Pence to begin Latin America tour as global crises grow

Vice President Mike Pence. (AP)
Updated 13 August 2017
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Pence to begin Latin America tour as global crises grow

WASHINGTON: Vice President Mike Pence will visit Colombia amid escalating tensions with neighboring Venezuela and North Korea.
Pence is set to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday at the start of a weeklong trip to Latin America that is likely to be dominated by conversations about the deepening crisis in Venezuela, where the US accuses President Nicolas Maduro of a power grab that has sparked deadly protests and condemnation across the region.
Trump appeared to complicate the discussions Friday with an unexpected statement that he would not rule out a “military option” in response to the Venezuelan government’s attempt to consolidate power.
The statement drew immediate push-back, including from the Colombian Foreign Ministry, which condemned any “military measures and the use of force,” and said that efforts to resolve Venezuela’s breakdown in democracy should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.
Pence’s trip will also take him to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City, Panama, where he is expected to deliver a number of speeches, meet with the country’s leaders and tour the newly expanded Panama Canal.
In Colombia, Pence is also expected to highlight trade, business investment and other ties between the nations, including US support for the country’s efforts to implement its peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
The US will also likely be looking for assurances that Colombia is taking seriously the surging coca production in the country, which has been blamed partially on Santos’ decision in 2015 to stop using crop-destroying herbicides.
A July UN report showed that coca production in Colombia had reached levels not seen in two decades, complicating the South American country’s efforts to make its vast, lawless countryside more secure.
The Trump administration has been putting pressure on the country to curb the flow of drugs into the US and Colombia has stepping up its forced eradication program and increased seizures of cocaine.


India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

Updated 21 July 2018
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India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

  • Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in India where 80% of women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
  • Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.

NEW DELHI: India scrapped a controversial tax on sanitary pads on Saturday, a move hailed by campaigners who say it will help more girls to go to school during their periods and boost their job prospects.
Activists say removing the tax on pads tackles one of the biggest barriers to education for girls, who are often forced to stay at home due to a lack of access to clean hygiene products, while also facing stigma and a lack of toilets in schools.
Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in a country where four out of five women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
“I am sure all mothers and sisters will be very happy to hear that sanitary pads are now 100 percent exempt from tax,” India’s interim finance minister, Piyush Goyal, told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi.
Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.
The decision triggered protests, petitions and court cases that questioned why the government taxed pads as a luxury rather than an essential item, such as condoms, which are tax-free.
Last year, lawmaker Sushmita Dev launched a petition to demand a reduction or total removal of taxes on pads, citing that about 70 percent of women in India could not afford them.
The online petition gained more than 400,000 signatures.
“This was a most-awaited and necessary step to help girls and women to stay in school, their jobs, to practice proper menstrual hygiene,” said Surbhi Singh, founder of Sachhi Saheli, a charity that raises awareness on menstrual health.
“This will help them to grow, to show their true potential,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Indian girls and women face many challenges when they have their periods, especially in rural areas where a lack of awareness and the cost of pads mean many instead use unsanitary cloth or rags, increasing the risk of infections and disease.
Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene “Padman,” starring Akshay Kumar — one of Hindi cinema’s most popular action heroes — triggered debate over the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene in India after its release earlier this year.
Kumar is at the forefront of a campaign by Niine Movement, an initiative promoting menstrual hygiene, to help increase the number of women using pads.
Amar Tulsiyan, founder of Niine Movement, called Saturday’s decision “a big win for everyone” in India, where, he said, 82 percent women and girls have no access to sanitary pads.
“The tax exemption is a massive boost,” he said.
More than a third of girls in South Asia miss school during their periods, as they lack access to toilets or pads, and many receive no education about menstruation before reaching puberty, according to a recent report by charity WaterAid and UNICEF.