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Strategies at home and abroad

I think it is terribly important for the new U.S. administration to advance gender equality as part of a more comprehensive strategy for peace and social justice both at home and in the rest of the world. It is also vital to show by deed as well as by word that the United States means to walk its talk on gender justice. This would go a long way in rebuilding the trust and goodwill that the past administration has squandered in the rest of the world.

The new administration needs to be willing to stand up and publicly recognize that the United States, despite being among the wealthiest nations, has a long way to go before it is close to meeting some of the most basic gender equality standards in terms of women’s representation in the political process and in terms of economic justice. Women represent over 51 percent of the US population, but only 14 percent of representatives in both the US House and Senate are women. There is enough research to show that increased representation by women in legislative bodies results in policies that invest in the long term human security of their citizens. Repeated studies by the AFLCIO, have shown that you can cut poverty rates in the United States (close to 70 percent of those who are poor in this country are women and their dependent children) simply by paying women equal pay for equal work. Not a single new Congressional appropriation would be needed for such a war on poverty. Yet, the fight for the ERA — or Equal Rights Amendment, which would be the most effective strategy to achieve “equal pay for equal work” has long since ceased to be a mobilizing banner for the US women’s movement. It is also arguably the most likely reason that the United States has simply failed to ratify the most universally recognized women’s human rights treaty worldwide, the Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW.Violence against women in the United States continues to claim unacceptably high numbers of victims and basic pre-natal care for pregnant women is almost non-existent for poor women without health insurance. 15 years ago when I worked in Chicago, Black women suffered from maternal mortality rates that were worse than Bangladesh. Poor children continue to die across the US because they lack basic preventive health care, including vaccinations against common diseases like measles. Despite the horrors inflicted on poor residents of the Gulf coast, it seems that Katrina barely ruffled a political feather — it hasn’t shown up as a major policy agenda on a single candidate’s stump speech. The new administration must demonstrate that it is willing to take action on such blatant violations of basic human rights — right here at home.

Finally, an effective US administration will need the active and tactical support of the women’s movement in the US. To provide sufficient ballast, the movement in the US needs to deepen and broaden its message beyond the rather narrow confines of fighting to preserve Roe v. Wade. On reproductive rights and health, it must be willing to stand up for the right of all women (immigrants, the poor, rural, sexual minorities, etc) to be able to plan their families, have access to contraception, and to bear and raise healthy children. Finally, the women’s movement needs to show the political will and courage to refuse to cede the moral high ground by showing itself able and willing to speak to the moral ambiguities around the issue of abortion.

At the most base level, a U.S. administration’s commitment to advancing women’s rights would serve to reinforce our country’s commitment to social justice and international law. Neither our government — nor any — can invade nations or bomb them into submission — even under the guise of “fighting terror” — with a carrot in the other hand touting “human rights.”. Such practice looks too much like the hypocrisy the developing world has come to expect from its former colonial powers.

The same holds for economic coercion or what I like to call “market fundamentalism.” The free markets the West and the US are so keen to export and impose on the rest of the world are remarkably well regulated here in the US to serve the “national” interest. Look at how farm subsidies to the tune of $20 billion per year continue to underwrite US agriculture, even as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank are busy demanding that the rest of the world (Brazil, India, Egypt, and most sub-Saharan African nations) tear down their subsidies on agriculture and food. A recent article in The New York Times quoted the President of Malawi saying, “we decided to follow what the West did, not what they preached, and expanded subsidies to our farmers.” Malawi has made remarkable progress in the past few years on food production as a result.

This speaks particularly to Michelle’s point making the links between women’s fertility, population growth and the rising cost of food. I submit that the cost of food prices has far more to do with oil prices, uneven and unfair trade practices than with how many poor mothers are having babies. This is not to undermine the critical need for inexpensive and reliable means of family planning. They should be made as widely available as possible. In fact, women’s rights is as appropriate a lens by which to understand the challenges around population as any. What women’s rights activists in the West need to be more outspoken about is the model of growth that is based entirely on consumerism. A few statistics will make my point clear as day:
Americans eat 815 billion calories of food daily, that is about 200 billion more than needed, more than enough to feed 80 million hungry people. 200,000 tons of edible food are thrown out daily in the US. 80 percent of corn grown and 95 percent of oats are fed to livestock in the US. 56percent of all available farmland in the US is used for beef production. In turn, when the US exports our model of high economic growth to the rest of the world consumption of meat rises in countries like China and India.

With all due respect, I would argue that those are the key factors contributing to rising food prices, not women in poor countries having babies.

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The Need for Peace, Protection, and Funding in Darfur

Gloomy news for the prospects of both peace and peacekeepers in Darfur, reports the UN News Center:

Recent fierce fighting in Sudan’s devastated Darfur region makes it clear that the international effort to protect the population is at dire risk unless the parties are pressured to negotiate a peace, a top United Nations peacekeeping official said today.

