Marking this year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that education is the key to addressing discrimination and violence against girls and attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Educated girls are better equipped to protect themselves against life-threatening diseases such
as HIV/AIDS, are more likely to give birth to healthy babies who will survive and grow into adulthood, tend to delay marriage and are more likely to have fewer children.
“Despite progress, we continue to live in a world where millions of girls remain out of school, engaged in exploitative labour, are trafficked, are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and are targets of sexual violence,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.
“Economic development is enhanced in societies where both girls and boys are educated,” she said. “We need accelerated efforts to help ensure that girls go to school and can learn and study in safe environments.”
The international community has strongly backed Liberia’s post-conflict plans by pledging to forgive $700 mn of the nation’s foreign debt. This relief from the US and other major creditors will enable Liberia to use the resources for development, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said at the Liberia Partner’s Forum, hosted by the World Bank, in Washington, DC, in February. The forum also brought promises of grants from the US ($200 mn over two years), the European Commission ($100 mn), Ireland ($20 mn), Britain ($19 mn) and Sweden ($16 mn). The response signaled “strong endorsement” of Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction plans, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf commented.
In addition, the world’s largest steel company, Arcelor Mittal, has announced new investments of $1 bn to mine Liberia’s substantial iron ore reserves and rehabilitate related infrastructure. That decision, said the president, could spark interest in the country by other transnational corporations — it “sent a message that not only is Liberia back, but is back in business.”
On the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence — the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve its freedom — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the country for setting an important precedent for the rest of the continent. “Ghana can look back proudly at that moment, knowing that their nation’s early independence and statehood were an inspiration to the freedom struggles of people all over Africa,” said Mr. Ban, who was represented in Accra by his Special Adviser on Africa Legwaila Joseph Legwaila.
Ghana has since also played a leading role in peacekeeping worldwide, as one of the top 10 countries contributing troops to UN peace operations. Ghanaians have served in UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Timor-Leste, Lebanon, Liberia and Sierra Leone, among other countries. “Many Ghanaians have made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in the cause of peace,” said Mr. Ban. “To them and to your nation, the United Nations owes a debt of gratitude.”
More than 50,000 activists descended on Nairobi, Kenya, in January for the seventh World Social Forum (WSF). “The issues that emerged were very important — water, human rights, the question of illegitimate debt, housing and many more,” said Ms. Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner and an environmental and women’s rights activist in her native Kenya. “I am sure we have planted the seeds of hope. But the challenge remains of what we shall do when we go back home.”
The first WSF was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, as a counterforce to the World Economic Forum, a gathering of top business and political leaders held annually in Davos, Switzerland. It has since grown into an annual event at which activists critical of the impact of globalization seek to mobilize public support around issues of economic, environmental and social justice. The delegates in Nairobi, who came from more than 100 countries, met under an “open space” at Nairobi’s Moi International Sports Complex. By design, the forum, whose slogan is “Another world is possible,” functions without officers, spokespeople or resolutions.
In Nairobi, the activists took their dialogue, poetry, drama and protests to the city’s 2.5 million slum dwellers as a show of solidarity with the poor. “To fight the numerous African problems like poverty, it was clear that with the wealth of Africa’s resource persons and social actors, we must start with local communities . . . offering people in African regions the possibility of playing a leading role in their own recovery,” noted Ms. Sheila Muwanga, deputy director of the non-governmental Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. “The so-called ‘poor people’ — yet very intelligent and innovative — must be consulted and heard in order to tap ideas on how to preserve their common goods . . . as well as strengthen human, social and political rights in every country.”