Gender & Human Rights

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Male teachers are most likely to rate highly in university student feedback


University students, like many in society, demonstrate bias against women and particularly women from non-English speaking backgrounds.

That’s the take home message from a new and comprehensive analysis of student experience surveys.

The study examined a large dataset consisting of more than 500,000 student responses collected over 2010 to 2016. It involved more than 3,000 teachers and 2,000 courses across five faculties at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney.

Most bias in science and business

Interestingly, the bias varies.

In parts of science and business the effects are clear. In the science and business faculties, a male teacher from an English-speaking background was more than twice as likely to get a higher score on a student evaluation than a female teacher from a non-English speaking background.

But in other areas, such as arts and social science, the effects are almost marginal. In engineering, effects were only detected for non-English speakers.

When one looks at the probability of scoring very high ratings, and dissects the categories into genders and cultural background, the results are clear. The disparities occur mostly at the very top end: this is where bias creeps in.

Previously the university had looked at just the average (mean) ratings of teachers of different genders, and found that they are more or less indistinguishable (unpublished data). But this new study goes further and provides information that is not evident in superficial analyses.

Should we abandon student feedback?

Student feedback can be a useful mechanism to understand the varied experiences of students. But student feedback is sometimes used inappropriately in staff performance evaluations, and that’s where the existence of bias creates serious problems.

One can make the case for abandoning student feedback – and many have.

But it’s problematic to turn a deaf ear to the student voice, and that is not what national approaches such as the Quality in Learning and Teaching processes (QILT) are doing.

This is because feedback can often be helpful. It can make things better. In addition, it is often positive. Sometimes the feedback is actually the way students say thanks.

However, sometimes it can be very hurtful and damaging, particularly if it is motivated by prejudice. We have to be aware of that and the barriers it can create.

We know that minority groups already suffer from reduced confidence and visibility, so biased teacher evaluations may exaggerate existing inequities.

What do the numbers mean?

It is very important to be cautious when looking at the raw numbers.

Firstly, let’s consider what the numbers mean. Students are not evaluating teaching and learning in these surveys. They are telling us about their experiences – that’s why we call them MyExperience surveys at UNSW. We resist the idea that they are student evaluations of teaching, as are used in some settings.

Peer review can make contributions to evaluating teaching while assessments can help evaluate learning – however they may not be enough to overcome bias. When considering professional performance at UNSW, we do not exclude the feedback that students provide on their experience, but we look at a basket of indicators.

Secondly, one has to be serious about the biases that emerge, acknowledge them and confront the issues. Most universities pride themselves on being diverse and inclusive, and students support this.

But this study reminds us that we have work to do. Biases exist. The message is strong. You are more likely to score top ratings if you come from the category of white male: that is, if you are from the prevailing establishment.

The influence of history

These results may be surprising given the diversity of the student and staff body at Australian universities.

But our cultural milieu has been historically saturated by white males, and continuing biases exist. The important thing is to be aware of them, and when looking at the numbers to realise that the ratings are provided in the context of a particular society at a particular moment in time.

The scores should not be blindly accepted at face value.

Most universities, including ours, are working on being more inclusive. At UNSW a new Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – Eileen Baldry – was recently appointed, and we are working hard to combat bias and to introduce new strategies aimed at supporting diversity. For example, the university will introduce new training for members of promotion panels, explaining the biases detected in our new study. By understanding the problem, we can begin to address it.

All staff across all of our universities can benefit from becoming more aware of issues around bias – especially those in powerful positions, such as members of promotion committees.

Reducing bias will have great benefits for society as university students represent a large proportion of future leaders in government and industry.

It is clear that negative stereotypes will contribute to the partiality that exists within our student community. Encouraging more women and cultural minorities at all levels in higher education, in leadership positions and in membership of key committees will help shrink these biases.

Training in values

Training students is challenging, especially at large modern universities such as UNSW, which has a cohort of over 50,000 coming from more than 100 countries. But our study found similar levels of bias in local students, as we did in international students.

In training students we have to remember that we provide knowledge, but also communicate values via our words and our behaviours.

If we are to continue to listen to the student experience, we need to be careful with the results. Rigorous statistical analyses such as this study, can help us recognise bias and work to address it. If our students graduate with less bias than when they entered their degree, we will be contributing to creating a more equitable and inclusive society in the future.

It is not easy to uproot prejudices but the data are clear. We expect people will be on board and be pleased to contribute to moving things in the right direction.


Merlin Crossley (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Professor of Molecular Biology, UNSW)

Emma Johnston (Professor and Dean of Science, UNSW)

Yanan Fan (Associate Professor of Statistics, UNSW)


By : Merlin Crossley, Emma Johnston and Yanan Fan
Date : February 13, 2019
Source : The Conversation

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A Bright Future for Africa’s Girls


Education plays a central role in determining girls’ and women’s capacity to claim economic, social, and political rights and status in society. That is why it is so important that countries like Zambia are placing the education and empowerment of girls and women at the top of their political agendas.

LUSAKA – Education gives young people the tools they need – from cognitive and social skills to self-confidence – to succeed throughout their lives. For many African countries, including my home country of Zambia, burgeoning youth populations make delivering high-quality education to all particularly urgent. But success will be possible only with a sharp focus on girls and women.

Education plays a central role in determining girls’ and women’s capacity to claim economic, social, and political rights and status in society. That is why it is so important that countries place the education and empowerment of girls and women at the top of their political agendas.

For Zambia, that decision is already paying off. Women now occupy powerful positions previously dominated by men, including Chief Justice, Head of the Drug Enforcement Commission, President of the Constitutional Court, Vice President, and Finance Minister. Zambian President Edgar Lungu is experiencing his own “Blair’s babes” moment (British Prime Minister Tony Blair was once photographed surrounded by 96 of the 101 female Labour MPs elected to the House of Commons in 1997) without the patronizing slogan.

Of course, promoting gender equality is not just about getting women into the top levels of power. Not everyone wants to or can be a CEO or political leader. Gender equality is fundamentally about choice: giving women the same breadth of opportunities that men enjoy. Education gives girls and women the knowledge they need to make informed choices about the life they want – to become a homemaker or scientific researcher, for example, or a small business owner or the head of a multinational corporation – and the skills they need to achieve it.

To support this effort, Zambia’s government has increased its investment in building technical secondary schools for girls. Moreover, to boost education quality, it has been recruiting teachers, with a focus on women. So far, 1,265 female teachers have been hired, compared to 744 male teachers.

The Zambian government has also strengthened its “re-entry policy,” focused on helping young mothers return to school after childbirth. And it is buttressing its efforts with legislation, including the Gender Equity and Equality Act and an amendment to the Zambian Constitution Act. A bill to curb sexual and gender-based violence is also in the pipeline.

Zambia’s progress challenges outsiders’ assumptions about what it means to be a woman in Africa. It should serve as a model for neighboring countries seeking to bolster development by improving gender equality, and as a source of hope for girls and women everywhere, giving them the confidence to dream big.