“With the Government intent on military action and the rebels either fighting or fragmenting, it is difficult to see an opening for political negotiations,” Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said as he briefed the Security Council on UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-UN force in Darfur.

The opening of an avenue for peace negotiations is, of course, crucial for long-term stability in Darfur. And as long as a peace accord is pursued honestly by all sides — and not through rushed expediency, as was the failed Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006 — it will also improve the odds of deploying a fully effective peacekeeping force in the short-term.In addition to not yet having a peace to keep, though, the contingent of blue helmets in Darfur is grossly understaffed — with only 9,126 of its allotted 26,000 uniformed personnel currently deployed — and remains underfunded, undersupplied, and undertrained. The force’s inadequate preparation is as dangerous as its lack of numbers or the absence of an enduring political solution. Simply bringing in the required number of troops — even were the Sudanese government to drop its objections to the non-African countries that have pledged troops — would not suffice toward improving the force’s capabilities, unfortunately. Assistant Secretary-General Mulet’s briefing made this clear:

The timely deployment of the various battalions, including Egyptian, Ethiopian, Thai and Nepalese, would be linked to donor countries’ efforts to support troop contributors with equipment, training and self-sustaining capability…It was “absolutely critical” that the incoming troops have self-sustaining capability and equipment to enable them to patrol and effectively carry out their operations. Without self-sustaining capability, incoming troops were a burden on the Mission and became part of the problem, not the solution.

Sending peacekeepers into Darfur with insufficient equipment or training amounts to a reprehensible abdication of moral and strategic responsibilities. The United States and other countries need to step forward to provide the requisite support for UNAMID; without this commitment, the goals of achieving both peace and protection will become even more unattainable.

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

Obama wins the Mississippi primary.

Think something is missing from Morning Coffee? Add it through a comment below.

Top Stories

>>United States – Admiral James “Fox” Fallon, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East best known for his outspoken statements that seemingly, put him at odds with the Administration, retired prematurely yesterday. According to the New York Times, Fallon “emphasized diplomacy over conflict in dealing with Iran,” “endorsed further troop withdrawals from Iraq beyond those already under way,” and “suggested the United States had taken its eye off the military mission in Afghanistan.” Last week Esquire published “The Man Between War and Peace,” which suggested that Fallon was the one person who could stop a U.S. war with Iran. Fallon distanced himself from the article. The New York Times quotes a “senior Administration official,” who says Fallon’s comments “left the perception he had a different foreign policy than the president.”

>>Israel/PalestineReports suggest that Israel is pushing for a 30-day “trial period” of quiet before committing to the full ceasefire that Egypt is attempting to broker. Likewise, Hamas set its own terms, which include an end to Israeli raids in Gaza and the reopening of the borders. Prospects for such an agreement were rendered more tenuous yesterday when, for the first time in a week, militants fired a missile from Gaza toward the Israeli town of Ashkelon. No injuries were reported.

>>Uganda – Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, said yesterday in London that, as part of a final peace agreement with the Lord’s Resistance Army, he would press the ICC to drop charges against LRA leader Joseph Kony. Kony would instead be prosecuted under a traditional system in Uganda whereby those who ask forgiveness and make compensation can escape prison time.

>>Kenya – A power-sharing agreement between Kenya’s current governing party and the opposition, once thought a done deal, seems to be in danger amid dispute about the role of the newly formed post of Prime Minister (to be filled by opposition leader Odinga). On Monday the head of Kenya’s civil service, Francis Muthaura, issued a statement delineating the role as third in the government heirachy, not second as the opposition expected. The opposition says this is a deal-breaker, while the governement has stated that Muthaura’s formulation is correct.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch


  • href="">South
    Africa’s Zuma accused of delaying justice
  • href="">Nigeria
    oil rebel pipeline found
  • href="">South
    Africa: Party Leader Asks Court to Dismiss Evidence
  • href="">Doubt
    over PM’s role endangers Kenya pact
  • href="">From
    inside Black Beach jail, a chained and shackled Simon Mann names names
  • href="">State
    Dept. Rights Report Calls Record of Sudan ‘Horrific’
  • href="">Russia
    to Aid Mission in Chad
  • href="">Black
    mamba bite kills Briton who dreamt of becoming a game ranger
  • href="">Kenyan
    Troops Strike at Militia Involved in Land Clashes


  • href="">Colombia
    mulls payout to rebel
  • href="">Mexico’s
    No. 2 Official Faces Pressure Over Deals Tied to Family


