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The Guardian

“Am I a girl, or a mother?” Rachana Sunar opens her speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum quoting one of the child brides she has been supporting in the past four years. It is poignant to think that a 15-year-old girl could be confused about such things, but in Nepal, 40.7% of girls are forced into early adulthood by getting married by the age of 18.

The law says that the minimum age to get married is 20, therefore child marriage in Nepal cannot be tackled from a legal perspective, but by changing cultural norms and traditions. According to Sunar: “Dialogue is a process to break the silence.”

Sunar was born in 1994 in a village in mid-western Nepal, where she grew up with her six sisters, mother and father. At 15, while still in school through a scholarship programme, Sunar was told by her parents she would marry a man she had never met before. She escaped child marriage by tricking her parents into thinking that if she dropped out of school they’d have to pay the past three years of her scholarship.

“The greatest inspirations were the challenges I experienced in my own life,” Sunar says. She witnessed years of abuse by her father to her mother for giving birth only to girls. Her experiences made her determined to show her father and the community “girls are just as valuable as boys”.

In Nepal, she explains, many girls lack ambition and determination because they have seen generations of women passing from dependence on their fathers to dependence on their husbands: “They have no will to be independent, to study or to get a job and they don’t know about their career, because the authority of their lives is in someone else’s hands.” Read More



Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit next week, discussions are ramping up within the aid community about how to open up to smaller, local actors. High-level politicking may make wholesale change difficult, but experts tell Devex that there are ways of putting reforms into practice at the grass-roots level, where programs are unfolding every day.

As the eyes and the ears of their organizations, aid workers have the power to re-orientate and reorganize things from the ground. Devex spoke with three humanitarian professionals, including the author of a recent report, to suggest six practical steps aid workers can take to work toward reform.

Christina Bennett, co-author of the Overseas Development Institute’s report “Time to Let Go,” suggests one simple tweak: drop the words “development” and “humanitarian” and think in terms of short-, mid- and long-term instead. Madara Hettiarachchi, head of humanitarian programs Asia and Middle East at Christian Aid, believes that preparedness is the key to a more inclusive response. Saman A. Majed — general director of REACH, a local NGO in Iraq working with refugees in the area with partners such as UNHCR, Christian Aid and Oxfam — thinks that it is fundamental that the relationships between local and international organizations become sustainable and reciprocal. Read More. 


Words In the Bucket

In a recent article about Independent Journalism, Libyan Freelance Journalist Ayat Mneina said in a that she was driven by one idea: that the truth would speak for itself and she simply had to deliver the facts. When working in a risky environment, many journalists are driven by the willingness to get the truth out there, to give a voice to those who do not have one because they live under oppressive governments and corrupt politicians. Journalists who report under dictatorships, oppressors and authoritarian rulers risk their lives every day to do their jobs.

Sudan is ranked number 174 out of 180 countries in the press freedom index, making it one of the most oppressive places to work as a journalist. President Omar al-Bashir, who has been ruling the country for almost 30 years, is indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) harasses journalists with threats and censoring articles or closes down editorial offices, as recently happened to daily newspaper Al-Sudani. As theCommittee to Protect Journalists reports, agents of the NISS “appeared at the newspaper’s printers in Khartoum last March and seized all copies of the daily, which had just been printed and was being prepared for distribution”.

In light of the World Press freedom day, thanks to the help of our partners atNuba Reports, Words in the Bucket talked with a journalist based in Khartoum about what it means to do this job where press freedom is so low and the risks to reporting are so high.

Why did you choose to become a reporter and why do you think reporting matters?

I chose to become a reporter because I’ve always wanted to work in this field. At the university level, I studied journalism because it is the only thing I’ve ever imagined myself doing, and worked for the student newspaper. Writing and recording stories is a passion to me. Coming from a country like Sudan, I believe that reporters have a huge role to play. They can tell many underreported stories, especially that the country is in a state of conflict. Documentation, as well as revealing the truth, is part of my role as a reporter in the peacebuilding process.

In a country where press freedom is extremely low, what are the main challenges you face as a reporter/journalist?

There are many challenges that impact the work environment as well as the livelihoods of Sudanese journalists. Firstly, the government continues to confiscate newspapers and, after tedious work on our part as journalists, censor our stories before they are published. Confiscation of newspapers hurts publishers economically, and this leads them to fire the journalists who are seen as daring. Journalists also lose their livelihoods and are forced out of the market when Sudan’s security apparatus bans them from writing in all print newspapers. Some are lucky enough to take on administrative roles at their former newspapers.

