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Billions pledged to tackle gender inequality at UN forum | Women’s rights and gender equality

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Billions of pounds will be pledged to support efforts to tackle gender inequality this week at the largest international conference on women’s rights in more than 25 years.

The Generation Equality Forum, hosted in Paris by UN Women and the governments of France and Mexico, will launch plans to radically speed up progress over the next five years.

After two years of consultation between governments, feminist and women’s rights groups, philanthropic foundations, the private sector and UN agencies, the three-day forum takes place amid concerns the pandemic has exacerbated a crisis in women’s rights.

An estimated 47 million more women will fall into extreme poverty due to Covid, according to the World Economic Forum. And the International Labour Organization has said unemployment for women rose by 9 million in 2020 compared to 2019 and is projected to increase by another 2 million in 2021. The pattern for men is different – they are projected to see unemployment decrease in 2021.

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris
Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris. The foundation has announced $2.1bn in new funding for projects to support women’s rights over the next five years. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

“The world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow. Now is the chance to reignite a movement and deliver real change,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which announced a new commitment of $2.1bn (£1.5bn) over five years to economic empowerment, health and family planning, and accelerating women in leadership. “The beauty of our fight for gender equality is that every human being will gain from it.”

French Gates said that while there has been some progress since the fourth world conference on women brought 47,000 activists to Beijing in 1995, nowhere in the world are women on equal footing with men. Waves of opposition to women’s rights have emerged, and structural barriers still exist.

Other pledges of funding, and legislative changes, will be announced in six areas: gender-based violence, economic justice, sexual and reproductive health rights, climate justice, technology and innovation and feminist movements and leadership.

A compact addressing women’s role in peace and security and gender equality in humanitarian programming is also due to be unveiled.

In response to the pandemic exacerbating digital inequities, the Global Fund for Women will launch its System Reboot campaign to support feminist technology innovators in the developing world and to “mobilise technology as a force for gender justice”.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron (centre) talks during a discussion at the Generation Equality Forum. with (from left): Élisabeth Moreno France’s equality minister; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women; UN secretary general, António Guterres; and president of the European council, Charles Michel.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron (centre), during a discussion at the Generation Equality Forum with (from left): Élisabeth Moreno, France’s equality minister; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women; UN secretary general, António Guterres; and president of the European council, Charles Michel. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

The Ford Foundation, which last year sold its social bonds to raise cash to help tackle the economic fallout of the pandemic, will pledge $420m (£300m) over five years. Nicolette Naylor, a programme director at the foundation, said talk about gender equality had not been matched by action. “As some parts of the world start to emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that gender equality is at the heart of building back better. It’s time to stop talking and start funding the organisations that are driving change and the necessary progress on global gender equality.”

Heads of state from Sweden, Finland, Argentina, Kenya, South Africa and Tunisia will join French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in person. While online, US vice-president, Kamala Harris, is due to speak and former US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is also scheduled to appear.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said the forum was a reaction to the slowness of achieving both the Beijing action plan and the UN’s sustainable development goals, and made more urgent by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women.

“Beijing was not financed and we’ve struggled in the last 25 years to implement it,” she said.

A food seller at an International Women’s Day celebration in Lagos, Nigeria
A food seller at an event to mark International Women’s Day in Lagos, Nigeria. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/EPA

But there have been concerns over how the money will be spent. Hakima Abbas, co-executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, said: “We have no sense yet of where that money is going, or to who, or for what.

“It’s really great that we are talking about billions being committed, especially because the resources were part of the problem of Beijing. There has not been political will or the financial backing to make the [Beijing] platform for action’s implementation possible.”

She added: “The key drivers of change are feminist movements. If you don’t have strong feminist movements you’re not going to drive gender equality. If these billions go to private/public partnerships, that’s not going to be catalytic. You need to make sure the majority of the funding goes to feminist movements.”

Some of the hundreds of activists recruited globally to ensure young people participated in discussions have also expressed frustrations.

