The Siren Song of Left-Wing Populism

 

A growing number of commentators believe that populism represents the best strategy for the left to reclaim power and advance policies needed to provide economic security in the face of globalization. But these thinkers should look beyond populism’s electoral effectiveness, and acknowledge the threat that it can pose to democracy.

SANTIAGO – Social democratic parties around the world are struggling. In France’s 2017 presidential election, the candidate for the Socialists – once the mainstream party of the French left – received a mere 6% of the vote, and the party has since been forced to sell its headquarters on the chic Rue de Solférino in Paris.

Likewise, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) gained just 20% of the vote in that country’s federal election last fall – the party’s worst showing in the postwar period. And the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) secured just over 20% of the vote in the 2015 and 2016 general elections, which is half the share it received a decade ago.

Meanwhile, in each of these countries, left-wing populist parties have been capturing a significant share of the vote. Twenty percent of French voters cast ballots for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) in 2017; 9% of Germans voted for Die Linke (The Left); and 21% of Spaniards backed Podemos.

A growing number of pundits and academics now believe that left-wing populism is the best strategy for returning the left to power and implementing policies to help the so-called “losers” of neoliberal globalization. In her new book For a Left Populism, Chantal Mouffe of the University of Westminster argues that “left populism, understood as a discursive strategy of construction of the political frontier between ‘the people’ and ‘the oligarchy,’ constitutes, in the present conjuncture, the type of politics needed to recover and deepen democracy.”

Curiously, Mouffe spends an entire chapter drawing lessons from Thatcherism, but then overlooks many real-world examples of left-wing populist governments in recent years. These include, most notably, Rafael Correa’s 2007-2017 presidency in Ecuador; the increasingly brutal regime of Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, in Venezuela; and the administration of President Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Mouffe thus confines her analysis to Western Europe. Despite some resemblances, she believes that the different varieties of left-wing populism around the world “need to be apprehended according to their various contexts.” But while it is true that the Latin American and Western European strains of left-wing populism are not identical, nor can they be delinked. After all, Western Europe’s left-wing populists have often drawn inspiration from their Latin American counterparts.

For example, Íñigo Errejón, the architect of Podemos’s original electoral strategy, wrote his doctoral thesis on the rise of Morales, whom he openly admires. Similarly, Mélenchon has repeatedly defended Chavism and the Maduro regime. And in his 2017 electoral manifesto, he proposed that France join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, an intergovernmental institution created by the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Chávez in 2004.

In 2016, Mouffe and Errejón co-authored a book in which they discuss Bolivia’s experience under Morales. And in her new book, she lists Mélenchon in the acknowledgements, even as she omits the Latin American roots of left-wing populism in Western Europe.

But to examine the track record of radical left-wing populism in contemporary Latin America is to find a devastating picture. A cursory review of the scholarly literature shows that such forces have laid waste to their countries’ democracies since the turn of the century.

When Correa, Chávez, and Morales came to power, they immediately implemented major constitutional reforms through referenda. In each country, the new constitutions not only diminished the power of the old elites, but also severely constrained opposition parties’ ability to compete on a level playing field. The executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division has raised several warnings over the past decade about the deterioration of the rule of law under Correa, Chávez/Maduro, and Morales.

Venezuela stands out in this regard. The judiciary has lost its independence, corruption is rampant, and inflation is out of control. And, as Amnesty International’s Americas director recently reported, “People in Venezuela are fleeing an agonizing situation that has transformed treatable health conditions into matters of life and death.” Under Maduro, “Basic health services have collapsed and finding essential medicine is a constant struggle, leaving thousands with no choice but to seek health care abroad.”

Clearly, Latin America’s recent experience with left-wing populism has been nothing short of disastrous. Those who advocate it as a way “to recover and deepen democracy” would do well to acknowledge this reality. In my own research, I have always stressed the importance of examining the relationship between populism and democracy empirically. The reason is simple: Though populism can bolster democracy, it can also pose a serious threat to it.

An objective, empirical examination of the experience of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela demonstrates that nominally inclusive populist policies have come at far too high a cost. Morales, Correa, and Maduro have done lasting damage to their countries’ democratic norms and institutions. And Maduro, in particular, has shown that the price for supposedly helping the “losers” can be the creation of an even greater number of them.

Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser is Professor of Political Science at Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile. He is the co-author, with Cas Mudde, of Populism: A Very Short Introduction, and one of the editors of The Oxford Handbook of Populism.

