Women’s rights activists in The Gambia are preparing to make a final push to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in the West African country. They have been campaigning for 30 years and witnessed three successive attempts to stop the controversial cultural practice fail. However, they are now confident a new law will go through and they cite the fact that a reported 900 communities have dropped FGM, a change known locally as “dropping the knife”.
The civil war in Sri Lanka ran for 26 years with successive governments fighting against an armed separatist group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It was a bloody war that claimed in total some 100,000 lives. In 2009, the conflict came to an end when government forces decimated the rebel group and now ex-combatants are trying to fit back into normal life. IPS tells the story of Aloysius Patrickeil who is famous as a barber in the town of Kilinochchi.
The worst floods in the history of Paraguay have forced 300,000 people to flee their homes. Heavy rains over the past months have caused both the Paraguay and Paraná rivers to burst their banks, destroying homes in the suburbs and leaving thousands stranded in makeshift camps at military bases and in the streets – struggling to find food and water. With more rain forecast the flooding is only set to get worse, with warnings that it may even reach the heart of the capital city, Asunción. The heavy downpours have caused similar evacuations in Argentina and Brazil.
Farmers who produce seeds in El Salvador are worried they could lose their jobs after the USA demanded the country opens up seed production to American companies. While cooperatives and local farmers have procured certified seed (seed which is bred to have higher yields though not through genetic modification) for the government since 2009, the US argues this has effectively cut out American companies, a violation of a Free Trade Agreement signed between the countries in 2004. However, the US’s stance has been met with protests.
Nearly half a million people are internally displaced in Pakistan following years of internal conflict. Recent government air strikes – seeking to flush out insurgent Taliban terrorists in the country’s North Waziristan area – have only increased the number of people finding themselves homeless, sick and hungry. The latest government campaign was sparked by terrorist attacks on Karachi airport at the beginning of June that left 18 dead. While some political pundits are cheering the government’s “hard line”, IPS looks at the lives of the real victims of Pakistan’s war against the Taliban.
The ongoing crisis in Iraq has seen almost 1000 people killed since June and the death toll is rising as sectarian violence rages. Women in particular are at serious risk of being targeted with human rights activists having documented 13 cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by ISIS militants in just three days. Indeed, after the militants took control of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city – they went door to door looking for “woman who are not owned”, for what is called jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad. Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfield discuss rape as a weapon of war and the role of sectarianism.
“Gay fiestas” in Cuba, which until just a few years ago were illegal and often ended in police raids, are now a regular part of the flourishing LGBTI night life in the Caribbean island nation. However, gay rights campaigners have warned the current rush to cash in on the so-called “pink market” by bars, restaurants and nightclubs could further segregate the diverse non-heterosexual community. There are also worries there is a growing public backlash against clubs that some people feel are “indecent”.
There are some 40,000 children in Bangladesh suffering from “child blindness”. The condition is caused by bilateral congenital cataracts – a cloudy film that covers the eye’s lens making it almost impossible to see. Now, a hospital run by an NGO is determined to treat every one of them. Indeed, if the child receives surgery quick enough their sight can be completely restored. However, experts say a widespread campaign is needed to inform parents to seek necessary help.
Swahili hip hop is enjoying a resurgence in Tanzania where it has been mostly underground since the 1990s. Promoters such as Saving Underground Artists are thrusting young rappers into the limelight who are keen to show off their socially and politically aware music that gives hope to Tanzanian youth. Adam Bemma takes a look at the burgeoning new movement Bongo Flava in the tourist city of Arusha.
Poaching is rife in South Sudan following a civil war between President Salva Kiir’s government and forces loyal to his former deputy, Riek Machar. Although both sides agreed recently to end the country’s devastating conflict by forming a transitional government over the next two months, it may come too late for the country’s wildlife as conservation officials accuse both sides of killing wild animals to feed their forces – their only source of food in the war-torn land. Officials say elephants are being killed for their meat and tusks while migratory animals that move in large numbers, especially the white-eared kob, the tiang (also known as the Senegal hartebeest) and reedbuck, are killed to provide bush meat.