Secondly, journalists have a very difficult time when it comes to accessing information, as most information is considered “a security threat.” This means that it is very dangerous to access public records, and it makes reporting more difficult since sources are very scared of talking to journalists. Many journalists are now in court or facing charges for trying to reveal information that the government considers as ‘crossing the line’ — which can be anything from reporting on the conflict to writing about sexual harassment.

Thirdly, the repressive environment impacts the morale of journalists. It hurts their ability to produce quality work, and many are working other jobs to make ends meet. Many in the field have spoken about the current low standards of journalism.

What are the main punishments inflicted by the government? How do they keep you from doing your work?

Other than having their work censored, journalists are vulnerable to losing their livelihoods if they pursue any topic deemed controversial. Newspapers are punished for hiring daring journalists when the government confiscates printed copies and advertising suffers. In fact, over ten newspapers have been shut down by the security apparatus over the last five years, and this means that dozens of journalists were out of work almost overnight.

Moreover, they are distracted from their profession as they are summoned for questioning, subjected to trials, etc. Security agents summoned dozens of journalists last year, subjecting some of them to harassment and intimidation. Sudan is also known for imprisoning journalists. In 2013, Amel Habbani (winner of the 2014 Ginetta Sagan Award by Amnesty USA) was detained by the security apparatus for over ten days for covering an anti-government protest. Journalists have faced imprisonment almost every year in Sudan and the time spent in detention ranges from a few hours to a few months.

How has Nuba Reports helped in your work?

Nuba Reports is of great help because it is one of the very few venues available for journalists from Sudan to tell underreported stories or stories that will never be published in Sudanese and non-Sudanese media outlets. Nuba Reports is also an inclusive news source as the writers are very diverse. It is also inclusive because the sources interviewed, unlike other media outlets, are not just experts or politicians, but normal citizens who get to have their voices amplified.

There are mixed allegations on press freedom from within Sudan, some say it has gotten better, and some do not. Do you think that things are changing for journalists in Sudan? And why?

I would say that it has gotten much worse since the 2011 secession of South Sudan for a number of reasons.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was instrumental in opening up space for civil society and journalism. Many independent newspapers were established and there was a lot of room to write and learn in the journalism field. After the CPA ended and South Sudan separated, the Sudanese government turned more dictatorial as it had shaped a better image in front of the international community through the 2010 general elections and facilitating the referendum without any conflict. The attention of the international community left Sudan and shifted to South Sudan, leaving the government with the chance to return to the way things were in the 1990s. Many newspapers were quickly shut down, journalists were arrested and many were forced to flee Sudan.

The ongoing conflicts in Sudan have also contributed to less press freedom. In 2011, instead of one conflict, the government of Sudan started fighting on three different fronts (Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan) and this meant that a large part of the country was under “emergency laws.” The conflicts led to more political repression and polarization. Any journalist who wanted to write about the conflict was labelled as a “rebel affiliate.” This polarization meant that newspapers could not properly cover the conflict and that the whole media landscape came under the tight grip of the security apparatus.

Another factor that has contributed to declining press freedom is economic deterioration as a result of the secession and the ongoing conflicts. It has led to rapid deterioration in all aspects of life, especially social services. The main impacts are:

  • The economic woes has made it difficult for independent newspapers to survive as the running cost becomes impossible to meet. Newspapers were pushed to increase their prices, making them “expensive” for the majority of the public and with no advertising revenue, many journalists are underpaid.
  • The economic situation of journalists have made them vulnerable to corruption as some have started receiving bribes from the government to write about specific issues and so on.
  • Deterioration of social services means that dissent has been on the rise. For the past few years, Sudan has witnessed a protest movement and journalists have been increasingly intimidated to not cover such events. In fact, in 2013, when over 200 protesters were killed over a period of three days, independent journalists announced a strike saying that they cannot stay silent and they face too much censorship to tell the truth.

Sudan is one of many countries where journalists risk their livelihoods and their lives to give a voice to those who do not have one, and to deliver the truth about their governments and societies. Today, we should honour all journalists and respect the incredible effort that they make to stay confident and driven by their beliefs and passion.

Author’s notes: The identity of the journalist interviewed remains anonymous for security reasons.

Originally published at on May 3, 2016.



Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the World Food Program announced a landmark agreement that centers on smallholder farmers, a group that represents half of the 80 million people the agency serves each year.

In partnership with stakeholders from public and private sectors, the WFP’s Patience Procurement Platform aims to connect 1.5 million smallholders to commercial markets and supply chains, rendering them more independent.

