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Helping Iraqi girls stay in school

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A girl student in Basra, Iraq, who benefits from a UNICEF/WFP education stipend programme. UNICEF

When COVID-19 closed schools in Basra, southern Iraq, the academic prospects for many schoolgirls were put at risk. On International Day of The Girl Child, we look at a UN program which is helping girls in the region to keep learning.

When COVID-19 closed schools in Basra, southern Iraq, the academic prospects for many schoolgirls were put at risk. On International Day of The Girl Child, we look at  a UN program which is helping girls in the region to keep learning.

The 2,570 primary school children from Basra’s Shatt al-Arab district who are involved in the trial project from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), receive a cash stipend to support their education.

“This will help me achieve my dream of becoming a dentist,” says 12-year-old Baneen, whose family were able to buy her own mobile phone with the money from the programme: mobiles phones were a popular choice amongst the families involved in the project.

“The mobile phones have been helping with online study”, explains Principal Zainab Karim, a headteacher in Basra. “Many schoolchildren live in the same home as several other children, and share the same phone as their moms and dads. The students benefit from having their own phones. If they don’t need a new one for e-learning, the families can use the money to pay for transport, daily expenses, or clothing.”

This year, for the first time, the UN agencies have also introduced the ‘Shatt al-Arab Coding Club for Girls,” which enables the girls in the project to study in a safe environment, learn new tech skills, and innovate to create digital solutions. The students are proud to be part of the first club of its kind in Iraq. “The sessions have taught me a lot, and they’re also fun”, says 12-year-old Narjis. “Also the idea of mixing education with play works because we usually grab our phones for games. Here they include educational games”.

When girls stay in school and complete their education, their expanded opportunities help avoid them marrying or working too early. The project partners are currently working on a campaign to win hearts and minds to continue educating girls through the pandemic and beyond, and putting into practice the saying, “If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”

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War games will take place off Durban between South Africa, China and Russia

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South Africa’s government has finally shown its colours by inviting Russia and China for war games next month, London’s ‘Daily Mail’ writes with indignation and indignation.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa has ditched his supposed ‘neutrality’ to the war by hosting the naval drills off the country’s east coast near Durban and Richards Bay from February 17 to 27. The move is the strongest indication yet of the strengthening relationship between South Africa, and the anti-West authoritarian regimes of China and Russia.

The drills will take place around the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bring more focus on the refusal of South Africa – a leading voice on its continent – to side with the West and condemn Russia’s actions. The South African government said last year it had adopted a neutral stance over Ukraine and called for dialogue and diplomacy.

But the upcoming naval drills have led the country’s main opposition party to accuse the government of effectively siding with Russia.

But the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which incorporates all of its armed forces, said next month’s naval exercise would ‘strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China’. The aim of the drills was ‘sharing operational skills and knowledge’, the SANDF said.

The three countries also conducted a similar naval exercise in 2019 in Cape Town, while Russia and China held joint naval drills in the East China Sea last month.

The United States and European Union had hoped South Africa would support the international condemnation of Russia and act as a leader for other nations in Africa. But, South Africa appealed to be one of several African countries to ‘abstain’ in a United Nations vote last year condemning Russia’s special military operation.

South Africa and Russia share a long history, after the Soviet Union gave support to the ANC in its fight to bring down apartheid, the regime of repression against the country’s black majority, writes London newspaper. (And we should remember, how the British destroyed the Boers’ Transvaal and the Orange Republic of the at the beginning of the 20th century, and planted the apartheid regime here).

Apartheid ended in 1994 when the ANC won the first democratic elections in South Africa and Nelson Mandela became president.

South Africa is also a member of BRICS, a bloc of emerging economies, alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China.

South Africa’s obligations with respect to sanctions relate only to those that are specifically adopted by the United Nations. Currently, there are no UN-imposed sanctions on the particular individual, they say in Pretoria.

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Will South Korea build nuclear weapons?

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Washington’s attempt to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are at a dead end. The nation is a nuclear state. Its arsenal is growing in both size and sophistication. Although Pyongyang will never be capable of staging a preemptive strike against the United States, it soon may be able to retaliate against Washington for defending South Korea, writes “Foreign Policy”.

The shifting balance has sparked a serious debate within the United States and South Korea over nuclear policy. The first question is whether it makes sense to pursue denuclearization — the famed CVID (complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement) — when the North already has the bomb. Although official Washington policy resolutely refuses to acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state, reality may eventually force a policy retreat.

