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Women in Charge


Many of today’s most vexing problems seem to rest on the shoulders of women leaders. Displaying varying degrees of success, but also some tragic failures, women in power are showing that leadership in the twenty-first century is not for the faint of heart.

Last week, in a series of tweets, US President Donald Trump accused Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, of “poor leadership,” after she dared to criticize the US federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria. Trump’s Twitter tantrum was, of course, ironic: never before has an American president’s election occasioned such a desperate search for alternative leaders at home and abroad.

But Trump’s attack also raised the question of what political leadership means in this age of populist bombast. Thomas Jefferson once warned of petty leaders who, like Trump, allow “their bad passions” to render them “incapable of doing the business of their country.” A corollary to Jefferson’s observation might be that, in a pluralist society, leadership requires a willingness to confront difficult circumstances, and sometimes impossible choices, on behalf of the public good.

Cruz is not the only female public official facing – and in her case, passing – a difficult test of leadership these days. In Japan, Yuriko Koike, the Governor of Tokyo and an aspirant to the premiership, has had to respond quickly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite facing Japan’s most severe foreign policy crises in decades, called a snap election to entrench his parliamentary majority. Abe, fearing Koike’s rising popularity in the wake of her overwhelming victory in the Tokyo assembly elections last summer, hoped to catch her off guard. But Koike has now announced the formation of a new political party, which she intends to lead into the election while remaining in her current office. If she wins, she will confront the most unenviable leadership dilemma of all: responding to the North Korean regime’s nuclear threat.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a beacon of liberalism in an illiberal age, must govern after an election in which the far right made unprecedented gains. And in the United States, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is, in some ways, bearing the weight of the US economy on her shoulders, as she tries to steer monetary policy back to “normal” under domestic and external conditions that remain highly uncertain.

And in Southeast Asia, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has tested – and many would say exceeded – the limits of moral compromise. As the de factoleader of Myanmar’s civilian government, Suu Kyi has responded to the humanitarian catastrophe afflicting her country’s Muslim minority in a way that has made her complicit in it, much to the despair of her erstwhile admirers.

With women leaders dominating the headlines, Project Syndicate commentators have been providing deeper analyses of their respective challenges. If there is one lesson to be learned from their experiences, it is that the most effective leaders are those who manage to transcend the “bad passions” and blinkered politics of their societies – and often of their own parties.


After Germany’s federal election on September 24, Merkel’s most immediate task, notes former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, is to “form a stable majority government.” A failure to do so, he warns, “would probably spell the end of her chancellorship,” which “could usher in a new period of political chaos.” But, Fischer adds, Merkel is also “lucky,” insofar as her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has no “credible or equally popular alternative” leader on hand to replace her.

Lucky or not, notes Daniela Schwarzer of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Merkel’s new government will “be considerably weaker than the three that preceded it.” The CDU will still have the “most seats in parliament,” but it took just 33% of the vote, “its worst result since 1949.” Meanwhile, its former coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), “also hit a post-war low, receiving just 20.5% of the vote.” For the past four years, the SPD and the CDU, along with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have governed as a “grand coalition.” But they lost ground, most notably, to “the anti-euro, pro-Russia, and staunchly xenophobic” Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

As the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag in 60 years, the AfD’s success is, as Fischer puts it, “a disgrace for Germany.” Still, the AfD probably owes its strong showing more to circumstance than to its program.

Fischer, for example, describes the election result as largely “a protest vote against Merkel herself.” And, as Princeton University’s Harold James reminds us, “[t]he AfD vote, at 13%, is almost the same share that the populist Geert Wilders won in the Netherlands in April, in an election that was widely seen as a defeat for radical populism.” James, a specialist in German economic history, does not expect the AfD to sustain its success. And he foresaw “a probable split in its leadership” before AfD co-leader Frauke Petry, who tried to rein in the party’s most extreme positions, announced that she would serve as an independent member of the Bundestag.

But James also sees disquieting parallels between Germany’s current political scene and that of the ill-fated interwar Weimar Republic. In particular, the SPD’s decision to exile itself in opposition, he argues, is similar to the “flight from power” that characterized the Weimar era, during which “parties were punished by voters when they participated in government, and rewarded when they styled themselves as alternative or protest parties.” Today, James suspects that the decline in support for the CDU/CSU-SPD coalition reflected “widespread frustration with leaders who have nothing new to offer.”

But while Merkel is on track to match Helmut Kohl as the second-longest-serving chancellor since Otto von Bismarck, her government’s problem is not merely one of political exhaustion. Helmut K. Anheier, the president of the Hertie School of Governance, points out that Merkel has always preferred “modest policy initiatives and incrementalism,” rather than ambitious reforms. Yet, according to Clemens Fuest, the president of the Munich-based Ifo Institute, there are at least five emerging areas where the next German government will need to take bold action: “digitalization and automation, demographic change, globalization, climate change, and European integration.” Some of these challenges are strictly domestic; for example, Fuest urges policymakers to raise the retirement age to shore up the pension system. But others, not least EU and eurozone reform, will require deeper international cooperation.


Unfortunately, finding credible solutions to EU-level problems will likely be much trickier for Merkel under the next government. With the SPD refusing to revive the grand coalition with the CDU, her only remaining option seems to be a “Jamaica” alliance comprising what the Brookings Institution’s Kemal Derviş describes as “the Euroskeptic Free Democrats and the pro-integration Greens, with her own Christian Democrats in between.”

Within this probable coalition (named for the colors of Jamaica’s flag, which correspond to those of the three parties), Hans-Helmut Kotz, a former executive board member of the Deutsche Bundesbank, who is currently a fellow at Harvard, expects the integrationists to be outnumbered. The FDP’s position regarding the eurozone, in particular, is not very different from that of many CDU/CSU deputies. It opposes “any arrangement that transfers German money underperforming member states,” Kotz notes, and it has suggested “temporary withdrawal from the common currency for over-indebted member states.”

That is not the type of eurozone reform envisaged by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union address on September 13, or by French President Emmanuel Macron in a wide-ranging speech at the Sorbonne on September 26. Macron’s vision, Derviş observes, “echoes many of Juncker’s proposals, but seems to allow for more differentiation within the EU, at least in the medium term.” But while both speeches, Kotz points out, “were clearly intended to frame the political debate that is now underway in Germany,” the country’s “political center has been shifting, and it is heading in a different direction than Juncker and Macron.

Likewise, Philippe Legrain of the London School of Economics’ European Institute worries that even Macron’s more flexible eurozone-reform proposals will be a serious “bone of contention” in Germany. For example, Macron’s call for “a eurozone budget, funded by corporate-tax revenues” and authorized to “make investments and provide a cushion during economic downturns” could be seen as precisely the kind of “transfer union” that the FDP and many in the CDU/CSU oppose. Then again, Anatole Kaletsky of Gavekal Dragonomics suspects that Macron has tried to head off such concerns by calling not just for a “separate budget,” but also for “separate political institutions,” including a eurozone finance ministry and parliament.