 

By : Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser
Date : September 14, 2018
Source : Project Syndicate
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/siren-song-of-left-wing-populism-by-cristobal-rovira-kaltwasser-2018-09

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Turkish currency isn’t the real problem for Erdoğan, it’s democracy

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is presiding over the damaging loss of value of the Turkish currency, the lira, against foreign currencies. It’s the most severe economic crisis the country has faced since he assumed power.

Erdoğan has been the dominant figure in Turkish politics for almost two decades. Can he and his party maintain political control through this moment?

As an American scholar, I began my engagement in Turkey in 1990, working with various government ministries, which allowed me to witness the linkages there between politics and policy.

My work in Turkey depended on finding clarity in the confusion of Turkish politics. For example, it used to be that party identification in Turkey would provide everything one needed to know about a person’s level of education, social class, religiosity and financial destiny.

But the predictable political verities have been shattered over the past 16 years, largely through the emergence of Erdoğan and his political party, known as the AKP, or the Justice and Development Party. And a crisis that today looks like an economic challenge is, in fact, a symptom of a much larger problem for Erdoğan and Turkey.

Erdoğan at the polls

Turkey at the end of the 20th century was a political, social and economic mess. The economy struggled throughout the period, most dramatically with a 50 percent fall in the Turkish lira’s value relative to the U.S. dollar one night in 2001.

In the dozen years before Erdoğan was elected, Turkey had 12 separate governments under nine different prime ministers and three presidents. Government corruption was rampant.

The Turkish parliamentary elections of November 2002 sent a shock wave through the nation’s political and military establishment.

Since the founding of the secular Turkish Republic in 1923, a constitutional pillar of government in Turkey has been the separation of religion and state. This was interpreted by the military to be absolute and was part of the expressed rationale for the military interventions of the past.

But this separation was also a growing source of conflict, given the strong religious allegiance of many of Turkey’s citizens.

In 2002 Erdogan’s party, the AKP, was a coalition of sorts, centered on the former Islamist Welfare Party. Opponents accused the AKP of having a radical Islamist agenda, which its members denied. Parliamentary candidates from the established center-right parties joined AKP to help it appear less religious and more mainstream, though much of the party’s appeal was to a conservative electorate that felt its religiosity had long been denied by the fervently secular Turkish government.

The AKP was wildly successful in the 2002 election and defeated 17 other parties, most of which were well-established. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s party did not even get 1 percent of the vote.

Erdoğan was under a legal ban on holding office but the AKP-led Parliament cleared him of all charges and he became prime minister four months later.

The elections of 2007 and 2011 further solidified AKP’s political dominance and the centrality of Erdoğan – referred to by his supporters as “Büyük Usta,” the Great Master – to Turkey’s politics.

Erdoğan’s heavy hand

Over the years, Erdogan engaged in increasingly repressive acts, including blocking access to social media sites and exercising growing control of the country’s economic institutions, including Turkey’s central bank.

Since 2003, Erdoğan has consolidated his power, including purging former political allies.

Erdoğan proposed a far-reaching new constitution in 2017 that changed the previously ceremonial office of president to serve as the head of both government and state. It was approved overwhelmingly by voters.

Erdogan also supported increasing Islamicization in Turkey, proposing to raise a “pious generation” of children in an expansion of the country’s religious schools.

An abortive coup in 2016 aimed to oust Erdoğan. In the aftermath, Erdoğan imposed emergency rule, which meant that even those freedoms guaranteed by the Turkish Constitution could be abridged without recourse to the courts.

Thousands were jailed, many thousands more lost their posts in government, academia and the press for the mere appearance of opposing Erdoğan.

So even after the Turkish electorate had voted to give Erdoğan an unprecedented degree of power, these anti-democratic actions – many of which were highly unpopular – had the potential of causing Erdogan’s downfall.

Challenging Erdoğan and democracy

Turkey’s June presidential election represented both a threat to Erdoğan’s power over the electorate as well as a test of the viability of Turkey’s democratic institutions.

Coalitions were formed among political parties, diminishing the number of possible candidates. This provided a clearer voter choice between those embracing Erdoğan’s “New Turkey” – a more religious and conservative Turkey – and the more secular, liberal voters actively resisting Erdoğan’s rule.

Left and right joined together in a “People’s Alliance” and most of the alliance coalesced around Muharrem Ince of CHP, who drew crowds of hundreds of thousands to his rallies.

Erdoğan nevertheless collected 52.5 percent of the vote, 20 points beyond Ince’s total and far exceeding the other two major candidates.

However, Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, failed for the first time to gain a majority in Parliament.

During the election campaign, Erdoğan used every means to temporarily stabilize the lira, maintaining pressure on the Central Bank to keep interest rates artificially low and use foreign reserves to prevent the lira’s devaluation.

That caused the lira to weaken further and faster after the election, provoking a serious threat of rampant inflation now. Despite a recent small rally, the financial crisis is not over. The Turkish lira stands to lose potentially 70 percent of its buying power since the beginning of the year.

Can democracy cure authoritarian rule?

The lira crisis is not the problem, it is a symptom of what’s wrong in Turkey. It was brought about by Erdoğan’s iron grip on the country’s institutions and his desire to goose the economy to cement his rule.

Behind the financial crisis is the undemocratic concentration of power in Turkey’s presidency and Erdoğan’s unchecked mismanagement.

But if Erdoğan’s goal has been autocratic rule, his use of democratic means to achieve it may well be his undoing.

That is the central irony of the past 16 years.

In the past, the military suppressed the vote by prohibiting some parties from participation in Turkish elections. But the elections of 2002-2018 were the most democratic in Turkey’s history, open to the participation of the entire electorate.

While Erdoğan cleverly used democracy to gain absolute power, in the words of Ersin Şenel, a noted Turkish political scientist, “It can’t last.”

Turkey has four active and viable parties in Parliament. Erdoğan ended emergency rule after the campaign. Muharrem Ince remains an enormously popular political figure in Turkey.

The financial crisis provoked by the lira’s fall masks the true drama in Turkey today: The democratic means exist to defeat Erdoğan. What will Turkey’s voters – with their economy and livelihoods hurt by Erdoğan’s mismanagement – do with their power now?

 

By : Gary M. Grossman
Date : August 27, 2018
Source : The Conversation
https://theconversation.com/turkish-currency-isnt-the-real-problem-for-erdogan-its-democracy-101727

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Sierra Leone to compensate women victims of civil strife

 

The Sierra Leonean government has launched a scheme to compensate the women victims of the country’s long civil war.

The initiative comes after nearly two decades following the end of its war.

The Reparations Programme was a key recommendation in the post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report, and it is geared towards providing social justice and rehabilitating victims of the conflict.

The scheme is expected to hand over monies to the individual beneficiaries by the end of next December.

Over $1 million (Le12bn) has been provided by the government for distribution to thousands of war widows and women who suffered sexual abuse during the 11-year insurgency.

The women groups are two of the five categories of victims recommended in the TRC report released in October 2004. The others are amputees, war wounded and child victims.

Sexually abused

According to a UN report in 2009, nearly 30,000 women were registered as war widows and the sexually abused.

Each beneficiary will receive $100 (Le1.2m), according to the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), which is implementing the programme.

The Sierra Leone civil war, which ran from 1991 to 2002, claimed some 50,000 lives and occasioned the displacement of about 250,000 other people.

The insurgency, which holds the record of being one of the most brutal in the world, was waged by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who were particularly notorious for their chopping off of the limbs of their victims and the slicing of the bellies of pregnant women.

Many of the victims who survived have lived their lives begging in the streets of Freetown and other cities. Many others have died waiting for compensation.

NaCSA is designed to complement the social sector ministries and local governments in delivering services to the deprived and remote communities.

Former combatants

In 1996, at the height of the war, the government of the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabba created the Ministry of National Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (MNRRR) to respond to the immediate humanitarian crisis resulting from the civil war. It was also tasked with handling the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the former combatants.

However, because the ministry could not cope with the urgency required to deliver, largely due to the typical government bureaucracy, it was downgraded to a Commission.

But the demobilised soldiers received assistance in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, a move the government said was necessary to guarantee a lasting peace.

“This has been a long wait but we were always determined we would realise it,” said Mr Obi Buya Kamara, the Director of Reparation at NacSA.

Deputy Finance minister Patricia Lavally hinted at the possibility of further support to the women. She told journalists that the Le1.2million was within the parameters of the programme initially finalised in 2009.

 

By : Kemo Chan
Date : September 9, 2018
Source : The East African
http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/africa/Sierra-Leone-to-compensate-war-widows/4552902-4751090-x92m5vz/index.html

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Democratizing the American University

 

When it comes to cases like that of Avita Ronell, American universities can learn a lot from British ones, argues Rebecca Gould.