But our work is far from finished. We not only need more women to be playing decisive roles at all levels of society; we must also close educational-attainment gaps between, say, urban and rural girls.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright. For one thing, with the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 4, United Nations member states have committed to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030, with a focus on eliminating gender disparities.

For another, high-profile figures have thrown their weight behind initiatives promoting education – and, in particular, girls’ education. Notably, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is now a patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the only accredited organization representing higher education (more than 500 universities) throughout more than 50 Commonwealth countries. Among the ACU’s key areas of work is gender equity.

This is an obvious fit for the duchess, a vocal feminist, who has used her platform to encourage the empowerment of young women, including through education. For example, speaking to a group of students at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji last October, she declared, “Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to receive the education they want, but more importantly the education they have the right to receive.” She then underscored the added importance of this objective for “women and girls in developing countries.”

The duchess has previously worked with organizations like One World Vision and has been an ambassador for UN Women. Perhaps most important, she has the star quality that captures young people’s attention. With her compelling personal story – in which she found her own success, lived her values, and defied expectations – she is the epitome of the modern woman, and an inspiration to girls and women throughout Africa.

The advocacy of figures like the Duchess of Sussex, together with a strong commitment from governments and NGOs, suggests that the future of our young girls is bright. Now more than ever, African women can look forward to lives they choose for themselves.


Nkandu Luo is Minister of Higher Education for the Government of Zambia.


By : NKandu Luo
Date : February 19, 2019
Source : Project Syndicate

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Fighting Machismo in Latin America: The Formula to Combat Femicides


Peru began the year with 11 femicides in January, despite progress made in laws and statutes and mass demonstrations against gender-based violence. This situation is also seen in other Latin American countries, raising the need to delve deeper into the causes of the phenomenon.

Gladys Acosta, one of the 23 members of the Committee of Experts that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), expressed concern about the mediatisation of violence against women and the role this plays in fomenting it.

“The news is broadcast as if it were a show, without explaining things. Violent images are shown and you would think that this could curb the phenomenon by exposing such a destructive attitude, but this is not the case. That makes me think that many people see the aggressor as a patriarchal hero,” the Peruvian lawyer said in an interview with IPS.

In certain mentalities, she argued, “that translates as: how brave he is, I’d like to do that, but I can’t.”

“There is a very strong deterioration of values, and disrespect for the integrity of women, for their bodies, for who we are,” said Acosta, who has been an activist for years in the defence of women’s rights in the region, and who now mainly lives in New York.

In her view, Latin America “suffers from a broader violence that feeds the more specific violence against women,” such as the urgent challenges of daily survival, growing numbers of small firearms that feeds “the notion that problems are resolved through action rather than dialogue,” and transnational crime that, just as it has trivialised politics, has also become part of social life.

“This contributes to turning relationships between women and men into mere power struggles, rather than affection-based relationships: If you don’t do what I want, you’re going to suffer the consequences,” she said.

In November, the Gender Equality Observatory of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released its latest report on femicides in the region, which states that at least 2,795 women were murdered because of their gender in 23 countries in the region in 2017.

Of that total, 1,133 confirmed victims were from Brazil, but in terms of the rate per 100,000 women, El Salvador reached in 2017 an unparalleled rate of 10.4 femicides per 100,000 women.

This lethal violence is not waning and in the first month of 2019 citizen and feminist collectives like #NiUnaMenos reported the escalation of femicides in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Chile, among other countries.

This is happening despite the existence of laws on prevention, attention and punishment of gender-based violence at the national level, and the Inter-American Convention of Belem do Pará, to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women, which since 1994 has provided the region with a single framework for combating the scourge.

Since 2017, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and other countries have also seen the emergence of a new and growing movement to raise social awareness of male violence and femicides, which has been expressed in mass demonstrations under the slogan #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less) or #NiUnaMás (Not One More Woman).

Acosta, who was the regional head of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) between 2008 and 2011, when the institution became UN Women, highlights the importance of laws, treaties and conventions, but recognises that progress at the legislative and judicial levels is not enough.
“Education, work and opportunities in life are needed to create a favourable context for changing the current pattern of violence against women. Unfortunately, dangerously retrograde political currents are growing in countries in the region that are against education on sexuality or gender issues in schools,” she warned.

The CEDAW expert proposed “rebuilding ties, humane education accessible to all people, in which girls and boys have notions of respect for gender relations”, which includes diverse sexual orientations, and dialogue to solve problems.

“When they grow up, they will be able to generate a form of social life that is not based on power struggles, as men do now with women,” she said.

And she highlighted the need for the media to redefine their information policies in relation to gender-based violence. “The magnitude of the problem that we face affects both women and men,” she remarked, and it is up to the media to take responsibility to overcome their short-term focus on sales and contribute to broader reflection in society.

Peruvian lawyer Rocío Silva, a university professor and human rights activist, told IPS that laws and statutes do not necessarily change reality and that “although progress has been made in terms of rights, it has failed to curb violence against women.”

“There is a powerful cultural component, a patriarchal common sense of men’s possession of women’s bodies. And it is important to work with them, without neglecting the victim. Otherwise, this violence is not going to stop,” she said.

Peru is a prime illustration of a situation that is widespread in the region. In this country of 32 million people, 149 femicides were documented last year according to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, which included the rapes and murders of girls at the hands of their fathers.

Faced with this outlook and the inadequacy of legal frameworks, Silva stressed that it is urgent to debate sexism and “machismo” among society and change the way masculinities are constructed.

“All rapes are about power and not extreme sexuality. It is incredible that a basic taboo of human societies such as incest no longer works. There is no awareness of the harm caused by rape, and that is due to sexist and pornographic education,” she said.

She added that another brutal element of masculinity in Peru is hypersexualisation, as if exercising masculinity only meant having sex. “We are in a society and in a sick patriarchy in which limits are no longer possible, with masculinity in a crisis of tremendous violence,” Silva said.

She deplored the fact that the State’s policies do not include men and suggested education, especially of boys.

“It’s about teaching a kind of camaraderie between men and women so that they can see us as equals. You have to teach that problems are solved through words and not through blows,” Silva said.


By : Mariela Jara
Date : February 4, 2019
Source : IPS News

Fighting Machismo in Latin America: The Formula to Combat Femicides

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An Activist’s Fight for Citizenship


In the summer of 1902, a 20-year-old Puerto Rican woman named Isabel Gonzalez set sail for New York City from San Juan. She was pregnant, a recent widow, and had few economic options in Puerto Rico. Her brother was working in a factory in New York, and her aunt had also recently moved there and married the well-connected Puerto Rican journalist Domingo Collazo. With their help, Gonzalez must have thought, she could make a new life in the city. So that summer, she left her two-year-old daughter with her mother in San Juan, telegraphed ahead to her family to meet her, and got on a ship with just eleven dollars in her pocket. She could not have known that her arrival in the mainland United States would set in motion a controversy that would change how we interpret the U.S. Constitution itself.

