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The Time Is Now for Gender Equality in the Caribbean

MD Staff

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Building a strong and resilient Caribbean demands the equal involvement of women and men. The Caribbean has made significant progress in gender equality in recent years, particularly in women’s education and their participation in the labor force. But more remains to be done to push the frontier to equal opportunity and tackle gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies and LGBT inclusion.

Meet three women who are breaking the glass ceiling in their own way, promising a brighter future for the Caribbean:

“I am ready to help rebuild Haiti”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, 32-year-old Marie Carine François lost her business to the floods that devastated the south of Haiti, where she lives with her six-year-old daughter and two brothers. She was helping to clear the debris in her neighborhood, when she caught the attention of local authorities on a post-disaster assessment mission. They recruited her for training in construction to help rebuild resilient infrastructure after the disaster.

“At the end of the workshop, I can go to any building site and offer my skills to earn a living,” says Marie. “I feel more fulfilled now because I am actively involved in repairing my home, where a wall was destroyed by the hurricane. I am also proud to be directly involved in the rebuilding of our municipality.”

The workshop Marie attended is part of a World Bank-financed project to support sustainable mobility for all in Haiti by building climate resilient roads and infrastructure.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the participation of women in the labor force rose by 33 percent between 1990 and 2014, which contrasts sharply with the global trend of a slight decline. This increased labor force participation has helped reduce extreme poverty in the region.  In Haiti, 63 percent of women participate in the labor force, higher than the regional average. However, on average, women in Haiti earn 30 percent less than men.

“We are the stories that we tell ourselves”

Jamaican Kenia Mattis has always had a great passion for social entrepreneurship and education. “We are the stories that we tell ourselves,” says Kenia. Her company builds online platforms that help children develop strong language skills, find inspiration, and cultivate creativity. In 2017, Kenia launched a spin-off company specializing in learning games. “We are truly excited about making learning fun and accessible to all,” says Kenia.

Latin America and the Caribbean has the second-highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world: 40 percent of firms have female participation in ownership. The highest rates in the region are found in Caribbean countries, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and in Grenada. In Jamaica, 78 percent of women have accounts at a formal financial institution, the highest number in the region. However, women entrepreneurs tend to be concentrated in small- and medium-sized enterprises, partly due to gender-based inequalities in ownership of land and capital.

Last year, Kenia attended an acceleration program for women entrepreneurs through the Women Innovators Network in the Caribbean (WINC) program, funded by the government of Canada and implemented by the World Bank Group’s InfoDev program. Designed to jump-start women-led enterprises across the region, the program provided local entrepreneurs with mentorship, training, and networking opportunities.

94% of girls go to school in the Caribbean

At a school in western Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, Mikeilis wants to become a dentist like her cousin when she grows up. Driven by her mother’s story, who had to drop out of high school when she became pregnant with Mikeilis, the 8-year-old student is determined to go to college to pursue her career goals.

Over the last 30 years, more women than men get an education in many countries, and female enrollment in education in the Caribbean has steadily improved to reach 94 percent. Girls also tend to outperform boys in standardized tests. However, high levels of teenage pregnancy and a low quality of education have become the main causes of school dropout.

The Dominican Republic’s government recently passed a National Pact for Education which prioritizes learning and improvements in the quality of education. The World Bank is supporting this reform by helping recruit and train primary and secondary school teachers, assess student learning and early childhood development services, and decentralize public school management.

Caribbean women like Marie Carine, Kenia and Mikeilis have emerged as a force for change in the region. No country can achieve its potential until all of its citizens are able to achieve theirs.

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Elpidophoros sees his future in GOA. Or not?

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Archbishop Demetrios’ possible retirement has been discussed more and more often, and not only in the media but also in Orthodox forums and blogs, which highlights the importance of this event and the difficulties the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America will soon face. However, the accents drastically differ from those in official statements and open letters.

The GOA issues are much more complicated as Demetrios is not the root cause of the crisis. The point is that even after at the moment of its birth the Archdiocese wasn’t independent enough, and now it’s even less so. Each of its Dioceses is subject to Constantinople, each of its bishops is controlled directly – so nothing really depends on the Archbishop in these circumstances. In spite of this, the GOA Primate’s retirement is inevitable.

In this situation many see Bursa Metropolitan Elpidophoros Lambriniadis as Demetrios’ successor, though opinions vary. His supporters say that his appointment is a chance to increase the GOA’s self-sufficiency and make it more modern and open. Opponents consider this Constantinople’s trick to impose dictatorship and dispel all hopes for independence in the guise of liberalism and an effective crisis manager. There are even those who believe Elpidophoros will become an American Patriarch…

It’s hard to say if these conjectures are based on reliable information. Either can’t we say with certainty that Elpidophoros is involved in disseminating these gossips, but they obviously play into his hands. Metropolitan of Bursa is not only an ambitious person but also a pragmatic one, and his program is not of that great significance in this context. By the way, he may become the one to bring the LGBTQ issues to the GOARCH agenda. Recently, along with some largest benefactors to the GOA, even Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia has paid notice to them in his essay for the Wheel.