August 2018 may turn out to be a watershed month for the academic humanities. That was the month during which a scandal that had been brewing ever since June, beginning with a notorious letter that appeared on a leading philosophy blog, dated May 11, climaxed in a lawsuit against Avital Ronell, a critical theorist at New York University, who stands accused of sexual harassment by a former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman. The letter, which threatened various kinds of retaliation for Ronell’s punishment, was signed by many of the biggest names in contemporary critical theory, among them: Judith Butler, Emily Apter, Gayatri Spivak, Joan Scott, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jonathan Culler, Hent de Vries, Slavoj Žižek, Shoshana Felman and Sam Weber.

For many junior scholars and graduate students in literary studies and the humanities, those names hold the keys to their professional future. Letters from such individuals — or even in some cases, from their students and friends — secure fellowships, jobs and tenure. They make and break careers.

The May letter in defense of Ronell demonstrated full awareness of the power wielded by its signatories. Its concluding threat that any request from NYU that Ronell resign from her position “would rightly invite widespread and intense public scrutiny” relies on academic prestige to preclude a thorough examination of the harassment claims. It uses power in a precise and calculated way to shore up existing networks that prevent change within the academy and inhibit its democratization.

These networks exist in part to preserve the academic hierarchies that led to the scandal now attached to Ronell’s name, yet which are increasingly understood to be destructive to early career academics. In a later reflection on the letter, Butler offered an apology for signing it in the name of the Modern Language Association (without, however, totally renouncing the letter itself). “We all make errors in life and in work,” she wrote. “The task is to acknowledge them, as I hope I have, and to see what they can teach us as we move forward.”

In the spirit of moving forward, as Butler proposes we do, and of learning from past mistakes, I suggest here some concrete steps that could be taken to democratize higher education in the UnitedStates. I write as an American who left the country after receiving my Ph.D. in 2013, and who has taught, supervised and researched at universities in Great Britain for the past three years. I have had ample opportunity to observe the radical differences between the two systems, many of which relate to matters of hierarchy and structural equality. While another essay could be written about what is missing from the U.K. system (notably, tenure), that is not the task for the present.

Doctoral training in the United States would benefit from adopting a range of British norms, even as they are increasingly devalued in the U.K. context. Higher education in the U.K. these days is coming to resemble the worst aspects of American higher education, becoming more market-driven, relying more on contingent labor and offering less job security. I propose instead a movement in the opposite direction: graduate education in the United States should seek to emulate the aspects of the U.K. system that work best, rather than the U.K. imitating the worst parts of the American one, as is happening at present. Here are three suggestions.

Academics should have to retire at 65. Until 2011, compulsory retirement was in effect in the U.K. British professors still retire much earlier than American ones, even though they are not legally obliged to do so. The likelihood that they will retire from full-time positions as soon as they reach 65 vastly increases the number of open positions available to early career academics. A similar approach in the universities in the United States would be a good first step toward dismantling hierarchies and opening opportunities for many more young scholars. Every retirement should result in a mandatory tenure-line replacement.

Of course, the feasibility of such a system depends on the availability of a pension plan, a guarantee that has recently come under threat within the U.K., where the U.S.-style 401k plan is seen as the future model. But, until this recent turn of affairs, the British pension system worked remarkably well and provided professors who reach retirement age with a guaranteed income for the rest of their lives. Even if this system can only be partially implemented, it should send a message that professors who teach into their 70s and 80s on a professorial salary, particularly when they already enjoy significant surplus incomes, are irresponsibly denying jobs to younger colleagues. Along these same lines, it should be noted that professorial salaries in the U.K. are regulated in order to avoid extreme income disparity.

Doctoral programs should adopt a shortened timeline. Students enter British Ph.D. programs on the basis of their dissertation proposals, having reached the level of M.Phil. candidates in American programs. To be admitted, students must be able to articulate what they will write about and develop a precise timeline for meeting their writing goals. Of course, like any major research undertaking, their projects change along the way, but there is no gap between starting a Ph.D. program and beginning work on a dissertation.

First-year Ph.D. students in the U.K. have chosen their advisor and topic by the time they start. They will have completed at least a full dissertation chapter by the end of their first year. There is also no preparatory coursework and hence none of the torturous graduate student seminar politics that fill the pages of the complaint against Ronell — and which may exacerbate the toxic atmosphere at many graduate programs across the United States.

The advantages of this system over the American model are incalculable. First, it cuts the number of years taken up by a Ph.D. drastically — often in half. For students who must take out loans, the costs are a fraction of what they are in the United States. Students do not need to support themselves through teaching, and can devote themselves wholly to their research and writing, which is completed much more efficiently as a result.

