Canada’s minister of gender equality has announced a new initiative aimed at creating a sustainable model to fund women’s rights organizations in developing countries and at home.

Maryam Monsef said the Equality Fund brings together 11 organizations from the philanthropic, non-profit and financial sectors, including the Canada-based Match International Women’s Fund, the African Women’s Development Fund and Oxfam Canada.

“This is the first time that we are seeing a collaboration of this kind to advance gender equality in Canada and around the world,” Monsef said after her announcement Sunday.

The federal government has invested $300 million through the fund specifically for women in the developing world, said Monsef, who is in Vancouver this week to attend the Women Deliver conference, which is expected to draw thousands of advocates for gender equality. The purpose of the fund is “to ensure that funding flows to those organizations on the ground who are doing great work on shoestring budgets,” she said.

The money would be doled out through various community groups and is meant to support a range of projects such as those tackling gender-based violence, bolstering economic security and advancing women in leadership positions.

“The whole point of the Equality Fund is to create a self-sustaining funding mechanism,” Monsef said of the perpetual model. “These dollars are going to grow.”

In addition to the federal contribution, the fund has already raised $100 million, with an aim to reach $1 billion over the next 15 years, Global Affairs Canada said in a release.

The government also pledged to match donations for domestic programs of up to $10 million each for three groups – Community Foundations of Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada.

Grand Challenges would focus on supporting Indigenous women innovators and entrepreneurs while the women’s foundation would support Indigenous women in remote and northern regions, Monsef said.

She said the government will immediately start matching donations dollar for dollar.

Jess Tomlin, co-founder of the Equality Fund, said the Match International Women’s Fund, which she heads, is already partnered with 40 developing countries in regions including Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

The Equality Fund is currently working to create new partnerships, she said.

The Match Fund invests directly in women leaders driving change at the local level, said Tomlin, who noted the fund supports a range of initiatives such as campaigns to fight child marriage and to encourage women to run in local elections.

“As the designers of the Equality Fund it was always instrumental for us that this not just be a global equation. We’ve done work to bring (on) domestic partners,” she said, adding the Community Foundations of Canada works in 191 Canadian communities, which would help the Equality Fund reach women through their local organizations.

Campaigners urge government to ban employers from forcing footwear on female staff

A group of Japanese women have submitted a petition to the government to protest against what they say is a de facto requirement for female staff to wear high heels at work.

The KuToo campaign – a play on words from the Japanese kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain – was launched by the actor and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa and quickly won support online.

Campaigners said wearing high heels was considered to be near-obligatory when job hunting or working at many Japanese companies.

Ishikawa told reporters after meeting labour ministry officials: “Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment.”

The actor explained how a government official had told her she “was a woman and sympathetic to our petition … and told us that this is the first time voices of this kind had reached the ministry”.

“It’s the first step forward,” Ishikawa added.

Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

The case underlines what some experts say is a deep-seated problem with misogyny in Japan. Last year, an MP from Japan’s governing party said women should have multiple children. Women who preferred to remain single would become a burden on the state later in life, added Kanji Kato.

A tweet by Ishikawa earlier this year, complaining about the requirement to wear high heels for a hotel job, went viral, prompting her to launch the campaign.

She said in response to the global anti-sexual-harassment #MeToo movement: “As I realised that so many people face the same problem, I decided to launch the campaign.”

Campaigners said the shoes were akin to modern foot-binding. Others also urged that dress codes such as the near-ubiquitous business suits for men be loosened in the Japanese workplace.

A similar petition against high heels at work was signed by more than 150,000 people in the UK in support of the receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work for wearing flat shoes. She was told to go home by the City accountancy firm PwC on her first day as a temporary receptionist in May 2016 for refusing to wear 2-4in heels.

The case prompted an inquiry on workplace dress codes by a committee of MPs, which highlighted other cases in the UK where women were required to wear heels, even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.

However, the government refused to change the law, claiming scope for redress already existed under the Equality Act 2010.

In 2015 the director of the Cannes film festival apologised over women being denied access to the red carpet for not wearing high heels. Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by the actor Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.

In 2017, Canada’s British Columbia province banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, saying the practice was dangerous and discriminatory.

Earlier this year, Norwegian Air was widely criticised for requiring female cabin crew to carry a doctor’s note if they wanted to wear flat shoes. Ingrid Hodnebo, a women’s spokesperson for the country’s Socialist Left party, accused the airline of being stuck in the “Mad Men universe from the 1950s and 60s”.

Source: The Guardian

In pursuit of gender equality in Africa, the president of Zambia, Edgar Lungu has said that his government will set up a Gender and Equity Commission that will address the many challenges facing women including gender inequalities.

The President said documents such as the National Gender Policy of 2014 and the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act number 1 of 2011 require further support to yield the required results.

He said there is also need for revolutionary thinking in tackling gender inequalities which have continued to overshadow the progress of women.

President Lungu said women are still facing a lot of social injustices such as lack of access to finances, fair justice and access to land among other issues. He was speaking when he officiated at this year’s International Women’s Day which is being celebrated under the theme: Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change. And Gender Minister Elizabeth Phiri has reaffirmed support to all women that are devoted to educating, empowering and mobilizing fellow women towards poverty Eradication.

And Mrs. Phiri has called on small-Scale women farmers to come together to close the gender divide in the agriculture sector. She was speaking during the First Women in Agriculture Conference 2019 Awards ceremony in Lusaka. She said President Edgar Lungu understands the importance of gender equality hence the appointment of a female Vice President Inonge Wina and others in positions of leadership.

Five women were awarded during the inaugural ceremony which included categories such as the overall woman farmer of the year by innovation volume, value addition and market share.

Other categories included the emerging farmer, poultry and livestock farmer among other awards.

Not long ago, in 2014, Latin America had four female presidents: Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Michelle Bachelet in Chile. Today, there are none, and leaders in the region are pushing for more women to secure top leadership positions so that gains in the political arena are not lost.

Three female Latin American leaders — Peruvian Vice President Mercedes Aráoz, Honduran Vice President Olga Alvarado and Bogota Councilwoman Angela Garzón — spoke on the issue Friday at Ana. G. Mendez University in Miami. They shared their experiences as women in politics and analyzed advances and setbacks of gender in leadership roles throughout international organizations, and national and local governments.

Though there are currently no female heads of state in Latin America, there are several vice presidents and there is an increase of women in parliamentary bodies.

“The empowerment of women must be permanent. It is everyone’s responsibility to achieve that true equity that our peoples are claiming, because that hope is required in Latin America and women have come to stay and mark a different story, bring hope,” Alvarado said.

Aráoz and Garzón highlighted the need for more women leaders so that gains in the political arena are not lost.

“There is a setback, but I think there is also a process of reform of political systems, because political systems exclude women a lot. There has also been a contamination by corruption issues. We have to work on a paradigmatic change in the political structures and in how the political parties participate so that they help train women in politics, representing society,” Aráoz said.

“Women should educate themselves as leaders, this is how we will avoid setbacks. Participation must continue to grow, we must continue to break paradigms,” Garzón added.

Over the past two decades there has been the implementation of policies in the region that has influenced a growing support and acceptance of women in leadership positions.

“Women entered national congresses thanks to gender quotas. Quotas have stimulated an increase of women’s participation in national leadership. I think there this is a good mechanism, although adjustments have to be done in order to get more participation and gender equality,” Aráoz said.

Aráoz explained that the region has developed laws and social policies to address vulnerable sectors of the population which include women. She sees an improvement in some areas but recognizes that the gender gap persists.

“Women’s progress still needs more mechanisms to sustain and expand female representation. There is still a significant gap in terms of salary and responsibilities. Today a woman has access to better jobs, but because there is inequality in the domestic front, in terms of housework and taking care of the children, now she has much more to do, like two jobs,”Aráoz said.

Garzón said there must be an increase in women’s role in politics and their success in seeking leadership positions at the highest levels.

“In Colombia, we have already many good laws. It is necessary to take action. Women are struggling to conquer and advance to achieve parity. In terms of laws, we have made progress, but moving from paper to reality is a challenge at this time”, said Garzón, who also aspires to the be the first female mayor of Bogota.

Garzón highlighted the importance of equal education for boys and girls as a way to transform the region.

“It worries how some girls in our region do not go to school, they are taught to do housework since they are very little. Empowerment starts from when you are a child, you must become familiar with concepts of respect and equality from a young age”, the councilwoman said.

Political Crisis in Venezuela

Aráoz said Venezuelan women play an important role in the struggle for democracy in their country.

“María Corina Machado and Lilian Tintori, are examples of very brave women. There are also many Venezuelan women leaders in our countries, leading movements and marches of Venezuelans. I believe that women have played an important role, many have seen their partners taken as prisoners and have taken the lead. That equates men and women in the struggle for freedom and democracy. It is a very great legacy that these women are going to leave to the future Venezuelan generations,” she said.

She reiterated Peru’s support for National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader who declared himself president of Venezuela in place of President Nicolas Maduro.

“We have recognized President Guaidó. We support him in his efforts to restore democracy in that country. In Venezuela there is a humanitarian catastrophe. In just one year, Peru received 600,000 Venezuelans escaping from a situation where there is hunger, lack of medicines and huge inflation,” Aráoz said.

“We support the restoration of true democracy. Not to a usurper as is the case of Mr. Maduro. He has made fraudulent elections, without observers, without clear mechanisms, ” she added.