  • href="">Thaksin
    pleads not guilty to Thai graft charges
  • href="">NATO
    head says no decision yet on Ukraine, Georgia
  • href="">Suicide
    car bomb kills Afghan civilian
  • href="">Kremlin
    Rules: Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates Opponents
  • href="">U.N.
    Says Taliban Are Impeding Aid
  • href="">Sri
    Lanka says fresh fighting kills 33, mostly rebels
  • href="">Asian
    Muslims protest against Danish cartoons
  • href="">Wild
    elephant kills three, including boy, in Nepal
  • href="">Indian
    airport workers on strike
  • href="">Pakistan
    buries victims of blasts
  • href="">India’s
    families still hoping for answers


  • href="">German
    exports grow despite strong euro
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Ban on the New Face of Hunger

The Secretary General writes an oped


The prices of basic staples — wheat, corn, rice — are at record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months. Global food stocks are at historic lows. The causes range from rising demand in major economies such as India and China to climate-and weather-related events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts that have devastated harvests in many parts of the world. High oil prices have increased the cost of transporting food and purchasing fertilizer. Some experts say the rise of biofuels has reduced the amount of food available for humans.

The effects are widely seen. Food riots have erupted from West Africa to South Asia. In countries where food has to be imported to feed hungry populations, communities are rising to protest the high cost of living. Fragile democracies are feeling the pressure of food insecurity. Many governments have issued export bans and price controls on food, distorting markets and presenting challenges to commerce.

In January, to cite one example, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed for $77 million to help provide food for more than 2.5 million people pushed over the edge by rising prices. He drew attention to an alarming fact: The average Afghan household now spends about 45 percent of its income on food, up from 11 percent in 2006.

This, says Ban, is the new face of hunger. And it can be alleviated, in part, by boosting the World Food Program by $500 million to help cover this rapid rise in food costs. Other solutions, like inspiring a new green revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, are more long-term. But for the here and now, increasing what member states donate to the World Food Program, which feeds 73 million people globally, would be an effective stop-gap to prevent the kind of chaos predicted by Ban.

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Ten Hours in Iraq Cost the Same as Three Years in Liberia, Says Former UN Official

From today’s presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace by Jan Egeland, the former UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, comes this enlightening statistic:

The amount of money that the United States has contributed to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) — whose successes include calming a decade of civil war, bringing a former dictator to justice, and ushering in a democratic government that elected Africa’s first female leader — over the past four years is equal to the amount that it spends in ten hours in Iraq.

This statistic is sobering, but it is not surprising. After all, the amount of money that the U.S. spends in just three days in Iraq is equivalent to our entire yearly contribution to all UN peacekeeping missions. And while the conflict in Iraq roils on, many war zones in which the UN has been engaged are emerging as valuable success stories. In addition to Liberia, Egeland cited Ivory Coast, East Timor, South Sudan, Sierre Leone, and Kosovo as examples in which UN engagement has led to substantially freer and more stable societies — all at a fraction of the cost of the U.S.’s operations in Iraq.

Egeland stressed that the key to improving U.S.-UN relations is to convince the U.S. government just how good of an investment UN peacekeeping missions are. As Mark has emphasized before — and as even U.S. government studies have proven — UN peacekeeping missions are consistently more effective and more cost-efficient than comparable U.S.-led enterprises. For these and other reasons, supporting UN peacekeepers is strongly in U.S. interests, even if this year’s budget request doesn’t reflect this priority.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

Did Slate knowingly swipe “Eliot’s Mess” from Colbert? Meanwhile, the Vatican delineates new sins, including pollution and “social injustice.”

Top Stories

>>The Hague – The prosecution of three Croatian former generals, Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak, and Mladen Markac, accused of playing key roles in Operation Storm in Croatia’s eastern Krajina in 1995, has begun at a UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague. Mr. Gotovina, regarded as a war hero among some in Croatia and being portrayed as such in a film starring Goran Visnjic, is being charged with responsibliity for 150 Serbian deaths.

>>Beijing Olympics – Roughly 100 Tibetan exiles marching from northern India to Tibet to protest the Beijing Olympics were told by police on Monday night that they were not allowed to leave the Kangra district of the Himachal Pradesh state under orders from central government, which has agreed not to conduct “anti-Chinese activities.” Similar protests, though not as long or hard on the soles, were held around the world, including in Lhasa, yesterday, the 49th anniversary of the uprising against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Llama’s flight to India. According to the Guardian, India has been “sympathetic to the Tibetan cause in the past, but has begun to clamp down on public protests in recent years, fearing they could embarrass Beijing and damage burgeoning relations between the two Asian giants.” The group is marching on.

>>Darfur – Bandit attacks in Darfur have forced the World Food Programme to halve its deliveries of emergency food aid, a necessity for 2 million Darfuris. In total, 51 vehicles have gone missing and 23 drivers are still unaccounted for. Meanwhile, a funding crisis threatens to shut down air deliveries, increasingly important because of the increasing insecurity on the roads.

Quote of the Day

“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42km in my current condition”
Haile Gerbrselaisse, world record holder who today announced that he would not compete in the Olympic marathon in China.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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