Palestine: Israeli restrictions bring suffering

Studies by the UN World Food Program (WFP) and the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, reported by the BBC and LabourStart, respectively, show that food shortages, unemployment and internal tensions are up sharply in Gaza and the West Bank.

By the end of 2006, unemployment exceeded 40 percent, poverty was at 67 percent, and 80 percent of Gazans and 60 percent of West Bank Palestinians lacked funds for basic needs.

The WFP is now feeding 600,000 people and the European Union provides economic support for tens of thousands. The UN study refers to “economic suffocation” caused by isolation and restrictions at the hands of Israeli authorities. Periodic border closures and harassment by officials have limited the number of Palestinians able to cross into Israel to work.

The human rights report suggests that longstanding Israeli impediments to Palestinian economic development are bearing bitter fruit.

South Africa: Fight AIDS, fight abuse of women

Responding to then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s call last year for nations to combat gender violence, South Africa’s government March 8 unveiled a consciousness-raising program dealing with the issue. Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called for data collection and collaboration between government and civil society, and outlined plans for a calendar of events, a multi-level action plan, and new “institutional mechanisms.”

At the same time, in Johannesburg, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa is pressing international donors funding AIDS projects to support programs preventing gender-based violence.

Increasingly, specialists have said abuse against women and girls is a major contributor to the spread of HIV infection. In Southern Africa, according to, women account for 59 percent of people infected with the HIV virus.

UN: Extra grief for half the world’s workers

The UN’s International Labor Office has issued a report on women and work showing that employment rates for women are up, especially for wage and salaried positions, but work status and income are low.

With women making up 1.2 billion of the world’s 2.9 billion workers, more are employed or looking for work than before. But numbers of unemployed, underemployed and poorly paid women are at new highs, contributing to the “feminization of working poverty.” Women make up 60 percent of working people whose families take in less than $1 daily per person.

Of working age women, only half work, while worldwide seven of ten men have jobs. Discrepancies are pronounced in the Middle East and North Africa. Data on six occupations, including teaching and nursing, indicate that women continue to earn significantly less than their male counterparts. Literacy rates for young women have improved slightly, but 60 percent of the world’s school dropouts are girls.

India: Judge to decide generic drug case

Arguments closed March 5 in the Novartis Company’s legal challenge to the Indian government’s refusal to grant the Swiss firm patent protection for its anti-leukemia drug Gleevec.

Government lawyers held that Gleevec is a “look-alike” preparation, not a scientific innovation. The Indian Court is expected to rule within a month.

Analysts say a Novartis victory would cripple India’s generic drug industry, a bulwark of inexpensive drug production for the poor world. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), a member of India’s governing coalition, warned that a decision in favor of the drug company would boost prices for AIDS drugs by factors of 20 to 50. “As India is the major source of AIDS medicines today,” the CPI(M) said, “this would have a worldwide impact.”

The UN’s IRIN news agency said Medicine Sans Frontieres and Oxfam are continuing with a petition already signed by 300,000 persons in 150 countries urging Novatis to drop its case.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @