Monday, June 29, 2009

Women, Work, and Family: Lessons from Latin America

It’s normal thing in the United States for husbands help their wives with cleaning the house, cooking, or doing the laundry. This is especially true in cases when wives, along with their husbands, work and make their own contribution to the family budget. However, in Latin America, the situation is completely different – such behavior on the part of men would be ridiculed and considered challenging the traditional “machist” perception of manhood.

Today, when more than 100 million (!) women throughout Latin America and the Caribbean work, a traditional Latin American perception of gender roles is still impeding improvements in the quality of women’s life: the household work is undervalued and there is an overall belief that caring for the home and family is a woman’s responsibility. The tensions between their family life and work also have a negative impact on women’s performance and commitment in the workplace, which, in turn, decreases their own productivity and that of the national economy.

Yet, a few Latin American countries have achieved quite a notable progress in addressing these issues. For example, Costa Rica offers day care plans for almost all workers; Brazil has a pension plan for workers in the informal economy, which often includes more women than men; and Chile has paternity leave as well as maternity leave. To read the full version of the joint UN and ILO report “Work and Family: A New Call for Public Policies of Reconciliation with Social Co-responsibility” that describes some of these strategies in detail, please click here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Emergency? Dial 9-1-Camel

When someone is seriously injured here in the US, they’re whisked away in a fast-moving ambulance. But try to drive that ambulance in a rural desert with no roads, and you’ve got yourself a problem. To solve this predicament, the UNDP in Ethiopia is turning camels into emergency transport vehicles.

Ok, so they don’t have sirens or flashing lights. But these humped, spitting beasts of burden are ideally suited to transport seriously ill patients across the deserts of rural Ethiopia to hospitals. The UNDP has also trained men and women in basic healthcare to ride along with the camels, and these doctor-camel teams are working as primary and emergency health providers for around 140,000 rural residents.

So, the next time you fall and you can’t get up, you might want to consider calling a camel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Picture This: Environmental Sustainability in Pictures!

Last week, UNDP, Olympus and AFP partnered to launch Picturethis, an Africa based photo competition designed to highlight the work of African natives to negate and reverse the effects of climate change. The competition aims to demonstrate the people of Africa as ‘stewards of their natural environment’.

The contest is inspired by the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which will bring together over 15,000 officials from 200 countries to address climate change and explore options to extend the Kyoto Protocol’s treaty’s into the future.

The contest is exclusively for those who have resided in Africa for 12 months and has amateur and professional categories. The entries can be either single photographs or a series and are expected to display how the local population is working together toward MDG 7- Environmental Sustainability. The contest also looks to depict the role that women play in protecting their environment.

UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark said recently “the developing world stands to lose the most from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation”. With this in mind, the competition seeks to demonstrate how even the smallest of projects can have a positive impact on the surrounding environment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sneaky Sands Threaten Livelihoods Around the World

With the majority of news broadcasts covering incidents of death, disease, and destruction, the major threat of desertification to the lives of millions around the world is often overlooked. However, on June 17—officially marked World Day to Combat Desertification—Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon made it his personal mission to emphasize the danger of encroaching deserts, especially to populations already marginalized by poverty. A process that is accelerating rapidly as a result of climate change, desertification is an issue that, like many others, will disproportionately affect the poor. According to Mr. Ban’s statement, by 2050, an estimated 200 million people, particularly those who lack the capacity to adapt, will become environmentally-induced migrants. The resultant extent of displacement in turn will set the stage for increased instability and conflict in those regions hardest hit.

As the average surface temperature of the planet continues to rise, increased periods of drought and famine will deepen poverty, and as a consequence, reverse any progress made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Further land degradation is sure to incite a greater incidence of transnational and intrastate conflicts as displaced populations fight to secure their most basic needs. While these conflicts may occur under the pretense of cultural and religious differences, the underlying environmental factors must be addressed. Simply put, regardless of cause, climate change is real, and its portended effects can and will be devastating. Something most be done to reverse environmental degradation; if not, a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions may be inevitable.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saving the World. One Goal at a Time.