Garzón also opted for the reestablishment of democracy in Venezuela.

“Colombia has received thousands and thousands of Venezuelans. We have been in solidarity with them and we will continue to be, but the first thing is to fight for the restoration of democracy in that country. We recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president in charge of Venezuela and we will continue to support him.

Source: UPI

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today signed a collaboration agreement to strengthen their cooperation in response to the humanitarian needs of children, adolescents, mothers and pregnant women in Venezuela.

In the past months, both United Nations agencies have been scaling up their humanitarian aid and development programs in Venezuela. Through this agreement, UNICEF and UNFPA will share information and technical resources in essential areas such as health, nutrition, child protection, water, hygiene and gender-based violence (GBV). Their strengthened collaboration will help meet the needs of children, adolescents and women more effectively.

“The situation in Venezuela urgently requires United Nations agencies to increase their cooperation in a coordinated and effective manner,” said Maria Cristina Perceval, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “This agreement will allow UNICEF and UNFPA to work together to reach more children and pregnant women with coordinated and integrated responses, taking into consideration the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.”

“Working together to alleviate the suffering of Venezuelan children, adolescents and women in vulnerable situations is crucial to guarantee a timely response,” said Esteban Caballero, UNFPA’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “This way, we can ensure the health, safety and well-being of the families and their communities.”

Both UN agencies will join efforts to develop strategies and implement priority actions that will:

Provide greater access to health services and guarantee the continuity of priority programs such as prevention of adolescent pregnancy and improvement of maternal and child health, with particular attention to newborns, adolescent pregnancy and teen mothers.

Expand interventions aimed at preventing nutritional deterioration, reducing the risk of increasing infant and maternal mortality, and improving the nutritional status of pregnant adolescents.

Strengthen protection networks and deliver assistance to children, adolescents and women with specific needs in departure, transit and hosting communities in Venezuela and neighboring countries, including risk of trafficking, abuse and sexual exploitation.

Improve water and sanitation services, as well as the promotion of appropriate hygiene practices, essential for the survival and development of boys and girls, with emphasis on menstrual hygiene.

Increase prevention and attention to gender-based violence cases against women, girls, children, adolescents and LGBTI persons in all collaborative sectors.

In 2019, UNICEF and its implementing partners in Venezuela have provided micro-nutrient supplements to nearly 12,000 children under 5, as well as pregnant and lactating women. In addition, around 29,000 people have had access to drinking water and hygiene items; about 20,000 children and pregnant women received treatment for malaria; more than 4,100 mothers gave birth safely thanks to the midwifery kits distributed by UNICEF; and more than 32,500 schoolchildren received educational and recreational materials.

In recent years, UNFPA has been working with the Government and civil society in Venezuela to ensure the delivery of dignity kits (feminine hygiene) to more than 18,000 women. Several primary health centers have been equipped with sexual and reproductive health supplies, including more than 10 million condoms, 75,000 intrauterine devices and 545,000 doses of contraceptive methods. UNFPA has trained more than 1,200 health officers to attend gender-based violence cases, who have managed to sensitize at least 3,500 migrant persons in the Venezuelan states bordering Colombia and Brazil.

Source: UNICEF

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and Turkey’s Alternatif Bank inked a cooperation deal to provide $100 million for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) particularly those run by women.

The 5-year maturity financing comprises $80 million from IFC’s own account and $20 million from the Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program (MCPP), funded by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, with IFC acting in its capacity as the implementing entity. At least 25 percent of the loan proceeds will be used to support Alternatif Bank’s lending to women owned or managed SMEs (WSMEs).

Alternatif Bank CEO Kaan Gür said: “We believe that the entrepreneurial spirit, perseverance and assiduity of women have an important place in the development of the Turkish economy. We hope that this loan will contribute to supporting women entrepreneurs, creating more jobs, facilitating new opportunities and financing more SMEs.”

Access to finance is one of the biggest constraints on business growth for SMEs in Turkey. The IFC’s loan will help unleash untapped potential for employment and economic growth.

“With this financing, we are addressing one of IFC’s key development priorities in Turkey – financial inclusion for underserved segments such as women entrepreneurs,” said Vittorio di Bello, the IFC regional industry head for the Financial Institutions Group in Europe and Central Asia. “Access to long-term financing is a challenge in emerging markets, especially for SMEs, the backbone of Turkey’s economic activity. IFC’s partnership with Alternatif Bank in Turkey will ensure that smaller companies and women entrepreneurs will continue to have access to the funds they need to grow and create jobs.”

Helping to increase the share of Turkey’s women entrepreneurs by working with banks to provide them with financial or non-financial support such as training and coaching is part of IFC’s strategy in Turkey. In the last decade, the IFC has been working with Turkish banks and has provided $61 million of financing for women entrepreneurs under its Banking on Women program to support women in supply chains, engaged in efforts to progress the Women on Boards project and have made $75 million in the first gender bond in emerging markets.


