Gender & Human Rights

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Ending the Business of Child Labor


Advocates fighting to eradicate child labor had once hoped that globalization would help. But recent evidence shows that little progress has been made, suggesting that in addition to strong legal frameworks, robust accountability mechanisms are needed to guarantee that child labor is not used in supply chains.

NEW DELHI – In October 1997, when global leaders gathered in Oslo to strategize how to end child labor, we brought a huge ambition and a deep commitment to change. Through improved collaboration and planning, we sought to protect children from exploitation, and to develop “new strategies to eliminate child labor at the national, regional, and international levels.”

Now, 20 years later, it is time to ask: how have we done?

Poorly. Since that first meeting, the world has not even halved the number of children in the workforce. In the last five years, the international community has managed to reduce the number of employed children by just 16 million, the slowest pace of reduction in decades. Of the 152 million children working today, some 73 million are doing jobs considered hazardous. Even “safe” child labor affects victims’ physical and physiological wellbeing long into adulthood.

Worse, according to the most recent data from the International Labor Organization, the world has made the least progress in protecting two of the most at-risk populations: children between the ages of five and 11, and young girls.

The problem is not that we have failed to learn anything during our four global gatherings (the most recent one, held in Buenos Aires, wrapped up earlier this month). The problem is that we have failed, and are failing, to take our own advice.

Even as we talk, disturbing global developments have added a sinister twist to child labor and trafficking. This was supposed to be the century of empowerment for the most marginalized. Instead, we are witnessing globalization of the most perverted kind, with children becoming victims many times over.

Because traffickers can easily prey amid chaos, children in conflict zones are particularly vulnerable. Syria has commanded attention for years because of the horrific violence to which children there are subjected. But the global rise of organized gangs means that children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe are also at risk. Stemming this trend requires urgent and coordinated investment in education and safety wherever children are at risk – in conflict zones, refugee camps, and in areas affected by natural disasters.

I am often left wondering how we got to this point. Over the last 37 years, colleagues and I have rescued more than 87,000 children from forced labor in India. We have rescued girls who were so abused that they lost their ability to speak. Recently, we rescued children from a garment factory in New Delhi, where, for more than three years, they had been forced to sit and work for 20 hours a day in a basement with no ventilation. When they were brought to Mukti Ashram, our transit rehabilitation center, many were unable to walk or even look up at the sun.

We are proud of our accomplishments. But humans’ depravity is a source of continued sorrow.

How can we end this suffering once and for all? Global gatherings, like the one that just ended, certainly have a role to play. But talk alone will not suffice. Serious problems confronting humanity are tackled only when stakeholders become full participants.

Successes in public health are instructive. For example, there was a time when diseases like polio and smallpox ravaged millions. Through the coordinated efforts of doctors, volunteers, global institutions, local governments, and civil society, these diseases were tamed. Similar collaboration is needed now to reduce child labor.

The first place to start is targeting industries where child labor is present, such as agriculture. In addition to strong legal frameworks, robust accountability mechanisms must be established to guarantee that child labor is not used in supply chains. I have found that with the right incentives, businesses and consumers can become partners in eradicating child labor.

One example of this collaboration emerged from the carpet industry in South Asia, where children were being mercilessly exploited. To force change, we launched a movement to educate consumers in the West to compel carpet factory owners to behave responsibly. This led to the creation of a label, GoodWeave, which certifies that no child has been put to work manufacturing the product. Since the label was launched more than 20 years ago, child labor in the region’s carpet industry has plummeted, from roughly one million to about 200,000.

Programs like these are helpful, but the most important changes must come from international efforts led by the United Nations. Ending the vicious circle of child labor, illiteracy, and poverty will require inter-governmental agencies to come together around each of the Sustainable Development Goals that directly affect children. These include Goal 8, ending forced labor, modern slavery, trafficking, and child labor; Goal 4, ensuring education for all; Goal 3, providing universal access to healthcare; and Goal 16, stopping all forms of violence against children.

