Posts Tagged ‘Asia’

Empowering women in developing countries is “smart economics” but faces challenges

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 25th March 2010

Empowering women in developing countries is “smart economics” that gives them jobs, helps them contribute to economic growth, and promotes greater liberty and democracy. But there are challenges that must be overcome before success is achieved.

Empowering women in developing countries in a way that gives them employment is “smart economics”. Not only does this give them jobs and help them contribute to economic growth, it is a route to combat poverty and a movement towards greater liberty and democracy. But there are challenges that must be overcome before success is achieved.

Such was the message delivered at today’s conference on women’s empowerment and employment, arranged by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Part of the ministry’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) series, the meeting was a precursor for the United Nations’ MDG high-level meeting in New York in September, which will assess the extent to which the millennium goals are being implemented.

Across the developing world, far more women continue to be out of the labour market than men, according to the Millennium Development Goals report from 2009. Northern Africa and western Asia have exceptionally low female employment-to-population ratios, and only about 20% of working-age women are employed in the most important sectors here, industry and services.

Overall, almost two-thirds of all employed women have vulnerable jobs, either as contributing family workers or as own-account workers, yet MDG 1 has a target that aims at full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people, while MDG 3 aims at promoting gender equality and empowering women.

But there are many barriers to success in reaching these goals, and the world economic crisis has delayed progress – and even reversed developments by five or six years.

We must empower women for them to gain their rights and promote economic growth,” Søren Pind, Denmark’s recently appointed Minister for Development Cooperation, told the conference.

Pind added that a new draft for Denmark’s development cooperation has five focus areas, including gender equality and boosting the position and status of women.

Through economic growth we can try to help and empower women, and that helps combat poverty,” Pind said.

Empowering women is smart economics,” said Robert E Zoellick, the president of the World Bank group.

Various reports indicate that improving women’s situation can benefit society in ways that transcend the direct benefits to individual women. Women’s independent earnings improve the well-being of their families and communities, reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. Higher income for women and better access to and control over their resources lead to better health and nutrition for children. In Bangladesh, access to micro-finance increases household consumption when the borrower is a woman, and access to credit also improves children’s health and nutrition.

While noting that women “can be driving forces in economic growth”, Zoellick added, “Women and girls are hit first by economic downturns.”

The world economic crisis means that micro-finance institutions – many of which lend money on very favourable terms to entrepreneurial women in developing countries – are now seeing that their customers are having difficulties repaying their loans, and the institutions may also face problems raising the new capital needed for their work, Zoellick added.

Helen Clark, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), warned that there are very serious challenges to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. These challenges include classic areas of dispute such as rich versus poor, urban versus rural and men versus women.

But, Clark underlined, “Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect across the Millennium Development Goals and expands the economic possibilities and employment of women. Women’s legal skills and situation must be strengthened in terms of their rights and to enable them to take part in decision-making processes, including in national legislatures.” This would ensure greater equality.

Carsten Staur, Denmark’s ambassador to the United Nations, summed up the recommendations from the conference discussions in five themes:

  • Economic empowerment of women as a rights’ issue and as smart economics.
  • Expansion of women’s entrepreneurship opportunities.
  • Creation of opportunities to overcome social and cultural barriers.
  • Priority for women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Voice and political participation.

Staur will be presenting the recommendations at the MDG high-level meeting in September.

Racism and discrimination everyday practices in Denmark – ENAR

Monday, November 9th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 9th November 2009

Racism and discriminatory practices take place every day, says ENAR, the European Network Against Racism, in its 2008 Shadow Report, ‘Racism in Denmark’. Many academic surveys, reports from distinguished organisations and NGOs have documented the unequal treatment given minorities in Denmark.

In its statistics, the Danish government describes non-European communities in a particular manner, according to ENAR, the European Network Against Racism.

Discriminated groups vary in ethnicity, cultures and religions, but, in the last few years, an open and hostile atmosphere towards Muslim groups has become very visible in all spheres of life, the organisation says.

Racism and discriminatory practices take place every day, as evidenced by many academic surveys, reports from distinguished organisations and NGOs, which have documented beyond doubt the unequal treatment given to minorities.