Merkel does not oppose a shared budget, or even the establishment of a fiscal authority, in principle. But to agree to Macron’s proposals, she will have to convince German voters and her future coalition partners that there are ample mechanisms to prevent wasteful spending, and to hold the new finance ministry accountable. Kotz, for his part, doubts that Merkel is capable of demonstrating the “political entrepreneurship” needed to forge such a creative compromise. Yet, even barring a grand bargain between those for and against deeper centralization, Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley, believes that there may still be a “narrow path forward that should be acceptable to both sides.”

First, Eichengreen argues, the EU needs to complete its banking union and eliminate the possibility that “fees levied on German banks will be used to pay off depositors in other countries.” It then “needs to transform the European Stability Mechanism, its proto-rescue fund, into a true European Monetary Fund (EMF),” which would replace the European Commission and the European Central Bank as the overseer of eurozone financing programs. And, finally, the European Commission should back away from its role as a fiscal rule-maker. Member-state governments should be allowed to manage their own affairs, Eichengreen says. And “if they make bad decisions, they will have to restructure their debts.”

Beyond eurozone reforms, Schwarzer anticipates that it will “be easier for Germany’s coalition parties – not to mention the French and German governments – to forge a new framework for bilateral and European security cooperation.” And, as Guy Verhofstadt of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament suggests, Merkel could offer a sign of good faith. Specifically, she could throw her support behind various democracy initiatives that Macron has proposed, given that the FDP “supports transnational candidate lists for EU-level elections,” and “wants to bring European citizens closer together with democratic conventions in member states.”

Many observers expect Merkel’s fourth term to be her last. But the more important question for Europe is whether she will use the next four years to take bold action, or instead hold back for fear of stoking further anti-EU sentiment at home.


Yellen, too, is sailing between the Scylla of doing too little and the Charybdis of doing too much. In late 2015, the Fed began to normalize its policy interest rate; and, this year, it started unburdening its balance sheet of assets purchased as part of the quantitative easing (QE) policy launched after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed’s benchmark rate is currently at 1-1.25%, and the Federal Open Market Committee could decide on another modest hike when it meets in December. Then, in February 2018, Yellen’s first term will be up, and whether she serves another one will be for Trump to decide.

The dilemma for Yellen and her colleagues on the FOMC has been that if they raise rates too fast, they could hamper economic growth; but, as Harvard University’s Kenneth Rogoff notes, if they raise them too slowly, “there will be very little room to cut if a recession hits.” Complicating matters further, says Nouriel Roubini of New York University, “core inflation has fallen in the US this year,” despite a “recent growth acceleration” and low unemployment. This has added another dimension to Yellen’s predicament, because the conventional impetus for raising the benchmark rate – above-target inflation – is missing.

“One possible explanation for the mysterious combination of stronger growth and low inflation,” Roubini believes, “is that, in addition to stronger aggregate demand, developed economies have been experiencing positive supply shocks.” For example, globalization, falling commodity prices, and “technological innovations, starting with a new Internet revolution, are reducing the costs of goods and services.”

Technology is also a prime culprit behind today’s “surprisingly low wage growth,” observes Adair Turner of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. “In a fully flexible labor market with, as it were, a reserve army of robots,” Turner writes, “the potential for pervasive automation can depress real wage growth even with full employment.” For Turner, low wage growth, along with a massive “overhang of unresolved debt,” goes a long way toward explaining today’s “deficient nominal demand” – and thus deficient inflation.

Moreover, J. Bradford DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that inflation remains weak because “the Fed’s monetary policies, in combination with fiscal policies, are not providing sufficient stimulus for the US economy.” DeLong worries that the Fed, having “overestimated the strength of the US economy for 11 consecutive years,” may be doing so yet again, and that “the current system is creating irresistible incentives for Fed technocrats to highball their inflation forecasts.”

But Yale University’s Stephen S. Roach argues that more monetary stimulus is the last thing the economy needs. Indeed, he worries that today’s normalization may already “be too little too late.” In his view, the current “generation of central bankers” has an unhealthy, near-religious obsession with “inflation targeting,” which they have used to justify the continuation of unconventional monetary policies for far too long. Roach points out that while “central banks’ combined asset holdings in the major advanced economies (the US, the eurozone, and Japan) expanded by $8.3 trillion” between 2008 and early 2017, “nominal GDP in these economies increased by just $2.1 trillion.” The implication is that $6.2 trillion “was not absorbed by the real economy and has, instead, been sloshing around in global financial markets, distorting asset prices across the risk spectrum.”

Similarly, Harvard University’s Carmen Reinhart worries about the continuing risk of “excessive leverage,” which she regards as a fundamental problem that has yet to be resolved since the financial crisis. So far, she explains, ultra-low interest rates in advanced economies “have eased the burden” of “significant legacy debts (public and private).” But now, “rates are on the rise.” This adds yet another layer to the dilemma facing Yellen and other monetary authorities: if excessive leverage threatens to bring about another financial crisis, central banks will need to cut rates; but by raising rates to create room for future cuts, they could increase the burden of existing debt.

Roach, for his part, concludes that, “[i]n today’s frothy markets,” Yellen and her FOMC colleagues’ willingness to stretch out the normalization process until 2022-2023 is “asking for trouble.” But while Roach is certainly right that “[i]ndependent central banks were not designed to win popularity contests,” one can only wonder if this still holds true under a president who has more experience in beauty pageants than he has in governance.

With the pending departure of Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer this month, and the end of Yellen’s term in February, Trump will have a chance to change the composition of the FOMC. He has not ruled out reappointing Yellen. But it would not be out of character for him to appoint a loyalist instead, someone like Gary Cohn, the director of the White House National Economic Council. If that happens, a change in Fed policy in 2018 cannot be ruled out.


A far bloodier test of leadership has been playing out in Myanmar, where the military is carrying out an ethnic-cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims – the largest group of stateless people in the world – in the western state of Rakhine. Suu Kyi has long faced a difficult choice between living up to the values embodied in her peace prize and maintaining her leadership position in a country with an overwhelming Buddhist majority and a military that is not under civilian control.

Accordingly, since Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in 2010, she has kept silent about the plight of the Rohingya, and maintained the military’s own custom of not mentioning them by name. As Koike put it in a 2015 commentary, Suu Kyi has demonstrated a “verbal evasiveness that one would expect of an ordinary politician, rather than someone of her courage and standing.”

In just the past few weeks, Suu Kyi seems to have doubled down on obtuseness. According to Ramesh Thakur of Australian National University, she has gone from remaining silent about the violence to sounding more like an “apologist.” French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy goes even further, cursing “the naiveté that led many, including me, to sanctify the ‘Lady of Rangoon.’” After she “solemnly assured the world that she had seen nothing in Sittwe, that nothing had happened in the rest of Rakhine State, and that the string of alarming reports to the contrary was just the ‘tip of an iceberg of disinformation,’” Levy concludes, “her Nobel Prize became an alibi.”

One possible explanation for Suu Kyi’s apparent volte-face during the current crisis is that it isn’t really a reversal at all: she may have never held many of the positions that distant observers ascribed to her. As Dominique Moisi of the Institut Montaigne in Paris points out, it is possible that “the fate of a small minority” comprising “just 4% of Myanmar’s population” is simply a matter of indifference. “To her Burman aristocratic sensibility,” Moisi suggests, “their interests barely register.”

