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23 March 2020
In the past decade we’ve seen some significant steps forward in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality, from the #MeToo movement that has emboldened more women to speak out against misogynistic abuse, to new domestic violence laws passed to protect women in India and Bangladesh. However, we are now increasingly witnessing a rising tide of patriarchal backlash against that progress. Around the world women’s rights are at risk of being rolled back and those fighting for them are at risk of violent attacks online and off.
In 2017, Russia passed a new law that decriminalised the first instance of domestic violence. The Trump administration brought into being the global gag rule that blocks all US assistance to foreign NGOs that use their own funds to provide abortion services, counselling and referrals or advocates for reproductive rights. Dismantling of institutions that work on gender equality has been a key feature. Brazil has witnessed change to social welfare policies that negatively affect poor women, and abolished the Ministries of Racial Equality, Human Rights and Women. Worldwide, there is a rise in incidence of attacks on-line against female politicians, both sexualised abuse and other kinds of abuse and threats.
To counter this growing backlash, I believe that first we need to fully understand it. Is it coordinated, how does it manifest, are there common tactics being used by those fighting against equality in different countries? These are questions that are being addressed in new research taking place with eleven partner organisations across six countries in Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and East Africa.
But understanding it is only one part of the process that needs to happen. If we are to hope to more effectively counter backlash in its many forms, we also need to find allies, learn from each other, mobilise, build alliances and devise savvy strategies together in areas of activism, policy and the role of men as advocates.
It is so important to learn from and understand what is happening in different countries. Much of the research and evidence on backlash against women’s rights and gender equality only covers US, Eastern Europe and the UK. Finding out how this issue is really affecting countries in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East is crucial to international development, as a whole, and to getting anywhere close to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
For example, we can learn from the resistance to new laws in India and Bangladesh to tackle domestic violence, where backlash manifested itself in challenges to the details of the law. Where in general there was wide acceptance that domestic violence was wrong, but when laws were being formed individual clauses were changed, for example for the laws to only apply to married couples and leaving out cohabiting couples or gay relationships.
In Uganda, the resistance to new women’s rights laws was similarly framed in a way that could be classified under the guise of ‘family values’. The proposals received push back from the church due to concerns that the law would reduce power for men, give too much power to women and upset the traditional family dynamic. In order to counter this dynamic, the policy coalition on domestic violence had to frame the issue to show that domestic violence affected men too. They also framed domestic violence as a development concern as it affected the health, labour power and well-being of women. To achieve change the policy coalition and the female MPs actively pursued male MPs to bring them on board as allies.
Those pushing back against women’s rights are forming coalitions. In order to counter this backlash so must we. At an international level, the US, Russia, catholic and Muslim majority countries banded together as far back as 1995 to remove progressive language and provisions agreed upon at the UN’s women conference in Beijing.
We should try not to work in silos. The alliances can and should be wide-ranging, internationally wide-reaching and across activist groups, academia, lawyers, NGOs and liberal-minded local and national politicians. In many cases the backlash against gender equality can also be similar to the backlash against LGBTQ rights or minority rights and different rights organisations have opportunities to support and back each other though formal networks and informal support for one another.
Much of this backlash is coupled with the shrinking of civic spaces, where in many countries around the world governments are making it more difficult for civil society organisations and rights groups to speak out or operate openly. This makes it even more important to build alliances to share tactics that work and support and encourage to those facing increased levels of oppression.
With the one in three women affected by gender-based violence at some point in their lifetime and a recent World Bank report showing that on average women only have 75 percent of the legal rights afforded to men, there is much work to do and we can’t afford to lose the hard-fought gains that have been made.
As a researcher I believe it is vital for those working in this field to be more closely aligned with activists and build partnerships with change-makers on the ground. In the fight for women’s rights we all need to join the battle.
16 March 2020
Sam Hickey and Badru Bukenya have published on their research into the politics of promoting social cash transfers in Uganda in Development Policy Review. The article has fascinating findings and policy implications for the thinking and working politically agenda.
Donor efforts within a transnational policy coalition to promote social cash transfers in Uganda prospered when a shift was made from a technocratic to a more politically informed approach in the late 2000s. By employing strategies from the new ‘thinking and working politically’ agenda, an alignment was eventually achieved between social cash transfers and Uganda’s shifting political settlement,
As per the framework introduced earlier by Lavers and Hickey, 2016, this interplay of transnational factors and the country’s domestic political economy involved both incentives, as it offered a new strategy for securing electoral popularity that fitted with the ruling coalition’s increasingly financialised mode of political clientelism and, to an extent, ideas, most notably around issues of vulnerability and deservingness.
However, there are tensions that can arise when development agencies start to ‘think and work politically’ in such contexts.
The commercialisation of democracy that characterised the ‘bought’ elections of 2011 reached still greater heights at the 2016 elections, with the president’s entourage directly involved in distributing public resources to voters. The cash transfer scheme thus fitted well with the form of political clientelism increasingly deployed by the ruling coalition to maintain itself in power.
