Gender equality, the marginalization of indigenous languages, migration, the refugee crisis, the lives of domestic workers, poverty… All these issues which are at the heart of the United Nations’ work, are also front and centre in some of the films celebrated this year at the Academy Awards.
Two women, Yalitza Aparicio and Nadine Labaki, could make history this Sunday during the 91st Oscar ceremony taking place this Sunday in Los Angeles, in the United States. Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio could become the first indigenous woman to win the prestigious golden statuette for her role in the feature Roma, by director Alfonso Cuarón. As for Nadine Labaki, from Lebanon, she could become the first Arab filmmaker to be awarded an Oscar, for her film Capernaum.
Their nominations came two years after a heated debate over the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards’ lists of nominees and winners.
This year, the Academy has also shown greater range in its thematic coverage by nominating films that highlight major international issues, in particular related to human rights. For example, the film Roma highlights the need to protect indigenous languages such as Mixtec, as well as the life of domestic workers, and societal inequalities. As for Capernaum, it puts the spotlight on the suffering of migrant and refugee children. Green Book and BlacKkKlansman, also nominated, highlight issues of racism in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.
This human-rights focus in the world of cinema takes place as the world just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Focus on indigenous issues and economic inequalities
Director Alfonso Cuarón has hailed Yalitza Aparicio’s nomination in the Best Actress category as the most relevant nomination of the 10 his film Roma secured.
The young woman, who made her acting debut in this feature, plays Cleo, a domestic worker who is Mixteca, an indigenous community in Mexico, specifically in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla. Cleo works for a middle class family in the early 1970s in the neighborhood of Roma, in Mexico City.
In an interview with UN News, Mr. Cuarón noted that, in his country, indigenous peoples are particularly affected by social inequalities. “It isn’t difficult to notice that economic power is closely linked to the color of one’s skin, and indigenous peoples are those who usually end up having the least amount of privilege.”
The director stressed that the film had started a conversation on the racism that persists in Mexico, which he said “has been ignored for too long”. He added this racism had “not just been ignored” but that its very existence had actually been “denied.” He also noted that the topic of domestic work and the rights of indigenous peoples have been overall taboo.
Regarding indigenous languages, of which 2019 is the International Year, Mr. Cuarón lamented that they are “very repressed.” Cleo and her friend and fellow domestic worker Adela only speak it when they are alone “in their own spaces” – i.e. the kitchen or their bedroom – or with the “girl who is belittled, ignored and unappreciated by the masculine part of the family.”
In Capernaum, director Nadine Labaki, nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, sheds a light on the plight of refugee children, their violated rights, and how extreme poverty affects them.
The movie tells the story of 12-year-old Zain, a Syrian refugee who, caught in the limbo of conflict and forced displacement, files a lawsuit against his parents for having been born.
In an interview with UN News, Ms. Labaki said that she had “a duty” – “not even a choice” – to record the reality of the refugee crisis playing out on the streets of her native Lebanon. The small country, which is also facing its own political and economic challenges, currently hosts close to 1 million refugees from war-torn Syria.
“I’m actually surprised when people ask me [what pushed me to make this film] because I think, you know, if I can do something about it, and I can use my voice to do something about it, it would be a crime not to do so,” she said. “So I decided to use my tool, which is filmmaking, to tell that story, to put that story out there and to talk about this struggle because it’s my responsibility.”
Stressing that the refugee problem is visibly growing – as one can see in Lebanon “children working on the streets, carrying very heavy loads and doing very difficult jobs” – Ms. Labaki said she purposely chose to tell this story through a child’s perspective. A child “sees things so much more clearly than any adult because he is not informed or altered by societies’ codes or hypocrisy or politics.”
Referring to Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler found washed ashore on a Turkish beach in September 2015, she said when she saw his picture, she wondered: “if this child could talk, what would he say? What would he tell the world? How would he address the adults that put him in this situation?”
The different characters in the film are not played by professional actors, but by migrants and refugees who themselves faced very similar situations to those shown in the movie. The main character, Zain, is himself played by a refugee who fled Syria eight years ago.
Ms. Labaki explained he faced “very difficult circumstances” and “never went to school.” The only difference with the film, she explained, is that the real Zain has “loving parents.”
Since the film was made, Zain was resettled in Norway where he lives now, through the efforts of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Philippines: Investing in Nutrition Can Eradicate the “Silent Pandemic”
The Philippines needs to invest more in programs tackling childhood undernutrition to eliminate what is long considered a “silent pandemic” afflicting many of the country’s poor and vulnerable population, according to recent study released today by the World Bank.
Childhood stunting – characterized by prolonged nutritional deficiency among infants and young children– is considered one of the most serious but least-addressed problems in the world and an even more pressing issue in the Philippines, says the report “Undernutrition in the Philippines: Scale, Scope and Opportunities for Nutrition Policy and Programming.”
In the Philippines, around 30 percent of children under 5 years of age are stunted – considered high for its level of income and high compared to most of its neighbors. Other countries with similar levels of income have rates of stunting averaging around 20 percent of children under 5 years of age.
The Philippines’ rate of stunting places it fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest stunting prevalence, and among the top ten countries globally with the highest number of stunted children.
Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand said undernutrition is a critical issue hampering the Philippines’ human and economic development.
