not just a moral problem, it is a national security problem that has much more to do with civil strife, warfare, terrorism, immigration… This goes far beyond food.”

That is the issue on the plate for the World Summit on Food Security (Nov. 16-18), says Kevin Cleaver, assistant president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

And the results of the summit cannot be business as usual.

“I am not a NGO type,” he says. “But I agree the current food system is fundamentally not sustainable. A billion people go to bed without enough food. Something has gone terribly wrong. In the developed world, obesity is the problem. Poor people (in rich countries) are malnourished.”

What needs to be done?

For Cleaver, it is a clear, although not an easy choice. “Reallocate public resources to agriculture production in developing countries, where the epicentre of this crisis is. By the countries themselves, by the donor agencies run by the industrial countries, by the multilateral institutions like IFAD, the World Bank…A hard choice: it means shifting resources into agriculture, and taking them out of something else.

“Also, a lot has to be done in the area of policy,” he says.

“We find that when the food crisis occurred in 2008, many developing countries made the wrong choices, tried to impose price controls on farmers. Argentina, for example, squeezed the farmers by taxes. The result is always that the farmers stop producing or start smuggling. A very inefficient, shortsighted response.

“Other countries did stupid things. The Philippines started to buy massive amounts of rice and stuck it in a warehouse. Each time they went to the market, the price went to the ceiling…so poor countries were crushed,” he says.

“In industrial countries we have the most stupid set of subsidies…About 200 billion dollars a year are devoted to subsidies to U.S. and European companies, a bigger amount than all the aid of all institutions put together. We subsidise this tiny little group of corporate farms to the tune of gazillions. And what sort of farming do they practice? The kind the Slow Food movement criticises. Is this what we want to do with the money? No.”

So what will happen during the summit?

“This is an effort by FAO to be relevant. They recognise the crisis, and they want to have a discussion at the global level to solve it,” says Cleaver. “The problem with these big U.N. gatherings, however well intentioned, is that they don’t actually change much. In 1974, there were some institutional changes. I hope this food conference leads to an equivalent kind of response. But my guess is it won’t change much.

“The most we can hope,” he adds, “is that it will raise awareness in the public about the stakes. The press is not reporting the issues, only pieces of it. They haven’t quite caught on to the global dimension of this dilemma. This summit could manage to get the word out beyond a few bureaucrats.”

Do others hope more from the summit?

The third big U.N. agency headquartered in Rome, the World Food Programme (WFP), specialises in delivering food to people who are caught in a humanitarian crisis, such as a drought, flood or war. “Simply put, it keeps people from starving to death,” says the WFP site.

The most urgent problem facing the WFP now is the food emergencies in about 30 countries.

“Food prices on international markets reached a peak in mid-2008 and since then we have witnessed a decline. However, the cost of food in many markets in the developing countries where WFP works has remained stubbornly high,” says Greg Barrow, global media coordinator of the WFP.

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DEVELOPMENT: Rome, Food Capital of the World – Part 1

By Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli

A farmer harvests sorghum seeds in Sudan. The price of the seeds has doubled over the last two years. / Credit:U.N.
A farmer harvests sorghum seeds in Sudan. The price of the seeds has doubled over the last two years.


ROME, Oct 3 (IPS) – It was once true that all roads led to this ancient capital. Today it is the furrows of maize, wheat and rice fields that take you to Rome, where the biggest global food organisations are headquartered, and the World Summit on Food Security (Nov. 16-18) is being organised.

The situation couldn’t be more momentous.

“The global food insecurity situation has worsened and continues to represent a serious threat for humanity,” says the summit website. According to the latest U.N. projections, the world population will rise from 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion in 2050 – a third more mouths to feed. Most population growth will occur in developing countries.

High food prices in developing countries, a global economic crisis affecting jobs, deepening poverty, and more hungry people combine to paint a bleak picture.

So, what are the expectations of the food organisations present in Rome?

Kostas Stamoulis, head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) agricultural development economics division, says this summit “is not a fund- raising exercise…the original position is that we eliminate hunger, preferably by 2025, although I am not sure if this will be the summit’s objective, because the countries have yet to agree on the targets…”

One of the concrete issues on the table, he says, is “reform of the global governance of food security. It has to be better coordinated, because so far every crisis turns into a big disaster. Also, despite all the wealth in the world, we have seen chronically hungry people increasing since 1996.”

A recent paper by FAO says that “producing 70 percent more food for an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050 while at the same time combating poverty and hunger, using scarce natural resources more efficiently, and adapting to climate change are the main challenges world agriculture will face in the coming decades.”

For Stamoulis, in order to produce more food, “we have to make sure that farmers are properly supported in the developed and developing countries, not at the expense of each other.” So far we are not doing a good job, he says. “Developed countries support farmers tremendously, while developing countries do not have the means.

“Part of the objective too is to make sure that countries realise that a lot more resources have to be devoted to agriculture. Not necessarily during the summit…this is not a pledge summit. That happened in July, when the G8 pledged 20 billion dollars to support agriculture. This is a summit where countries, at the highest level, reconfirm their support.”