The Western narrative may also have a blind spot with respect to rising extremism in the region. The international community, notes Brahma Chellaney of the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, “has failed to recognize that Rohingya militants have been waging jihad in the country – a reality that makes it extremely difficult to break the cycle of terror and violence.” According to Chellaney, Rakhine “militants are suspected of having ties with the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations.” And, on top of that, “they increasingly receive aid from militant-linked organizations in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”

Thakur echoes these points. “Few Westerners,” he laments, “grasp the challenges faced by decision-makers in developing countries confronting extremism from insurgents and terrorists.” And he reminds us that the current military crackdown started “after insurgents staged a series of attacks on police and army posts in August.” To his mind, the crisis in Myanmar is not just national but regional. It will thus take a regional effort – led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations – to end the bloodshed, settle or repatriate refugees, and investigate and prosecute atrocities.

As for Suu Kyi, Thakur recommends that she and her government urgently “repeal or amend all discriminatory laws and end official anti-Rohingya discrimination,” in order to avoid fueling further extremism. Of course, doing that would require her to deliver Myanmar from its long history of “bad passions.” So far, she has not proved to be up to the challenge; on the contrary, she may be a prisoner of them.


By: October 6, 2017
Source: Project Syndicate

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Politics | Leave a comment

The Biggest Impediment to Saudi Women Was Never the Driving Ban


No matter their age, Saudi women are treated like minors — to the point that many require permission from their sons to work, study, or travel.

 It looks like 27 years of protesting, along with international pressure and government recognition that it needs more Saudi women in the workforce, has finally paid off.

In a royal decree, Saudi King Salman announced on September 26 that Saudi women, who have long been the only women in the world banned from driving, will have that right as of June 2018. The move brings Saudi Arabia a step closer to joining the 21st century, but Saudi women remain shackled by extreme gender segregation and a guardianship system that is a form of gender apartheid.

The ban on driving, along with the general lack of reliable and safe public transportation, has had a terrible impact on middle class and poor Saudi women who cannot afford their own personal drivers. It’s been a major factor keeping women at less than 20 percent of the labor force. The recent introduction of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Careem have helped, but are still too expensive for many women as a daily form of transportation.

For decades Saudi women have been fighting to lift the driving ban. In 1990, a protest was organized by Aisha Almana, a Saudi woman who had studied — and driven — in the United States. Almana and 46 other women piled into cars and drove around the capital. They were arrested and thrown in jail. Their passports were confiscated, those with government jobs were fired, and they were denounced in mosques across the country.

In 2007, women unsuccessfully petitioned King Abdullah for the right to drive, and a 2008 video of activist Wajeha al-Huwaider driving received international attention. In 2011, about 70 women openly challenged the law by driving, and a similar protest was organized in 2013. Some of the women were imprisoned, fined, suspended from their jobs, banned from traveling, and even threatened with terrorism charges for public incitement. Again in 2015, two women activists were arrested for driving.

So it’s good to celebrate this hard-won victory for Saudi women. But we should recognize that the biggest impediment for women hasn’t been their inability to drive — or the fact that women, by law, must be totally covered in public.

The biggest obstacle to women’s freedom is the male guardianship system.

Under this system, a woman, no matter her age, is treated as a minor and must live under the supervision of a wali, or guardian. This is a legally recognized male — her father, husband, uncle, or some other male relative (even her son) — who must grant formal permission for most of the significant issues affecting her life.

Women are not allowed to marry, obtain a passport, or travel without the permission of their guardians. Enrollment in education requires a guardian’s approval, although some universities are no longer requiring this. Employers often require male guardians to approve the hiring of females.

If a women is married to an abusive man, she can obtain a divorce only if she pays back her dowry or can prove in court that her husband has harmed her. Yet a man can divorce his wife unilaterally, without any legal justification.

Women also face discrimination when it comes to child custody. A Saudi woman may keep her children until they reach the age of seven for girls and nine for boys. Custody of children over these ages is generally awarded to the father. In rare cases where women are granted physical custody, fathers retain legal custody, meaning that most transactions on behalf of the children require the father’s consent.

Citizenship is transferred to children through their father, so a child born to an unwed mother isn’t legally affiliated with the father and is therefore “stateless.” Also, the government doesn’t automatically grant Saudi citizenship to the children of Saudi women if their fathers aren’t Saudi. Sons can apply for citizenship, but the decision is at the discretion of the interior minister. Daughters of Saudi mothers and non-Saudi fathers aren’t granted citizenship unless they marry a Saudi husband and give birth to a child.

In September 2015, the Supreme Judicial Council granted women with custody of their children the right to handle all their affairs, but they still need permission from the children’s father to travel outside the country.

In certain types of cases in court, female testimony is worth half as much as male testimony. If a woman is in prison or in a rehabilitation center, she cannot be released to anyone but her guardian; if the guardian refuses to accept the woman, as often happens, she remains imprisoned.

The guardianship system basically means that Saudi women are totally powerless over their own lives and destinies unless their male guardian allows them that power. Way beyond the right to drive, the guardianship system must be abolished if Saudi women are indeed going to be in the drivers seat.


Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. She’s the author of the book Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.



By: Medea Benjamin
Date: September 27, 2017
Source: Foreign Policy in Focus

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Policy | Leave a comment

Engaging North Korea Successfully on Human Rights


Despite a generally abysmal human rights record, North Korea has shown improvement in one specific area: disability rights.

North Korea has the worst human rights record of any country in the world except perhaps Eritrea and Syria. There is, however, a curious exception to this record: disability rights. This case offers a powerful counter-example of successful engagement in an arena where the country normally experiences nothing but universal condemnation.

For nearly two decades, outside NGOs have been working with Pyongyang to improve conditions for the nearly two million people with disabilities in the country. Over the course of this engagement, North Korea has altered its conduct in three important ways. It has cooperated with the United Nations to bring its disability policies more in line with international standards. It has permitted the growth of the very first shoots of civil society focused on the rights of the disabled. And it has allowed more contact between its citizens with disabilities and the outside world.

At a time when tensions between North Korea and the international community have increased dramatically and the United States in particular has pushed to isolate the regime even further, can this kind of engagement become the new normal?

Dealing with the UN System

It’s not easy to visit North Korea if you work on human rights. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has repeatedly rejected the requests of UN human rights officials to tour the country. Even the three people who have served as the special rapporteur for human rights in the DRPK over the last 13 years have had to write their reports without ever setting foot in the country.

But this past May, Catalina Devandas Aguilar became the first independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to visit North Korea. Devandas Aguilar is the UN’s first special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Not only did she meet with a wide range of North Koreans during her trip, but she received virtual celebrity coverage in the country’s media.

“Just the fact that a woman with a disability from Costa Rica is seen on national television in the DPRK running around on a scooter and being very modern and talking brings a different perspective and even hope to persons with disabilities in a country that has been in such isolation,” Devandas Aguilar says.

The United States has generally viewed the UN human rights system as another stick with which to beat North Korea. The Obama administration, for instance, supported the UN-established Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the conclusion, in its 2014 report, that the leadership of the country committed crimes against humanity (among other transgressions). In the wake of the report, the Obama administration also imposed its first human-rights-related sanctions against the DPRK.