A young feminist manifesto, published earlier this year, said unequal power dynamics and disregarded opinions resulted in young people “finding it very difficult to participate in these spaces, not to mention to co-lead and co-own them”.

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

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Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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Jury calls for sweeping reforms to Canada’s approach to femicide | Canada

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A community in rural Canada has made a series of transformative recommendations at a coroner’s inquest that – if adopted – could position the country’s most populous province as a leader in preventing femicides, particularly those carried out by an intimate partner.

The jury in Renfrew County, Ontario, just west of Canada’s capital, delivered 86 recommendations this week in a unanimous verdict on the deaths of three local women, who were killed by the same man on a single morning nearly seven years ago.

The boldest was to have the Ontario government “formally declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic” that requires “significant financial investment” and deep systemic change to remedy.

Since the triple homicide on 22 September 2015, 111 women in Ontario have been murdered by their current or former partner, the inquest heard. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada.

The jury also recommended official prominence be given to the word “femicide” – to have it be listed as a manner of death by coroners in the province and added to the criminal code of Canada to underscore the misogyny beneath the killings of women and girls because of their gender.

“A lot of the recommendations are groundbreaking,” said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on intimate partner violence in Ontario who testified at the inquest.

The inquest, which heard from nearly 30 witnesses over three weeks, was meant to examine the systems that broke down in the weeks, months and years leading up to the day Basil Borutski got in a borrowed car, drove to Carol Culleton’s cottage and strangled her with a coaxial cable, then moved on to Anastasia Kuzyk’s house where he shot her to death and then to Nathalie Warmerdam’s farm where he shot her too.

All three women had previously been in an intimate relationship with Borutski. He had been in and out of jail for assaulting Kuzyk and Warmerdam and was on probation at the time of the murders and subject to a weapons ban.

Borutski had been flagged as “high risk” two years before the triple homicide, the inquest heard, and exhibited 30 out of 41 risk factors identified by Ontario’s domestic violence death review committee – including a deep sense of victimhood and the ability to convince new partners he was innocent and unfairly targeted by police in his prior convictions.

Police witnesses told the jury Borutski was very good at “manipulation” and constantly flouted court orders, including never showing up to a mandated partner assault response program.

The jury heard from family members, including Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie’s daughter, who painted a nuanced and empathetic picture of Borutski as a troubled stepfather. It heard from a frontline worker who described Warmerdam and Kuzyk’s constant terror that Borutski would kill them or harm their family.

The inquest jury demanded decision-makers make “significant financial investments” in ending violence, have police all use the same records management system and create clear guidelines for flagging high-risk abusers. It urged the study of disclosure protocols like Clare’s Law, which is used in the United Kingdom and in parts of Canada to allow a concerned person to check if their partner has a police record of intimate partner violence.

Valerie Warmerdam welcomed the verdict, but underscored the need for action on the part of governments who will receive these recommendations in the wake of the inquest. “I want change,” she said. “These recommendations are a good start, if they are actioned. That’s a big if.”

Kirsten Mercer, counsel to End Violence Against Women Renfrew County (EVA), noted that it was the jury themselves who added the epidemic recommendation among 13 others, including creating a registry of high-risk offenders akin to the sex offenders registry, and exploring electronic monitoring of those charged or found guilty of an IPV-related offence.

“The jury has asked that we tell the truth about intimate partner violence,” Mercer told the media after the verdict. “The jury has asked that we put our money where our mouth is.”

The idea to add femicide to the coroner’s list of manners of death and to the Criminal Code of Canada came from the joint submission. Countries in Latin America have already added this as a criminal offence, she said, and should be looked to as a model for how to do it here.

Accountability was a priority for this jury, Mercer said. The verdict called for the creation of an accountability body akin to the United Kingdom’s domestic abuse commissioner and a specific committee to make sure this verdict does not just languish in decision-makers’ inboxes.

“We are not going to wait forever any more.”