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday cut the number of cabinet ministers from 36 to 28, in a move he said would tackle the country’s “bloated” government and improve efficiency. “The people who I am appointing to day must realise that the expectations of the South African people have never been greater and that they will shoulder a great responsibility,” Ramaphosa said in a national address that stressed the need for an “ethical” government. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement followed similar moves by Ethiopia and Rwanda last year.

Gender diversity

Half the new ministers are women, making South Africa one of the world’s few gender-balanced governments. Ramaphosa announced the new line-up after he led the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to victory in elections earlier this month. He took office last year after the ousting of graft-tainted Jacob Zuma, who had expanded the number of ministerial posts in an alleged attempt to strengthen his patronage network.

Fighting the corruption and mismanagement that has consumed billions of rand is the major issue facing the ruling African National Congress, whose election win this month was the weakest in its 25 years in power amid public frustration. The ANC leadership still contains some Zuma allies, complicating Ramaphosa’s efforts at reforms aimed at restoring investor confidence in the economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa. Creating jobs is another immense challenge in a country where unemployment is over 25%, and where a growing youth population that never knew the harsh racial system of apartheid that ended in 1994 is restless for a better future.

“To promote greater coherence, better coordination and improved efficiency, we (are) reducing the number of ministers from 36 to 28,” Ramaphosa said in televised address to the nation.

Heavy criticism

“This is a significant move of downscaling our state. Many people believed our government… was bloated and this was agreed right across the board.”

In another dig at his predecessor, Ramaphosa said that the ANC had been re-elected with a mandate to end “state capture” — the term used to describe government corruption under Zuma.

“All South Africans are acutely aware of the great economic difficulties our country has been experiencing,” Ramaphosa said. “It is therefore imperative… we place priority on revitalising our economy while exercising the greatest care in the use of public funds.” “For the first time in the history of our country, half of all ministers are women,” he added.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance also criticised the president for keeping Mabuza in what it called the first real test of Ramaphosa’s tough stance on corruption. “Unfortunately, Ramaphosa placed the internal factional interests of the ANC ahead of the interests of the people of South Africa,” the DA said in a statement.

Ramaphosa also included younger leaders in his Cabinet, notably former ANC Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola as the minister of justice and correctional services. Another youth leader, Njabulo Nzuza, was appointed as deputy minister of home affairs.

One notable appointee in a Cabinet that Ramaphosa said was meant to reflect diversity was that of Patricia De Lille, a leader of the recently created opposition party GOOD, who will be public works and infrastructure minister.

Balance of factions

Naming his new slimline cabinet, Ramaphosa kept internationally-respected Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in place, as well as his controversial Deputy President David Mabuza. Mabuza is seen as a pro-Zuma figure whose name has come up in media reports on alleged corruption and political killings when he was premier of the eastern province of Mpumalanga.

“The retention of Tito Mboweni as finance minister… will appease markets and result in a positive perception of cabinet,” said a briefing note from Peregrine Treasury Solutions, a South African investment company.

It added that keeping Mabuza as deputy president “indicated that President Ramaphosa had to compromise to appease the Zuma faction within the ANC.”

Ramaphosa’s close ally Pravin Gordhan was kept on as public enterprises minister, a key role as debt-laden state companies were at the centre of alleged graft schemes under Zuma.

“The cabinet announcement largely rewards the President’s supporters and seems a conservative selection without the injection of real fresh blood from the outside,” said analyst Daniel Silke on Twitter.

Ramaphosa, 66, an anti-apartheid activist who became a wealthy businessman, faces a tough battle to drive through reforms in a country suffering from chronic unemployment, racial tension and crime. The ANC won the May 8 election with 57.5 percent of the vote, its smallest majority since it led the fight against the apartheid regime that was replaced by multi-racial democracy in 1994. The party’s celebrated reputation was badly sullied under Zuma’s 2009-2018 rule as it was confronted by multiple corruption allegations and public anger over the failure to tackle post-apartheid inequality.

South Africa’s economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2018 and unemployment hovers at over 27 percent — soaring to over 50 percent among young people.

Political concessions

South Africa’s new Cabinet retains Deputy President David Mabuza, who also has faced graft allegations but has denied wrongdoing. Also remaining are Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and public enterprises minster and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan. Both have been well-regarded.

It was a rare instance of an opposition figure appointed as minister in South Africa. A notable exclusion from the new Cabinet was former women’s minister Bathabile Dlamini, seen as a strong ally of former president Zuma.

On the sensitive issue of land reform to help address long-standing inequality, Ramaphosa grouped departments dealing with land and agriculture under one ministry to be led by respected former parliamentary chairwoman Thoko Didiza.