However, for such an ambitious person as Elpodophoros, the American Archdiocese is unlikely a primary career interest. The Metropolitan likely sees the GOA as a platform to return to the Patriarchal elections in Turkey. Although this fact fills the Archdiocese’s members with indignation, but today the GOA is just an interim stage in a race for the Patriarch See in Istanbul, on the outskirts of Europe. It will be so until the Archdiocese’s benefactors and hierarchs become concerned not with the figure of Demetrios but with internal reforms and the revision of relations with Constantinople. Or – until the See indeed moves to the US. Up to this moment anyone can promise to the GOA laity anything in blogs and on the sidelines – this is a free country.

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Rohingya Crisis Needs World’s Support

MD Staff

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Rohingya women with kids are walking to the camp with relief food at Camp Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © Tanvir Murad Topu/World Bank

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres came to Bangladesh to see firsthand the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Before they left, they urged the world not to turn a blind eye to the plight of Rohingya refugees fleeing their homes in neighboring Myanmar.

Over 700,000 Rohingya have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh since August 2017. Many now fear that their shanty homes – made of bamboos and plastic sheets, perched on deforested hills – could crumble under the heavy rains of the monsoon season.

But the flow of refugees has not stopped. As Kim and Guterres visited Cox’s Bazar under gray skies, more people arrived with stories of hardship and brutality.

“I have worked in some of the poorest countries in the world, but the experience here has been deeply troubling,” Kim said. “I have been deeply moved by the courage and the dignity of the Rohingya people, and appalled by their stories of what they had to endure: rape, torture, killing, burning of homes. As the UN Secretary-General said, the Rohingya are one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable communities on Earth. ”

The Government of Bangladesh has done the world a great service by keeping its borders open and supporting the refugees, Kim said. But the responsibility should not be Bangladesh’s alone.

The number of refugees in Cox’s Bazar— one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh—is now more than twice that of the local population.

Despite its own challenges, Bangladesh has been drawing from its own resources to respond to the crisis. Among other measures, the country has allocated 5,000 acres of land for temporary shelters, provided food relief, deployed mobile medical teams, and carried out large-scale immunization campaigns.  Bangladesh has built 13 access roads to the temporary and registered camps and established water points and sanitation facilities.

With the monsoon rains continuing, the government has relocated 30,000 people to safer ground while preparing to move other vulnerable people, with support from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations

As the needs continue to grow, the World Bank Group announced last week up to $480 million in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily, and with dignity. This financing will also help build the country’s capacity to deal with the crisis. The World Bank’s ongoing programs also will support the people in Cox’s Bazar.

But the UN Secretary-General said more funds are urgently needed as a key $950 million humanitarian aid plan is just over a quarter funded.

Prior to visiting Cox’s Bazar, Kim and Guterres met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to express their gratitude to the people and government of Bangladesh.

“The government’s relief effort, along with those of domestic and international relief agencies, has saved thousands of lives,” Kim said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the government to create and maintain dignifying living conditions for the Rohingya people. We’ve come to an agreement that we will build some more permanent structures and provide more services—the kinds of basic things that everyone needs, such as health care and education.”

Kim explained that support for the Rohingya is one of several areas where the Bank Group is working closely with Bangladesh.

“With respect to the government of Bangladesh, we believe so strongly in the direction they are going – for issues quite separate from the Rohingya – that we provided over $3 billion of low interest, long maturity loans this year for Bangladesh’s development priorities,” Kim said.

He added that this is the highest level of financing the World Bank has ever provided to Bangladesh from the International Development Association—the Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. IFC, the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, also committed more than $420 million [AC1] [DLB2] of financing to private companies in Bangladesh this year.

“We consider Bangladesh an important partner in reducing global poverty, and we’re committed to helping Bangladesh achieve its aspiration of becoming an upper-middle income country,” Kim said.

The joint World Bank-UN visit to the refugee camp signals a closer working relationship with the United Nations to address fragility, conflict, violence, and forced displacement—situations that can last a decade or more, requiring more resources than humanitarian aid alone can provide.

Kim, Guterres, and Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all described the current level of cooperation between the World Bank and UN agencies as unprecedented.