“Healthy children can do well in school and look forward to a prosperous future as productive members of society, while undernourished children tend to be sickly, learn less, more likely to drop out of school and their economic productivity as adults can be clipped by more 10 percent in their lifetime,” said Diop. “Improving the nutrition of all children is key to the country’s goals of investing in people and boosting human capital for a more inclusive pattern of economic growth. To achieve that, we need greater coordination among the local and national government units, as well as participation of the private sector and civil society to address this silent pandemic afflicting many poor and vulnerable families.”
In some regions, the level of stunting exceeds 40 percent of children under five years of age. This is true in Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Mimaropa, Bicol, and Western Visayas. In rural areas, children are more likely to be stunted than their urban counterparts.
Among the primary causes of undernutrition are poor infant and young child feeding practices, ill health, low access to diverse, nutritious foods, inadequate access to health services, unhealthy household environment, and poverty.
According to Nkosinathi Mbuya, World Bank Senior Nutrition Specialist, East Asia and the Pacific Region and lead author of the report, there is only a narrow window of opportunity for adequate nutrition to ensure children’s optimal health and physical and cognitive development. It spans the first 1,000 days of life from the day of conception to the child’s second birthday, he said.
“Any undernutrition occurring during this period can lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical growth, brain development, and, more broadly, human capital formation,” said Mbuya. “Therefore, interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child-bearing age.”
Critical to tackling undernutrition at scale are better and higher levels of nutrition investments as well as adequate domestic financing for nutrition-related programs for vulnerable populations, says the report. Increased direct government funding to and from local government units (LGUs) to deliver on their multisectoral local nutrition action plans to be a priority.
The report suggests several priority recommendations, which if implemented over the next few years can bring about effective and sustainable progress in the Government’s efforts to tackle the persistent challenge of undernutrition in the country.
These include securing adequate and predictable financing for nutrition-related programs to achieve nutrition goals; implementing at scale, an evidence-based package of nutrition interventions that should be made available to eligible households in high stunting municipalities; addressing the underlying determinants of undernutrition through a multi-sector effort, and; ensuring that nutrition is one of the key priorities in the agendas of both the executive and legislative bodies in municipalities.
Such a comprehensive effort would require high-level government ownership and leadership at all levels which would facilitate a whole-of government approach to achieving nutrition results, according to the report.
Child labour rises to 160 million – first increase in two decades
The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.
Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward – released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June – warns that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years.
Even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is endangering that progress.
The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.
Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.
“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices. We urge governments and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”
Other key findings in the report include:
- The agriculture sector accounts for 70 per cent of children in child labour (112 million) followed by 20 per cent in services (31.4 million) and 10 per cent in industry (16.5 million).
- Nearly 28 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 years and 35 per cent of children aged 12 to 14 years in child labour are out of school.
- Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age. When household chores performed for 21 hours or more each week are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.
- The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5 per cent).
Children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm. Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour.
To reverse the upward trend in child labour, the ILO and UNICEF are calling for:
- Adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits.
- Increased spending on free and good-quality schooling and getting all children back into school – including children who were out of school before COVID-19.
- Promotion of decent work for adults, so families don’t have to resort to children helping to generate family income.
- An end to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour.
- Investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.
As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour , the global partnership Alliance 8.7 , of which UNICEF and ILO are partners, is encouraging member States, business, trade unions, civil society, and regional and international organizations to redouble their efforts in the global fight against child labour by making concrete action pledges.
During a week of action from 10–17 June, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore will join other high-level speakers and youth advocates at a high-level event during the International Labour Conference to discuss the release of the new global estimates and the roadmap ahead.
2021 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy
Each year, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy assembles hundreds of courageous dissidents and human rights activists, diplomats, journalists and student leaders to shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues.
The Geneva Summit is sponsored by 25 human rights NGOs from around the world. The Geneva Summit has been featured in media around the globe, including CNN, Agence France Presse, AP, The Australian, Radio Free Europe and ANSA.
This year, the 13th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy was held on June 7 and 8. The event was free to all the people who made online registration. This year the summit hosted different voices from different parts of the world.
In this year’s summit, the leading Turkish journalist Can Dündar who was arrested, jailed and forced into exile for his reporting on Erdogan’s government was one of the speakers addressing Human Rights and Democracy on the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel.
For the full text of the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel, click here.
The list of the other speakers is as follows:
Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian refugee and award-winning documentary filmmaker on the conflict in Syria
Rayhan Asat, Uyghur activist, sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities
Nathan Law, Former member of Hong Kong Legislative Council who fled arrest & sudden leader of 2014 Umbrella Movement
András Simonyi, Academic & former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S.
Prof. Irwin Cotler, Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada.
Gulalai Ismail, Pakistani women’s rights activist, former political prisoner who escaped the country
Tania Bruguera, Cuban political performance artist repeatedly arrested for her work
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate forced to flee after rigged elections
Jihyun Park, Escapee and survivor of a North Korean forced labor camp
Daria Navalnaya, Daughter of poisoned and jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Australian-British academic just freed after two years in Iranian prison as a victim of hostage diplomacy
Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwean protest leader, arrested six times and tortured for his human rights work
Yang Jianli, Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, survivor of Tiananmen Square and President of Initiatives for China
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Leading dissident against Putin regime, Chairman of Boris Nemtsov Foundation, survivor of two poisoning attempts
For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.
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