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First Person: Learning a recipe for freedom in Nigeria

“When my family discovered I was pregnant, they told me to go to live with the father of my unborn child, but instead of going there, I started sleeping in an empty building, where I began hawking sachets of water to survive. 

When my family found out, they threatened my rapist and, because I was out of options, I went to live with him. He would beat me so badly that I was in and out of the hospital emergency room, and I almost lost my unborn son. 

One day, he poured a corrosive chemical on me, which burned my legs; he then ran away with my son. It took me two months to heal. At first, his father allowed me to live in his home, and then my mother, the only member of my family to support me, took me in. 

My abuser’s father also helped the police to find and arrest him, and thanks to him, my son was returned to me. It was during this time that I learned about the culinary arts course.  

UNDP Nigeria
Blessing Ojukwu and other women who have suffered at the hands of abusers have learnt new skills at the Livelihood Pathways Programme.

I had had a strong interest in cooking for a long time, even being paid to cook for people from time to time. However, I only really knew Nigerian dishes, and during the course, I learned how to cook a wide range of cuisines from across the globe, including cakes, pastries, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. 

In addition to the new recipes I have been taught, I also learned about food presentation and photography, and I can now take lovely photos of the meals I make for sale, which help me to advertise on WhatsApp, and to attract more customers. 

Since graduating, I have started to build up a client base and, with the little money I make, I can take care of myself and my son. I am looking forward to growing and, one day, I hope to open an international restaurant and pastry shop in Abuja. 

So, if any survivors of sexual assault and abuse are reading this, I would encourage them to speak out: that’s how you get help. If I hadn’t spoken up, I would never have received this great opportunity to learn new skills. Now I have a second chance.” 

UNDP Nigeria
Blessing Ojukwu (left) leant how to cook pastry and other foods at a UN-supported initiative.

A Pathway to a new life

  • Ms. Ojukwa has graduated from the Livelihood Pathways Programme, which is supported by the Spotlight Initiative, a UN and European Union partnership to end all forms of violence against women and girls.  
  • From early and forced marriages to physical, psychological and sexual assault, harmful practices are prevalent in Nigeria. Forty-three per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, according to a 2020 UN Nigeria report on gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • The UN Development Programme (UNDP), through the Foundation for Resilient Empowerment (FRED), is providing a livelihood pathway programme to 87 women and girls across the county in culinary arts, fashion design, event planning and decoration, and makeup artistry with support from the Spotlight Initiative.

FROM THE FIELD: Ghost in the seashell

Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is threatening marine life, by Saeed Rashid

The scale of the problem has now grown so great, that it needs to be tackled urgently, for the sake of both marine life, and the people whose lives depend on it” FAO estimates that some 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost or abandoned in the ocean every year, making up around one tenth of all ocean waste.

As well as killing species such as dolphins, seals and turtles, derelict gear, says the FAO, can alter the seabed and marine environment, putting boats at risk, and can wash up on the beach, becoming a danger to beach-goers and coastal species alike.

You can read more about the dangers of ghost fishing, and FAO’s recommendations for addressing and ending the problem, here.

Colombia: UN rights chief calls for an end to all forms of violence in Cali

In a statement published on Sunday, she called for an end to all forms of violence, including vandalism, and said that only dialogue can resolve the demands of different groups involved in the current national strike.

Her Office received reports indicating that, since 28 May, fourteen people have died, and 98 people have been injured, 54 of them by firearms during violence that erupted in the city where demonstrations were taking place to commemorate a month of the strike. 

Ms. Bachelet’s team also received reports of armed individuals, including an off-duty judicial police officer, that opened fire towards demonstrators, journalists covering the protests, as well as passers-by.  The judicial police officer in question was beaten to death by a crowd.

According to some reports, in parts of the city, private individuals fired shots at demonstrators in the presence of police officers, the High Commissioner said.

The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia received information as well of at least 30 people arrested on 28 May. Ms. Bachelet reminded that ‘the fair trial and due process rights of those detained need to be ensured’.

Addressing concerns about the whereabouts of certain detainees, Bachelet also reiterated the need to implement all necessary measures, in line with international human rights standards, to prevent disappearances.