But North Korea has signed the UN convention on the rights of the disabled. The otherwise scathing COI report barely mentions disability rights, other than to urge ratification of the convention, which North Korea did this last December. It also notes that “there are signs that the State may have begun to address this particular issue” of discrimination against the disabled—one of the few signs of progress in the report.

By signing the convention on the rights of the disabled—as well as those on women and on children—the DPRK has committed to submitting regular reports and interacting with various UN human rights personnel. In this way, it learns both the language and the substance of human rights practice. Whether it translates that knowledge into practice is another matter.

“While we welcome the engagement, writing reports is not progress on the ground and we haven’t seen any real improvement in women or children rights yet from this renewed willingness to deal with the UN treaty bodies,” cautions Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights expert who was one of the three experts on the commission, believes that the DPRK’s divergent approaches to the UN human rights system are actually related. “The release of the COI report had an enormous impact worldwide, and the DPRK was aware of that,” she says. “For the first time the human rights situation was revealed to the world in a very comprehensive way, and it was shocking. Because of that, they invested effort in improving their image by signing the convention on disabilities.”

But even before the COI report, North Korea was moving in the direction of engagement on disability rights and, arguably, showing “progress on the ground.”

Signs of a Civil Society?

North Korea is one of the few countries in the world without any significant civil society. It lacks public dissidents, opposition parties, even non-governmental organizations (NGOs). When President Obama made a commitment to meet with civil society representatives around the world, even in places like Cuba, North Korea was not on the list. There was no one in North Korea with whom he could meet.

Engagement on disability rights, however, has produced some perhaps unexpected results. Foreign organizations working on disability issues inside the DPRK cooperate with the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD), an organization that bills itself as an NGO though it functions more like a government agency. However, the Federation, which started up in the late 1990s, has encouraged the creation of groups run by the disabled to advocate for themselves.

The Federation, Devandas-Aguilar points out, “promotes the creation of groups of women with disabilities, also deaf people and blind people, which they call associations. Those associations seem to be more independent from the Federation and from the government. These groups deal with income-generation activities. They are dealing with sports, with arts.”

The US government, through its funding of the National Endowment for Democracy, has devoted considerable resources to supporting operations that beam information into North Korea via radio broadcasts and other means—to expose North Koreans to news of the outside world.

Yet, without any US government assistance, organizing around disability rights has brought quite a few North Koreans in contact with foreigners. Handicapped International has been working in the country since 2001, collaborating with the KFPD in the field of prosthetics and physical rehabilitation. The World Federation of the Deaf maintains an office in Pyongyang staffed by a fourth-generation deaf German, Robert Grund, who has helped popularize sign language services and greater educational opportunities for the deaf.

Kathi Zellweger has been traveling back and forth to North Korea since 1995, first with the Catholic charity Caritas Internationalis and now with her own NGO based in Hong Kong. In December 2016, her organization brought four North Korean women to Hong Kong for 10 days “to expose them to a wide variety of services for intellectually challenged children.” The key task was to provide training in assessment. “Once you have assessed children properly,” she continues, “then you can design for each child the needs for health, education, and how you work with parents and caregivers.”

Over her more than 20 years of work in the DPRK, Zellweger has witnessed a change in attitudes inside the country. “Up to a few years ago, you would see very few people with disabilities in the streets,” she observes. “Now that has changed. You see more people in wheelchairs, on crutches, parents with special needs children.” She credits the KFPD with helping to transform public attitudes, but it’s also a function of relationships established with outsiders.

“Every year, the country celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, with a lot of local officials attending,” Zellweger notes. “It’s a big thing. We suggested that they should include special needs children. When I was there the next year, they had a small group of special needs children performing. Sometimes you just need to give them some ideas of what to do.”

That some of the people affiliated with the nascent civil society around disability rights have travelled outside North Korea is unusual for a country that rarely grants permission to travel abroad for anyone other than a government official, an athlete, or a guest worker. More unusual still, some North Korean teenagers with disabilities have even made the trip. In 2015, a youth ensemble of two blind musicians, two amputee vocalists, and eight dancers with hearing impairment traveled to the United Kingdom and France at the invitation of the UK-based organization DULA International. This Para-Ensemble returned for another tour this year.

It wasn’t easy to make the visit happen. “With disability welfare and awareness still in its developmental stages, many North Koreans at first felt that this young, disabled group of performers were not the country’s best representatives,” explains DULA International’s director, Lee Seok-Hee. But after considerable persuading, the DPRK government agreed and cooperated.

The exchange, in turn, had a transformative impact. “Whereas the DPRK public—and even the Para-Ensemble performers—largely misunderstood issues of disability before the tour, awareness of disability grew following it,” Lee continues. “Performances of the first tour, and the reception of international audience, were aired on national TV in the DPRK. This led an increasing number of people contacting the KFPD and inquiring about how they could get involved.”

Moving Forward

Although North Korea has had laws on the books related to people with disabilities going back to the 1990s, it has stepped up its activities in the last few years. The first North Korean Paralympic athlete, for instance, participated in the 2012 games in London. The KFPD has been releasing periodic disability surveys. And the government has allowed disability organizations from around the world to partner with the KFPD.

Given the opacity of the North Korean government, it’s not easy to figure out definitively why it treats disability rights differently than it does many other human rights issues. But observers can make some educated guesses.

“First of all, progress on the disability issue is not a threat to the regime,” points out Robert King, former US special envoy for the issue of North Korean human rights from 2009 to 2017. “It’s not like freedom of speech or access to television from South Korea. It’s not going to undermine the claims of legitimacy of the government.”

King also suspects that people high up in the regime have children or siblings with disabilities. In China, for instance, the disability issue acquired a much higher profile when Deng Pufang, the son of former premier Deng Xiaoping, actively promoted it. A paraplegic thanks to an assault by militant Revolutionary Guards during the Cultural Revolution, Deng Pufang established the China Welfare Fund for the Disabled in 1984 and won a UN human rights award for his work in 2003. “A few people like that could make an appeal to the leadership and have some effect in getting some programs to benefit the disabled,” King says.

The overall human rights situation inside North Korea remains dire. Some North Korean defectors dispute that the government has changed its policies at all, and rumors abound of horrific treatment. Some experts on human rights in North Korea also argue that advocacy of disability rights is largely cosmetic.

“I’ve spoken with many UN officials, and I don’t think anyone is under any illusion of a dramatic sea change in North Korean human rights,” says Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. The country has ignored other issues, he points out, such as “the terrible things done to political prisoners in the camps, the utter lack of freedom of expression, freedom of association, any conceivable human right. But in this case, they selected [disability rights] as a point of contact where they can make some cosmetic changes and get away with it—or who knows, perhaps go a little deeper and make some serious changes and see where it takes them.”

However, organizing international support for human rights in North Korea around disability rights demonstrates that engagement can yield positive benefits for North Koreans and still advance certain US goals. It’s also a good example of how human rights work can promote more connections with the international community rather than fewer. “Especially in the current context of escalating tensions, the human rights system needs to put its energy into promoting dialog and discussion,” says the UN’s Devandas Aguilar. “That is the only way forward to avoid armed conflict or confrontation.”


