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Gay Marriage in Argentina, But Homosexuality Still Illegal in Much of the World

In reaction to news that Argentina legalized gay marriage, the excellent Nate Silver posts this chart showing that the number of people living in jurisdictions that approve gay marriage has steadily risen over the past ten years.

According to the chart, the number of people living in jurisdictions which recognize same sex marriage has now risen to about 250 million people worldwide. That steady, upward trajectory is certainly a sign of progressing attitudes. But it is also important to keep in mind that there are at least 78 countries or territories in which homosexuality is illegal,  6 countries in which it is punishable by death (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan).  Check out this map, via Wikipedia. The red-to-orange countries are where homosexuality is illegal in some form or another:

Back of the envelope calculations suggest that about 20% of the word’s population lives in places where homosexuality is still illegal. So while we ought to celebrate progress (go Argentina!) there is also a lot more to be done to protect the rights of LGBT individuals around the world.  One way of moving forward is for more countries to sign onto a General Assmebly resolution on the decriminalization of homosexuality. 

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Listening to Adolescent Girls (Video and New Report)

Ed note: This week UN Dispatch and RH Realty Check are pleased to host a special series of blog posts on empowering adolescent girls in the developing world. We are calling the series “Girls Count,” which is the name of a series of reports from the Coalition for Adolescent Girls which seeks to elevate the profile of adolescent girls on the international development agenda and within strategies to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals”

By Yolanda Johnny Taylor,  Communications Director for the United Nations Foundation’s Women & Population program.

One of the most powerful forces of change on the planet is an adolescent girl.

Girls are part of the largest youth generation this world has ever seen.  The choices and opportunities that these girls have will not only impact their lives, but also their families, communities, and our entire world for generations to come.

Today, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) released “Girls Speak: A New Voice in Global Development.” Girl Speak, the latest report in the Girls Count series commissioned by the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, allows us to hear directly from adolescent girls as they share their hopes, fears and dreams for the future.

And what do these girls teach us?

No matter where they are born, adolescent girls want the same things: they want to be educated; they want to be productive members of society; they want to be healthy; they want to be free from abuse and sexual violence; and they want to have ownership over their own lives and bodies. 

They want what we all want – the freedom to be who they are.

But these girls can’t do it alone. Families, teachers, mentors and communities are key elements in unleashing the girl effect. These girls already have the vision and the determination they need to thrive. They need our help in clearing the roadblocks that stand in the way of their success.

Below, you can watch the Nike Foundation’s “I Dare You” video and hear more about the power of girls. There are 600 million girls living in the developing world. That’s 600 million opportunities for our world to be reshaped for the better.

I dare YOU not to act. 

To learn more about you can do to help girls in developing countries, visit, ,, and




Girls Speak a New Voice in Global Development

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Girls Count: “An adolescent girl living in poverty is the most powerful person in the world.”

Ed note: This week UN Dispatch and RH Realty Check are pleased to host a special series of blog posts on empowering adolescent girls in the developing world. We are calling the series “Girls Count,” which is the name of a series of reports from the Coalition for Adolescent Girls which seeks to elevate the profile of adolescent girls on the international development agenda and within strategies to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals”

In the first installment, UN Foundation CEO Kathy Bushkin Calvin and Nike Foundation President and CEO Maria Eitel discuss how child marriage is a barrier to the social and economic well being of adolescent girls and their communities.

By Kathy Bushkin Calvin and Maria Eitel

We believe that an adolescent girl living in poverty is the most powerful person in the world. If we reach her early enough, she can accelerate economies, arrest major global health issues and break cycles of poverty.

When a girl gets a chance to stay in school, remain healthy, gain skills, she will marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn an income that she’ll invest back into her family. When she can grow into a woman and become an educated mother, an economic actor, an ambitious entrepreneur, or a prepared employee, she breaks the cycle of poverty. She and everyone around her benefits. That’s the girl effect – the powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate.

Child marriage is one of the barriers preventing the 600 million adolescent girls in developing countries from unleashing their full potential. The numbers speak clearly: one girl in seven in developing countries marries before age 15, and nearly half of all girls are expected to marry by age 20. Early marriage is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where in 15 countries almost half of all girls are married before age 18.

Child marriage is not only a violation of human rights, but it also has serious consequences for national development, ultimately stunting educational and vocational opportunities for a large sector of the population and for the future generations.

Considerable evidence points to the negative impact of child marriage on girls, their children and their communities: child marriage often results in heightened vulnerability of girls to physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse; increased rates of school dropout; early childbirth, which many times leads to poor health outcomes for both mother and child or even death, with pregnancy-related complications representing the leading cause of death among girls 15-19; increased risk of HIV transmission to married girls.