However, the ENAR report states, the single most discriminated area is the labour market – employment opportunities, apprenticeships and the negative views of employers.

In another discriminating area, housing and accommodation, “minorities are often directed by housing societies towards places and quarters where the percentage of socially deprived Danes and various minority groups is already high,” ENAR states. “Having done that, the authorities then call those areas ‘ghettoes’.”

In education there is an important focus on the Danish language, while mother-tongue education for minority children is almost abolished. There are also efforts to spread minority children in as many schools as possible in the name of integration. “The Danish education system is thus becoming a tool in the hands of anti-minority political forces,” the anti-racism organisation says.

In the health sector, children of asylum-seeking families are suffering while interpreting facilities are non-existent for women and elderly sick patients.

The relationship between the police and minority youth deteriorated in 2008 due to the increasing use of racial profiling by the authorities in stop-and-search raids in the neighbourhood, ENAR says. Police arrogance has caused friction and stress. Although Danish society has been relatively peaceful until recently, racial violence and crime have accelerated steadily, causing deaths and shootings.

“Right-wing movements take advantage of the negative atmosphere and recruit new members for their cause,” the ENAR report states. “Harassment of Muslim women and Jewish students is a cause for alarm.”

When it comes to accessing goods and services in the private sector, discrimination in discos, bars and entertainment places is still very widespread and out of the control of authorities.

In public services, small minority children are forcefully removed from homes and taken to Danish foster parents – a big issue that minorities feel very strongly about, the organisation says in its report.

“The media are often hostile towards non-European minorities, especially towards Muslim communities,” ENAR says. “The republishing of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in 2008, splashing headlines in terror suspect cases before the trial or conviction, giving the green light to anti-minority politicians and focusing excessively on the negative stories have created a very bad image of minorities. Media debates as usual focused on Islam, the headscarf, radicalisation, and terrorism by Muslims.”

According to ENAR’s shadow report 2008 on Denmark, such developments have a political and legal context. “In the absence of strong legal protective measures against racism and discrimination and the free reign for politicians to say what they like, minorities have great difficulty in attaining equal rights and opportunities,” ENAR states.

Talking to NGOs, it became clear to ENAR that, in recent years, civil society, which was very active until 2001, has lost hope and faith in a positive change.

“On the anti-discrimination front, the government refuses to officially acknowledge the existence of racism in Denmark,” ENAR says. The government’s action plans “are full of talk about diversity and mono-cultural integration without a concentrated effort to tackle racism and discrimination,” it adds. “The name of the newly established Board of Equal Treatment (which does not deal with racism or discrimination) is a good example. Most of the new laws concerning minorities are actually new restrictions on citizenship, family reunions, asylum and social rights.”

According to ENAR, Denmark has been repeatedly criticised by EU institutions and international organisations, but, due to the lack of sanctions, the government has dismissed all valid criticism.

Successful integration has been linked by the government to the end of third-country nationals entering Denmark. This policy has had the desired effects by reducing asylum and family reunions from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, especially Muslim countries.

“The whole burden of integration has been put on the shoulder of ethnic minorities who are asked to adopt the Danish way of living by discarding their own values and traditions,” ENAR states in the report.

The anti-racism organisation notes that there are few practical remedies against racism and racial profiling, but there is a great focus on anti-terrorism.

Danish anti-terrorism laws are stricter than EU laws, ENAR says, and some cases in 2008 proved that many people were arrested without any substantial proof.

“Such drastic measures have alienated and angered Muslim communities who find themselves targeted because of suspicions and actions of a very tiny number of Muslim individuals,” the organisation adds. “The result of these negative developments is social exclusion, increase in poverty, break up of trust and the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ divide.”

ENAR says it believes that this divide will widen if the Danish media, politicians and local authorities do not come to realise that ethnic and religious minorities are here to stay and that an intercultural society with equal rights and opportunities is the best guarantee for an inclusive society.

“2008 was the European Year for Intercultural Living,” the organisation says. “Minorities hope that the Danish media, politicians and authorities have learnt from this message to not only divert their attention from Danish values but to focus on universal values of respect, accept and understanding for all.”