Violence in South Sudan, crisis for working mums and more

Authors: Jack Maycock
  • Posted on: July 29, 2020

This week our Social Impact Briefing covers violence in South Sudan, crisis for working mums, social platforms response to incitement, reduced budget for UK aid, Poland’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, and the campaign to halt Uighur slave labour.   

| Deteriorating conditions in South Sudan

Two UN agencies have warned of severe food shortages in the wake of a fresh outbreak of violence in the Jonglei region of South Sudan. Both agencies said that the most recent violence has already displaced over 60,000 people, halting farming, which will slash harvests for the rest of the year, and deprived communities of livestock as a source of nutrition. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that over 430 metric tonnes of their food supplies have been lost from looting, stressing that South Sudanese food insecurity can only be addressed by humanitarian assistance, which has become impossible due to the fighting. It is estimated that 6.5 million people—more than half the population—are facing severe acute food insecurity.

This area has already been badly hit by displacement, flooding, hunger, and COVID-19. Humanitarian agencies are stretched and working at their maximum limit to support vulnerable people. There are simply no reserves to meet the needs of thousands of civilians suffering further harm as a direct result of this violence,

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, David Shearer.   

| Crisis for working mums

Last week, a survey of 20,000 mothers and pregnant women highlighted the disastrous effect of the pandemic on the livelihoods of working mums. The survey found that 15% had been made redundant or expected to be, with 46% of them stating that a lack of childcare played a role in their redundancy. This is further reinforced by the 72% of mothers who have had to work a reduced number of hours because of childcare issues. 

School and nursery closures as a result of the pandemic have left mothers across the UK having to carry out their regular employment, while picking up the burden of childcare and home-schooling. Over 80% of survey respondents said they relied on childcare in order to work, but less than half said they had sufficient childcare. 

This lack of childcare is destroying women’s careers. They are being made redundant, they are being forced to cut their hours, and they are being treated negatively all because they are picking up the unpaid labour.

Joeli Brearley, Founder and Chief Executive, Pregnant Then Screwed

| Social platforms inadequate response to incitement 

British rapper Wiley went on a virulent antisemitic rant lasting over 12 hours on both Twitter and Instagram last week. The posts, which demonstrated both clear racism and incitement against the Jewish community, went out to the recording artist’s nearly half a million followers on each of the social platforms.  

I cannot understand how it is acceptable for someone with nearly 400 000 followers, who influences impressionable young minds, to continue to spout anti-Semitic hate for 12 hours with no intervention from Twitter or the law. There have to be consequences for this sort of incitement.

Karen Pollack, Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust. 

The crime unit for the Campaign Against Antisemitism has reported the matter to the Metropolitan Police as a criminal incitement to racial hatred, which can carry a substantial prison sentence. 

| No scrutiny for slashed aid budget

Last week, the government used the last day of Parliament’s summer term to announce a £2.9 billion cut to the UK’s aid budget. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said this was in anticipation of future “potential shrinkage” to the UK economy, ensuring 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income is still committed for foreign aid, as required by law. 

This major reduction in foreign aid comes just weeks after the government decided to fold the Department for International Development (DfID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). DfID was recently rated by the Aid Transparency Index as one of the most transparent aid agencies in the world, whereas the FCO is perceived to have a comparatively poor track record for accountability and transparency. 

Making policy announcements in the dying hours of a parliamentary session means that MPs don’t have the chance to question the move, and so governments can avoid immediate scrutiny.  Sarah Champion MP, who chairs the Commons International Development Committee, accused the government of ‘poor practice’ and raised questions as to the efficacy of the cuts. 

This isn’t just about honouring the law to which our government is bound, or the effective scrutiny of government policy. At a time where daily COVID-19 infections are spiking around the world, the UK has a moral responsibility to support the most vulnerable, and ensure any cuts to budgets are not depriving them of the sanitation, food, water and shelter they need to survive. 

| Poland continues removal of legal protections

Poland has announced that it will immediately pull out of the Istanbul Convention, a pan-European legal framework that exists to tackle violence against women and girls, covering domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, so-called honour-based violence and forced marriage.

Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the treaty contains “elements of an ideological nature that we consider harmful”, claiming that the convention necessitates schools to teach children about gender, infringing on the rights of parents. However, the European Commission has created a fact-checking document into the Convention which makes it abundantly clear that this is not the case.

There is no threat to the concept of family. The convention does not regulate family life or structures and states do not have to change the traditional understanding of families. The convention only states that traditions, culture or religion cannot be used as a justification for acts of violence against women. The word ‘gender’ is used in the convention to emphasise that women are more likely to experience violence because they are women. States are only required to protect victims’ rights without discrimination on any grounds, including sex, race, religion, language, age, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Tens of thousands of people descended on Polish cities to protest against the withdrawal which comes just weeks after the reelection of Andrzej Duda, who has promised to outlaw same-sex marriage and LGBT+ adoption rights.

| Do you own clothes made by Uighur slaves? 

A coalition of over 180 civil society groups and trade unions have joined together to pressure leading global brands to end their relationships with Chinese suppliers accused of using forced labour from the Xinjiang region’s minority Uighur population.

The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region has written to over 30 major retailers in response to an increasing body of evidence of human rights abuses in China.

The UN estimates that at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are currently being held in detention centres in Xinjiang, where 84% of Chinese cotton is produced. Reports of conditions in detention centres claim that people cannot leave, must undergo ideological training and abandon their religion, and are under constant surveillance. Many are forced to work whilst in detention.

The unavoidable fact is that all of us who shop at major retailers, from Amazon to Marks & Spencer, will have bought clothes made by detained Uighurs. The Coalition claims that almost 20% of cotton products sold globally has been produced with Uighur forced labour, amounting to the largest internment of an ethnic and religious minority since WWII.

Whilst the lobbying continues, we can all play our part. Take a look at this list of those suppliers identified by the Coalition. Tweet to demand action from those businesses you buy from. Or stop buying from them altogether. We are complicit if we choose to buy products created through the abuse of human rights. 

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