Even more significant, the South’s establishment wants to get its hands on, or at least close to, American nuclear weapons. Or, suggested South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Seoul might develop its own. He suggested in a press conference last week that South Korea might develop its own nuclear weapon.

There has been a rolling debate in South Korea for about a year on its potential nuclearization. But that has been mostly limited to extra-governmental voices in think-tanks and academia. So it is genuinely surprising that this has already reached the presidential office.

Indeed, it speaks to just how threatening North Korea’s nuclear weapons are perceived in South Korea – and how unhelpful China has been in restraining Pyongyang – that no less than its president is now discussing this.

The South Korean fear is similar: in a spiraling crisis with North Korea, would its nuclear ICBMs compel the US to ‘slow-roll’ assistance for fear of crossing some retaliation threshold with North Korea? The answer is almost certainly ‘yes’, the author of the military portal ‘19fortyfive.com’ is convinced.

It is inconceivable now, in a nuclearized environment, that the US alliance commitment to South Korea is as automatic as it was in a conventional environment. Any US president will flinch at a course of action which might realistically incur a nuclear strike on US cities.

This new reality, since North Korea’s successful 2017 ICBM test, is only just sinking in. For a few years, it looked like former US President Donald Trump and former South President Moon Jae In might strike a deal with North Korea. That was always pretty far-fetched, but once it definitely fell apart by 2020, a South Korean nuclear debate was likely inevitable.

The debate on nuclearization in South Korea itself is culminating. South Korea public opinion is supportive. Nongovernmental opinion is tilting toward it. The country’s main conservative party has said South Korea should withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty if North Korea tests another, seventh, nuclear weapon. And now the South Korean president has broached the issue too.

The big hurdle then is the Americans. The US is South Korea’s only treaty ally and its core foreign relationship. Without American defense guarantees, South Korea’s defense spending would double or triple. So South Korean governments have traditionally given American preferences wide berth.

And indeed, the American response was to play down Yoon’s comments.

In fact, the North Korean nuclear and missile threat will only worsen as the regime tests more and more, and they certainly are not going to stop. The more North Korea can threaten US cities with massive destruction, the less credible US alliance guarantees will be.

Luckily, this problem is not new. America’s European allies faced it during the Cold War because the USSR could strike the US homeland, and a variety of responses, including nuclear sharing and indigenous nuclearization, were tried with reasonable success. The US has also adapted to Israeli, Indian, and Pakistani nuclearization without a massive crisis.

So South Korean nuclearization need not lead to an alliance rupture unless the US insists on it.

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Jacinda Ardern resigned as New Zealand’s PM or was forcibly ousted from power?

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Jacinda Ardern (photo) has insisted her decision to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister is because she ‘doesn’t have enough in the tank’ – but there is speculation as to whether she is actually running scared of an election mauling following a public outcry over her draconian Covid lockdowns.

Ms Ardern, 42, choked back tears as she announced she will step down after just over five years in power. She insisted her decision to step down had nothing to do with the fact her Labour Party is trailing in the polls behind its conservative rivals from the National Party ahead of the upcoming election in October.

Her policies sparked nationwide protests – one protest against vaccine mandates that began on Parliament’s grounds last year lasted for more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling rocks at police and setting fires to tents and mattresses as they were forced to leave.

As a result of the public anger over Ms Ardern’s response to Covid – which included a border closure that lasted more than two years – and her domestic policies, she was facing tough reelection prospects. This has prompted speculation that the real reason she decided to quit was because she didn’t want to face a humiliating defeat in the elections.

Ms Ardern continued: ‘I am not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election but because I believe we can and will. But we need a fresh set of shoulders for the challenges of both this year and the next three.’

Ms Ardern’s ratings have also dropped in recent months due to a worsening housing crisis, rising living costs and mortgage rates, and growing concerns about crime.

This has meant that the Labour Party, which has been in power since 2017, lost its consistent lead in the polls early last year.

Ms Ardern was elected just over five years ago on October 26, 2017, and at 37, was New Zealand’s youngest ever PM. Before that, she was the youngest sitting MP in 2008, elected aged 28.

During her resignation speech, Ms Ardern announced the next New Zealand general election will be held on October 14, 2023.

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