Dialogue is the only way

For the High Commissioner, these events are especially concerning given the “progress that had been made to resolve, through dialogue, the social unrest that erupted a month ago following the start of a nation-wide strike against several social and economic policies of the Government”.

“It is essential that all those who are reportedly involved in causing injury or death, including State officials, are subject to prompt, effective, independent, impartial, and transparent investigations and that those responsible are held accountable”, she underscored.

Ms. Bachelet stressed that only dialogue could resolve the demands of different groups, both those who are taking part in demonstrations and those opposed to the protests.

“I welcome the commitment voiced by several actors, in Cali, and at the national level, to find a negotiated and peaceful solution to the social unrest through talks,” she stressed.

UN News/Laura Quiñones
Central Cali, a city in western Colombia.

UN Verification Mission also concerned

The Special Representative of the Secretary General in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, also expressed his grave concern about the current situation in the country and said that he was ‘following it closely’.

In a statement published on Saturday evening, Mr. Massieu said that the serious events in Cali and other parts of the country show the need to “strengthen dialogue as a fundamental instrument to resolve conflicts”.

The head of the UN Verification Mission called on all actors to prevent and end violence, and do everything possible to reduce tensions and avoid escalation.

“In any circumstance, even the most difficult, we must promote dialogue. Consolidating a stable and lasting peace in the country is my greatest wish and, I am sure, that of all Colombians”, he underscored.

Mr. Massieu reminded that United Nations continues to be available to facilitate and support the paths of peaceful solution and agreement.

UN chief calls for a global partnership to address COVID, climate change and achieve SDG’s

The world needs a global partnership to beat COVID-19, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and address climate change, said the UN Secretary General in a video message for the opening day of the 2021 P4G summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

The Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) event aims to boost market-based partnerships and rally high-level political and private sector action. It brings together Heads of State, CEOs, and civil society leaders around a shared action agenda to mobilize investments for tangible impact.

The emissions gap

António Guterres expressed that although there are commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, there is “still much to do” to close the emissions gap and achieve the SDGs.

He reaffirmed his call to all main emitters to present new Nationally Determined Contributions, commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and, ‘most importantly’, put in place policies and programs towards achieving that goal.

“Tackling climate change head-on will help protect the most vulnerable people from the next crisis while sustaining a job-rich recovery from the pandemic”, he said, reminding that the first priority right now is stopping plans for new coal plants and phase-out of coal use by 2040.

On that note, the Secretary General commended the Government of the Republic of Korea for announcing that it will stop all international coal finance and encouraged other government and private sector entities to do the same.

UN News/Conor Lennon
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) banners outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York. 20 September 2019.

The finance and adaptation gaps

Mr. Guterres also expressed his concern about the ‘finance and adaption gaps’. He said that developed countries have yet to deliver on the 100-billion-dollar annual commitment to climate action efforts and supporting vulnerable communities that are already suffering the consequences of global warming.

He also explained that one in three people globally are still not adequately covered by early warning systems, and women and girls, who make up 80 percent of those displaced by the climate emergency, are still often excluded from decisions to address the climate crisis.

“We urgently need a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience”, he added, asking all donor countries to significantly enhance their financial commitments.

In his message, the UN chief highlighted the importance of financing the ‘infrastructure of tomorrow’ by supporting developing countries in a just transition to sustainable energy and a circular economy while helping them to diversify their economies.

“In short, we need a global partnership for green, inclusive, sustainable development”, he underscored.

A common goal

Mr. Guterres warned that there is no global partnership if some are left “struggling to survive” and said that this was true for COVID and the distribution of vaccines as well as the climate emergency.

“In this quest, the Republic of Korea is a leading partner”, he said, commending the government for its 2050 net-zero pledge and the Korean Green New Deal.

He stressed that if governments embrace the same goals, there will be an opportunity for a real partnership that will equip us to “rise to the biggest challenge of our lives”.

Drones deliver blood to prevent maternal death in Botswana

For women in Botswana, especially those living in remote communities where medical supplies and blood may not be in stock, giving birth can be life-threatening. In 2019, the country recorded a maternal mortality rate of 166 deaths per 100,000 births, more than double the average for upper-middle-income countries. 

