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
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/zambia-education-gender-equality-meghan-markle-by-nkandu-luo-2019-02?a_la=english&a_d=5c6c2daf78b6c71fccaac70c&a_m=&a_a=click&a_s=&a_p=%2Farchive&a_li=zambia-education-gender-equality-meghan-markle-by-nkandu-luo-2019-02&a_pa=&a_ps=

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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
https://newrepublic.com/article/153125/activists-fight-citizenship

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African-Americans’ Wealth A Fraction That Of Whites Due To Systematic Inequality

 

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of captive Africans to Virginia, where they were sold into slavery. February marks Black History month — a time when Americans reflect on the legacy and ongoing contributions African-Americans have provided to our country’s success. Despite racism and the systematic obstacles placed in front of African-Americans they continue to achieve greatness. However, even today, 400 years later with much progress accomplished, African-Americans still lack the same opportunities of economic security and mobility as their white counterparts.

The massive wealth gap between African-Americans and whites starkly illustrates this. African-Americans only have a fraction of the wealth that whites have . This leaves them much less prepared for an emergency and with fewer resources to invest in their own future such as moving to a good neighborhood, starting a business, and sending their children to college. African-American economic mobility consequently remains well below that of whites. And they tend to face more struggles in old age with less wealth.

Wealth – the difference between what families own such as a house, a business, retirement savings and bank accounts, among others, minus what they owe in mortgages, credit cards and student loans, for example – serves several purposes. First, families can dip into their savings such as checking and savings accounts, but also their retirement savings, when they face an emergency such as an unexpected illness, a layoff or a divorce. Their savings serve as a backstop when incomes abruptly fall and costs rise. Second, wealth is also a means to invest in a family’s future. They can use savings for the down payment on a house, to start a business, to move to a new job when a better one comes along and to help pay for their children’s education. Wealth is a crucial way for families to gain more economic opportunities. And third, wealth is a means to enjoy a secure retirement, to decide when to leave the labor force, for example due to ill health or family obligations and to pursue volunteer opportunities.

Yet, wealth is highly and increasingly unequally distributed, especially between African-Americans and whites. At the median, non-retired African-Americans had $13,460 in wealth in 2016 or only 9.5% of the median wealth of $142,180 that whites had at that time . The racial wealth gap in fact widened in the wake of the Great Recession. In 2007, just before the recession started, median African-American wealth was 13.7% of the median white wealth — $25,841 compared to $188,756 (in 2016 dollars). This gap was also abysmal, just not as bad as the difference in more recent years. In fact, over the past 30 years, African-American wealth at the median never amounted to more than about one-fifth of white wealth.

The racial wealth gap is the result of systematic disadvantages that African-Americans face on a regular basis. A substantial racial wealth difference persists by education, income, age and marital status. African-Americans with a college degree had less median wealth in 2016 than whites without a college degree – $57,250 compared to $81,650. That is, standard economic and demographic factors often used to explain wealth differences do not explain the massive wealth between African-Americans and whites. Other factors such as occupational steering, residential segregation and outright discrimination are also regularly at play and substantially contribute to the wealth differences between African-Americans and whites.

The disproportionately larger drop in African-American wealth during the economic and financial crisis from 2007 to 2009 also shows that they encounter systematic obstacles in building and maintaining wealth. African-American wealth fell more precipitously during the economic and financial crisis because their wealth was more concentrated in home equity. That is, African-Americans had fewer financial reserves outside of their house than whites did, often because they work in jobs that pay less and have fewer retirement and other benefits than is the case for whites. And, African-Americans regularly suffered from much worse unemployment rates sooner and longer than was the case for whites. They then had to rely on their savings to a larger degree and for longer, making it harder to rebuild their wealth after the crisis.

The wealth gap between African-Americans and whites is so large that it will require sustained, large and targeted policy interventions. Otherwise, the promise of equal opportunity will remain an empty one for African-Americans.

 

Christian Weller: I am a professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. I joined academia in 2007 after working full time in Washington, DC, think tanks for almost a decade. My research has focused on retirement issues, including Social Security, private and public pensions and retirement savings such as 401(k) accounts for the past two decades. I have written and published extensively on retirement issues, including my recent book Retirement on the Rocks. My goal is to support retirement policy through meaningful research, especially in a time of growing economic risks that both increase the need for more savings and make it harder for people to save. I regularly speak to a wide variety of audiences such as financial service providers, union leaders and retirement activists and I frequently appear on national radio and TV.