When Gonzalez boarded her ship in San Juan, she likely would have expected to be admitted without trouble in New York. Her aunt, after all, had made the same trip just a year before. And American officials carefully avoided treating Puerto Rican immigrants as aliens because they did not want to give anti-imperialist politicians, especially those in the Democratic Party, a way to attack the new colonial system the United States was developing to govern Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines. But unfortunately for Gonzalez, U.S. immigration policy changed sharply while she was sailing north. Under new rules, Puerto Ricans were to be treated like immigrants from foreign countries. So instead of meeting her family on the docks in New York harbor, Gonzalez was sent to Ellis Island, where immigration officials detained her as an unmarried mother “likely to become a public charge.” Her uncle offered to provide for her, but inspectors eventually classified her as an undesirable alien and refused to let her in.

Gonzalez was a proud and intrepid woman, and she fought for her right to enter the country. She even hid the fact that she got married once she was out on parole—which would have allowed her to stay in New York but also would have ended her court case—so that she could continue her legal battle for citizenship. With the help of her uncle and the New York lawyer Frederic Coudert, she appealed her case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision was fundamentally ambiguous—it held that she was not an alien and so could enter the country, but it did not decide whether she was a U.S. citizen. That very ambiguity, however, helped clarify the status of Puerto Ricans under a burgeoning U.S. empire at the turn of the twentieth century: more than foreigners, but less than full citizens with genuine self-determination and the complete suite of constitutional rights. Though Congress has subsequently extended citizenship to Puerto Ricans by statute, Gonzalez’s case still stands as Supreme Court precedent for what rights the Constitution guarantees to Americans living in the territories, including Puerto Ricans today. It remains the case that Puerto Ricans cannot vote in presidential elections, that their representatives cannot vote in Congress, and that the federal government can and does provide substantially less funding for programs like Medicaid in Puerto Rico than it does in the states.

Sam Erman tells Gonzalez’s story in his absorbing new book Almost Citizens: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Constitution, and Empire. In Erman’s account, Gonzalez is one of a number of activists who fought a 20-year battle to redefine the Constitution after the United States acquired Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1899 out of the Spanish-American War. Erman is a law professor at the University of Southern California with a background in American Studies, and Almost Citizens shows off both his range and his substantial chops as a historian: The book is deeply researched and densely footnoted, but Erman’s writing is also lively and lucid, and he has an eye for catchy stories and compelling characters. Most importantly, he has recovered a crucial history of the struggle over democracy, rights, race, and gender in America, a set of conflicts we have not left behind.

The contest over Puerto Rican citizenship at the turn of the twentieth century, Erman argues, helped bring an end to the more racially inclusive constitutional order ostensibly created by Northern Republicans after the Civil War. Up until the Spanish-American War, it was widely understood that the Fourteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, made it impossible for America to hold an empire. The Amendment guarantees that all persons born in America will be “citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” In the late nineteenth century, lawyers, judges, and politicians all read this to mean that any new territory acquired by the United States would eventually become a state and that everyone who lived there would necessarily be a citizen. It was a key feature of what Erman calls the Reconstruction Constitution that citizenship and statehood inevitably follow the flag.

In the wake of the Spanish-American War, though, racist politicians in Washington, D.C. did not want to incorporate Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines into the United States. They wanted to hold the territories for economic and military purposes, to be sure. But they were unwilling to give the substantial non-white populations on the islands status as equal citizens. The legendarily white-supremacist Senator James Vardaman of Mississippi declared, for example, that Puerto Ricans would have to be “held against their will” because they were too uncivilized to “understand the genius of our government” and they would “menace the nation with mongrelization.” One of the many fascinating and deeply unsettling editorial cartoons that Erman reprints, titled “The White Man’s Burden (Apologies to Kipling),” expressed a similar white nationalist panic. It portrayed a weary Uncle Sam carrying caricatures of brown-skinned natives, clutching clubs and spears and labeled “Filipino,” “Porto Rico,” “Cuba,” “Hawaii,” and “Samoa,” up a steep mountain labeled “Barbarism” and “Ignorance.” The cartoon ignored the substantial racial diversity in Puerto Rico and the complicated political relationships between racial groups that Erman now skillfully maps. But that was the point: to reduce the islands to a derogatory stereotype of blackness and thereby imply that their residents could never rule themselves.

Puerto Ricans, however, did not simply acquiesce to second-class status. They organized and demanded their rights. The power of Erman’s book lies in the fact that he not only tracks the members of Congress and the Supreme Court justices who debated whether Puerto Ricans should have constitutional rights, but he also follows the Puerto Rican politicians, activists, journalists, lawyers, labor leaders, and ordinary people—like Isabel Gonzalez—who achieved a series of partial victories in Congress and the courts that changed American history.

In addition to Gonzalez, Erman focuses mainly on the works of the sophisticated lawyer and congressional representative Federico Degetau y González, the radical socialist labor organizer Santiago Iglesias, and Gonzalez’s uncle, the sometime-revolutionary and journalist Domingo Collazo. Each man adopted a series of legal and political strategies during the long fight for citizenship, and in Erman’s prose, their personal and collective struggles come alive. Iglesias, in particular, reinvented himself repeatedly, first as a revolutionary anarchist in Cuba, then as a labor leader in Puerto Rico, where he was jailed for organizing strikes, and finally as a respectable politician when he became Puerto Rico’s elected Resident Commissioner, a non-voting member of the United States House of Representatives.

On a more quotidian level, Erman amusingly reports that Collazo worked to build an alliance with the Puerto Rican politician Luis Muñoz Rivera by writing a positive review of Rivera’s book of poetry, Tropicales, and sending his review to Degetau; Degetau sent back a copy of his own book, Cuentos para el viaje. Gonzalez, for her part, remained active even after her court case, as she and Collazo published a series of letters to the editor in the New York Times demanding Puerto Rican rights.

As Erman’s title indicates, these activists achieved a partial success, winning status as “almost citizens.” Iglesias formed a bond between Puerto Rican workers and the American Federation of Labor and used the alliance to win basic labor rights. Degetau cleverly managed to get the Supreme Court to admit him as a member of the Supreme Court Bar and thereby implicitly affirm that he was a citizen, since only citizens could argue before the Court. Collazo eventually turned stateside Puerto Ricans into a powerful voting bloc in New York City who could lobby their members of Congress for better conditions on the island, an effective end-run around the lack of voting rights for Puerto Ricans back home.

Yet Puerto Rican gains were painfully circumscribed. The Supreme Court handed down a series of explicitly racist decisions in the Insular Cases, a string of opinions—Gonzalez’s among them—that created a new status for so-called unincorporated territories where the Constitution does not apply in full. These decisions unraveled the Reconstruction Constitution and its citizenship guarantee. In Downes v. Bidwell, most famously, the Court said in 1901 that if new territories like Puerto Rico “are inhabited by alien races,” then “government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible.” The Constitution did not guarantee self-government. The racist logic of the Insular Cases, Erman argues, was a part of the Court’s simultaneous attack on Reconstruction in the American South, as it legalized separate but equal in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and allowed the disfranchisement of black voters in Giles v. Harris in 1903. Consequently, when Congress collectively naturalized all Puerto Ricans in the Jones Act in 1917, partly for fear of a German attack in the Caribbean, “it was the all-but-rightsless citizenship that Democrats had pioneered for African Americans in the South” that was finally extended to Puerto Ricans.

Erman’s story is a critical addition to our understanding of Reconstruction and its afterlives. Alongside the familiar tale of the fall of Reconstruction, Erman shows how the Reconstruction Constitution temporarily prevented a formal American empire, and then how empire arose hand-in-hand with Redemption and Jim Crow, subjugating racialized and minoritized populations on the mainland and the islands alike. At the same time, resistance to Jim Crow and empire could be productively interlinked—the Puerto Rican writer Arturo Schomburg was a leader in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, while W.E.B. Du Bois decried the brutal American treatment of the Philippines in The Souls of Black Folk in 1903 and called for labor rights and self-determination in Puerto Rico after World War II. The deep affinity between antiracism, anti-imperialism, and labor rights is no less important today.

The history recounted in Almost Citizens, that is, remains disturbingly resonant. Puerto Rico continues to suffer from its status as what the eminent Puerto Rican jurist José Trías Monge called “the oldest colony in the world.” In the wake of the Great Recession, a financial control board was put in charge of critical decisions in Puerto Rico and has cut public health spending, slashed the minimum wage, and shuttered schools. After Hurricane Maria devastated the island, federal shipping laws made it more difficult to bring in aid, the lack of healthcare funding hampered recovery, and the disaster almost certainly received less attention than if Puerto Rico were a state with votes in Congress and the electoral college. More broadly, conflicts over race, immigration, and birthright citizenship, not to mention the gender discrimination Isabel Gonzalez faced as an unwed mother, continue to occupy a painfully central place in American politics. But Erman also shows—contrary to the conservative view that the Constitution is limited to its original meaning—that activists like Isabel Gonzalez can change how we understand our most basic laws and so can bend the arc of history, at least a bit, toward justice. That possibility should give us hope for the future.


Andrew Lanham is a JD candidate at the University of Michigan Law School and a PhD candidate in English at Yale University.


By : Andrew Lanham
Date : February 20, 2019
Source : The New Republic

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Afghanistan’s Forgotten Half


WASHINGTON, DC – When Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in September 2018, an end to America’s longest war seemed finally to be in sight. Now, following President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in late December that the United States will withdraw 7,000 of its troops from the country, the pressure on Khalilzad to secure a deal with the Taliban by spring has increased dramatically. Many now fear that Trump wants to leave Afghanistan regardless of the consequences, least of all for the country’s women.

Afghan women’s progress is essential to that of Afghanistan as a whole. Yet women are suddenly as invisible in international press coverage as they are in much of Afghan society. Privately, many diplomats concede that women’s rights are simply not a high priority in talks with the Taliban: nice but not necessary, and, given the Taliban’s horrific treatment of women when they ruled the country in the 1990s, probably a non-starter anyway.

This line of thinking is wrong. The Taliban leadership know that they have a potentially disastrous image problem. The international community ostracized their government in the 1990s, owing in part to their treatment of women. To be accepted as a legitimate political movement and a viable partner in any future power-sharing deal, Taliban leaders believe they must demonstrate that they have changed their views.1

And so they have – if ever so slightly. They now say that girls can attend school in the nearly 60% of the country under Taliban control, so long as gender segregation is enforced. This is a modest improvement from a generation ago, when their government prevented nearly all girls from attending school and women from working outside the home.

While Afghan women have made huge strides since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, their gains are at risk, and much more remains to be done. In a recent survey of 15,000 Afghans, women said their biggest problems were lack of education and illiteracy. Investing in education and income-earning opportunities for women is vital. So, too, is redoubling efforts to improve women’s access to health care.

Afghan women face a one in ten chance of dying in childbirth. The situation is so dire that Taliban commanders have been known to request the government and NGOs to deploy more midwives to areas under their control. The number of girls in school is falling, legal protection for women is being rolled back, and women in public life are increasingly subject to harassment and violence. Addressing these issues is essential not only for Afghan women, but also for their children, their families, and the country.

The best way to ensure that women’s interests are represented in the peace talks is to include women at the negotiating table, giving them an equal role in the negotiation, design, and implementation of any peace process. While most foreign-policy professionals dismiss this suggestion as superfluous, or even frivolous, including women is a matter not only of principle, but also of effectiveness. Peace processes in which women participate are on average much less likely to fail, and any agreement reached is more likely to last.

Some might argue that the Taliban would never negotiate with an Afghan woman. But they already have. A group of Afghan women, all high-profile government officials and activists, met with representatives of the Taliban in Oslo in 2015. The Taliban explicitly requested and initiated the meeting, and later said they participated specifically to address concerns about their policies.

Shukria Barakzai, the Afghan ambassador to Norway who attended the dialogue and ran an underground girls’ school under the Taliban regime, says the women had no qualms about holding the Taliban to account for their past treatment of women. “It will be unbelievable to most people how tough we were on the Taliban,” Barakzai says. “But they listened patiently and respected what we were saying, and it was clear that this was not the same Taliban we faced in the 1990s.”

Since that meeting four years ago, however, little else has been done to facilitate dialogue between Afghan women and the Taliban. Western governments may publicly emphasize the importance of women’s rights, but they have done shockingly little to back up their rhetoric. The Trump administration, in particular, will not listen to these concerns, as Trump himself evinces little concern for women’s rights in the US, let alone Afghanistan.

The international community can and must step in. Under the current NATO mission, 39 countries have troops on the ground and many others provide substantial aid to Afghanistan. Their commitment will be required to support any peace deal. They should use this leverage to ensure that women are at the negotiating table, their issues are on the agenda, and their rights are upheld in any deal.

If that proves impossible, these countries could launch and support a parallel Track II dialogue, focused exclusively on women’s rights, that could inform the broader negotiations. They should also increase aid expenditures in critical areas such as women’s health and education.

To be sure, any peace deal with the Taliban is likely to include difficult and distasteful compromises. But an agreement that lacks guarantees regarding the treatment of half the Afghan population is not worth having. And a peace that is not partly negotiated by women is much less likely to hold. Women’s rights, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, are not a foreign policy “extra.” They are essential to any serious efforts at conflict resolution.


Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the US State Department (2009-2011), is President and CEO of the think tank New America, Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, and the author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.

Ashley Jackson is a Research Associate with the Overseas Development Institute.