“When a woman has lost a lot of blood during childbirth and may need to be transferred to a bigger medical facility, she first needs to be stabilized where she is before being driven out of that place. Timely delivery of blood can be lifesaving. A drone can be sent to deliver the blood so that the patient is stabilized,” says Lorato Mokganya, Chief Health Officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness. 

In an effort to curb the country’s preventable maternal deaths and overcome geographical barriers this innovative initiative will revolutionize the delivery of essential medical supplies and services across Botswana.   

“Timeliness in attending to women who experience pregnancy and childbirth-related complications is paramount, especially in remote and hard-to-reach areas,” says Dimane Mpoeleng, Computer Science Lecturer at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). 

The leading causes of maternal deaths in Botswana are excessive bleeding, complications after abortion and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy.  

However, the last-mile delivery of lifesaving medical products and supplies can be challenging in this large and sparsely populated country with long distances between lower and higher-level facilities. This is heightened in hard-to-reach places where there may be a shortage of vehicles, inaccessible roads, and inefficient supply chain systems.   

© UNFPA Botswana
A nurse places a cargo of medical supplies in a drone before take-off.

Drones for Health 

In May, the university, the government and the  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) joined forces to launch Botswana’s first drone delivery project, called “Drones For Health. With this initiative, Botswana also became the first country in southern Africa and third on the African continent, after Ghana and Rwanda, to pilot drone technology for health care support. 

Drones are expected to drastically reduce the delivery time from hours to minutes, improving the delivery of obstetric emergency supplies and thus saving more lives. 

Beatrice Mutali, UNFPA Botswana Country Director, believes the project is a game-changer, which will not only improve the maternal health situation in Botswana, but also transform the entire health system for the country. 

“At UNFPA, we envision a world where no woman dies while giving a life, and this initiative promises to alleviate the problem of maternal deaths in Botswana,” Ms. Mutali says, stressing that innovation is an indispensable engine to bring transformative change for women, girls, and young people.  

For example, women at rural facilities such as Mogapi Health Centre, which serves a population of over 3,000, will benefit immensely from the speed and efficiency that the newly launched drone technology will bring to the health sector.  

According to Dr. Mpoeleng, the project leader of Drones For Health, each battery-powered flying aerodrone has a delivery distance of 100 kilometers and can carry up to 2 kilogrammes of cargo.  

Four villages were chosen for the pilot project. The drones will be automatically programmed for takeoff and landing and can carry back another load of supplies. Community members in the pilot areas supported the project by building all drone landing pads at the designated health posts. 

© UNFPA Botswana
Members of the community helped to build the drone landing pad at the remote Moremi health post.

In 2017, Botswana set a national maternal mortality ratio target of 71 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2025 reducing to 54 deaths by 2030 in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3. If the current maternal death trend continues, Botswana is likely not to meet the SDG target. 

Speaking at the launch, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Edwin Gorataone Dikoloti said, “The need to invest in innovative options to bridge the long distances, reduce current transportation costs, overcome road infrastructure challenges, and improve timely availability of essential emergency obstetric care drugs, commodities and supplies is therefore urgent.” 

A 2017 report on maternal mortality rate shows that a significant proportion of maternal deaths in Botswana are preventable.  

“Now more than ever, innovation is critical to achieving the ‘leaving no one behind’ goal. And with innovation come powerful partnerships, hence our work with the university and ministries. We believe that today’s problems and changing context call for harnessing innovations that can provide breakthrough solutions that deliver sexual and reproductive health for all,” UNFPA’s Country Director says. 

First Person: The ‘Human Swan’ inspiring climate action

Flying as the lead bird

“Flying with birds is the most incredible thing ever. I’m really surprised that everybody doesn’t do it! You see the world from a completely different perspective but also, you can have the most wonderful encounters with birds.

When I was flying across Russia there was this big flocks of birds across to my  right and at one point two of the birds broke away from the main flock and flew with me like I was the lead bird, and it was absolutely magical.

We realized from the last expedition that everything impacting Bewick swan populations was pretty much exacerbated by climate change, and that was an issue we really wanted to focus on.