To succeed, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will need to channel more resources toward improving children’s lives. His first course of action should be to call a meeting with the heads of UN agencies and international organizations, as well as world leaders, to create an agenda for concerted and coordinated efforts to protect young people everywhere.

At the end of the day, only political will can disrupt the grim calculus of child labor. We cannot build a more peaceful, sustainable world without ensuring the freedom, safety, and education of every child. A life of work robs children of all three.

As I ponder the way forward, I cannot forget a young girl I met in Brazil, whose small hands were horribly injured and bleeding from plucking oranges. She asked me a simple question, to which I did not have an answer: “How can the world enjoy the juice from these oranges when children like me have to shed their blood to pluck them?”

That is a question we all must ask ourselves, too.


By : Kailash Satyarthi
Date : November 16, 2017
Source : Project Syndicate (

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Medical services for transgender people needed, survey finds


A survey released on Monday found that transgender people are in high need of medical services, with 62 percent having a demand for hormone therapies, and 51 percent having a demand for gender reassignment treatment.

Both demands are not fully satisfied, the report said. Only 6 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the current domestic situation for provision of and access to hormone therapy, and just 2 percent thought that there were enough medical resources for sex reassignment surgeries.

The Chinese Transgender Population General Survey Report was compiled by the Beijing LGBT Center and Peking University’s Sociology Department, with help from the UN Development Programme and the Dutch embassy.

“The medical resources are now far from adequate,” said Kelly Kiseki, the transgender program manager at Beijing LGBT Center.

Transgender people also experience persistent neglect, verbal abuse, physical beatings and other forms of violence from their family and at school, work and public spaces, according to the report.

“The discrimination from work is a reason that a relatively large number of transgender respondents earn a low income,” Xin said. The report shows 33.5 percent reported an after-tax annual income of less than 25,000 yuan ($3,770).

James Yang, the Beijing LGBTI in Asia program officer from UN Development Programme, said people in the transgender community are caught in a vicious cycle.

“The discrimination and low income make it difficult for them to get proper medical treatment, which to some degree causes the high rates of self-harm and suicide,” he added.

Almost half of transgender people in China have contemplated suicide, with many going on to attempt to take their own life, according to a survey released on Monday.

The report did not include an estimate of the number of transgender people in China, but a survey of 2,060 people showed 46.2 percent have considered suicide, and 12.7 percent had survived a suicide attempt.

The report also found 44.5 percent have thought about self-mutilation as a result of being transgender and 21.2 percent had exhibited some level of self-mutilating behavior.

Xin Ying, director of the Beijing LGBT Center, an NGO set up in 2008, said the transgender group have long been in an awkward position in the society.

“They are often confronted with serious mental problems,” Xin said.


Editor : Gu Mengxi
Date : November 21, 2017
Source : China Daily /China News Services (

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

How Double Labor Market Barriers Hurt Women With Disabilities


Despite legal protections meant to prevent discrimination and improve working conditions, both women and people with disabilities are still disadvantaged and marginalized in the labor market. Despite gains in education and increases in labor force participation, men still out-earn women. Employment rates among people with disabilities have been declining for the last quarter century and workers with disabilities earn considerably less than workers without disabilities.

The reasons for such persistent disparities are many. Employers may view people with disabilities as being weak, unproductive, or less competent. Such prejudicial assumptions vary – and people with mental or cognitive disabilities are often especially vulnerable to being seen as unstable or dangerous.

Women with disabilities may suffer double disadvantages if negative effects of gender and disability intersect. Both women and disabled people are often “ghettoized” in precarious and nonstandard work arrangements, as employers and society direct such people to occupations deemed “suitably matched” to their status. For example, women are often encouraged or redirected to “women’s work” which typically includes jobs that are lower status, lower paying, and less stable. And disabled people may get similar treatment based on assumptions about what they can and cannot do in workplaces. Disabled women may end up being “twice penalized” or in “double jeopardy.” This can happen because both of the groups they are part of are regularly subjected to discriminatory structures and attitudes in the job market and in society as a whole.