By: Anne-Marie Slaughter & Ashley Jackson
Date: January 18, 2019
Source: Project Syndicate


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More than unpopular. How ParentsNext intrudes on single parents’ human rights


ParentsNext is to be the subject of a Senate inquiry, with submissions closing on February 1.

The program has been widely criticised for making parents’ lives more difficult and for unfairly stopping payments.

But that wasn’t how it began, and it wasn’t what was trialled.

The program trialled from April 2016 provided intensive job-readiness training (and parenting programs) for single parents “at risk”, often Indigenous, to help prepare them to enter the workforce when their youngest was ready for school.

An announcement in the 2017 budget declared the trial a success and said that from July 2018 it would be expanded to an extra 20 locations with “a significant Indigenous population”, and to the entire country, less intensively.

The expanded program would place participation requirements on parents such as reporting to a service provider and would lead to loss of benefits for non-compliance. This was supported by a new so-called Targeted Compliance Framework also introduced last year.

The ParentsNext that was implemented from July 1 made parenting payments and other benefits conditional on taking part in the program for targeted groups of vulnerable parents.

Parents have had their parenting payments docked for failing to attend “story time sessions”, and domestic violence survivors have been retraumatised by being made to retell their stories (sometimes in front of their children) in order to keep receiving payments.

Even ParentsNext providers are unhappy

ParentsNext service providers’ representative, Jobs Australia, has begged Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer to disentangle ParentsNext from the compliance requirements, saying it is doing the opposite of what was intended.

It said that the compliance aspects of the program are adding to parents’ stress and financial hardship.

Examples of problems include: rural parents without smart phones or enough data are being suspended for not reporting if they can’t travel to providers in other towns to report. Parents are being referred to emergency relief on a Friday to buy food because payment suspensions can’t be lifted until Monday. A pregnant woman had payments suspended after she was rushed to hospital for a premature birth and was unable to report.

A key consideration for the Senate inquiry ought to be whether this violates human rights.

It threatens human rights

Australia is signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which establishes social security as a human right.

Social security is an entitlement provided by a society to members who are in need due to circumstances such as illness, disability, unemployment, old age and caring responsibilities.

That right, as with others in the International Covenant, must be “exercised without discrimination”, including on the basis of sex, race, language and national or social origin.

And leads to discrimination

Since a disproportionate number of people automatically enrolled in ParentsNext and facing payment cuts are Indigenous, the program appears to discriminate on the basis of race.

It might also discriminate against disadvantaged parents who are new to Australia and face language and cultural barriers making compliance a challenge.

Almost all of the participants – 96% – are women, meaning conditions attached to their social security payments could lead to gender discrimination in their access to social security rights. Selected mothers are being punished for undertaking the unpaid care work necessary to raise children, in a context where affordable child care and appropriate employment is often not available.

It might also discriminate against children on the basis of their family type. Children in disadvantaged sole parent families face discrimination as a result of the withdrawal of payments – which is less likely to affect children in families with lower vulnerability.

The United Nations is watching

Conditionality itself may be at odds with Australia’s obligations.

One interpretation of international human rights says that, to the greatest extent possible, states should refrain from imposing co-responsibilities or conditionalities on receipt of social protection, and instead should channel financial and human resources into improving the level of benefits provided and the quality and accessibility of social services available.

Withholding entitlements cannot be a correct response to structural challenges such as lack of jobs and childcare.

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has already expressed concern about the effect of cuts to the payments available to single parents.

These cuts, together with the compliance requirements attached to ParentsNext, raise questions about Australia’s stated commitments to its international human rights obligations.

When Australia joined the International Covenant in 1976 it promised to use its social security system to promote rather than chip away at human rights. The Senate committee provides an opportunity to ensure this does not continue.


By: Beth Goldblatt (Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney)
Date: January 16, 2019
Source: The Conversation

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

Indonesia’s Rights Struggle: Deciding Which Candidate Is the ‘Lesser Evil’


A debate showed that neither candidate in Indonesia’s presidential race has any plans to address human-rights abuses.

JAKARTA—Standing on a stage in the Hotel Bidakara’s ballroom in downtown Jakarta during a presidential debate, Indonesia’s incumbent leader, Joko Widodo, meekly defended what has been, at best, a checkered record on human rights.

Widodo, popularly known simply as Jokowi, denied having overseen any rights violations; he pledged, as he did four years ago when he first ran for the presidency, to reshape the justice system; and he promised, as he had four years ago, to push for land reform. And, in the course of the 73-minute back-and-forth on Thursday evening—the first of five such debates ahead of elections in April—he showed how little has really changed here during his time in office.

When Jokowi came to power in 2014, he did so articulating nine priorities, a program he called the Nawa Cita. Among them was a promise to resolve past human-rights injustices. His pledge held out the prospect of at least acknowledging, if not addressing, decades of army abuse, authoritarian overreach, and suppression of minority rights. In a part of the world often beset by a form of moral relativism—Our country is fine; others are worse—it appeared to be a significant step forward.

Little tangible progress has materialized, though. While Jokowi has not been directly linked with any human-rights infractions, his presidency has been characterized by a lack of improvement on the issue (rights groups would go further, saying he has in fact presided over a worsening of conditions). An inquiry into an attack on an anti-corruption investigator has gone nowhere; Jokowi’s administration has walked back suggestions that he would formally apologize for a decades-old government massacre; and it has declined requests from international bodies to visit a restive region that wants independence. Though Jokowi now says he wants to address past injustices, human-rights advocates are downbeat about the prospect that he will follow through. And this election has little chance of yielding change: The incumbent is ahead in the polls, and his lone challenger has an even worse track record.

“Jokowi won’t dare to solve human-rights issues,” said Rivanlee Anandar, a Jakarta-based researcher at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, a rights group here known by its acronym in Indonesian, Kontras. “His administration has displayed a regression on human rights.”

Indonesia has a long history of trampling on individual rights. Its first leader, Sukarno, was initially a forceful advocate for liberty as he led the movement that eventually won the country independence, but over his time in power he made more and more authoritarian moves (at one point, he made himself Indonesia’s president for life). Sukarno was eventually ousted in a military coup led by Suharto, a general and someone who, like his predecessor and many other Indonesians, goes by only one name. Suharto’s decades-long authoritarian rule began and ended in violence: In a tumultuous period between 1965 and Suharto finally capturing power in 1967, huge numbers—estimates vary from hundreds of thousands to 1 million—of Communists and suspected Communists were killed, and his resignation in 1998 came in the face of mass demonstrations and riots that left hundreds dead.

Since Suharto’s departure, some progress has been made: New laws were enacted, treaties were signed, and ad-hoc human-rights trials were held, “albeit unsatisfactorily,” said Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, the international monitoring group. One of Jokowi’s predecessors, Abdurrahman Wahid, pushed for greater official acceptance of Indonesians who were ethnically Chinese, a minority group that faced persistent discrimination during Suharto’s rule, and apologized for the massacre that brought Suharto to power (he remains the only Indonesian president to do so). Wahid was, however, later impeached over an array of other scandals and following a power struggle with his successor. Since then, progress on the rights front has languished.