In addition, I had another close encounter with climate change last year, when we lost our family home in the Australian bushfires. I felt as if I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

Changing the narrative

We want to change the whole narrative around climate change, particularly for those people who look at it and think it’s this horrible scary thing. We want to try to reframe it as a massive opportunity, and show all the incredible ideas and innovators out there who are really trying to do something about it.

And we need a drastic shift in the way our economy works. We have destroyed so much natural habitat in the world that the planet is really struggling to cope. The Circular Economy is the only way to go.

Round Britain Challenge

  • In 2016, Sacha Dench flew 7,000 kilometres, from Arctic Russia to the UK in a paramotor, to help save the Bewick swan. The flight, which saw her braving thunderstorms and polar bears, was an attempt to understand why Bewick swan populations were declining.
  • In June 2021, Ms. Dench will set off on a new adventure flying around the entire coast of Britain, powered only by a paramotor, in an attempt to break two world records. During the trip she will be stopping off at farms, rewilding areas, small businesses and schools in order to discover their sustainability stories and share with the world as many innovative climate solutions as possible.
  • As Ambassador for the UN Convention on Migratory Species, Sacha has campaigned to raise awareness of the problems facing many species and habitats around the world. However, during the ‘Round Britain Climate Challenge’ she will focus on climate change, which she describes as the greatest threat we are facing as a society.
  • Ms. Dench hopes her expedition will raise awareness of the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in November, which is hosted by the UK, and actively engage the public in exciting climate solutions.

Dan Burton
Sacha Dench, airborne in her paramotor.

Time to step up

What really keeps me inspired is the fact that, if you can communicate something in the right way, you can get other people on board and wanting to help as well.

I don’t want people to see the flying expedition and think, well, that’s the stuff of superheroes, but not something I can do: we need more people, not just those in the NGO conservation world, to step up and decide that, actually, this is really important to them as individuals.

For years now, I’ve been focusing on the stories of people that I’ve met along the way, and the things that they’ve offered to do to help because as soon as people hear stories like that, that’s when they start to think, well, maybe I could do something too.

We need to keep showing people examples and stories of the massive impact that individuals, companies and other organisations can have if they get involved.

Conservation Without Borders
Sacha Dench flying with the Round Britain Climate Challenge wing.

International Day for Biological Diversity

  • International Day for Biological Diversity, celebrated on 22 May, celebrates the Convention on Biological Diversity, a UN treaty often seen as a key document regarding sustainable development, which entered into force on 29 December 1993.
  • The loss of biodiversity threatens all life. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses – diseases transmitted from animals to humans – while, on the other hand, if we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses.
  • The main message from the Convention is that biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis, from nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods.

UN Security Council welcomes Somali agreement on prompt and peaceful elections

In a press statement released Friday night, the 15 members of the council commended the country’s leaders for putting first “Somalia’s stability, security and development, and the best interests of the Somali people”.

The agreement, that would allow elections within 60 days, was an outcome of the summit convened by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, after months of escalating tension between the political factions in Somalia.

The members of the Security Council welcomed the commitment to “hold peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections, which respect the agreed-upon minimum 30% women’s quota in parliament”.

The peace and security body also encouraged Somalia’s leaders to maintain this positive momentum so that elections can take place as agreed. They also urged all parties to continue to engage openly and constructively so that any problems during the implementation phase can be resolved quickly and welcomed the agreement to establish a peaceful dispute resolution mechanism to enable this.  

Back from the brink

Under the 17 September Electoral Model agreed in 2020 between the federal government and the leaders of the federal member states, verified clan elders would elect a parliament, which then would elect a president. The parliamentary elections were scheduled for December but then delayed.

The talks between Somalia’s Federal Government and the leaders of its Federal Member States, which began in March, regrettably broke down in early April.

The House of the People of the Somali Parliament then adopted a “Special Law”, abandoning the landmark agreement and extending the mandates of current office-holders for up to two more years.  

Opposition to these moves led to the mobilization of militias and exposed divisions within Somali security forces. Violent clashes ensued on 25 April, risking broader conflict.

“Since then, Somalia has come back from the brink of this worst-case scenario”, said earlier this week James Swan, the UN Special Representative for Somalia, recalling that the House of the People reversed its Special Law on 1 May under intense pressure, finally easing tensions.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also welcomed the newest agreement between Somali leaders, urging all stakeholders to swiftly implement the new agreement as a “critical step toward the holding of a consensual and transparent electoral process without further delays”.