At the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) most powerful countries, held in July in the Italian city of L’Aquila, they decided to mobilise 20 billion dollars over three years to fight the food crisis, and it was said the money could be used to promote agriculture rather than as aid. But people like Paolo di Croce, secretary-general of Slow Food International, were sceptical. “We have to change the model that caused this situation (of food crisis), not patch up the gaps with some crisis money,” he said in an earlier interview with IPS.

For Stamoulis, this is a good point. The money should be invested primarily on small farmers, he says. Investments should be made too in infrastructure – roads, ports, storage facilities. “In terms of technology and access to markets, we have to make sure small holders take a fair share of this allocation, so they increase their productivity.”

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POLITICS-ITALY: Don’t Even Speak of Equality! – Part 2

By Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli

The prevailing machismo in politics discourages women’s involvement / Credit:Italian government
The prevailing machismo in politics discourages women’s involvement

Credit:Italian government

ROME, Sep 22 (IPS) – Angelica Mucchi-Faina, psychology professor at the Perugia University, thinks that “in Italy you cannot even talk about equal opportunities for women in politics.”

However, Italy signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1980, and ratified it in 1985.

As a result, in 2003, Italy modified Article 51 of its Constitution, introducing the principle of equality in access to political offices. For the first time the concept of equal opportunities entered the Constitution. The Ministry for Equal Opportunities exists since 1996.

But for Mucchi-Faina, there are three factors that still hinder women’s entry in politics.

“First, the burden of family responsibilities falls on women’s shoulders,” she says. “Women dedicate 24 percent of their available time to the family, while men invest just 8 percent … Second, the prevailing machismo in politics discourages women’s involvement. To include women in the lists is just a way of saving face. We continually hear that quotas create ghettos for women, but it is men who take refuge in the Mount Athos of politics, and don’t have any intention of letting us in.”

“Third, women know that they have to be much, much better and invest much more than men. The result is that women see very few opportunities to enter politics, and succeed,” she concludes.

Some of her points coincide with a 2004 report on Italy released by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – an expert body that watches over the progress for women made in those countries party to the 1979 CEDAW.

“The shortage of female representatives in the political arena is mainly due to three factors,” it says. The first is linked to the fact that women are generally depicted as weak, needing protection; a figure which causes disaffection among women themselves, unfit for the environment where power is exercised.”

“The second concerns an intrinsic feature of Italy’s ruling class, which tends to represent and reproduce itself, and so tends to come over as inward looking, because it does not fulfil its role through a vital and open relationship with civil society,” it continues.

“Whereas the first two factors are grounded in Italian culture, the third has strong political connotations. Today, there are still numerous obstacles to women wishing to take part in political life, due to the difficulty of reconciling the female role in politics and work, with family life,” it concludes.

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POLITICS-ITALY: Where Are the Women? – Part 1

By Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli

Luisa Capelli: Italian feminism
Luisa Capelli: Italian feminism “has been marginalised”

Credit:Oriana Boselli/IPS

ROME, Sep 22 (IPS) – Four ministers out of 21; 193 parliamentarians out of 952 (upper and lower houses); no party leaders. Why are there so few women in Italian politics?
“The feminist movement in Italy has been strong… But in order for women to participate in politics as women, politics itself should change,” says Luisa Capelli from L’Italia dei valori party (The Italy of Values). “Italian feminism has influenced party politics, especially those from the left. But it has been marginalised to the point that if you identify yourself as a feminist, you are looked upon with distrust.”

Capelli, who is also the head of Meltemi Editore, a social sciences publishing house, has thought a great deal about the weak political presence of female politicians in Italy.

“There have been years of exposing women’s bodies, of daily belittling women’s talents,” she tells IPS in an interview. And this is the result of the systematic vilification of women on television. “At least two of our (female) ministers have been chosen because their presence sexually pleases prime minister (Silvio Berlusconi)… Why should we be shocked? When two years ago a female student asked him for advice about her future, he suggested that she marry a rich man.”

Chiara Volpato, professor of social psychology at the Milano-Bicocca University, sees “historic factors” in the current impasse.

“The democratic development of Italy was interrupted by 20 years of fascism,” she says. “The regime’s machismo was translated into laws that reduced women’s rights even further. For example, women were forbidden to teach philosophy and history, considered the highest studies.”

In spite of it, women had a key role in the fight against fascism, and created for themselves social and political spaces like the right to vote in 1946 and the divorce, abortion and family planning laws in the sixties and seventies. “But this thrust vanished in the following years, while the lack of ideas and initiatives has been replaced by the commercial Berlusconian TV,” she says.

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In italiano

Blogging about women…

I have started to blog on women’s issues at Gender Masala. My latest comments are about Il corpo delle donne, a documentary about the manipulative, humiliating image of women in Italian television, and about how the latest version of Star Trek reproduces the utdated sexual prejudices of the sixties. I am fascinated by how media portray women. Maybe it has to be with the fact that most media owners, filmmaker, senior editors and publishers are men, even in the best cases. For example, a report entitled “The Gender of Journalism”, authored by researcher Monika Djerf-Pierre, shows that even if half of Swedish journalists are women, three out of four leaders in the media industry are all men. That is Sweden, imagine what happens in Italy or Indonesia, not to mention undemocratic theocracies…