Jokowi had promised to change all of that. While campaigning for president in 2014, he promised, for example, to lift restrictions on international human-rights investigators and on the foreign press visiting the Indonesian region of Papua, where an independence movement has agitated for decades.

In office, it has been a different story. His government has declined to allow the United Nation’s human-rights chief to visit Papua, where rights groups accuse the military of violently suppressing the independence movement, and has restricted access for foreign media there.

And for years, Jokowi eschewed meeting with demonstrators taking part in the “Kamisan” rally, a weekly peaceful protest held in front of Jakarta’s presidential palace calling for the authorities to address past human-rights abuses, before finally relenting this past May (that he attended only in the final year of his term was interpreted as a political move, and drew criticism).

Kontras, in a report released in October assessing Jokowi’s time in office, said Indonesia had fallen backwards on an array of rights-related issues, from the use of the death penalty and extrajudicial killings to disability rights and the persecution of indigenous peoples and minorities. Defamation lawsuits—often used to suppress critical reporting or criticism of those in power—have spiked in the past four years, while frivolous prosecutions, such as the jailing of an ethnically Chinese Indonesian woman for blasphemy after she complained about the volume of sound from a nearby mosque, have proliferated.

Among the most troubling cases has been that of Novel Baswedan. The senior anti-corruption investigator was in the midst of a wide-ranging inquiry in 2017 when someone threw hydrochloric acid at his face. Baswedan had to be rushed to Singapore for treatment, and after undergoing four operations, he still remains almost entirely blind in his left eye. Yet no one has been arrested or prosecuted for the assault.

Concerns have also been raised about the company the Indonesian leader keeps. Among his ministers is a retired general who was placed on a visa watch list by the United States in 2004 and who has been indicted by the UN over his alleged involvement in a series of abuses, including murders, surrounding Indonesia’s withdrawal in 1999 from East Timor, a province it had controlled. Jokowi’s current running mate, Ma’ruf Amin, is a leader of Indonesia’s top clerical body, an organization that under his leadership issued religious declarations in support of female genital mutilation and condemned religious minorities.

Jokowi’s “record on the preservation of human rights, his regard for core democratic principles, his commitment to transparent and accountable government, and his support for a meaningful anti-corruption agenda are all highly dubious,” Tom Power, a researcher specializing in Indonesian politics at the Australian National University in Canberra, wrote in a recent analysis.

There is, if anything, a feeling among some Indonesians that these issues are being given short shrift by a leader who had promised to promote them. “Human-rights tragedies,” Maria Catarina Sumarsih, whose son died in the 1998 riots and who has since become a prominent activist, told me, “are just a political commodity, used to get more votes.”

Jokowi has at least one thing going for him, though: He is not his opponent.

Facing off against the Indonesian president is the same person who challenged him in 2014, the former military commander Prabowo Subianto. Subianto, who was once married to one of Suharto’s daughters, was dogged by allegations of human-rights violations during the previous campaign. A recently declassified U.S. diplomatic cable alleges that the one-time head of Indonesia’s special forces ordered the kidnapping of dissidents in 1998. He has threatened clamping down on the media, and has warned that if he loses the upcoming poll, Indonesia could “go extinct.” (Subianto has, however, appointed former members of Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights to be part of his new campaign team.)

According to Debbie Stothard, the secretary-general of the International Federation for Human Rights, ordinary voters were beginning to realize that in this election, “it’s a question of who is the lesser evil.”


By: Stanley Widianto
Date: January 18, 2019
Source: The Atlantic

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

Shaping the new world order: The battle for human rights


China is leading the charge in a bid to undermine accepted concepts of human rights accountability and justice.

The Chinese effort backed by autocrats elsewhere has turned human rights into an underrated, yet crucial battleground in the shaping of a new world order.

China is manoeuvring against the backdrop of an unprecedented crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang, the accelerated rollout of restrictions elsewhere in the country, and the export of key elements of its model of a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state.

The Chinese effort, highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2019, is multipronged.

It involves proposals to alter the principles on which United Nations Human Rights Council operates in ways that would enable repressive, autocratic regimes.

To achieve its goal, China is employing its financial muscle and infrastructure and energy-driven Belt and Road initiative to economically entice countries that are financially strapped, desperate for investment and/or on the defensive because of human rights abuses.

China is also seeking a dominant role in various countries’ digital infrastructure and media that would allow it to influence the flow of information and enable its allies to better control dissent.

China is waging its campaign at a crucial juncture of history. It benefits from the rise of ethno- and religious nationalism, populism, intolerance and widespread anti-migration sentiment across the world’s democracies.

The campaign is enabled by the emergence of presidents like Donald J. Trump in the United States, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Victor Orban and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who have either deemphasized human rights or gone as far as justifying abuses in addition to seeking to limit, if not undermine, independent media that hold them accountable.

The timing of the Chinese effort is significant because it comes at a moment that predictions of the death of popular protest, symbolized by the defeat of the initially successful 2011 popular Arab revolts, are being called into question.

Mass anti-government demonstrations in Sudan demand the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir. Anti-Chinese groups march in Kyrgyzstan while protests in Zimbabwe decry repression, poor public services, high unemployment, widespread corruption and delays in civil servants receiving their salaries. The past year has also seen widespread anti-government agitation in countries like Morocco and Jordan.

The protests and what Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth describes in his foreword to the group’s just published, 674-page World Report 2019 as “a resistance that keeps winning battles” suggests that China’s campaign may have won battles but has yet to win the war.

“Victory isn’t assured but the successes of the past year suggest that the abuses of authoritarian rule are prompting a powerful human rights counterattack,” Mr. Roth wrote.

Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson warned that “people outside China don’t yet seem to realize that their human rights are…increasingly under threat as Beijing becomes more powerful… In recent years, Beijing has…sought to extend its influence into, and impose its standards and policies on, key international human rights institutions—weakening some of the only means of accountability and justice available to people around the world,”

Ms. Richardson noted that China had last year successfully pushed a non-binding resolution in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) that advocated promotion of human rights on the basis of the People’s Republic’s principle of win-win, a principle that cynics assert means China wins twice.

In a sign of the times, the resolution garnered significant support. The United States, in a twist of irony, was the only Council member to vote against it with countries like Germany and Australia abstaining.

China is not the only country that would like a globally accepted approach to be altered to the detriment of human rights. Muslim nations, with Saudi Arabia in the lead, have, for example, long sought to have blasphemy criminalized.

The resolution “gutted the ideas of accountability for actual human rights violations, suggesting ‘dialogue’ instead. It failed to specify any course of action when rights violators refuse to cooperate with UN experts, retaliate against rights defenders or actively reject human rights principles. And it even failed to acknowledge any role for the HRC itself to address serious human rights violations when ‘dialogue’ and ‘cooperation’ don’t produce results,” Ms. Richardson said.