“We have been working very closely with our UN partners to bring humanitarian response and development together,” Kim said. “The refugee situation around the world is everybody’s problem. It’s not just a problem for host countries, or just a problem for the refugees—this is everybody’s problem. What I saw today was heart-breaking and appalling. On the other hand, I was deeply inspired by the courage and dignity of the people who were kind enough to speak with us.”

“The work is not done; it’s just getting started,” Kim concluded. “At the World Bank Group, we are committed to doing more to make sure that the Rohingya, and all of us, can see justice. We are all Rohingyas.”

World Bank

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Talking about Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors: A cultural and Social Taboo in Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank

In June 2018, Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (2018) published its latest survey entitled “Transition to Adulthood; Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors of Youth in Afghanistan.”The survey has been conducted in a conversation with 1,350 people aged 15 to 34 in 10 largest provinces of Afghanistan. Sediqa Bakhtiari, one of the researchers (2018), articulates that in the survey, the attitude and sexual behavior of youth and adolescents after childhood have been examined.This study echoes that most Afghan youths do not have information about the healthy sexual relationship.In this survey, 36% of the interviewees had no information about AIDS, and only 20% were familiar with safe and healthy relationships. And, 90 percent of those interviewed in this study said that there is a pressing need for sex education in Afghanistan.

The research shows that ignoring the debate on sexual issues has led Afghan young people to go to other sources for obtaining information about sexual matters that do not provide the right information to them. For example, according to this study, 60 percent of Afghan youths use sexy content such as movies and photos that address their sexual instinct. The researchers of this survey argue that using such objects for tackling the sexual needs can have personal and social damage. Its personal damage includes imitation of patterns of misconception, depression, and frustration, mental disorders, and addiction to such content and social damages are encouraging the youth toward committing rape, violence, street harassment and, in some cases, avoidance of marriage (Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, 2018)

Studies project that widespread rape, honor killings, sexual violence, and child abuse in Afghanistan are the malicious results of lack of information and public awareness about sexual attitudes and behaviors. According to Ruhollah Amin, a psychologist in Afghanistan (BBC, June 29, 2018), talking about sexual needs and issues has a very negative connotation in Afghan society. He argues that even among couples, talking about a sexual relationship is interpreted as bad, embarrassing, and heinous and should be kept secret. In his opinion, this social and cultural censorship has become a self-censorship that causes disorders for a person, and finally, the consequences of such self-censorship rise in other ways that are inconsistent with the cultural and social norms of the society. For instance, jokes and poems that have sexual content and violence are indicative of such cultural censorship in the society (BBC, June 30, 2018). He emphasizes the need for a social and cultural campaign in Afghanistan regarding sexual attitudes and behaviors so that individuals can become aware of their sexual needs legally as a human.

Lack of Sex Education at Afghan Schools

Afghanistan is a traditional country and its people are religious who strongly believe in the traditional Islamic and religious principles. The contents and subjects of school curriculum in Afghanistan are also designed based on these Islamic principles and traditional values of the people(Compilation & Translation, 2003). In 2016, the city of Kabul witnessed a public campaign that broke many of the taboos and traditions in the country.This campaign was specifically talking about sexual attitudes and behaviors of youths and the problems and inadequacies surrounding them in Afghanistan (Horizon News Agency, Oct. 23, 2017).Holding such public awareness programs are very pivotal and vital in this regard but not adequate. Because, first, such campaigns only take place out of schools by private organizations in Afghanistan. Second, these kinds of social and cultural public awareness programs occur in big cities of Afghanistan where far-reaching provinces are not witnessing such campaigns. Third, schools that are considered to be the main training centers for children don’t have any clear and specific programs regarding educating the students about their sexual attitudes and behaviors, unfortunately.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission’s annual report (2017) shows that violence against women in Afghanistan has increased by 8.6%. The report states that 5575 cases of violence had been registered in 2017. This figure was 5132 in 2016. Of the total recorded violence, more than 1,500 cases of physical violence, more than 360 cases of sexual violence, more than 1,800 verbal and psychological violence, more than 1,100 cases of economic violence and remaining violence have been reported in response to behaviors that are traditionally are disgraceful. In the reported physical violence section, more than 1,200 cases of beatings, 10 incidents, 57 injuries, 45 forced labor and 234 deaths were included. The Independent Human Rights Commission argues that the statistics do not show the full reality due to the extent of this problem, and many cases of violence against women are likely to remain hidden for reasons of custom and lack of security.

Given the above reasons, it is argued that one of the key factors of violence against women increase in Afghanistan is the shortage of sex education at Afghanistan’s schools. For example, several studies echo that presenting guidance by the teachers about sexual attitudes and behaviors of students at schools will reduce the occurrence of sexual assaults and gender violence in the society. Because girls and boys as teenagers will learn about their sexual attitudes at schools. In other words, sex education will help students how to tackle their sexual problems appropriately, how to respect their opposite sex’s sexual characteristics and not to look at their opposite sex as a physical and biological object but as a human being(Raphael, 2015).