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Apollo Go: The Beijing neighborhood with robotaxis and driverless delivery service | International

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Book a robotaxi on a mobile app and it will pick you up in less than 10 minutes. It’s 2:00pm on a Thursday in Beijing and our ride is going smoothly with no human intervention so far. “Sometimes we have to speed up manually to avoid causing traffic jams. Bicycles and motorcycles often cause traffic congestion because they ignore traffic signals,” says the driver supervising our trip, as the steering wheel magically moves by itself.

The 37-square-mile (60 square kilometers) Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD) is where the country’s first pilot project to use autonomous vehicles on public roads is happening. Located in a secluded district in the southeastern part of the city, BJHAD is the test site for a futuristic plan that envisions turning Beijing into the standard-bearer for artificial intelligence (AI). The Apollo robotaxis manufactured by Baidu and the autonomous delivery vehicles manufactured by JD.com (aka Jingdong) zip around a tranquil utopia that stands in stark contrast to the hectic jungle of downtown traffic.

“[A robotaxi] can handle an average of 15 daily bookings, most of which are trips between a subway stop and an office,” said the cab driver. In November 2021, Baidu and Pony.ai became the first companies authorized to operate a fleet of 100 robotaxis in BJHAD. As of April 2022, humans are no longer required to sit in the driver’s seat of the robotaxi, which is allowed to travel at a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour (60 kph). The service is free for now, although the two companies are commercially licensed.

Baidu, China’s leading search engine, is diversifying its business by commercializing its AI and intelligent transportation technology. Its Apollo Go program is currently operating in seven cities, and the company plans to expand to 65 cities by 2025, and 100 cities by 2030. Unlike the Waymo robotaxis that Google began operating in 2020 in the US, Baidu’s vehicles circulate during the day, enabling them to collect more data.

Although Baidu has topped the list of Chinese companies with the most patents for AI applications over the last four years, e-commerce giant JD.com is the leader in the autonomous delivery vehicle space. In 2016, Jingdong established its headquarters in BJHAD, and its delivery robots now dominate the streets. These vehicles mainly transport orders from the 7FRESH smart supermarket chain operated by JD that combines e-commerce and traditional commerce. “Instead of people going out to buy products, we deliver them,” said Yang Han. Who works in Jingdong’s communications department.

JD’s applies big data analytical methods to the information collected from more than 400 million annual users, and utilizes it to tailor inventories to the specific needs of each 7FRESH physical stores location. The entire 7FRESH inventory is available in the app. The delivery robots, which travel at nine miles per hour (15 kph) and can carry 220-440 pounds (100-200 kilos), deliver orders in less than an hour within a three-mile (five kilometer) range.

JD employees rely on smaller robots to send documents and other items between offices in 10 minutes or less. “They speed up the work and saves us from having to run around from one place to another,” said Yang Han. The robots are able to operate elevators and open doors by themselves as they follow their delivery routes.

The robots can recognize their surroundings and avoid obstacles with a 98% accuracy rate for small objects. Information streams in through cameras and other sensors, while the navigation algorithm pinpoints their location and plans routes. JD’s cloud-based simulation platform accumulates data from every trip to continuously improve the robots’ capabilities.

The Covid pandemic spurred JD to accelerate its autonomous delivery program, enabling it to deploy small and large delivery vehicles to the Chinese cities most affected by the pandemic over the last two and a half years. In early 2020, during the peak of the pandemic in Wuhan, these delivery vehicles traveled a total of 4,225 miles (6,800 kilometers) and delivered more than 13,000 packages.

In a country where low unemployment is one of the main pillars of its social stability goals, the move to autonomous vehicles may prove to be risky in the long run. However, Yang Han insists that the objective is to “achieve a synergy between humans and machines… The goal is to take the pressure off delivery drivers and allow them to focus on customer service and vehicle maintenance. The couriers don’t need to transport the goods. Instead, they wait by the curb for the robots to arrive, and then walk the goods to the customer’s door. “

BJHAD is part of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area, the first place in China specifically geared to AI research. The country aspires to become the world leader in AI by 2030 and to leave the “factory for the world” image behind for good.

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