Support of the UN Mission

The council members commended the support provided by the United Nations Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

They expressed their full backing for both missions as the country prepares for elections, implements the roadmap outlined in the appendix to the 27 May Communique, and “works to deliver the transition to Somali-led security, as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 2568.

Finally, the members of the Security Council reaffirmed their respect for the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, and unity of Somalia.


Millets prove tasty solution to climate and food security challenges

She spoke to UN News earlier this year, saying that following the UN General Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution proclaiming 2023 as the International Year of Millets in March 2021, efforts are afoot to promote cultivation as a solution to climate and global food security challenges.   

Millets – often called “Nutri-Cereals” due to their high nutritional value – are a group of small-seeded grasses grown mainly in dry zones of Asia and Africa. These include sorghum (or great millet), pearl millet, finger millet, fonio, proso millet, foxtail millet, teff and other smaller varietals. 

Estimates show that more than 90 million people in Africa and Asia depend on millets in their diets. Africa accounts for more than 55 percent of global production, followed by Asia with nearly 40 percent, while Europe represents around three percent of the world market. 

A woman farmer using a sickle to harvest pearl millet in the state of Telangana, India. (2 October, 2011)

Population challenge 

The world needs to produce more food to feed a rapidly growing global population, which is projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, and a staggering 9.7 billion by 2050. 

With a deepening climate crisis and aggravating environmental stresses, there is a heightened need for crop diversification by promoting crops suitable for cultivation in the toughest of environments. 

Acknowledging the role of millets in responding to nutritional, agrarian and climate challenges, the UN resolution considers the “urgent need to raise awareness of the climate-resilient and nutritional benefits of millets and to advocate for diversified, balanced and healthy diets through the increased sustainable production and consumption of millets.” 

They are rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron and calcium; are high in protein, fiber, resistant starch, and have a low glycemic index, which can help prevent or manage diabetes. 

Good to grow 

“Compared to the more commonly known cereals such as wheat, rice or corn, millets are capable of growing under drought conditions, under non-irrigated conditions even in very low rainfall regimes, having a low water footprint”, explained Dr. Aburto, deputy director in the nutrition and food systems division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. 

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based in Hyderabad, India, is a non-profit organization that conducts agricultural research for development. ICRISAT works closely with farmer communities and its partners, including the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), focusing on millets, among other crops. 

ICRISAT Assistant Director General for External Relations, Joanna Kane-Potaka, described millets as a smart food – good for people, the planet, and farmers. 

“Millets can help contribute to some of the biggest global challenges in unison – nutrition and health needs, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, poverty of smallholder and marginalized farmers in the dry zones – some of the toughest areas that will take longer to reach the sustainable development goals.” 

High-iron biofortified pearl millet variety Dhanshakti released in India’s western state of Maharashtra. (23 September, 2011)

Boosting sustainability 

Through offering a reduced dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, millets cultivation may also help promote a shift towards sustainable agriculture, diversifying crop rotations and avoiding the promotion of mono-cropping systems. 

“The high carbon content of the crop residues makes them particularly important for maintaining and increasing soil carbon levels, important for sustainable cropping systems, and, where applicable, for providing forage, at the same time, for livestock,” noted Dr. Aburto. 

‘Food system divide’ 

Millets are believed to be among the earliest domesticated plants, which have long served as traditional staple crops for millions of farmers, particularly in India, China, and Nigeria. 

Notwithstanding the wide range of benefits that millets provide, they have largely been missing from the global food security agenda. In fact, in recent years, their production has gradually declined. 

Experts point towards market distortions, a lack of appreciation of the benefits of millets and policies that have favored the production of the so-called Big Three cereals – rice, wheat and maize, resulting in a “Food System Divide”. 

Joanna Kane-Potaka of ICRISAT, gave the example of India where “during the green revolution, high yielding varieties of rice and wheat were introduced and supported to scale out on a massive scale, to improve food security, while arguably, inadequate attention was paid to nutrition or environmental factors.” 

The problem is further compounded by changing dietary habits, high transaction costs and the challenges involved in accessing better markets; especially true for Africa. 