By: John Feffer
Date: September 29, 2017
Source: Foreign Policy in Focus

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Policy | Leave a comment

Rohingya genocide: the world can’t help until Myanmar changes its ways


After two weeks of extreme violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where at least 400 people have been killed and 270,000 Rohingyas have fled their homes, the country’s de facto leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, finally spoke up to acknowledge the crisis. But to the disappointment of several international human rights agencies, she didn’t oppose the army’s actions – and even described recent events as “a huge iceberg of misinformation” in a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

This puts her at odds with a growing international consensus on what’s happening. Human Rights Watch has called the ongoing violence against the Rohingyas “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity”, while studies from Yale Law School and Queen Mary University of London have defined it as a genocide.

There has been no sustained peace in Rakhine state for decades. The Rohingyas who live there have faced discrimination on the ground of their ethnicity since the late 1970s, with regular peaks of violence. So why have these conflicts repeatedly erupted despite the pleas of international human rights bodies? What are the realpolitik issues which thwart the peace process?

No respect for human rights

A closer look reveals that even since its transition to democracy, Myanmar has almost zero respect and care for international norms and diplomacy. The government recently told the United Nations it will not issue visas to its inspectors seeking to investigate accusations of rights abuses in Rakhine state. It has also obstructed UN-funded World Food Program attempts to provide aid to vulnerable people.

Regarding the slow response of the international community, many Rohingyas and many Bangladeshis believe that the international community is discriminatory towards Muslims and that the response would be much more serious if this level of brutality happened in any Western country.

It is hard to validate such accusations. But, they may well fuel more anti-Western feelingsamong a large number of Muslims in the world. Among Rohingyas small groups of radical are already thought to be operating.

A new insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) reportedly attacked Myanmar police and security forces on August 25 and in October 2016.

Vested interests

Unless the warnings by the international community are backed by a credible threat, the Myanmar government and its army, Tatmadaw will just not care.

Following the eruption of the latest round of violence, Britain requested a UN Security Council meeting but China resisted stronger involvement by the UN. The issue is expected to be discussed at the General Assembly meeting in September.

In March 2017, a proposed UN Security Council statement on the violence in Myanmar was blocked by China and Russia. In 2007, a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to political repression and human rights violations in Myanmar was also vetoed by China and Russia. Chinese interests in Myanmar include a US$7.3 billion deep-sea port project as part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road plan. In the Rakhine state, there lies Kyauk Pyu port, an entry point for a Chinese oil and gas pipeline.

India is competing with China to establish close ties in Myanmar. In July, Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Tatmadaw – the Burmese armed forces – visited India and met with Indian army’s chief, the prime minister, the defence minister, and the national security advisor.

India, separately from its diplomatic ties with Naypyidaw, is heavily investing it the Tatmadaw via large arms exports. After the eruption of the latest violence, Indian PM Modi visited Myanmar where he clearly supported Myanmar government’s view that it is a ‘terrorist’ problem without criticising the mass killings and refugee exodus.

ASEAN, the regional economic association, could potentially improve the situation in Myanmar. However, it is limited by its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.

At state level, only several Muslim countries have provided strong statements against Myanmar, among them Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Maldives. Bangladesh, as the country most affected by the flow of refugees, does not show enough international engagement on the matter and can’t provide adequate protection to the refugees.

Therefore, the criticisms, warnings, condemnations, and the threats struggle to cut through to the Myanmar government. The Rohingya themselves sense they will have little impact. As such, the Tatmadaw is likely to continue its brutal campaign and the frustrated Rohingyas may well become increasingly radical.



By: Ashraful Azad
Date: September 11. 2017
Source: The Conversation

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

The long road to gender equality in southeast Asia


Singapore may soon elect its first female president – but the struggle for gender equality in the region is far from being won

This month, Singapore will go to the polls for its next presidential election. According to local reports, it looks likely that the country will elect the lawyer, trade unionist and former speaker in Parliament Halimah Yacob. She would be Singapore’s first female president and the first member of the Malay minority, in the Chinese-dominated state, to hold this office since 1970.

Yacob’s potential victory has already been hailed as a watershed moment for women across the region. Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahidasked the women in his Umno party to “pray that she wins”. Mustafa Izzuddin, a Singaporean political researcher was quoted as saying that her election would be a major step forward: “She will not only break another glass ceiling within Singapore but also put Singapore on the world map.”

But this assessment is dangerously premature. Having Yacob in the presidential seat will hardly change the reality for women on the ground, where the struggle for gender and ethnic equality is far from being won.

Singapore’s own record on women’s political representation is hardly exemplary. It lags behind countries including the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand in its number of female political leaders. In the current parliament, 23 out of 100 MPs are women, fewer than the 30% minimum recommended by the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In Singapore, it’s also worth noting that the president is largely a figurehead position. The president can veto the appointment of certain ministers, and the way the national financial reserves are spent, but real power lies with the prime minister – a position that is unlikely to be occupied by a woman anytime soon.

Netina Tan, a researcher based in Canada, argues that gendered expectations are still widespread in southeast Asian politics, where surveys show women facing significant “institutional and cultural barriers” in politics.

The cost of gender inequality

Entrenched beliefs and gender bias force women into subservient roles as wives and mothers, sending a diminishing message to girls about their worth, and sentencing women to lives spent at home under their husbands’ control. This also drives phenomena like the abortion of female babies, particularly in India, where the practice surged by 170% between 2001 and 2011.

Dependency and mistreatment of women, at the hands of men, also seems to translate into an inordinate number of mental health issues. According to the World Psychiatry Association, in Bangladesh twice as many women suffer from mental disorders compared to men, and three times more women commit suicide.

Gender-based discrimination limits women’s employment opportunities, and contributes to wider economic underdevelopment. Although more women than men attend higher education in southeast Asia, they are underrepresented in the official workforce. The gender gap in employment ranges from 16% in the Philippines to 20% in Sri Lanka. There is an average gender wage gap in the region of 30% to 40%.

One study, from the Asian Development Bank, estimated that if female participation in the workforce rose from 57.7% to 66.2%, Asia’s economy could see a 30% growth in income per capita in just one generation.

Beyond economic figures and financial abstractions, a particularly heinous manifestation of gender inequality is violence. In India, crimes against women including rape and domestic abuse are reported every two minutes. 2.4 millioncases were registered in the last decade. An estimated 22 women died every day between 2005 and 2015 from dowry-related violence.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, the number of brides brutalised by their husbands or in-laws because of their parents’ failure to pay the expected dowry almostdoubled from 2004 to 2012. These are dismal figures; sadly, real numbers are likely even higher, as many incidents of violence may go unreported.

In Cambodia, violence against women appears so normalised that it has become a regular feature of media entertainment. Media monitoring research carried out by The Asia Foundation in 2016 revealed that a staggering 33% of TV programmes aired by the five largest national broadcasters featured scenes in which women or girls were the targets of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Where the integrity of a woman’s body means nothing, sexual assault is even considered a viable means of punishment. This was the case in a Pakistani village where the village council ordered the “revenge rape” of a 16-year-old girl whose brother had allegedly raped his 13-year old cousin.