On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Organization for Renewable Energy honored former Brazilian Striker and current World Cup goal-scoring record holder Ronaldo for his work on securing Brazil’s natural energy reserves. Ronaldo, a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, is also set to be awarded by UNDP for his work with poverty-stricken children in Brazil and Latin America.
The Brazilian star’s recently announced a follow up to 2004’s ‘Match for Peace’ in Haiti only serves to further reinforce his international image. The friendly match will this time be held in Palestine, a region ravaged for decades by conflict and turmoil. Add to this the annual ‘Match for Poverty’ he and French star Zinedine Zidane have organized since 2002 and you have the beginnings of what could be a football-fueled development blitz.

UNDP, FIFA and the stars organize these matches to mobilize the public against poverty and promote the Millennium Development Goals, which collectively aim to halve global poverty by 2015. Ticket sales and proceeds from the previous matches have benefited anti-poverty projects ranging from support of female entrepreneurs to the construction of sports centers for street children and the disadvantaged. Funds have gone to support projects all over the world, from Brazil and Burkina Faso to Tajikistan, Uganda, and Vietnam.

French star Zinedine Zidane, not to be outdone by his Brazilian colleague, recently announced his own ‘Zidane and Friends’ football tour of Canada to raise money for UNICEF and UNDP. The Canadian leg of the Zidane Friendship Tour is a three-city event designed to give Canadian soccer fans the unique opportunity to watch world class football while helping those who need it most. With this kind of star power behind it, UNDP hopes to kick development goals around the world.

For more information, click on the “Match Against Poverty” or the “Zidane and Friends” tour.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Need an Excuse to Play Computer Games? Needs You…Now.

For many Americans, the current financial crisis means cutting back. Across the board, people are spending less money on luxury and even some essential items, from food and clothing to outings and vacations. Many families face home foreclosure; stores, bankruptcy. The evidence of economic hardship is everywhere, and yet the impact of the financial crisis extends beyond national borders. The head of the United Nations World Food Program warned today that, as a consequence of the lowest level of global food aid in twenty years, the poor and hungry around the world are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Compounding the problem is the UN food agency’s total reliance on voluntary donations to achieve its ends. In light of the financial crisis, it should therefore come to no surprise that the World Food Program is feeling the crunch. However, given the millions who rely on UN food aid, something needs to be done. Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the organization, today urged development ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations meeting in Italy to support the agency in its efforts to help the world’s most needy survive. One in six people are going hungry, and every six seconds, a child dies of starvation.

Why should you care? The expanding hunger crisis can lead to destabilization, and impact global peace and security. Do your part today. If you have the means, donate to WFP. If you do not, go to and play! For each correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated through the UN World Food Program to help end hunger.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hot Enough to Fry an Egg!

Have you ever felt weather so hot that you could fry an egg on the sidewalk? There is so much energy from the Sun hitting Earth everyday that it could cook every last egg on the planet! Harnessing that energy is a vital part of creating a more sustainable future, from massive solar power plant complexes, like the planned "solar tower" of Australia, to smaller scale projects like solar powered vehicles. Today, the United Nations Development Program has partnered with the Global Environment Facility, the European Union, and the Chilean government to harness the power of the sun, prevent deforestation and bring renewable energy to local communities in northern Chile.

The people who live in these communities traditionally relied on wood to fuel their stoves, but thanks to UNDP are now embracing solar ovens as a way to rehabilitate their damaged environment. The overcutting of firewood in northern Chile has accelerated deforestation, drying up already-arid lands. Solar ovens bring an eco-friendly alternative to cooking needs, and lay the foundations for greater
renewable energy use in the future. But UNDP is not just providing solar ovens, it is training locals to construct their own ovens so that they may pass the knowledge on to others in the community. Alejandra Alarcon, National Coordinator of the UNDP Small Grants Programme’s Global Environment Facility, stressed the importance of providing not just the materials but the know-how, "The only way to see long-lasting results is if people can build their own ovens and share the knowledge with other communities.”

To learn more about solar ovens in Chile, and how they are sparking green-change and green-entrepreneurship click here

Friday, June 5, 2009

Become a Lean, Mean [Green] Climate Change-Fighting Machine!

Rising sea levels. Glacier retreat. Arctic shrinkage. Climactic variation. Increased annual temperatures and extreme weather events. Expansion of tropical diseases. Fluctuating precipitation patterns. We have all heard about global warming and its consequences, and yet for most of us, the warnings do little to fundamentally change our behavior. While “going green” has become the 21st century’s latest fad, SUVS with single passengers continue to clutter America’s roads, gas prices remain low (discouraging responsible conservation practices), and recycling systems remain woefully inadequate. Buying clothes from eco-friendly stores and food in biodegradable containers from environmentally-conscious restaurants is a start, but it is not enough.