“Farmers have therefore shifted to more remunerative crops grown to sell for profit and moved away from subsistence agriculture responding to changing consumer preferences and markets inputs,” said Dr. Aburto. 

ICRISAT/Srujan Punna
Foxtail millet. (8 November, 2017)

Millet comeback 

According to Ms. Potaka, helping millets make a comeback is not just popularization of a neglected and underutilized crop but also an effort to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – mainly SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG3 (good health and well-being), SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production), and SDG 13 (climate action). 

“It is essential to work on increasing the production and changing of perceptions about them to drive demand with new and modern products,” she emphasized. 

The current trend can be reversed with government-led policies to support production and consumption of millets, coupled with enhanced consumer awareness of their nutritional and health benefits, said Dr. Aburto. 

In parallel, raising investments for research and development and generating opportunities for farmers to secure better connectivity with efficient value chains and markets, would also be crucial. 

Dr. Aburto also stressed the vital role of farmers in the conservation and maintenance of genetic diversity of millet through initiatives such as community seedbanks, seed fairs, and farmer networks, with a focus on promoting local millets. 

ICRISAT/Agathe Diama
Women winnowing millet in Sololabougouda village, Sikasso, Mali.

2023: the year of millets 

In declaring 2023 the International Year of Millets, the resolution calls on all stakeholders to provide support to “activities aimed at raising awareness of and directing policy attention to the nutritional and health benefits of millet consumption, and their suitability for cultivation under adverse and changing climatic conditions, while also directing policy attention to improving value chain efficiencies.” 

Building on the experiences gained from past initiatives such as the 2016 International Year of Pulses and the 2021 International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, the UN agriculture agency is working to develop an action plan in partnership with external stakeholders, including farmers and research institutions. 

“Actions taken will be aligned and supported via existing initiatives, such as the UN decade of action on Nutrition, 2016-2025 that provides an umbrella for a wide group of actors to work together to address malnutrition and other pressing nutrition issues,” Dr. Aburto added. 

In line with FAO’s vision of a sustainable and food secure world for all, producing more and nutritious food for a growing population without overburdening land resources is a massive global challenge. 

In the search for climate resilient solutions, millets could be the crucial link in the sustainable food supply chain.

No ‘manels’, more gender equality in Indonesia: a UN Resident Coordinator blog

Valerie Julliand, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Indonesia., by UN Indonesia

“You’ve seen it before. Probably many times. Panel discussions featuring men only. Maybe they’re talking about economics or policy or community engagement or health. The panellists may be experts in their fields, but the panels are missing something. Women.

These all-male panels — called ‘manels’ — should stop. The UN Team in Indonesia has taken a firm pledge to not participate as a speaker/panel member in any public meetings, conferences, or webinars where there are no women on the panel. We’ve also disseminated our ‘no-manel’ pledge widely across social media and have invited our partners and the diplomatic community in country to join us in this pledge. All of this has taken place with the support of the UN Women Representative in Indonesia, Jamshed Kazi.

Being a woman Resident Coordinator, I have often been the only woman on a panel, therefore “saving” the organizers from having a ‘manel’ but not really living up to the spirit of equality. On such occasions, I used my remarks to signal the absence of women other than myself.

Tunnel vision

There are many reasons to end the practice of ‘manels’; I’ll mention just a few. ‘Manels’ do not represent the diversity of our world and deprive us of a more holistic, innovative, and insightful perspective on any given discussion or topic.

‘Manels’ are like tunnel vision: they limit the understanding of a topic for they only bring men’s perspectives to the discussion. They may lead to incomplete — if not incorrect — conclusions. There is no topic on earth that doesn’t concern women, whether it’s education or health or conflict or sanitation or infrastructure.

 ‘Manels’ are also manifestations of sexism and exclusion, which reinforce the gendered stereotype of men commanding authority or superior expertise; they imply that women are not capable of contributing to the discussion. No matter the topic, there are women qualified to talk on any issue. Men have dominated public discussions and their perspectives have been valued above women’s for so long.

UN Resident Coordinator

  • The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level.
  • In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve.