Since there is not any formal education about sexual attitudes and behaviors at schools in Afghanistan, most of the Afghan teenagers and youths obtain information about sexual issues secretly via internet or friends. The Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies survey(2018) projects that this kind of approach toward knowing about sexual matters leads to watching porn movies that eventually result into porn addiction.Moreover, researchers believe that the lack of education at schools and the lack of proper education of parents regarding sexual attitudes and behaviors of youths may create serious cultural and social problems for the health of the entire society. They argue that embedding the topic of sex education in school curriculum can acquaint the children from the stage of childhood to sexual issues. When they grow up, they don’t feel shy talking about their sexual problems and needs in families, among their friends, or referring to a doctor because of their sexual problems. Furthermore, addressing sex education in an integrated education system may provide information for children and adolescents that won’t provoke them toward inappropriate solving their sexual needs. Additionally, providing sex education through schools can help students not to look for other misleading channels for obtaining information about their sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Afghan Society and the Taboo of Sex Conversation

Traditional values that may restrict access to knowledge about sexual attitudes and behaviors might be the main barriers on debating regarding sexual issues among the families and youths in traditional societies(Heinemann, Atallah, & Rosenbaum, 2016).In Afghanistan, there are many reasons that why parents don’t educate their children about sexual issues. First,only 31.741 percent of Afghan adults aged 15 and above are literate that is why most of the parents are not aware of sexual issues due to not being able to read regarding sexual topics (The World Bank, 2011). Second, parents feel shameful and discomfortable of conversing about sexual issues with their progenies thus they have a negative attitude to sexual attitudes and behaviors. Third, most of the parents in Afghanistan feel that if they talk about sexual issues with their children, the respect between them and their children is broken, thus, they neither want nor can to talk about sexual matters with their progenies.

Lack of information about sexual attitudes and behaviors often lead to misconceptions about sexual issues. This ignorance usually manifests itself in the form of shameful, impolite, and culturally abnormal conversation among the families in Afghanistan. Dr. Haidari Nasab, a consultant and member of the family and sexual health group (2017), believes that the question of how to answer children’s inquiries about sexual attitudes and behaviors is a cultural issue. It depends on the culture of each community and the family how to respond and to get acquainted with sexual issues. He argues that the crucial point is that parents and teachers step by step should acquaint the teens and adolescents with sexual attitudes and behaviors. Sexual information provided to a 3-year-old child is very different from that of a 13-year-old girl. On the other hand, the lack of awareness and refusal to answer of puberty and sexual questions can provoke the curiosity of the newly-raised teenager, therefore, the family is the most important social elements that should give enough information and guidance to their teens in this respect.

In Afghanistan, since there is no formal sex education at school, and parents are not talking about sexual attitudes and behaviors with their progenies either, there is a risk that Afghan youths may become familiar inappropriately with sexual issues out of the home. Studies hold that educating teens and adolescents about sexual issues by parents and schools is a safe and healthy way. While gaining information about sexual needs and issues via friends and Internet may provoke teens and adolescents to commit sexual violence, rape, teasing their opposite sex in the society, and other abnormal deeds.

Recommendations for Policy Implications

First, as schools are the main hubs of education for children, scholars are in this belief that school teachers should instruct the students that sexuality is a natural, normal, and healthy part of life. They should provide value-based education and offer students the opportunity to explore and define their individual values as well as the values of their families and communities. The discussion between teachers and students should include a wide variety of sexuality-related topics, such as human development, relationships, interpersonal skills, sexual expression, sexual health, society,and culture. The conversation should be based on the accurate and factual information.

Second, since most of the families in Afghanistan, particularly in the countryside, don’t have information about their sexual attitudes and behaviors, Ministry of Education in collaboration with Ministry of Public Health through school administrators should start public awareness campaigns in this regard. These campaigns should be held at schools and mosques. The campaigners should discuss the importance of knowing sexual attitudes and behaviors with the local people. They should tell the families that having information about sexual issues is not shameful and bad culturally and socially, but very vital and important for the health and social safety of their families and communities. Because, it is necessary for the parents and teachers, first of all, to receive the appropriate information for instructing teens, and then they can answer their questions related to sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Finally, parents and teachers should create a sincere and faithful relationship with children in conversing with them regarding sexuality and sexual issues. Because as long as there is no trust between parents and teachers, teens and adolescents can’t share their sexual problems and issues with them. Doing so, parents and teachers can reduce the risk of referring teens and adolescents to illegal and inappropriate channels for seeking the answers to their questions related to sexual attitudes.

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