Most important, a shortened timeline means that students don’t have to sacrifice as much as a decade of their lives in pursuit of this highest academic credential, as often happens in the United States. They can complete their doctorate in as few as three years, after which they are free to pursue a range of occupations within and outside the university. Those who don’t obtain academic jobs and must leave the academy will not have sacrificed the same proportion of their lives as their American counterparts.

In addition, the job application process at U.K. universities is more transparent and less taxing for applicants. Letters of recommendation are only required for shortlisted candidates, and more attention is given to objective factors like publications and funding track record. Having sat on several search committees within the U.K., I can attest that the in-group network is less relevant to securing an academic position.

Spousal hiring should be discontinued. In the U.K., spousal hires never happen by design and only occasionally happen by accident — even for prestigious, high-level appointments and at institutions like the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In fact, a proposal for a spousal hire would be seen as a violation of the basic principles of non-discrimination and also rightly smack of nepotism.

Preferential treatment for spouses perpetuates the star system that lies at the heart of the culture critiqued in the complaint against NYU. Yet its practice within the American academy has been barely subjected to critique. Academics who benefit the most from this practice occupy the most visible positions of power.

Granted, the costs of forbidding spousal hires in a country that can be traversed in six hours by train are less than they would be in the United States. Partners in universities as far away as Edinburgh and London can regularly visit each other and even live together, given the U.K.’s size. Relationships are harder to maintain when one partner teaches in New York and the other teaches in Los Angeles.

But it is far from clear that this is the most important consideration. Not everyone is in a binary relationship, and the preference for academics so situated is arguably discriminatory. The democratizing effect of the abolition of spousal hiring is more important to the academy overall than are the demands of star academics. Universities should not be giving preferential treatment to certain candidates, cutting off jobs for others and compromising the integrity of the hiring process simply because of who their spouses happen to be.

What’s more, spousal hiring has a toxic effect on graduate student morale, particularly young women. It sends a message to them (as it did to me) that becoming romantically involved with their professors is the surest path to career success. I have witnessed these dynamics in practice. At the university where I received my Ph.D., only three tenure-stream appointments in the field most proximate to my research were held by women, and two of those women obtained their positions in their capacity as the wives of star professors. The institution had used spousal hires in these cases as recruitment tools or as part of retention packages for these star professors.

How can an American university consistently oppose — and sometimes formally forbid — romantic relationships between students and their professors while at the same time rewarding professors who engage in such relationships by granting lifetime appointments to their new spouses? Amid such patriarchal norms, a fellow Ph.D. student’s comment to me in our first year of graduate school that her primary career goal was to marry her advisor so that he would get her a job hardly comes as a surprise. Her words shocked me at the time for their bluntness, but she was merely responding to her environment, as women have always done. What is surprising is that we as a profession have been in denial for so long of the toxicity of these norms and of the gender hierarchies they perpetuate.

Wives who obtain jobs or permanent appointments because of who they marry are often wonderful human beings and brilliant scholars. But when they are granted tenure-line appointments on the basis of their marital status rather than through a transparent process, such hiring practices should be called out for what they are: discrimination that perpetuates gendered structural inequality between students and professors. In rare cases when the spousal hire is male, this hiring practice still perpetuates a binary relationship structure.

Academic hierarchies are generated by systems that prevent those in power — who are often kind, generous and caring — from being held to account. Contrary to the star-studded mentality that has brought the humanities to its current mess, and which can normalize and institutionalize sexual harassment through the practice of spousal hiring, the task of institutional reform cannot be met by relying on the personal virtues of specific individuals. Our problems are structural.

Political scientist Corey Robin’s comments on the NYU harassment case importantly remind us of the sheer arbitrariness of the professor-student relation, and the lack of any formal structures to prevent exploitation. That is what has to change. Some British-style professionalism would go a long way to democratize the academy in the United States. Free spirits sometimes flourish even in institutions rampant with inequality. But in the austere times that higher education finds itself in today, when jobs are increasingly scarce and the Ph.D. does not guarantee a career in academe, the lack of accountability for American professors too often shores up the power of the tenured, the established and the privileged.

The academy is changing. Jobs are scarcer. Only by a long stretch of the imagination can Ph.D. programs be treated primarily as apprenticeships for academic careers. Doctoral programs can no longer be run like feudal monarchies, particularly when the ruler has no fiefdom to bequeath to their students following their graduation. To quote one of Ronell’s more articulate (if still misleading) defenders, Lisa Duggan, “If we focus on this one case, these details, this accuser and accused, we will miss the opportunity to think about the structural issues. If we are social justice feminists and not neoliberals, we care about the broad structures of power, and not individual bad apples case by case.” This is not to suggest that Duggan or any of Ronell’s other defenders have lived up to these words, but it remains a worthwhile demand.