Across southeast Asia, rape victims often face extreme stigmatisation. Women have been banished or killed by their families to clear their “honour” while perpetrators go unpunished.

Exposing brutality

Such brutality is not new. During the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975, Vietnamese women and girls, some as young as 13 or 14 years old, gave birth to thousands of children after being assaulted by Korean soldiers. Derogatorily called “Lai Dai Han” (literally “mixed-blood”), many of these children live in shame and abject poverty today.

Despite repeated pleas from survivors, South Korea has staunchly refused to recognise horrendous crimes during the war, let alone issue a formal apology. In a 2013 press statement, a defence ministry spokesman audaciously declaredthat “such intentional, organised and systemised civilian massacres by the Korean army is impossible” and that because the Korean military followed strict rules, “there was no sexual exploitation of Vietnamese women”.

In a region with the worst record of gender-based violence in the world, electing a woman for president is not enough to trigger fundamental changes. Discrimination and brutality against women need to be continuously exposed and remedied promptly. International pressure can help. If states were held accountable to international treaties governing equal rights, this could help shorten the long road to gender equality in the region.


Amanda Clarkson holds an MA in Global Development from the University of Leeds and has worked in West Africa as a development consultant in education. She is currently based in London as a consultant in development policy. She is a regular contributor to the International Policy Digest.


By : Amanda Clarkson

Date : September 1, 2017

Source : Open Democracy

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Politics | Leave a comment

Women paid less for same contribution to work, and sexism is to blame – study


Women are being paid less to do the same job as men, judging by the productivity of male and female employees. Our study found that women are paid 16% less for making a contribution of the same value to their employer.

We used wage data and productivity data from the whole of New Zealand to look at the reasons for the gender wage gap. We found that sexism (where employers prefer to hire men rather than women, are more likely to reject equally qualified women, or offer women less) is likely to be the most important driver of the gender wage gap. This is opposed to women working in low-paying industries or firms, being less productive, or being less successful at bargaining.

Less pay for same contribution

In our examination of the whole economy, we found that women are over-represented in low-paying industries such as food and beverage services and aged care, but that this explains only 7% of the entire gender wage gap. If you add the fact that women also tend to work in low-paying firms, we can say that 12% of the overall gender wage gap is due to the particular industries and firms where women work.

Our study then looked at productivity and wages of men and women in private for-profit firms with at least five employees. We looked directly at how the output of similar firms varies with the gender mix of the employees, and used this to infer the relative value male and female employees add to their firms.

When comparing men and women in the same industry, we found they were statistically indistinguishable in how much value they added to their firms. Yet, for work of the same value the average woman in the private for-profit sector was paid only 84 cents for every $1 paid to the average man.

Even though there was no evidence of a wage-productivity gap between young men and women, the gap increased with age. There was a 16% gap for women aged 25-39, a 21% gap for those aged 40-54, and a 49% gap for older women.

It’s not just a trick of the statistics

Next we explored the potential causes of the gender wage gap. We found no statistically significant differences between men and women’s productivity on average in the private for-profit sector, however in some industries the productivity of men and women did differ.

One possibility is that employers could stereotype women as being less productive than men, and pay them commensurately with their value only once they had had a chance to demonstrate their productivity. This is known as statistical discrimination. If statistical discrimination were driving the unexplained gender wage gap, women with more labour market experience or more years with the same employer, and thus more opportunity to demonstrate their productivity, would be paid similarly to equally productive men.

Our research shows women in their first year with their employer are not paid significantly less than equally productive men in their first year. However, in their second and subsequent years women are paid over 20% less. Similarly, the unexplained gap is greater among older age groups. That is, women who have had the chance to demonstrate their worth to their employers nevertheless face a larger wage-productivity gap.

This is the opposite to what we’d expect under statistical discrimination, which suggests that the gender wage-productivity gap is primarily driven by something else.

Other factors driving gender wage gap

If women are less confident than men at bargaining with their employers for higher wages, women may end up getting paid less to do the same work, even if employers are not prejudiced against female employees. Bargaining is expected to be more important when the labour market is tight and prospective employees have better alternatives if they turn down a job. The intuition is that when the labour market is tight, workers need to be offered higher wages in order to not walk away from the job, so firms are hurt more in this situation if they post vacancies with fixed wages than if they post vacancies with negotiable wages.

If gender differences in bargaining were the main driver of the gender wage-productivity gap we would expect this gap to be larger in industries and during periods of time when firms have more difficulty hiring.

We found the gender wage-productivity gap was particularly marked in a few industries. For example in finance and insurance, transport equipment manufacturing, telecommunications, water and air transport, and electricity the gap was over 40%. These are all sectors that have the potential for monopoly-created profits and have low competition.

When we looked systematically at how the gap varied across industries and time periods that differed in terms of worker skill level, firm competition and difficulty hiring, we found a large gap where workers are highly skilled and firms face low competition. Within such industries, the gap is larger when firms find it easy to hire skilled workers. This suggests that sexism is likely to be more important.

Our research shows the main problem is not that women work in low-paying industries or are less productive than men. It’s sexism, including preferential recruitment of men and lower offers for equally qualified women.

We are encouraged by the ability to use this kind of analysis to better understand other workplace discrimination. The methodology should be very useful in examining wage gaps of all kinds.

We hope, in the future, to look at differences by characteristics such as immigration status, ethnicity and family status.


By : Isabelle Sin (Lecturer in Economics and Econometrics, Victoria University; Fellow, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, Victoria University of Wellington)

Date : August 28, 2017

Source : The Conversation

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

New research pokes holes in the idea that men don’t look after their kids


South Africa has one of the highest rates of absent fathers in sub-Saharan Africa. As many as 60% of children in the country under the age of 10 don’t live with their biological fathers, the second highest rate of absence in sub-Saharan Africa after Namibia. This compares to one third in the US.

South Africa’s statistics are influenced by the history of migrant labour. Expropriation of the land of black Africans by colonial authorities, coupled with the levying of taxes, forced men (and later, women) to move to the growing cities to earn an income, while their wives and children stayed in the rural reserves or “homelands”.

But there are other factors at play too. These include gender norms about childcare and the different roles attached to fathers and mothers. These norms also generally lead to men – even if they are physically present – making minimal contributions to unpaid care and household work.

A large volume of research – including the Centre for Social Development in Africa’s “ATM Fathers” – has shown that among both men and women, fathers are widely considered as primarily being responsible for supporting the family financially. These attitudes frequently lead men – or enable them – to sidestep non-financial care responsibilities.

But in a context of widespread unemployment, inability to earn an income and fulfil the “provider” role often leads men to abandon their children. This leaves women with the double burden of being the sole breadwinner as well as the person primarily responsible for unpaid care and household work. This, in turn, reinforces gender inequality as women have less time to pursue market work, education, leisure and civic life, and are expected to sacrifice their own interests for those of children.

But there are men who choose to be involved fully in the care of their children despite economic difficulty. We have done research into the reasons for this involvement, and the different forms that it takes. The initial research has been done by Masters students Manon van der Meer and Hylke Hoornstra, and forms part of my PhD which is due to be published early next year. We also examined men’s attitudes towards gender, and how they define their masculine and paternal identities in the context of caring for children.