“If these ideas become not just prevailing norms but also actual operating principles for the HRC, victims of state-sponsored abuses worldwide—including in Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—will face almost impossible odds in holding abusive governments accountable,” Ms. Richardson cautioned.

In a separate interview, Ms. Richardson described the resolution as “the start of a process to wither away the UN human rights eco system.”

She said human rights groups were concerned “about what China will try to do next, whether it will more aggressively try to change the council’s mandate or nibble away at language in treaties or roll back the role of civil society. China wants inter-governmental cooperation instead of accountability, government officials discussing among themselves with no discussion of accountability for abuses and no participation of independent groups.”

China’s efforts are both an attempt to rewrite international norms and counter sharp Western criticism of its moves against Christians and Muslim and its crackdown in Xinjiang.

Up to one million Turkic Muslims have reportedly been incarcerated in re-education camps that China projects as vocational training facilities. To maintain its crackdown, China depends on a fragile silence in the Muslim world that is fraying at the edges.

In addition to attempting to change the operating principles of the UN Human Rights Commission, lobbying UN and foreign government officials to tone down criticism and invited foreign diplomats and journalists on choreographed visits to Xinjiang, China has at times successfully employed its economic and financial clout to buy either support or silence.

Pakistan, the host of the Belt and Road’s US$45 billion crown jewel, has curbed its initial criticism of the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Similarly, China is pressuring Myanmar to revive the suspended US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam project, which if built as previously designed would flood 600 square kilometres of forestland in northern Kachin state and export 90 % of the power produced to China.

China has reportedly offered in return for the dam to support Myanmar that has been condemned by the United Nations, Western countries and some Muslim nations for its repressive campaign against the Rohingya, some 700,000 of which fled to Bangladesh last year.

In a bid to pacify, criticism of its Xinjiang policy in Central Asia where anti-Chinese sentiment has been rising, China agreed this month to allow some 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs to renounce their Chinese citizenship and leave the country.

The decision follows testimony in a Kazakh court of a former employee of a re-education camp detailing three facilities in which up to 7,500 Kazaks and Chinese nationals of Kazakh descent allegedly were being held. The testimony prompted sharp criticism in parliament and on social media.

China and the West’s diametrically opposed concepts of human rights are part of a larger contest for dominance over the future of technology and global influence.

Freedom House, a Washington-based freedom watchdog, reported last year that China was exporting to at least 18 countries sophisticated surveillance systems capable of identifying threats to public order and has made it easier to repress free speech in 36 others.

“They are passing on their norms for how technology should govern society,” said Adrian Shahbaz, the author of the report.

Added Nadège Rolland, a senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research, a Washington think tank, speaking to Bloomberg: “There’s a 1984 component to it that’s kind of scary.”


Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.YOU.


By: Dr. James M. Dorsey
Date: January 20, 2019
Source: Modern Diplomacy

Shaping the new world order: The battle for human rights

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

Want less poverty in the world? Empower women.


A new book explains why gender equality is key to economic prosperity.

The single greatest antidote to poverty and social stagnation is the emancipation of women. Wherever this has been tried, wherever women have been empowered to do as they wish, the economy and the culture have been radically improved.

A new book by Augusto Lopez-Claros, a senior fellow at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, an Iranian writer and novelist, is among the first to comprehensively test this proposition by surveying data from 189 countries. Titled Equality for Women = Prosperity for All, the book shows how gender inequalities — in education, income, law, employment, and wages — lead to instability and chaos at almost every level of society.

I called Lopez-Claros to talk about the links between gender inequality and political instability, how discriminatory laws hold women back, and what we can do to push societies toward more gender equality.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

What happens to a society when women are deprived of their rights?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

One useful starting point to answer your question is to look at how discriminations are embedded in countries around the world — in constitutions, civil codes, family law, tax codes, labor codes, and every legal instrument that you can imagine having an impact on how the law treats women compared to men.

The World Bank did this for 189 countries, accounting for 98 percent of the global economic output, and we discovered that, as you might expect, discriminatory laws lead to highly unequal societies, especially in terms of income and employment and property ownership. They also discourage women from joining the labor force and from engaging in civil society, so you get not only unequal societies but also huge gaps in participation rates — in the job market, in politics, in education — of women relative to men.

This is terrible for social progress and for the economy, but one of the worst things this does is poison the future, because you get fewer women in school relative to boys and the effects of that spill into the next generation, and so you end up in this spiral of poverty and dysfunction that is hard to escape.

Sean Illing

Can you give me a sense of some of the more common forms of discrimination you found?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Access to the labor market is huge. Many occupations are simply forbidden to women precisely because they’re women. In many places, you find that women have to obtain authorization from their husbands to obtain a bank account or even to travel. And then there’s the issue of property rights. Often the law treats women and men fundamentally different in terms of what they’re entitled to and on what basis.

Does the tax system provide benefits to men that it doesn’t provide to women? What about access to credit? In some countries, for instance, the law gives control of household assets to the man, and this very much restricts the ability of women to use the property as collateral to access the financial system.

These are the sorts of things we looked at, and we wanted to know how they impacted the societies in which we found them.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about that. What is the direct link between gender inequality and political instability?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

The biggest impact of gender inequality is on income inequality. We have data that shows that countries that make it more difficult for women to access the labor market have higher levels of income inequality. And if you think about the intuition behind this, it makes sense. If you’re discriminating against half the population, how can that not worsen income inequality?

Political scientists have long understood how corrosive income inequality can be to political stability. There is pretty clear evidence that democracies with large gaps in income have a much higher probability of breakdown than those with a more egalitarian income distribution. So this gender inequality feeds directly into political instability.

Sean Illing

Does the data show that gender disparities disappear as societies become wealthier? Or that societies become wealthier as gender disparities disappear?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

The data suggests overwhelmingly that gender equalities lead to more wealth and less poverty, and of course, equal access to education is a huge component of that. More education leads to lower birthrates because women have more knowledge about family planning and more opportunities to enter the labor force and earn money.

Lower fertility levels help reduce child mortality, and they expand the range of educational opportunities that are available to the next generation. All of these factors combine to boost economic growth and higher income per capita.

On the other hand, to address the other half of your question, we have several examples of high-income countries, especially in the Middle East, that have very high levels of discrimination against women. So it doesn’t automatically follow that as countries become richer, all of a sudden, gender equality improves.

Sean Illing

When you look around the world, is the gender gap shrinking, however slowly?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

If you look at the whole world, there are something like 30 countries with 10 or more such discriminations embedded in their laws, in their national legislation. And most of these are located in the Middle East and North Africa region and, to a lesser extent, in sub-Saharan Africa.

A couple of years ago, the World Bank did a 50-year comparison of the laws for 100 countries (from 1960 to 2010) to get a sense of the progress made, and they found that there was progress made pretty much everywhere except in the regions I just mentioned above. And in some countries, like Iran, women were actually worse off in 2010 than they had been in 1960.