Interpreting Key Findings from a New Study

Understanding how disability and gender intersect to shape employment and earnings can shed light on why employers may go so far as not to hire disabled women at all, even if some regularly hire women or people with disabilities. Michelle Maroto and I used data from 2010 through 2015 that covered 596,199 working-age adults, including 413,007 who were employed and had earnings. After analyzing these data to examine disparities in employment and earnings by gender and disability type, we found the following:

  • Women with disabilities, especially those with multiple disabilities, had the lowest employment rates and earnings levels.
  • Women with work-limiting disabilities earned approximately 18% less than men with similar disabilities.
  • Among men and women with any difficulty or limitation, women earned approximately 28% less than the men in the category.

Our findings suggest that different types of disabilities interact with gender to limit employment and lower earnings – in effect indicating an overall hierarchy of disadvantage. In this hierarchy, women with multiple and cognitive disabilities continually have the lowest employment rates and earnings levels. Men without disabilities had an employment rate of 82% and average earnings of $59,000 per year, and men with multiple disabilities had an employment rate of 17% and average earnings of $37,000. However, women with multiple disabilities had the employment rate of 16% and earnings of $29,000, putting them at the very bottom of the hierarchy.

Researchers must also look beyond labor market inequality to examine the ways gendered discrimination excludes women with disabilities from education, health, and social services. Such additional forms of discrimination can contribute to and perpetuate their marginalization in the job market. Given that employers see education as an indicator of human capital potential, when disabled women are disadvantaged in education prior to entering the labor market, they can end up facing economic disadvantages that compound and accumulate across a lifetime.

Policy Lessons from the Labor Market Experiences of Disabled Women

Disability is often seen and treated differently than other status characteristics like race and gender. This is perhaps nowhere more concretely evident than in the way the U.S. handles civil rights for its citizens with disabilities. For decades, a system of parallel rights policies for the disabled has borrowed from the Civil Rights Act, but also departed from it. Disability policies like the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act have not been able to assure equal rights and protection from labor market discrimination. Enforcement has been difficult because the courts have ruled conservatively about the rights of the disabled, and also because policymakers treat disability differently than other status markers of social disadvantage.

Parallel rights systems have also made it hard for researchers and policymakers to pay sufficient attention to the double discriminatory binds faced by people who are both disabled and members of socially disadvantaged gender, racial, and ethnic groups. Thinking more about how disability intersects with other status characteristics can shed light on why such intersections generate extra inequalities – and point the way toward policies to redress double disadvantages.

To improve labor market outcomes for women with disabilities, antidiscrimination policies should not ignore the important role of college education and general work experience in helping people overcome labor-market barriers. Vocational and educational training programs must keep up with employer demands, and such programs must ensure that training includes women, people with disabilities, and especially women with disabilities. Programs should not shunt groups facing certain challenges, but rather encourage groups such as women with disabilities to pursue higher paying jobs by providing them with the skills, education, and support they need to succeed in competitive labor markets.


Read more in David Pettinicchio and Michelle Maroto, “Employment Outcomes Among Men and Women with Disabilities: How the Intersection of Gender and Disability Status Shapes Labor Market Inequality,” Research in Social Science and Disability, (2017): 3-33.


By : David Pettinicchio (University of Toronto)
Date : November 2017
Source : Scholars Strategy Network (

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Beyond the Bathroom: Centering and Affirming Non-Binary Trans Perspectives in Heath Fogg Davis’s “Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?”


Book Title             :               Beyond Trans Does Gender Matter?

Author                   :               Heath Fogg Davis

Date Published     :               June 2017

Publisher                :               NYU Press

AT FIRST GLANCE, the title of political theorist Heath Fogg Davis’s new monograph Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? seems like an anti-feminist screed or a call for a post-trans rejection of gender as a schema for identity. The mistaken, latter reading would treat transgender as an outdated identity shot through with its own normative set of assumptions about the interface between identity, narrative, and gendered embodiment. This vision of transgender identity harkens back to the early 2000s’ call for an anti-identity politics, one that posited a kind of cultural utopia outside structural racism, sexism, and heterosexism. The politics readers might misidentify in Davis’s red herring title crystalized in arguments that, after the election of the United States’s first black and mixed-race president, Barack Obama, America had entered a post-racial moment. An analogous post-trans identity would insist on a similar irrelevance of gender to suggest that sexism is a structural problem of the past. Davis has no such illusions that we are in or even anywhere near such a moment.

Beyond Trans’s short answer of the title’s question is yes, of course gender matters, in part because systemic oppressions have not disappeared. However, Davis makes a thoroughly convincing case that what he terms “sex classification policies,” which bolster sex-identity discrimination by regulating gender, should not matter. Davis identifies sex-identity discrimination — the ways in which people are gendered according to the male/female binary — as a subcategory of sexism. Sex classification policies, thus, are informal and institutionalized ways in which sex-identity discrimination takes place in our everyday, routinized life: checking a sex-identity box on an employment application or policing who may enter the men’s or women’s restroom. In the book’s introduction, Davis asks if we might stop “trying to assimilate” transgender people into the binary regime of sex-classification policies and instead “tackle the genesis of ‘transgender discrimination’ — sex classification, itself.” That shift moves the conversation to the much more fundamental question of how and why we administrate sex as an identity category at almost every juncture of our lives. Liberalist equality, a strategy taken by the mainstream transgender civil rights movement (among others), prioritizes assimilation and accommodation into extant systems of binary sex-classification. This approach centers the idea that changing policies to explicitly allow trans people access to sex-segregated spaces and correcting identity documents to reflect their gender identity will prevent discrimination or at least make trans people feel more welcome.

However, Davis contests liberal equality for not going far enough to prevent discrimination, and for failing to address the architecture of binary sex-classification that still remains intact. Davis reframes the failings of liberalist equality, outlining in practical terms how to assess and remove the administration of sex across identity documents, bathrooms, college admissions, and athletics. Arguing that there are more pertinent ways to classify bodies and verify identities than sex and gender, Davis recounts the ways that medical, legal, and social science have thoroughly debunked the myth of sex and gender as immutable characteristics. In doing so, Beyond Trans avoids the intellectual quagmire through which discussions about trans identity and the official administration of trans people often devolve, as I’ve witnessed many times as a transgender professor and recently finished PhD. I highlight these potential misreadings of Davis’s book (for those judging simply by the cover), because they are sure to arise given the systemic social, cultural, and political investment in the gender binary. Even with the recent rediscovery of the profitability of trans narratives, bodies, and lives in mass media, it seems there are some stories we just can’t stop telling ourselves and this, too, is what Davis puts to critique.

In moving beyond those narratives, Beyond Trans points to what I see as the future of Transgender and Gender Studies as academic fields: centering the needs and concerns of non-binary people, whether or not they are trans identified. Despite purporting to challenge the gender binary when the field emerged in the 1990s, trans studies has often focused on affirming trans women or men (as well as trans masculine or trans feminine folks) in their respective genders from the perch of a cisnormative ivory tower that often neglects the experiences of gender nonconforming, genderqueer, and non-binary trans people. In order to push non-binary and gender nonconforming perspectives to the heart of trans politics, Davis outlines the history of reading racialized gender and sexuality as nonnormative as a way of containing and administering the bodies of people of color. Davis recalls Khadijah Farmer’s 2007 case against Caliente Cab bar and restaurant for being thrown out of the women’s restroom by a bouncer who misgendered the black masculine lesbian as a man. Despite telling the bouncer that she was in the correct restroom, and having an identity document that listed her as female, Farmer was thrown out. Davis uses this case study to suggest that what really happened that night was that Farmer “had violated heteronormative standards of femininity” but also that she had violated the norms of a racist society.