With its lush valleys and well-watered plains, Pakistan’s north western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province produces plenty of food, including 10 million tons of wheat every year. So why are the people of this bountiful mountainous region going hungry? Experts blame a massive smuggling network that whisks wheat away from the frontier province and sells it in neighbouring Afghanistan at hugely inflated prices. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa loses three million tons of staple food per year to the black market, leaving 65 percent of children and 40 percent of women malnourished.
150,000 people formed a 123 kilometre human chain in the Basque country in a demonstration calling for independence. The line stretched from Durango to Pamplona in Spain. The Basque people have their own language and culture and live on both sides of the Pyrenees. Their struggle has been likened to that of Catalonia and Scotland and organisers of the chain called for solidarity between the three nations. Scotland will vote on independence from the UK on 18th September with the result likely to have an impact in both Catalonia and the Basque country.
More than two billion people – around 30 percent of the world’s total population – are either obese or overweight, according to a new study. The majority of cases are in the USA but other developed countries are not far behind. In addition, the report shows that obesity is on the rise among oil-rich eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya with the authors of the report calling it a “major public health epidemic”.
A Ugandan lawyer has revolutionised justice using social media. Gerald Abila first created a Facebook page to give a small group of people free legal advice while he was a law student. In just two years his humble idea exploded, drawing 16,000 followers and causing Abila to set up Barefoot Law, a non-profit organisation that provides free legal consultations to educate Ugandans on their rights.
South Africa is to target big polluters with a tax on carbon emissions starting in 2016. The country is the 12th highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and has one of the most carbon-intensive economies, with close to 90 percent of its electricity supplied by coal-burning power plants. The tax will cover mining, fossil fuel and steel companies who will be able to lower their tax liability by investing in carbon offsets, hopefully cushioning the blow.
The Aral Sea was once one of the largest lakes in the world and a place where Uzbekistan’s fishermen made a living. But now it is one of the planet’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters with all the water having leached out of it due to poor irrigation systems. The coast has receded by 50 meters in just one year and all that is left of the Aral Sea is a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. Ironically, it has also become one of the country’s top tourist attractions, with people flocking to get a look at the former fishing boats lying rusting in the desert sand. Some even dare to take a swim.
Dharamsala in India has been home to the Tibetan government-in-exile since 1959 and in recent years a cult of martyrs has sprung up around the town. While some view martyrs as those who lose their lives in freedom struggles at the hands of enemy soldiers, Tibetans recognize martyrs as people who set themselves on fire in protest over China’s occupation of Tibet. Since 2009 a total of 130 people have self-immolated but there is now a debate over this desperate form of protest’s effectiveness – with China handing down punishments to the families of those who sacrifice themselves.
The UN has decried the use of water as a weapon of war after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that cutting off water supplies during conflict amounted to a human rights abuse. There were reports recently that water supplies in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo were cut off by armed groups for eight days, depriving at least 2.5 million people of access to safe water for drinking and sanitation. Other incidents have occurred in Iraq, Egypt and Gaza where the beleaguered population has been left with a contaminated supply.
Women in Zimbabwe, many of whom are single parents trying desperately to feed their children, have found a new way to make a fortune: tobacco. New statistics show that almost 40 percent of small-scale tobacco farmers are women, with many fast becoming tobacco tycoons, not only earning a decent living for their families but also propping up the country’s struggling economy.
Experts have warned that Russia’s annexation of Crimea could lead to an exodus of its best and brightest. The threat of sanctions against the country has seen many young people decide it’s time to leave while they still can. A recent poll showed that a quarter of Russians had considered moving abroad – the majority being young people and students. With the state’s shrinking and ageing population, an exodus could prove devastating for Russia’s economy as those willing to leave are often those most likely to create wealth.