The sense that cash transfers received presidential support primarily as a political rather than a developmental strategy is underlined by the ways in which they have been adopted, designed and resourced. Cash transfers were adopted as a result of political pressure, rather than through the formal policy process, and little effort has since been made to integrate social protection within the logic of the national development strategy
Uganda’s ‘commitment’ to social protection emerges as a somewhat half‐hearted and instrumental embrace of yet another form of vote‐buying clientelism, rather than an ideological form of developmentalism and politics of citizenship in Uganda.
It is too early to judge whether social cash transfers will become fully captured within the clientelistic strategies designed to secure political support in Uganda or whether they will start to become institutionalised in ways that help to forge a citizenship‐based social contract. However, in adopting a thinking and working politically approach, donors may have undermined the pro‐poor potential of cash transfers in Uganda.
It may be that shifting the focus from promoting particular policy instruments, to instead promoting the longer‐term drivers through which social protection has historically become embedded within African polities, may prove useful.
Avoiding the populism that cash transfers can easily help foment and become trapped within perhaps involves paying greater attention to building ‘fiscal contracts’ that involve attention to issues of taxation as well as distribution. This would involve external actors thinking and working politically with a much longer time frame in mind with regard to historical processes of state, citizenship and capital formation in Africa.
10 March 2020
Recently a government minister, Hon. David Bahati, claimed that money in early receipts to Uganda’s oil fund was finished, as had long been suspected by civil society activists. This perhaps ‘lays to rest’ one aspect of oil governance, which in Uganda, like elsewhere, is based on ‘best practices’ around the world.
I have since been informed that not all money in the fund is gone. Approximately US$ 6 million remains in a dollar account and some UGX51 billion in the shilling account. Two important pieces of reading can help understand where Uganda stands with regards to managing new oil money, which, according to the new minister of energy, Hon Mary Goretti Kitutu, could be eminent, if oil companies make a final investment decision before April 2020.
The first is ESID research with Sam Hickey on how capable technocrats are coping within oil oversight institutions. The second, longer and broader work is published by Leuven University Press and includes contributions by various Ugandan ( and other) authors, entitled Oil Wealth and Development in Uganda and beyond.
This post was originally published on Angelo’s blog.
Read the ESID working paper here.
6 February 2020
Listen to ESID researcher, Sohela Nazneen, in conversation with economist and gender specialist, Professor Diane Elson, for IDS podcast series, Between the Lines. They discuss the surprising findings of the book edited by Sohela on negotiating domestic violence policy in the Global South
Two key factors that matter for gender laws to be passed in the Global South are:
– Understanding the balance of power between political actors. Women’s rights actors having awareness of this and responding strategically.
– Informal networks of women including powerful women with links to domains of power.
3 February 2020
Tim Williams’ award-winning research on the political economy of primary education, published by ESID and World Development, has also been featured in The Washington Post.
For the third time in 11 years, Rwanda has changed the language used in schools to English. In this fascinating and timely piece, Tim asks what this latest major language shift means for children, teachers and the nation. The new plan requires schools to teach in English, starting in the first grade. However, many school teachers in Rwanda do not speak English. A 2018 study found just 38 percent of those teachers likely to be affected by the change have a working knowledge of English. This statistic likely obscures much lower percentages of spoken English in rural areas outside of Rwanda’s anglophone-friendly capital city of Kigali.
Along with the issue with non-English speaking teachers, there are concerns about the lack of planning prior to this decision and the rejection of scientific evidence that suggests primary-school students may learn best in their first language. A previous switch to teaching in English in 2008 did not go well. After three years, eight in 10 teachers still had a ‘beginner’ or ‘elementary’ knowledge of English.
Experts expressed concern at the time that the lack of planning would allow only the most privileged or talented students to stand a chance of doing well in school. More than 10 years later, this appears to still be the case: 44 percent of sixth-graders are illiterate in English, a figure that is likely much higher in rural parts of the country. It means these children take their pivotal leaving examinations in a language they do not understand.
But not all Rwandans experience language changes equally. Wealthier families can send their children to private primary schools. These schools have more resources, including English-speaking teachers, and they can better manage the shocks of an education system whose language policies are in constant flux. Children from poor households, in contrast, go to government schools, where teachers often have a limited grasp of English, and where teaching and learning materials are scarce. And some local media outlets now question how the most recent move fits into the leadership’s plans to improve education quality.
A few days after announcing its latest language change, the government appeared to backtrack slightly. It issued another statement that the shift to English will happen ‘within a determined period to be communicated by the Ministry of Education’, resulting in an uneasy status quo. The ministry has not publicly offered any further details of when or how this change will happen.
Read the full article here.
Read Tim William’s ESID research here.
Tim Williams in the winner of the 2018 Joyce Cain Award for outstanding scholarly article.