Davis writes:

When Farmer was accused of being a man in a women’s restroom, she was more pointedly accused of being a black man in a women’s restroom. Even more pointedly, she was accused of being a young dark-skinned black man who was deemed threatening and out of place in a female-marked public space.

When the Transgender Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of Farmer, they cited Caliente Cab for illegally discriminating against Farmer’s sexual orientation and gender expression, but as Davis notes, these were simultaneously compounded by the ways the bouncers and clientele of the restaurant read Farmer’s gender and assumed sex through her race and darker skin tone.

In such moments, Davis’s engagement with questions of race and sex undergirds the imperative of thinking beyond the importance of sex to administrative documentation. Expanding on Farmer’s case, Davis claims that “[s]ex-identity discrimination is about intersectional sexual affinity, about where and with whom we belong in the racialized social scheme of sex.” The culture of gender policing in restrooms — particularly the rhetoric around privacy, cleanliness, and safety — have roots in prioritizing the comfort of those privileged by race, class, and gender-conformity. Davis gives the example of white women workers participating in labor strikes during the 1950s against workplace integration because they would have to share bathrooms with black women, whom they believed would pass them syphilis via towels and toilet seats. Thinking the history of sex-identity discrimination through its intersection with the history of race discrimination, Beyond Trans aligns with a long genealogy of women of color feminist political thought that remains central to contemporary political discourse.

Davis claims that “[s]ex-identity discrimination is about intersectional sexual affinity, about where and with whom we belong in the racialized social scheme of sex.” The culture of gender policing in restrooms — particularly the rhetoric around privacy, cleanliness, and safety — have roots in prioritizing the comfort of those privileged by race, class, and gender-conformity. Davis gives the example of white women workers participating in labor strikes during the 1950s against workplace integration because they would have to share bathrooms with black women, whom they believed would pass them syphilis via towels and toilet seats. Thinking the history of sex-identity discrimination through its intersection with the history of race discrimination, Beyond Trans aligns with a long genealogy of women of color feminist political thought that remains central to contemporary political discourse.

Davis demonstrates that not only are the oft-cited reasons for federally mandated data collection of sex demographics based on the outdated and inaccurate belief that sex (and the assumption of gender from sex assigned at birth) is immutable and monolithic, but the sacrosanct place of birth certificates in the cultural and political imagination renders trans, gender nonconforming, and intersex people as exceptional citizens. This discourse of exception frames such individuals as needing accommodation within the gender binary so that they may be assimilated into the sex-segregated practices, spaces, and institutions inscribed by it. The burden of proof falls on the individual trans person to qualify for exceptional status in order to be accommodated and/or assimilated within binary venues with no regard to the ways in which inconsistent policies regarding sex and gender in administrative forms and procedures render them an at-best fraught, and often dangerous, experience for trans people. National attention to this issues has usually focused on the case of trans students who want to use a bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. What often gets left out of media coverage is how these students rely on the acceptance of guardians, parent(s), and school officials to lobby for their admittance to a gendered restroom. Davis claims that this state of affairs puts trans students in a precarious position, reliant on a politics of respectability in terms of being white (the documented cases are mostly of white students wanting admittance to one binary restroom), adhering to middle-class niceties, and citing the gender norms of that student’s gender identity. As Davis asks:

How will the school district handle a case in which a student self-identifies as neither male or female, or as both male and female? Or, to follow the logic of the case, would the case have been so compelling, and clearly seen as sex discrimination, if the transgender student had not been accepted as male by his parents, teachers, and classmates? Would school officials have reacted differently if the transgender student had been black, working class, and/or poor?

In order to be exceptional and therefore easier to accommodate and assimilate within a binary structure, the onus of doing gender correctly means being respectable within a normative framework of manhood or womanhood.