How does the platform work? To find out more, Devex met with Mahadevan Ramachandran, deputy director of procurement within the WFP supply chain division, who is overseeing the platform’s development. Read More



Mission Innovation, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Paris climate change conference, put innovation firmly in the spotlight. Finding innovative ways to tackle climate change, however, is not news for the three Rome-based United Nations agencies.

More than 2.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. And this makes them extremely reliant on environmental conditions, and therefore vulnerable to climate change. Stepping up efforts in the food security, nutrition and agricultural sector has thus become imperative.

Figures from the World Food Program reflect the extent of the problem. In the past 10 years, WFP has worked in more than 20 countries with five emergency or recovery operations addressing climate disasters, according to Richard Choularton, chief of WFP’s Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programs Unit.

Devex sat down with three climate experts from the Rome-based agencies and learned three key ways they are using climate finance innovatively. Read More



In an emergency, the primary response to a crisis is a humanitarian one.

This is by default a short-term response, when most of the problems are long-term, according to Luca Alinovi, senior emergency and rehabilitation coordinator at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

But with resilience going mainstream in recent years, the tables have turned and some forward-thinking global development professionals are proposing a wholly new approach to previously intractable problems.

An indication of how resilience has risen to prominence is its implicit and explicit inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, target 1.5 is dedicated to building resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations, reducing their vulnerability to shocks and disasters.

The real proof of concept, however, only comes when theory turns into practice and resilience-based programs are applied in the field, where practitioners can get a sense of what is successful and what is not.

People-centric approach

Until recently, the general rhetoric behind emergency intervention has been that disasters only have a negative impact on the affected population. However, according to Alinovi, this is not always the case: “Yes, there are a lot of people suffering, but there are also people who are doing better, and we don’t look at those who do better to understand what we need to do, in turn, for this to continue.” Read More


Words In the Bucket

The Nuba Mountains are situated in Central Sudan, in the South Kordofan state, and it is one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the country. This is probably one of reasons why there has been so little coverage of these atrocities, which have been going on for four years. Kristof and his colleague, photojournalist Adam B Ellick, had to cross into the region through rebel lines, facing dangerous road conditions and risking their lives. Thanks to their work, they have documented one of the worst atrocities that the world has never heard of. The video also documents the story of Dr Tom Catena, who has been in the region for eight years and is the only doctor in the hospital (hosting 435 beds) as well as being the sole responsible for the lives of half a million people. Dr Catena has to work in treacherous conditions, finding inventive ways to cure his patients with what he has available, as the government is blocking the area from accessing medicine and aid. Sometimes working with no water and no electricity, he does what he can. He makes 350$ a month.

The tragic history of this four-year war began in 2011 when Ahmed Haroun, indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide, was elected governor of the South Kordofan region in the general elections. Local leaders claim that the vote was constructed, and shortly after this election, fighting began in the region. Although the fighting is between the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N)- a rebel army with many thousands of soldiers that is strongly supported by local people- and the government, it is civilians that pay the highest price.

The Sudanese government is purposely-targeting civilians in villages and hospitals, apparently to make the area uninhabited so that there is no one left to support the rebels. In January, the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Nuba was targeted and bombed, causing a suspension of all medical activities and the evacuation of medical staff. Repeated bombings in the region are preventing the safe operation of medical activities, and depriving the population of their right to life saving care. Dr Catena’s hospital was bombed 11 times since he began his work in the region. In addition, reporting of the conflict is illegal in Sudan, as the government has closed off the region from any contact with the rest of the country, and the world.

Interviewed by Nuba Reports– an organization of local journalists reporting the conflict and providing content for many international news agencies-Shadia Omar Osman , a woman living in a populated village in the Nuba mountains blames Omar al-Bashid (who is also indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide) for the bombings, stating:

“I think he is angry at the army, but the civilians have nothing to do with it”

Her village was bombed by the government with cluster bombs, which luckily did not work and did not explode. The bombs would have likely killed her and her neighbours, as they hid in fox holes which they built to protect themselves from the bombings. According to Nuba Reports, 3740 bombs have been dropped on civilian targets since 2012.

Left to deal with the situation by themselves, the Nuba people are enduring persecution by the Sudanese government, but enough is enough. It is time for international governments to step up and condemn these atrocities, as mentioned by Mukesh Kapila in 2012:

“The United Nations could initiate a more serious political process on Sudan to tackle the underlying causes of the conflict. Instead, its desultory and fragmented efforts play straight into the hands of Khartoum, which is adept at divide and rule tactics. The UN, African Union, and Arab League could join together to put pressure on Khartoum. Meanwhile, more African countries could follow Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi in showing their disapproval of Bashir, and the African Union could toughen up its act. In addition, all countries with ambassador level diplomatic presence in Khartoum could withdraw this, sending a strong signal that they will not do business as usual with a regime headed by an indicted war criminal.”