I have offered these proposals in the hopes of moving forward the critique of academe’s undemocratic hierarchies — and of not allowing Nimrod Reitman’s story to be tallied as mere collateral damage in a saga we all have heard far too often and know too well.

 

Rebecca Gould is professor of Islamic World and Comparative Literature at the University of Birmingham. She is the author of the award-winning Writers and Rebels (Yale University Press, 2016).

 

By : Rebecca Gould
Date : September 13, 2018
Source : Inside Higher Ed
https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/09/13/what-american-universities-can-learn-those-uk-concerning-ronell-case-opinion

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Africa’s Women Belong at the Top

 

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural, political, and economic biases are conspiring to keep talented women from pursuing leadership positions. To give more young women the opportunity to develop their talents and put their skills to work, today’s leaders must clear a path for the female leaders of tomorrow.

ZOMBA, MALAWI – When I was eight years old, a family friend told my father that he thought I was destined for leadership. My dad never let me forget that heady observation, and as a result of his constant encouragement, I took every opportunity I had to pursue our friend’s prophecy. Today, I owe much of my success to my late father, whose belief in me was unwavering.

Unfortunately, most African girls are not as lucky as I was. While many girls possess leadership qualities, social, political, and economic barriers stymie their potential. This is especially true for girls in rural parts of Africa, where poverty, abuse, and tradition conspire to limit opportunity.

The heartbreaking story of my childhood friend, Chrissie, is illustrative. Chrissie was the star student in the village in Malawi where I grew up. But she dropped out of secondary school because her family could not afford the $6 in monthly fees. Before Chrissie was 18, she was married with a child; she has never left the village where we were born.

Chrissie’s experience is repeated millions of times over in my country, across Africa, and around the world. Today, more than 130 million girls worldwide are out of school through no fault of their own. By the time many African girls turn ten, their fate is already determined. Some are victims of harmful cultural practices, like female genital mutilation and child marriage, while others are unable to escape the poverty that grips their families and communities.

Economic bias is especially damaging to girls. When resources are limited, poor families must choose which children to send to school, and in many regions, boys are viewed as “safer” investments. Girls, meanwhile, are married off, or sent to work in the fields or as domestic helpers. These decisions about the allocation of educational opportunity severely stunt female leadership potential.

One of the objectives of the Joyce Banda Foundation is to strengthen the financial independence of Malawian women, and thereby create the conditions for the development and emergence of young girls as future leaders. Evidence shows that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. Furthermore, once women have their own sources of income, they are better able to participate in the political process.

Changing endemic cultural norms about gender and identity – and developing more female leaders – begins in the classroom. School-age girls must be taught to value themselves and one another, and that it is their right to be educated, healthy, and empowered. At the Joyce Banda Foundation School in Blantyre, Malawi, educators have adopted a curriculum based on four building blocks: universal values, global understanding, service to humanity, and excellence.

Parts of Africa are moving in the right direction. Today, nearly a quarter of Sub-Saharan Africa’s lawmakers are women, up from just 10% in 1997. Rwanda, meanwhile, has the highest percentage of female legislators in the world. And throughout Africa, women have been elected to leadership roles at all levels of government.

Still, much work remains. As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will make clear in its annual Goalkeepers report later this month, governments must recommit to supporting female leaders’ development by investing in the health and education of women and girls. Delivering services to girls under ten years of age, especially in rural areas, is essential if Africa is ever to achieve lasting gender equality.

Over the course of my career in Malawi – first in civil society, then as a Member of Parliament, and finally, as president – I became convinced that the only way to change Africa’s misogynistic narrative is by helping more women reach the highest levels of power. Research from India shows that when governments increase the percentage of women in their ranks, social issues like health care, education, and food security receive higher priority. Having more women in leadership is thus good for everyone.

Leaders are born as well as made, but when they are born in Africa, they are not always recognized. To give more young women the opportunity to develop their talents and put their skills to work, today’s leaders must clear a path for the female leaders of tomorrow.

 

Joyce Banda, a former president of the Republic of Malawi, is the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation.

 

By : Joyce Banda
Date : September 12, 2018
Source : Project Syndicate
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/political-leadership-gender-equality-in-africa-by-joyce-banda-2018-09

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