In addition to its imbrication with histories of race discrimination, Davis also explores the history of sex discrimination as part of the case he builds against the sex and gender administration of public life. Davis unpacks the ways in which patriarchal institutions were engineered to exclude women from social and political life in four areas: state identity documents, college admissions, public restrooms, and athletics. Historically, elite colleges and universities admitted white men only, leading to the founding of women’s colleges in a separate-but-equal formulation. Likewise, Victorian-era feminists had to organize for the inclusion of women’s public restrooms in schools, workplaces, and commercial spaces since public restrooms were then provided only for men. Similarly, the separate-but-equal logic organized women’s sports, which Davis demonstrates were molded into an imitation of men’s sports without questioning the sexism already at play in those institutions (and continues to play out in the sex-based justifications for lower salaries and worse playing conditions for women’s teams). This is familiar ground for students of gender and feminist studies introductory courses, but Davis’s work differs dramatically from past approaches to framing administrative practices and analyses of legal rhetoric from trans (especially non-binary) affirmative perspectives.

Rather than incorporating non-binary trans folks into a binaristic, cisnormative framework of sex, Davis historically contextualizes the integration of gender and sexually marginalized people into systemically exclusionary spaces, and particularly why liberalist approaches of assimilation and accommodation have fallen far short of what could have, and should have, been the goal: the removal of sex classification on administrative forms and identity documents, and the sexual desegregation of public space. Davis argues that, rather than equalize the playing field, moves to accommodate women effectively created a second-class version of male-designed spaces and institutions. One example is the lack of “potty parity” in restrooms: there are dramatically fewer stalls per restroom in women’s bathrooms than in the mix of stalls and utilitarian urinals in men’s restrooms. The separate-but-equal approach to integrate gender-marginalized people did not translate to equality for cisgender women and, unsurprisingly, this form of equality has not become equity as it has been extended to trans people. Even this paltry form of equality has shown itself to be increasingly out of reach since Trump took office in January.

Davis argues that instead of relying on reactive or proactive approaches to assimilate or accommodate trans people in sex-segregated spaces, the current moment offers an opportunity to dismantle sex and gender segregation. This would start by outlining a clear definition of sex or gender and its relevance to any intake form or application within an organization or institutional practice. Davis astutely argues that filling such line items on forms is confusing to the trans and/or gender nonconforming applicant or patient if it is not specified whether sex or gender is determined by what is on their identity documents (and, if so, which identity document: birth certificate, state identity card, social security, et cetera) or by the applicant or patient’s personal gender and/or sex identity, which may contract their identity documents. By putting pressure on why an organization or institution asks for sex identification information, we might see if a given sex-classification policy is rationally related to a legitimate policy or administrative goal.

Davis’s solution-oriented Beyond Trans is a necessary voice in current debates about the administration of sex and transgender identity. From the infamous bathroom bills to cis citizens’ objection to financing the medical expenses of trans military personnel (the specter of which Donald Trump backhandedly invoked during his transgender ban tweets), to women’s colleges determining that sex-segregation and defining the boundaries of womanhood were necessary to a feminist project of education, Davis’s book offers applicable solutions and applies the knowledge gained from the positionality of trans, intersex, and non-binary viewpoints. By reframing these debates and topics as new iterations of a larger structural problem (sex-identity discrimination) that has operated for years on gender nonconforming and trans people under the public radar, Davis puts to print what gender nonconforming, genderqueer, and non-binary trans folks have known all their lives, that what needs to be rethought and reworked is the purpose of such administrative systems. To that end, Davis includes a very practical gender audit for organizations interested in putting Davis’s suggestions into practice in the appendix. Davis’s tremendous efforts in Beyond Trans makes for both an exceptionally readable and engaging political salvo, and one immensely useful beyond the halls of academia.


Jacob Lau is a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at University of California, Irvine.



By : Jacob Lau
Date : October 22, 2017
Source : LA Review of Books (

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

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
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