A common excuse is that women panellists are a little harder to find; well, panel organizers just have to look a little harder. ‘Manels’ are an aberration when the issue being discussed directly concerns women, such as sexual and reproductive rights. Youth activists had a motto, “nothing about us without us”; the same applies to women’s issues.

If we want gender equality in presidencies and parliaments and other positions of power, then we certainly ought to be able to have women on every panel. There’s no reason to leave women out of any discussion, and there’s every reason to include them, for they bring another perspective and raise questions and issues that men might never have considered.

World Bank/Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo
Women play an important role in community discussions after their village Yogyakarta was badly affected by a volcanic eruption.

A ‘no-manel’ pledge

For these and other reasons, we at the UN in Indonesia have taken a ‘no-manel’ pledge, and, with our encouragement and the strong support of the Ambassador of Canada, we’ve gotten over 40 ambassadors — including not just the typical donor nations, but also ambassadors representing a diverse range of countries from every continent — to join in.

In addition, senior officials from the Government of Indonesia have joined this initiative. There continues to be considerable interest and we fully expect the number of Ambassadors, Ministers and even CEOs from the private sector to grow in the weeks ahead.

UN Indonesia is putting together a user-friendly and practical guide to assist our country team members as well as our external partners to avoid situations of either co-organizing or speaking at an event featuring a ‘manel’. It is clear that in certain disciplines, there are far fewer women than men and, even with the best of intentions, it is particularly challenging to identify suitable women experts

Still, there is no silver bullet, no quick fix. The phenomenon of ‘manels’ will not disappear overnight, but the UN will have unquestionably raised the bar, increased the cost of neglecting women’s voices, generated greater public awareness and created a multiplier effect towards normalizing gender-balanced public policy discourse.

The ’no-manel’ pledge is sometimes construed as a strike at men. None of this is to disparage men’s points of view, only to point out the obvious, and to reverse it: a panel without women is a disservice to the world of equality, freedom, and peace we seek to build, and need.”

SDG5: Gender Equality

  • Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.
  • There has been progress in recent decades: More girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality.
  • However, there are still many challenges: discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive; women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership; and one in five women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period.

Halt legislation on coercive mental health measures in Europe – UN experts 

Five UN experts issued a statement calling upon the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics to withdraw a draft  Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention – a treaty protecting the human rights of people with regard to biology and medicine – that would codify a  mental health policy based on coercion and bring “stigmatization and fear to people with psychosocial disabilities”. 

“Overwhelming evidence from the European Disability Forum, Mental Health Europe and other organizations and growing consensus within the United Nations including at the World Health Organization (WHO), show that forced admission to medical institutions and coercive treatments in institutions will bring harmful effects such as pain, trauma, humiliation [and] shame”, the experts said.  

This is incompatible with contemporary human rights principles and standards.   

Quell the draft

If adopted during a vote in early June, the draft Additional Protocol would continue to allow all the 47 State parties of the Council of Europe to use coercive measures against people with mental health conditions, including their forcible committment to psychiatric institutions. 

The coercive approach to mental health is “doing harm to people with disabilities” and “we should not go backwards to authorize this outdated approach”, the experts said, adding that individutals with psychosocial disabilities “have the right to live in the community and to refuse medical treatment”.  

“We call upon all State delegations to object to the draft Additional Protocol in the upcoming meeting and we urge the Council of Europe to end legitimizing forced institutionalization and the use of coercion against persons with disabilities, including older persons with disabilities”, they underscored.  

Be part of the future  

The controversial draft treaty has also aroused opposition within Europe and from the international community.  

Voices within the Council of Europe, such as the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights have all been vocal against the draft Protocol. 

“When there are efforts worldwide to reform mental health policy, it comes to our surprise that the Council of Europe, a major regional human rights organization, is planning to adopt a treaty that would be a setback to reverse all positive developments in Europe and spread a chilling effect elsewhere in the world”, the experts said.  

They stressed that the Council of Europe now has “a unique opportunity to shift away from old-fashioned coercive approaches” to mental health, towards concrete steps to promote supportive mental health services and realize human rights for all “without discrimination on the grounds of disability”.  

“We urge the Council of Europe to be part of the future and not part of the past in mental health”, concluded the experts. 

Click here for the names of the experts who endorsed in this statement. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. They are not UN staff nor paid for their work. 

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