Consequently, interventions designed to specifically address child marriage actually impact a broader number of outcomes – health, education and economic empowerment. At the same time, programs focusing on providing safe spaces and putting assets in girls’ hands have shown to have a strong impact on delaying child marriage as well. In fact, when a girls has assets – and we are not talking massive resources, but simple things like a social network, specific skills, some knowledge, self-esteem, personal security… – if she has these resources to tap into, she then has a much greater chance of staying on course and not only delaying marriage but also positively impacting her overall future and the futures of her siblings. She becomes a hugely powerful agent of change.

Addressing child marriage also requires appropriate laws to be created and enforced, particularly at the subnational level, and changes in social norms and attitudes to be fostered through innovative programs.

But ultimately, eliminating child marriage is possible. We’ve seen it. Berhane Hewan, a program implemented by the Government of Ethiopia with support from UNFPA and the Population Council to prevent child marriage in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia has shown incredible changes in marriage age in relatively short periods of time.

Investing in adolescent girls and placing them at the center of international and national action is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do. The truth is, adolescent girls will either accelerate growth or perpetuate poverty. It all depends on where we choose to invest existing resources.

Photo Credit: David Snyder for ICRW and “Girl Speak”

For more information please visit:

Coalition for Adolescent Girls

International Center for Research on Women

Girl Up

The Girl Effect

The Girls Speak report

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Will Climate Change Cause Bhutan’s Glacial Lakes to Burst? (Video)

Global warming means melting glaciers. And in the small mountain kingdom of Bhutan, this means that glacial lakes are filling to capacity.  For the farmers who live and work in the valleys below, this means sudden, unpredictable, and potentially deadly flooding. Here is a video from the UN about an effort by Bhutanese to adapt to this scary new reality.  

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A Peek Inside the Obama Administration’s MDG Strategy

The UN Development Program held a panel discussion in the Millennium Development Goals at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC this afternoon.  What made this gathering particularly interesting was the presence of two representatives from the USAID, Thomas Beck and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, who in their opening remarks gave the audience a peek inside the yet-to-be-released Obama administration strategy for meeting the MDGS by 2015.  

Some background: When Obama addressed the General Assembly at the UN summit last year, he pledged American engagement at an MDG summit that will be held at the UN in September, saying: ” We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

Those lines set into motion an inter-agency process to create the “global plan” that the president promised he would bring to the summit.  That process picked up in earnest this spring, and it is now expected that the administration will release its MDG plan very soon. 

The two USAID representatives have been close to the formation of this policy and treated those of us in the audience to something of a preview.  Beck and Martinez-Diaz said that the policy will be guided by what it called “the four imperatives.” These are: innovation, sustainability, tracking outcomes, and transparency. They explained what they meant by each.

1) Innovation.  Some of the easier goals have already been reached or are on their way to being reached, said Beck. He described innovation as a “force multiplier” that ought to be leveraged for some of the harder to reach MDGs. “Innovation” means putting more resources behind new technologies and new methodologies.

2) Sustainability.  Making this strategy sustainable means approaching the MDGs as a broad-based development strategy, not simply as humanitarian relief.  Beck outlined five ways that sustainability will be built into the U.S. MDG strategy. 1) promoting broad based economic growth; 2) nurtuting good governance; 3) empowering women; 4) building sustainable “service delivery systems” like heath, sanitation and education services. 5) mitigating shocks like conflict or natural disaster.

3) Tracking Development Outcomes. Over the past few years, there has been tremendous progress on the kinds of analytic tools that researchers and governments can use to test if their development projects are actually working.  (E.g. see this recent New Yorker piece).  Martinez-Diaz said that USAID is looking to incorporate better capacity to evaluate its own programs and strategies, and also do a better job of collecting data and testing results.

4) Enhancing Mutual Accountability.  This means increasing both the transparency of aid commitments by the United States and the transparency of aid flows in the receiving countries.  Martinez-Diaz said that USAID is planning a few pilot projects in which they will test methods to do things like find the best way to release data and to find new ways to make sure that resources are managed responsibly and transparently. 

The USAID reps did not say when the policy review will be formally unveiled. But they did say it will happen “soon.” In the meantime, delegates at the UN are already in the process of negotiating a summit outcome document.  The sooner the Obama administration completes its review, the sooner American diplomats can show the rest of the world what they will bring to the table.

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Interview with Haiti President Rene Preval.

An in depth interview with Haitian president Rene Preval, conducted by Ray Suarez of PBS.  Not surprisingly, Preval laments the pace of reconstruction funding, particularly the slow pace of rubble removal.  Preval also raises concerns that too much funding is by-passing the government and going directly to NGOs.  This is similar criticism that UN skeptical envoy Bill Clinton has leveled at the reconstruction effort. Watch.

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