We found that a significant number of men are doing this in progressive ways – ‘doing’ fatherhood and manhood in ways that differ from the patriarchal archetypes that sustain gender inequality. Their examples point to the possibility of creating a more gender equal society.

The research

The first group of men we interviewed were fathers working in low income jobs in Johannesburg – mostly security guards and fast food restaurant staff. All were cohabiting with their partners and children. Almost all emphasised that providing for the family financially was central to their definitions of a good father. Given their low-paying jobs, they were constantly worried about their inability to do this which often led to feelings of inadequacy as a father.

But most men saw their father roles as encompassing more than just financial provision. Almost all spoke of a need to be available emotionally for their children, and to spend time with them. Most also had no problem with performing care work (such as changing nappies, bathing children, helping children with schoolwork) or household work (cleaning, cooking, laundry, and ironing). But importantly, most saw the mother as primarily responsible for this work, only stepping in to help when asked or required. This was frequently related to gendered ideas about competence: that women were naturally more suited to these tasks.

The second group of men we interviewed were receiving a child support grant on behalf of their children. The grant is a means tested monthly cash transfer provided to low-income caregivers to support childcare, and has a value of R380 (around US$29). This group makes up only a fraction of those who get the grants – 98% are women according to data provided by the South African Social Security Agency.

Most of the men we interviewed in Soweto had applied for the grant because a female partner had passed away, or because their female partner was not a South African citizen.

Almost all the men were unemployed. Most put far less emphasis on providing financial support. They considered “being there” for their children – by providing love, guidance and protection – a key component of their masculine and paternal identities.

They frequently described taking care of their children, and not abandoning them or being otherwise neglectful, as central to what it means to be a man.

As with the first group, many in the second group also subscribed to dominant gender norms about who should do what in the household. Care and household work were viewed primarily as mothers’ or women’s responsibility. Nonetheless, almost all regularly carried out these tasks, even those who were either living with female partners or who could rely on the support of female relatives – thus revealing a discrepancy between their beliefs and how they behaved.

Most men in both groups spoke about the pressure to conform to social expectations and the sanctions imposed on them if they didn’t. Sanctions could take the form of disapproval when they were seen to be doing “women’s work”. Also, some men who received the child grant said they were seen as “undateable” by women they encountered at the local social grant offices.

All men said they experienced some form of pressure. But some seemed less bothered by it than others. This was particularly true of those who held gender-equal ideas about “male” and “female” responsibility. Men who had always done this work – for example those who were brought up by single mothers, or who had to take responsibility for younger siblings growing up – were similarly unconcerned about conforming to dominant ideas of what it means to “be a man”.

Doing gender differently

Fathers in South Africa are often denigrated for being un-involved and neglectful. But this research sheds light on fathers who, despite significant economic and social pressure, choose to remain involved in meaningful ways in the lives of their children, and to incorporate traditionally feminine behaviours and roles into their own masculine and paternal identities for the well-being of their children.

We hope that the research findings will inspire other men to “do gender” differently – for the benefit of their children and South African women.


By            :               Zoheb Khan (Researcher, University of Johannesburg)

Date         :               August 17, 2017

Source     :               The Conversation

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Destroy monster that is femicide


THE age of hope for gender harmony in South Africa is beginning to assert itself despite the murk that characterised the this year’s edition of Women’s Month commemorations.

The period leading up to and during August saw 70 young women killed by their partners in Gauteng.

Some were humiliated and raped before they were killed, because they had a “different” sexual orientation.

South Africa’s Constitution enshrines human rights for all, irrespective of gender, class, race, religion and so on.

It is unacceptable for leaders, be they men or women, to violate the rights of ordinary people, through any form of violence – which includes the incident with the extension cord. Violence is unacceptable. Period.

We are informed that every day in South Africa, nine women die at the hands of their partners or strangers, giving the country the unenviable reputation of having the highest rate of femicide in the world.

West Indian psychoanalyst and social philosopher and revolutionary writer Franz Fanon says: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”. It rings true. Our social and cultural norms and values, and economic and political realities may have consigned us to a point where we were betraying our mission of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous South Africa. This is about to change.

At Women’s Month celebrations, wise older men shared with us that they were socialised at an early age that as boys they were more equal than girls. They watched their fathers abuse their mothers and thought it was the thing to do. Equally, some girls would think that was normal, yet it wasn’t.

Girls would do chores like cleaning the house, washing clothes and cooking, while boys played soccer. To demonstrate their masculinity, when proposing a girl to be his girlfriend, the boy would grab and twist the arm of the girl who was expected to cry and then say yes. Boys were taught never to cry, it would demonstrate weakness. These are a few examples of unequal power relations learnt by boys at an early age. These must change to promote gender equality.

These wiser older men then advised that for individuals, families and society to realise a truly non-sexist society, men, and perhaps everyone, must start by acknowledging who they really are. This is vital to build a society that respects human rights.

Perpetrators of violence need to appreciate the existence of gender prejudice, learn to open up with their issues, cry when necessary and seek assistance during times of hardships instead of taking the law into their hands through violence. These are professionals we work with such as Real Faith leaders, Brothers for Life, Men’s Fora, Sonke Gender Justice, Men for Change and the Gauteng Men’s Forum.

Initiatives such as Men’s Dialogues on human rights are the kind of arsenals we need to destroy the monster of gender-based violence. Women’s dialogues alone as it has been done all along, have proven not to be enough.

It is in this context that the Gauteng government, led by the premier, has launched a five-year campaign, “Investing in a girl equal to a boy and Empowering a young woman equal to a young man”. Its objectives are to :

Dismantle and de-institutionalise patriarchy by changing value systems and inculcating societal consciousness.

V Break the cycle of all forms of gender-based violence, especially intimate femicide by promoting safety in all spaces.

Support institutions that must socialise boys and girls as equals. These include the family, church, schools, universities, workplace and the community.

Upscale radical socio-economic development programmes and opportunities in partnership with the private sector and community structures to invest in girls and boys equally, to empower women equally with men.

Ensure ongoing dialogues between men and women to change the status quo and promote sustainable livelihoods.

For this campaign to succeed, it needs participation by all to produce the type of men and women, girls and boys South Africa needs to move forward in building a society where all people live freely without fear or dominance.

Having visited schools to talk to girl and boy pupils during August, we realise that if we do nothing about patriarchy which manifests in gender-based violence, including blessers, sugar daddies and Ben 10s (sugar mommies), we will collectively be accomplices to a dishonourable slap in the face of our heroines and gallant fighters of women’s emancipation under the leadership of Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn.

These stalwarts handed over their batons for us to bring about a truly united, non-sexist, non-racist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. Let us honour our roles and responsibilities.


* Mayathula-Khoza is the MEC for Social Development in Gauteng


By : Mayathula-Khoza

Date : August 31, 2017

Source : IOL

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Unlocking Girls’ Potential


NEW YORK – I recently visited a “girls club” – a safe space where adolescent girls come together with trained mentors to build their social networks and learn life skills – in the Tonk District of Rajasthan, India. As I arrived, I was greeted by a group of teenage girls bouncing along the road, so full of energy and laughter that I couldn’t help but smile, too. Just imagine, I thought, the potential of 600 millionsuch girls.