Sean Illing

And fundamentally this is about a lack of political power, right?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Absolutely. In each case, you find that women have not been politically empowered. That’s what keeps these restrictions in place. The voices of women simply are not heard in many of these countries. The men in these societies have largely appropriated for themselves the making of the rules and the content of the laws. They are the ones who sit in parliamentary committees, who are finance ministers, who are governors, and so on.

Just consider this incredibly revealing statistic: We have nine female heads of government in the world among 193 members of the United Nations. That’s astonishing, and really puts the problem in perspective.

Sean Illing

Part of the solution to this, as you argue in the book, is to establish quotas for women on corporate boards and in parliaments. What’s the case for this policy?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

First of all, quotas are becoming more and more popular. Something like 40 percent of the countries in the world have introduced some kind of quota for women in terms of participation in national parliaments and local government.

There are also attempts underway to increase the participation of women in corporate boards, largely because a number of studies have found a positive correlation between companies with women on their boards and their financial success.

There was actually a very interesting study in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago looking at the gender composition of company boards that showed that companies with greater female participation on their boards were less likely to be hit by corporate governance scandals involving bribery, fraud, and other factors, which can depress business confidence and therefore hinder economic growth.

Now, having said that, there is a lot of very encouraging evidence when you compare countries that have quotas with countries that don’t. Let me give you two or three examples, which I think illustrate this very nicely.

One of them is that those countries that have introduced quotas for women in parliament show higher levels of participation of women in the labor force. So the presence of women in parliament seems to encourage women to strive and to enter the job market, probably because they feel like the playing field is more leveled.

Quotas also seem to have an effect on government spending priorities. A number of studies have shown that where quotas exist, either at the level of parliament or at a lower government level, there is more spending going to social services and the kinds of infrastructures that are more helpful for women — and you can see this across the world.

So there’s a growing body of evidence showing that having greater participation of women is not just a victory for human rights; it’s actually a big boost to the economy.

Sean Illing

Apart from the policies you just laid out, are there other reliable ways to push societies toward more gender equality?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

One of the problems we face is that we have deeply ingrained prejudices that have led many people in many parts of the world to essentially pass on to succeeding generations beliefs about gender roles that are no longer in keeping with empirical evidence or the kind of 21st-century world we live in.

There was a great, interesting book written a couple hundred years ago called A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft, which we quote in the book. She made a very clear and simple point: Women are not inferior, and their apparent lack of accomplishment has nothing to do with intrinsic inferior capacities but has everything to do with lack of opportunity and access.

So it seems to me that one of the challenges we face is how do we change deeply ingrained attitudes and create a more open, tolerant, and just world?

Sean Illing

As you know, there are some people who push back against arguments like yours, and say that different cultures have different values and we should not impose our values on them. What’s your response to this?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Our response to this is simple: Who is speaking for whom in these places where women are being repressed? Is it men or women? Because what you often find is that men have appropriated for themselves the right to speak on behalf of women.

Did anyone in Afghanistan, for example, ask the 11 million Afghan women whether they wanted to be able to work or to send their daughters to school? Or was it the Taliban who imposed this on them?

So basically our argument is about spokesmanship — who speaks on behalf of whom, and what is asserted on the basis of force rather than freely granted popular support. When leaders hold on to power at the cost of the rights and freedoms of others, their legitimacy is most likely to be self-serving and less likely to be freely given. So that’s essentially the argument that we make.

Sean Illing

As you look around the world at this moment, what forces or institutions pose the greatest challenge to the empowerment of women?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

We live in a world in which, at the moment, we have roughly 800 million people who live on less than a $1.90 a day. That’s the poverty line that is used at the World Bank for extreme poverty. We have close to 800 million people who are illiterate, who can’t read and write; in other words, they don’t have access to the most important tool in the 21st century for coming out of poverty. And then we have roughly another 800 million or so children who are malnourished.

Women are overwhelmingly represented in each of these three groups. In most cases, they account for two-thirds of these populations. So there is a huge scope here to allocate scarce resources more efficiently and to improve the quality of governance.

I think there is also a role for international organizations, such as the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank to consider using the great leverage they have, especially in the developing countries where many of these restrictions are located, to press countries to be more proactive in the elimination of these kinds of discriminations, which continually hold women back.

We believe that eliminating these restrictions is actually a win-win for everybody. There is no downside for the international community pressing governments where there are widespread discriminations against women, or ethnic minorities, or religious minorities. This is an unambiguous good for human beings and for the international economy, and we should fight for these changes.



By : Sean Illing
Date : November 5, 2018
Spurce “ Vox

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Gender-based violence: Most prevalent human rights violation


Gender-based violence and violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world.

It knows no social, economic or national boundaries.

Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.

Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and even death.

The Chief Director of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Dr Afisah Zakariah, buttressed these statements at a workshop in Accra when she described gender-based violence as a grave violation of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of its victims, mostly women and girls.

She said despite leaving victims with traumatising effects, gender-based violence had been internalised by societies in such a manner that it was considered a private matter that should not be discussed outside the home.

That, she said, led to the protection of perpetrators who got away with such criminal acts, warning that gender-based violence was criminal and should be handled as such.

The chief director made the statement at a workshop organised by the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in Accra to sensitise religious leaders and heads of schools to sexual and gender-based violence.


Dr Zakariah said gender-based violence still persisted, with cases of rape, defilement, domestic violence and assault on the rise.

Statistics from the Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service indicate that reported rape cases reduced from 316 in 2015 to 236 in 2016, but increased to 311 in 2017.

Defilement cases also reduced from 1,198 in 2015 to 722 in 2016 but increased to 793 in 2017, while cases of assault also reduced from 5,494 in 2015 to 4,190 in 2016, but increased to 5,019 in 2017.

“Resource DOVVSU”

In his presentation, a clinical psychologist, Mr Adolf Awuku Bekoe, said cultural beliefs and values in some communities that discriminated against women and girls was a leading cause of sexual and gender-based violence.

Mr Bekoe, who is also the National Coordinator of the Coalition on Domestic Violence Legislation, said the enforcement of the patriarchal arrangement in the Ghanaian society gave males inherent superiority in the home, with the misinterpretation of some religious beliefs also compounding the problems, “making men more powerful than women”.

Consequently, Mr Bekoe, who is also a lecturer at the Methodist University College, said considering the fact that gender- based violence had serious implications on an individual that could ruin one’s life, there was the need for people to make personal commitment to stop the act, adding that “do not be a perpetrator or a victim”.

While society also had the responsibility to eschew domestic violence, Mr Bekoe said the State also needed to take the issue seriously by providing the needed resources for the Police Service to enforce the laws against domestic violence.

“The Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service which deals with domestic violence issues is 20 years and they still do the basic things they used to do.

The unit is understaffed and doesn’t even have shelter to keep a mother and her children who are being abused,” he lamented.



By : Salomey Appiah-Adjei
Date : November 7, 2018
Source : Graphic Online


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