 

 

By : Christian Weller
Date : February 14, 2019
Source : Forbes
https://www.forbes.com/sites/christianweller/2019/02/14/african-americans-wealth-a-fraction-that-of-whites-due-to-systematic-inequality/#12a39f304554

 

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Who knows best? Cities consult citizens for fresh ideas

 

Barcelona residents had until the end of January to submit suggestions for a plan to redevelop the green spaces of Montjuic, an iconic hill overlooking the Catalan capital.

Few people live on Montjuic itself, which sports a stadium built for the 1992 Olympic Games alongside museums, a castle and recreational areas, but there are dense residential streets at the bottom of the hill.

Inhabitants of those neighbourhoods were given the chance to add their ideas on things like transport and environmental protection – both online and at meetings – to a draft of the city council’s action plan for Montjuic.

Barcelona often uses inclusive processes like this to gather citizens’ input on municipal projects – a trend that is growing worldwide at municipal and national levels.

Recent surveys in Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, demonstrate that people want, and are able, to take part in shaping urban development.

But with municipal elections to be held in May, Fernando Pindado, commissioner for democracy and active participation at Barcelona City Council, said working methods needed to be strengthened so they remain consistent, no matter which political party is in charge.

And the city is still looking for the best ways to incorporate the views of a wider range of people, he added.

“Not all citizens are the same – there are lots of foreigners, some have kids, some don’t,” he said.

“The internet is very useful for extending social debates … but not everyone has internet access.”

BERLIN’S REFUGEES

Participatory processes are gradually emerging in cities around the world, as digital technology makes them simpler and faster for local authorities to implement.

Getting them to work effectively, however, can be challenging for governments and citizens alike, said Birgit zur Nieden, a commissioner in the Senate of Berlin, which governs the German city.

That was the case when the senate trialled a new way of designing a programme to improve the lives of refugees in the capital, she said.

“In 2015, many such people came – and Berlin failed in some regards to attend to their needs well,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The process, which lasted about nine months, involved inviting NGOs and other organisations that interact with migrants to take part in working groups on relevant topics.

The goal was to infuse their knowledge and understanding of refugees’ needs into the city programme, she explained.

In practice, the design was complex, and the administration and civil society groups did not find it easy to work productively together, she said.

Nonetheless, it was useful to get to know each other and exchange expertise, she added.

YOUTHFUL EDGE

Beth Noveck, director of the Governance Lab at New York University, said harnessing new technology to engage the wider public in drafting laws was “a global phenomenon”.

But previously authoritarian states like Taiwan and Brazil are experimenting with it the most, she added.

“In countries that have long-established and highly rule-based legislative practices, innovation can be difficult in contrast to countries with younger democratic institutions,” she said.

In Taiwan, artificial intelligence and other technology was used to engage 200,000 people in crafting legislation on company shareholder requirements and internet alcohol sales, for instance, Noveck said.

The government uses an open source tool called Polis, which makes it possible to take the pulse of a large group using an algorithm that clusters their responses.

Brazil is using an app called Mudamos to allow ordinary people to digitally sign proposed bills relating to popular issues such as public cleanliness and municipal transport.

Meanwhile, in January, French President Emmanuel Macron launched a two-month “great national debate”, in response to ongoing “yellow vest” protests largely rooted in dissatisfaction over growing social inequalities.

Through a series of internet-based consultations, workshops and regional conferences, the government is canvassing citizens’ views on key themes including environmental policy, taxation, democracy and public services.

TRANSPARENCY

In general, participatory processes are being used more at the local level because party politics are less dominant here, with cities like Reykjavik, Barcelona and Bogota pioneering the use of online engagement, Noveck said.

People also find it easier to spot problems, identify solutions and evaluate legislation that directly affects their daily lives, she noted.

But in Barcelona, for example, there is still a lack of transparency over how the proposals gathered are used, according to a research project into participatory processes called CrowdLaw Catalog, led by the Governance Lab.

In recent years, which ideas made it into the Municipal Action Plan and why has not been clear, the Catalog said, noting a statistical model could be used in future to measure this.

Barcelona City Council’s Pindado said the Spanish city had found it useful to set up an independent body to monitor citizen consultations, boosting confidence they would be protected from political interference.

While the level of public interest always depends on the topic, “we’re getting to a point where these participatory processes are no longer dependent on the government’s will”, he added.

 

By : Sophie Davies
Date : February 12, 2019
Source : Thomson Reuters Foundation News
http://news.trust.org/item/20190212005100-02ad5

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment
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