The Human Impact

Who’s key to gender equality? Hint: It’s not women

When it comes to women’s rights, it turns out it’s really all about men.

A recent World Bank report underscored that strong economies and greater education for women, once thought to be silver bullets against gender inequality in the world of work, are effectively trumped by persistent social norms.

Entrenched social attitudes and traditions remain among the greatest obstacles to realising women’s rights globally – and most of those attitudes and traditions are held or enforced by men, according to experts.

An emerging theme at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women  (CSW58), is an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of addressing and changing the attitudes of men and boys to achieve the stubbornly elusive goal of gender equality.

“We can empower women more and more, but if men remain the same, what’s the point?” Waruna Sri Dhanapala, minister counselor at Sri Lanka’s permanent mission to the United Nations, told a panel discussion on Monday.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), agreed that equality can’t happen without boys and men being on board.

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.

What to make of the Daily Mail campaign to spend foreign aid on UK flood victims?

Earlier this week, the right-wing British tabloid the Daily Mail launched a campaign for the government to divert cash  from the foreign aid budget to help victims of the catastrophic floods wreaking havoc in southern England and Wales.

Populist campaigns are nothing new for the Mail, and this one – which attracted more than 100,000 signatures in 48 hours – followed a similar call by populist right-winger Nigel Farage, whose small UK Independence Party (UKIP) wants Britain to quit the European Union and who enjoys thinking up fringe policies which irritate the ruling Conservatives.

The Mail campaign, though hardly surprising, did stir debate about the contentious issue of Britain’s foreign aid. It also brought to light questions such as why the UK has not applied for cash from the EU Solidarity Fund, set up precisely to help member states tackle natural disasters, and facts such as that we spend more on fizzy drinks than overseas aid.

The future of “building back better”: houses, schools, and political transformation too?

Disaster recovery experts and scholars alike seem to agree on at least one thing: disaster-recovery efforts should concentrate not only on restoring affected communities to pre-disaster levels, but should focus on “building back better” by linking immediate relief with long-term recovery and development.

Some go even further by suggesting that disasters can become an opportunity not  just to “build back better”, but to bring about political transformation by ending conflicts and improving governance in post-disaster settings.

“The aspiration to build back better – to use the opportunity of a disaster response to leave societies improved, not just restored – is self-evidently common sense: after all, who would want to build back worse, or simply reinstate conditions of inequality, poverty and vulnerability if the chance for something better was at hand?”, said Lilianne Fan in her paper “Disasters as opportunity? Building back better in Aceh, Myanmar and Haiti.

Why India’s Mars mission matters, despite poverty

There has been much fanfare over the launch of India’s first rocket to Mars – a mission which, if successful, will position the Asian nation as a major player in the global space race.

For days last week, local television news channels broadcast constant updates as the Indian Space Research Organisation readied to send “Mangalyaan” – the “Mars-craft” – to the red planet.

The orbiter’s mission is to reach Mars by September and map some of the planet’s surface and test for methane, a possible marker of life.

UNDP’s Helen Clark: balancing water, food, energy key to post-2015 goals

Global development goals due to replace current anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015 could be unified by a concept that calls for an integrated view of economic growth and development, said Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The concept — the water-energy-food nexus – aims to create a sustainable economy and a healthy environment by considering how each of the three elements interrelate and are affected by decision-making.

“It’s a more holistic approach  –  without water you can’t farm, without clean water you can’t be healthy, without ways of allocating and looking after the water supply there won’t be enough to meet our needs — it’s got many dimensions,” Clark said.

Menstruation taboo puts 300 mln women in India at risk – experts

More than 300 million women and girls in India do not have access to safe menstrual hygiene products, endangering their health, curtailing their education and putting their livelihoods at risk, say experts at the Geneva-based Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC).

At least 23 percent of girls in India leave school when they start menstruating and the rest miss an average of five days during each monthly menstrual period between the ages of 12 and 18, according to WSSCC, a partnership run by government, non-governmental organisation (NGO) members and a United  Nations-hosted secretariat.

“From a taboo standpoint they are ostracised – it’s an awkward situation to be in if you are having your monthly period and you simply do not want to be seen by others because they may perceive you as either dirty or unhygienic in some way,” said Chris Williams, executive director of WSSCC.

Over to you: experts take water development goals debate to Web

An inspired Facebook update or a 140-character tweet could play a key role in shaping global development plans.

Over the next few weeks, policymakers are seeking input from the public via social media channels as they craft a sustainable development goal to address global water-management concerns and ensure water is available in the future for food and industrial production, for drinking and for sanitation.

Experts hope the internet-based public water consultation will help them forge streamlined goals for the post-2015 development agenda by building consensus around three main aspects of water management: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); water resources; wastewater management and water quality.

Climate change means doing Asian development differently

In the face of climate change, is it time to re-examine the way we do development in Asia?

For years, many developing countries have believed it can be only one or the other – economic growth or reducing carbon emissions.

But a new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says it’s possible for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to do both.

Expert urges unity in dialogue over water security

Disconnected approaches to water security are hindering efforts to launch more effective talks on providing universal access to fresh water and sanitation, an expert said at an international conference this week.

The division between discussions on boosting access to water for the poor and those on the challenges of managing water as a resource was plain to see at the water security conference at Oxford University, according to Tom Slaymaker, a senior policy analyst at WaterAid.

“The dominant narrative on water security reflects rich-country concerns and we mustn’t forget that in developing countries huge amounts of people still lack basic facilities,” Slaymaker said.

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