History’s largest generation of girls aged 10-19 is here, ready to make its mark on the world. Governments, development organizations, and private institutions are eager to help them translate that youthful potential into an engine of creativity, economic growth, and social progress. But, on the path to such a future, girls continue to face major obstacles.

Some 170 million girls – almost one third of girls worldwide – are not enrolled in school. This is a major missed opportunity: for every year of forgone schooling, a girl’s potential income drops 10-20%. Yet there are major barriers to boosting school enrollment – beginning with the persistence of child marriage.

Every year, 15 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18 – one every two seconds – with early or forced child marriage affecting about a quarter of girls worldwide. Beyond increasing the probability that a girl will suffer violence, early marriage boosts girls’ chances of early pregnancy by 90%. The likely result is a larger family that demands more unpaid childcare, thereby undermining educational attainment and reinforcing the gender pay gap.

Girls who are married before age 18 also face a severe reduction in mobility, though they are not alone. A study in South Africa showed that, overall, girls face a drastic reduction in access to the public sphere – with spatial access falling from an area of 6.3 square miles to just 2.6 – when they reach puberty. Spatial access for boys, by contrast, more than doubles, from 3.8 square miles to 7.8, when they are seen as becoming men. Reduced mobility for girls puts them at risk of social isolation and limits their opportunities to build social capital.

As a result of these and other factors, only 47% of women in low- and middle-income countries are now in the labor force, compared to 79% of men. My research team estimates that if we cut the labor-force participation gap by just half – from 32 percentage points to 16% – GDP in the affected countries would increase by 15% in the first year alone, adding $4 trillion to global GDP.

Giving girls the skills and knowledge they need to become productive individuals who can participate in the twenty-first-century economy empowers them in all aspects of their lives, enabling them to contribute to their families, communities, and economies in ways they choose. It is the right thing to do for global development – and for girls and women themselves.

A growing number of governments, foundations, companies, and communities recognize this, and are now investing in girls’ health, education, and wellbeing. But considerable resources are being channeled toward ineffective approaches or – worse – programs that have been proved not to work. And too many well-meaning development actors regard girls as victims to be saved, rather than as the innovative, energetic game changers they are.

So how can we best expand opportunities for girls? We know, for example, that educating girls may be the most cost-effective investment for promoting economic development. We also know that girls, including those with children of their own, benefit considerably from access to sexual and reproductive information and services, which enable them to choose the size and structure of their families and ensure their own health and wellbeing.

But girls’ advocates – in governments, non-governmental organizations, and development and funding agencies – struggle daily with meeting these needs. And, despite recognizing the multifaceted and interconnected nature of girls’ needs, we often struggle in silos, working on the same problems without communicating with one another. This lack of effective coordination, collaboration, or knowledge sharing carries through to investments, which often end up narrowly focused on a single project, sector, or geographic area – often weakening their effectiveness.

That’s why the Population Council created the Girl Innovation, Research, and Learning (GIRL) Center, a kind of global knowledge hub for girl-centered research and programming. The GIRL Center, which I direct, aims to make the most of the world’s investments in girls, both by supporting evidence-based policies and by aligning the goals and priorities of various stakeholders.

To that end, we are building the world’s largest open data repository on adolescents, curating the Population Council’s records on more than 120,000 individuals of adolescent age, as well as data from other organizations working on girl-centered research and programs. The repository will enable rigorous analyses that provide policymakers with a deeper understanding of how girls’ lives and needs evolve during adolescence and which interventions are most effective for which groups (and under which conditions). It will also connect people from different disciplines and sectors united by the goal of promoting systemic changes that give adolescents, especially girls, the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Empowering girls to use their energies and talents to transform their societies will not be easy. The key is to pursue a comprehensive approach – one that recognizes the fundamental linkages among programs and objectives, takes advantage of proven solutions, and adopts a long-term perspective.


By : Thoai Ngo

Date : July 7, 2017

Source : Project Syndicate

Posted in Education, Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

When women lead, everyone prospers


In the 21st century, something in politics went terribly sour.

It is clear, now more than ever, that the toxic dynamic in the American political landscape needs to change. The dialogue has become unhealthily vitriolic, full of hyperbolic hatred and, increasingly, personal attacks — some of which, alarmingly, have turned physical. The attack on the Congressional Republican baseball team is just one jarring and recent example.

The good news is that the first step in changing the level of political dialogue is as simple as helping more women, particularly diverse populations of women, become leaders.

The better news is that Maine is leading the charge in doing just that.

Powerful women have been getting things done in Maine for decades. Beginning with Margaret Chase Smith — who historically took a principled stand against McCarthyism and Sen. Joseph McCarthy himself in 1950 — and continuing with both Sen. Susan Collins and former Sen. Olympia Snowe, the Pine Tree State has consistently sent its best — including its best women — to Washington.

The aim to encourage women’s leadership is something of a bipartisan bonding agent, bringing together Democratic and Republican lawmakers in one of the most divided periods in American political history.

Maine is an incredible example of how nonpartisan women’s leadership training can make a difference. Both major political parties offer rigorous campaign training to Maine women, while Maine NEW Leadership — held each June at the University of Maine — offers a week-long, intensive leadership experience for 28 college students from every political background. It wouldn’t be a stretch to argue that these programs are part of why the Maine Legislature is 34.4 percent women, roughly 10 percent above the national average.

Women bring something special to the table nationally, too, specifically in Congress. Congressional women consistently bridge ideological divides, making huge strides in issues from education to immigration, while some of the Senate’s most “persuadable” partisans remain its female members.

The resolution of the 2013 government shutdown is largely attributed to the hard work of bipartisan women, while congressional women made headlines in early 2016 for running the show during Winter Storm Jonas. Such willingness to listen, coupled with an incredible sense of personal accountability ( Collins has yet to miss a single vote) is what allows for at least some compromise among intensely polarized parties, even when it can appear that common ground is entirely absent.

Look no further for evidence of the pragmatism of female lawmakers than the recent “defectors” from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act: three Republican women recently profiled by the New York Times — Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Shelley Moore Capito.

Female staffers on the Hill also form uniquely long-lasting relationships. It’s not uncommon to find staffers who specifically seek out other women for mentorship and development. Frequently, female interns also find friendships with one another. Common experiences and hardships bond interns of different political backgrounds — making lunch between women in the Capitol something of a bi — or even tri — partisan affair.

Strong women make for a strong republic. Strong, diverse women make for an unassailable republic. Because it has such a strong history of female leadership, Maine is uniquely equipped to lead the charge — empowering women to get involved in corporate, federal, state and municipal leadership in a way that empowers us all.


Allyson Eslin is pursuing a dual master’s in economics and global policy at the University of Maine. Maine NEW Leadership is co-directed by Mary R. Cathcart, who served four terms as state senator and three terms in the Maine House of Representatives, and Amy Blackstone, a Scholars Strategy Network member and professor in sociology and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at UMaine. Both contributed to this column.


Date : August 6, 2017
By : Allyson Eslin
Source : Bangor Daily News

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