The Human Impact

Helped by quotas, more women enter Latin American politics

When Michelle Bachelet takes office as president of Chile for the second time on Tuesday, the person who places the blue, white and red striped presidential sash round her neck will be  Isabel Allende – the first woman in Chilean history to be leader of the senate.

One in four lawmakers in Latin America are women, a proportion second only to Europe, and a continent better known as the home of machismo is now leading the way in drawing more women into politics – enabling them gradually to push women’s, social and educational issues to the fore.

A key reason for the growth in the number of congresswomen and female senators in Latin America is the adoption of quotas for women in parliament by 16 of the region’s countries in recent years.

Some laws require candidate lists for local and legislative elections to include a minimum female representation of 30 percent, and in Costa Rica, the 2009 electoral law states that 50 percent of all candidates for public office must be women.

Recent elections using the quotas have had a marked effect on the makeup of national legislatures.

Celebrating women’s rights around the world

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), we have gathered contributions from the likes of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who writes that “there is still not one country in which women and girls are equal to men in political or economic power,” and that ” for far too many women and girls, the ability to live a healthy and productive life free from violence remains an aspiration.”

In another post, journalists at the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera reflect on the status of women’s rights in Italy, three years after creating  “La 27ora”, a popular blog about women’s issues. It’s “time to smash female stereotypes in Italy,” they say, pointing to the long way Italians still have to go to achieve gender equality in a country where patriarchal attitudes are still deeply entrenched in society.

For more contributions, photo blogs and articles on women’s rights, visit our special International Women’s Day coverage page here.

Gender violence in EU lowest in Poland – should we rejoice?

Poland is the country with the lowest rate of violence against women in the European Union (EU), according to a report published on Wednesday.

Are women really safer in Poland compared to, say, Denmark which came last in the survey with a staggering 52 percent of its female population having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives?  In Poland that percentage is “just” 19.

So is “scoring” lowest a reason to celebrate or is it rather a wake-up call? After all 19 percent still means that almost one if five women in Poland experienced violence.

Votes for cash, beer and bricks in Colombia’s upcoming elections

In Colombia, it’s easy to tell when election season is in full swing.

Potholes are suddenly filled with cement, stretches of roads are paved and local officials rush to inaugurate often unfinished public buildings. It’s one way to show that public funds have been well spent under their watch as a way of helping the political party they represent to do well at the polls.

Election campaign posters and pamphlets stuffed in postboxes say “no to corruption” and “public funds are sacred”.

Yet election-rigging scandals, allegations of election fraud and vote-buying are an all too common feature of the political landscape in Colombia.

Bullied, ridiculed, ignored, Asia transgenders step up fight for rights

Natt Kraipet grew up knowing she was a woman in a man’s body. She didn’t like wearing the compulsory school uniform for boys in Thailand and spent her school days being bullied by her peers.

“When students are put into groups according to gender, the boys would yell at me to join the girls. I was sexually harassed – they touched my legs, bottom or face or hit me on my back or head,” she said.

“I couldn’t really tell my teachers or my parents because I was afraid of being judged and punished. Sometimes I felt bullied by the teachers themselves because they would say it was just teasing among the children. It wasn’t teasing,” recalled Natt, now a coordinator with the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN).

Forbes lists record number of women billionaires

There are more women billionaires now than ever before – 172 of them according to Forbes magazine’s 2014 Billionaire’s List, up from 138 last year.  And a sixth of all newcomers on the list are women.

Famous names include Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Tory Burch, British betting queen Denise Coates and the first female Nigerian billionaire Folorunsho Alakija.

However, women still only account for around a tenth of the 1,645 billionaires identified by Forbes on Tuesday as it published its 28thannual list of the richest people on the planet.

The dangers of oversimplifying the Central African Republic conflict

Here’s a story I haven’t heard before: when violence spiralled in Central African Republic’s capital last December, the country’s most senior Muslim cleric sought shelter with the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

And that month no one was attacked in Lakounga, one of the oldest parts of the capital, where Christian and Muslim leaders worked together to protect the community. Posters were plastered on every street corner with the message: “Christians and Muslims, the same blood, the same life, the same country”.

“Their message is that we are one and we have been living together … for many decades,” Nyeko Caesar Poblicks, East and Central Africa projects manager at the London-based NGOConciliation Resources, and a frequent visitor to CAR, told me in a recent interview.

Only two Southern African countries on track to meet 2015 MDG water and sanitation targets – report

Some 120,000 children under the age of five in Southern African countries die every year from diarrhoea, which is primarily caused by lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

More than 40 million people in the region who should have received access to safe drinking water by 2015 will miss out, and 73 million will go without basic sanitation due to investment shortfalls, according to a report.

Only two out of 15 Southern African countries – Botswana and Seychelles – are set to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets to reduce by half the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation, according to the report by Water Aid.

“Tiny number of men” tackle gender violence – male activist

You are out with a group of friends at a bar and you see a male friend groping a woman.

How should you respond? Turn a blind eye, say something, physically intervene, call the police for help?

It’s one of several scenarios that activist Jackson Katz has put before thousands of high school and university students, professional athletes and soldiers in the United States as part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) he co-founded in 1993 to tackle violence against women.

Ending the beatings, rapes, murders: Where are India’s men?

Violence against women is widespread across the world. Globally, 35 percent of women have been beaten by an ‘intimate partner’ or suffered sexual violence at the hands of a non-partner in their lifetime, the World Health Organisation says.

The same research suggests that almost one third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and that some 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend.

In India, the situation is little better. The International Centre for Research on Women reports that 37 percent of men surveyed admit to inflicting violence on their intimate partner.

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