Not much has been done since the war has begun, and civilians keep on dying. A most touching part of the NYT video was to see children, hiding in caves during bombings, able to reproduce the sounds of different bombs with too much precision. Children are not supposed to know these things.

Watch the video here

A/N: Please click on this link to donate to Dr Catena’s work, and spread the news.

originally posted in Words in the Bucket


Words In the Bucket

Charlie Hebdo has become the face of freedom of expression worldwide. The hashtag “Je Suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” was used millions of times and spread around the internet like wildfire. It expresses solidarity and support for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but it primarily represents support for freedom of speech and against armed attacks. Together with the solidarity and unity that this horrific event has brought, there has also been a lot of hypocricy. World leaders from Qatar, Israel, Russia, Germany, US marched in the name of freedom of expression at the Charlie Hebdo rally in Paris. Many of these countries imprison and harass journalists and bloggers: there are hundreds of Charlie Hebdos in the world, and their story must be told.

In 2014, even before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the western world was forced to wake up. The public beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff and the imprisonment and sentence to 10 years of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste had already attracted attention on the issue of freedom of expression and press freedom. However, mainstream media arbitrarily covers stories because of their appeal and there are many stories that do not make the headlines.


Pedro Canché, Mexican, imprisoned since August 2014

In the last three years, journalism has become an extremely dangerous job: journalists, bloggers and cartoonists all over the world are harassed persecuted and sometimes killed for doing their job and trying to document facts. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 91 journalists and media workers were killed in 2014. In the last month only, more than 40 journalists were either killed, imprisoned or persecuted because of their profession.

Just a few days ago Raif Badawi , a Saudi blogger facing a 10 year sentence, received the first 50 of the 1000 lashes he is to obtain as punishment. Other than lashing being a completely medieval method of punishing a human being, it is unthinkable that Badawi is facing such a sentence all because he called for open debate on the way the Saudi society is evolving. The flogging will resume on Friday.


Amanuel Asrat, Eritrean, in jail since 2001 with no charge

On the 23rdof December, Marco Debarros Leopoldo Guerra, a Brazilian blogger who was critical of local authorities and accused them of corruption, was gunned down whilst returning to his home in the evening.

On the 3 January in Northern Nigeria 2000 people, mostly women children and elders, were killed by Islamism extremists group Boko Haram. Other than the fact that the world was concentrated on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, another reason why there was barely any coverage of the massacre is that the group has been targeting journalists, and therefore they were not there to report the facts.


Yang Tongyan, Chinese, imprisoned since 2005

A few days ago in Cuba, a group of Cuban dissidents were arrested before participating to a demonstration for freedom of expression in their country.

Yang Tongyand, a Chinese freelance journalist, has been in prison since 2005 on the anti-state charge. Yang was a well-known writer and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. He was a frequent contributor to U.S.-based websites banned in China, including Boxun News and Epoch Times. He often wrote critically about the ruling Communist Party and advocated for the release of jailed Internet writers.

Last August, in Ferguson, journalists from the Washington Post were arrested and harassed by police.

The list could go on and on.

It is important that between a hashtag and another, people gain as much knowledge as possible about the cause they claim to be fighting for, and take action by signing petitions or demonstrating amongst other things, to defend this sacred human right they hold so dear.

For more information:

To sign the petition to stop the flogging of Badawi:


Words In the Bucket

Today marks the 37th year since Steve Bantu Biko’s funeral. On this day, in 1977, more than 10000 people attended his funeral – including diplomats from 13 countries. The attendance number would have been higher if the police had not stopped many who were attempting to enter the funeral to pay their respects.

A revolutionary, a father and a doctor, Biko was 30 years old and one of the pioneers of the Anti- Apartheid movement. He died in prison because of brain damage caused by the beatings he received by the prison officials. The official cause of death declared by the racist government in charge at the time was that he died because of a hunger strike. He was one of many to die in prison by the hands of the officials since the 1962 ‘Detention Without Trial’ convention was introduced.

The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), of which Biko was a leader, was a movement that urged black people to be aware of the value of their humanity, and to feel pride in being black. Part of the idea was that a ‘psychological’ liberation  was an essential step towards black liberation. A fight for the political and social change alone, were not enough to bring liberation forwards.