Today, June 5, is World Environment Day, an annual celebration established by the United Nations in 1972 to raise awareness, stimulate dialogue around environmental issues, and enhance political attention and action. WED is hosted by a different city every year; to show Mexico’s increasing importance in the fight against climate change, this year’s event is being held in Mexico City. As a leading partner in the Billion Trees Campaign, Mexico is at the forefront of Latin America’s progress toward combating global warming.

Because the theme for the 2009 World Environment Day is “Your Planet Needs You—UNite to Combat Climate Change,” do your part to help save the environment! Turn out the lights behind you. Ride a bike to work. Pick up a piece of trash lying in the park. It is time that everyone in the United States did their part to cut back on the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We can only hope that world leaders feel a similar urgency in Copenhagen in December.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ensuring Safety on Election Day

Going to the polls on Election Day in the States can be a stressful event, especially for those so dedicated as to wait for hours in long lines like so many did last November. But rarely do voters have to fear for their physical safety. The same is not true in Afghanistan, where, on August 20, voters will exercise their still only recently acquired democratic rights by casting their votes in the second presidential election since the collapse of the Taliban regime eight years ago.

In response to the likely threat of election violence, the UNDP, in conjunction with the EU’s Police Mission and the Afghan Interior Ministry, has recently launched a program to train over 35,000 police forces to promote voter safety on Election Day. The Election Support Project not only reinforces training to ensure safety to voters, but informs officers on the laws and standards for the election to help ensure election fairness.

With much at stake in this election for the future of Afghanistan and the world, the UNDP’s work is crucial in ensuring elections are free, fair, and safe for all.

Monday, June 1, 2009

UN Peacekeepers: Keeping the Peace since 1948

Everyone wants his or her life to stand for something. Some people join the military. Others become the president and CEO of their own business. Still others start a family. For some people meaning and purpose are derived from a role that will bring them neither fame nor fortune, comfort nor luxury. These people give up almost everything they have to fight on the front lines of the war against poverty, disease, water scarcity, environmental degradation, and intrastate conflict. They do not have guns to protect themselves. They do not have the security of a soldier’s national uniform to guarantee them safety in a tough situation. These people are the UN peacekeepers.

May 29, 2009 marked the 61st anniversary of the day the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO)—the first United Nations peacekeeping mission—began operations in Palestine. In 2002, the General Assembly designated May 29 as an international day of tribute to the dedication and courage of the men and women who have or are currently risking their lives to serve others around the world. Since 2002, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers has commemorated the high professionalism of these people and specifically honored those who have lost their lives in the ‘cause for peace.’

In today’s world, the need for UN peacekeepers is greater than ever. This year’s commemorative ceremonies, presided over by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, honored the 132 peacekeeping personnel, 10 of them women, who lost their lives in 2008 UN peacekeeping missions. Special emphasis was given to the role of women peacekeepers, who remain sorely underrepresented among UN forces. Given the importance of empowering women and girls in conditions of conflict or extreme poverty (which often go hand-in-hand), the need for greater deployment of women in UN missions is indubitable.

A Woman's Place Is In the House ... And the National Assembly

Women here in the US gained the right to vote in 1920, nearly a century and a half after (white, property-owning) men had cast their ballots. That was a year before the Arab nation of Kuwait held its inaugural parliamentary election, and it took another 85 years for women to gain the right to vote.

Yet, in the four years since the very first Kuwaiti women voted for her parliamentary representative, women have come to occupy 8% of the 50 member seats of the National Assembly - for comparison's sake, after 90 years of women's suffrage, a total of only 17% of of U.S. House members and senators are female.

How did Kuwait do it? Remarkably, they didn't use a quota system reserving a certain number of elected seats for women, although that policy has brought greater gender equality to the legislatures of many nations, developed and developing alike. UNDP and UNIFEM worked together with civil society organizations and women's groups to boost women's turnout in the polls, and, as UNDP-Kuwait Resident Representative Mohamed Naciri put it, "to change attitudes towards women’s political activity as a legal right that is in line with Islamic jurisprudence."

Check out a public service announcement encouraging women to vote for the candidate they support, not the one that their husbands and fathers prefer. Then, read more about UNDP's work in Kuwaiti elections here.