Years of oppression and injustice had inevitably resulted in a huge inferiority complex felt by many black people in South Africa, even though they were the majority. The movement stimulated many to confront the cultural and psychological realities of the Apartheid regime, seeking black participation in society and in political struggles. For example, whilst many movements looked for whites to cooperate with them to achieve civil rights, the BCM wanted blacks to lead in the elimination of the regime and obtain rights for the black South Africans.

The movement was often criticized as having very little impact on policies and laws, and therefore often labeled as ineffective. However, I think it is a mistake to underestimate the significance of the intellectual aspect that comes with wanting change; in a society where most trails of identity and pride for black South Africans were trashed by the racist government, it was a crucial first step in regaining consciousness and an identity.

A movement with a similar approach is the Gay Pride, which has taught us that true change comes when people are not afraid to speak up, when people are aware and conscious of their human and civil rights. Until the first half of the 19th century, homosexuality was closeted. Homosexuals were individuals without a collective conscience. To declare one’s homosexuality, or to be ‘outed’ meant serious consequences in the workplace, at home and in society.

Women’s rights movements have also grown from women’s collective awareness of their own rights. Not to be underestimated is also the huge importance of the feeling of support that people get in being part of a movement.

Yesterday, I saw a documentary following the biggest climate change march in history that happened just a few days ago. In it, the power of people’s collective action and solidarity was highlighted as a huge catalyst for change. People all over the world marched to show that they are aware of what is happening to our planet, and that they demand change. If we become aware of what we can do, then there is no stopping us.

In a country that offered black people very few opportunities, Steve Bantu Biko managed to raise his voice and urge black people to be proud of their ‘blackness’, to expect respect and freedom and to be conscious of what they deserved. It takes courage and perseverance to follow the pursuit of justice in a society where you are given barely any space, and it takes much more to have thousands of people respect and follow you through that path.

History has taught us that humanity is capable of changing the unchangeable. We are the ones responsible for the way the world is now (good and bad) and we are the ones responsible for changing the things we want changed.

If you want to change the world, first change yourself. The rest will follow.


Words In the Bucket

“Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too”. Emma Watson’s speech at the launch of the campaign ‘He for She’ has gained a lot of attention in the last month, and it seems the 24 year old has managed to put the point across.

The point of the campaign is that men should also be involved in the fight for women’s rights, plain and simple. The Gender Equality movement has had women as its main advocates since it started; it is only natural that, as women, we feel more strongly about defending our own rights, I definitely don’t blame the men for their lack of participation.

Only recently, men have started participating in the discourse and played a more active role, but to a very limited extent. It seems like Gender Equality is an issue many men don’t feel they should be talking about: especially those who believe in women’s rights often think that having a strong opinion about it, or an active role in defending them, would be overstepping the ‘one thing’ that women are actually leading. Around me for example, I have not seen a huge interest by the men in my life to actively participate in the fight for ‘Gender Equality”, and I know its not because they don’t believe it is right or have no interest in it at all, but because they think it’s “our thing” and they shouldn’t intervene.

Undoubtedly, this defeats the purpose. If we want equal rights, then we should have equal opportunities to participate in this social and political activity, and we should stop trying to define roles, or place pedestals everywhere. We are all on the ground. I think the idea tackled in the campaign is of great importance, and that men should stand up for this.

Now, this can be taken in two ways. The first is to think that this is an outrageous misinterpretation of the gender equality fight, that it sends the message of excluding women, rather painting a picture of a man telling a woman “I’ll take it from here, sweetheart” as quoted by a journalist in the Guardian. However I think this interpretation simply doesn’t grasp the point.The point has with no doubt been understood, so much that on the 29th of September, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, announced that Iceland will host a ‘Men Only” conference on gender equality, with a special focus on violence on women.

The second way of interpreting this would be to think that this is a delightful way of making sure that men are ‘physically’ introduced in the discourse. They will have to sit in a room and discuss these sorts of issues; there will be no escaping. Moreover, let’s presume that of the people that will attend the conference, many will have to prepare themselves before the event, as gender might not be an area of their expertise (who wants to go to a conference unprepared?). This will mean more men will have more detailed information on the issues that surround gender equality, gender violence and women’s rights, and therefore they will have a fuller understanding of what we women have been talking about all these years. Exposing men so directly to these issues is an important step towards a successful and equal fight towards gender equality.

If this is the case, whether this will be a successful conference all depends on the actual logistics and agenda of the event, my questions for now are: Will women be in the panel? Will there be women giving talks and telling their stories? Will women experts lead the conference on the issues and only have men participate?

I think it’s a great initiative and I hope it will bring men to actually find a true interest in gender issues and to spread the word to other men. This is not just our (women) fight; it is your fight too.