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New Social Compact

Adeline Virginia Woolf

Abigail George



Before she began her day’s work Virginia Woolf began to write painstakingly yet in a beautiful old-fashioned script in her diary. ‘Madness is not a proper sitting-down affair like a dinner or high tea. Its black wonder, in all its glorious power and kingdoms (the ‘arthritic’ kingdom, the ‘counter-productive’ kingdom, the ‘body double’s’ kingdom), the onset and expedition into ageing, all are written on the body and in the mind of the creative.

I am placed in the centre of it. I am the key that unlocks its history. I know even when I am anxious I must be loyal to my soul’s progress by letting things go. Skill comes with the potential of the ‘floodgates’ of each emotional curve opening up and freeing me.

Instead of hitting your head against the formidable of all formidables, the brick wall that you seem/I seem to effortlessly cling to will cave in with consummate ease and we will transcend those dazzling boundaries of what we once occupied. All I feel is winter at the back of me, draping itself like a cool shroud over me, shutting out the white light, swirls, cloud-bursts of air as heavy as moss draining me of energy, leaving me to ask myself that marked question of all marked questions, has my time come, is it my turn, is my time up? I am conscious of the time of day. It is nearly time for my afternoon walk. Faces joined to bodies hard at work in fields peer out at me with picture-perfect clarity.

I do not know them, they do not fit or belong in my world so I go on my own merry way and pretend I do not see them. Is it nearly time for my customary nap or to have a little light supper with Leonard and talk about Hogarth Press, its cumulative progress and the writers he is currently printing?

I climb hills with style, sucked into this novel earth with each step.

When I feel most not of the flesh is when a spell of madness comes upon me. All around me, the universe becomes a ghostly sphere. Stars are unfailing witnesses to the elements of my hallucinations. As I write this in relatively solitary confinement, in my room, I can see crystals of light evaporate in winter rain outside my window. Look, look, pressing with an index finger into the middle of the flushed salmon-pink of the palm of my right-hand as if I am investigating stigmata, I am living proof that even melancholy can elevate you. Why is it always the impoverished, the most vulnerable citizens of our environment, what that unflinching symbol of loss means to us, what is it about the lives of Outsiders that speak to us?

Head touching sky, feet touching ground, breathing in a lungful of the healthy countryside air (it feels as if it is sliding through me, the fruity richness of my organs, my blue veins) these are some of my most precious moments. Where would I be without you? All around me are the immortal heights of nature. To rest, I have the throne of a tree to lean against and the sky, even the scenery of the land is poetic. What would I do with jewels when today I have seen shades of the world through a pair of novel eyes? When you’re older, you are more forgiving, stronger, amazed at your voluntary spontaneity to smile and engage with other ‘artists’ when you are at your best at public gatherings.

Is the world so full of life? Bright that it can hurt, cause you to weep, sob uncontrollably, can it draw a feint line of subterfuge between your sacred contract with your god and a most natural creative gift that is also relevant, compelling and unique? Hiking up my skirts, mud on my shoes, my hair plastered in an unladylike fashion against my forehead, enjoying exerting myself, finding pleasure in it, my limbs trembling, the ‘lady of the manor’, balanced yesterday precariously between the hell of mental illness and the eternal damnation of it all. With the last vestiges of my childhood all but removed, who was left to blame for my fragile state of mind. Mental illness had me once rigidly on fire and here I was a child again in my secret garden.

Walking, even if it was a width of a thread of our cottage, seemed to toughen my spirit from the inside out. I have learned to endure solitude (it has me hooked); even the silence has not lost its diamond-shine. I suffer in the silence that always seems to navigate its way to meet me in minuscule explosions in my presence and I did not presume that infertility was a fierce punishment or that it was a lesson in disguise. It was an earthquake offering me quiet torment before it became an uninvited guest sequestered to the attic. It was just a misunderstanding poured between my cells and platelets. Perhaps even the social discord of spiritual interference was melded to my bones, sinew and flesh and not just the biological.

In some ways there is still ‘the subdued girl’ about me, no Goth, no siren am I with flaming lips. I feel I have risen to the occasion brilliantly, as eternity has wanted me to by making a beautiful career of it. As I write this leaves are falling like pure drifts of snow and one day I know this diary will be held up for eternity, like so many others before my time, before my country, to public scrutiny. Newspaper hounds, scholars and pundits will declare ‘it’, my diaries and excerpts from them literature. They will say Virginia Woolf was a woman ahead of her time. If there is a worthy truth to that statement I am certain I shall not know of it in my own lifetime.’

She has always lived like this with the winters of loneliness. She called it ‘perfection’, ‘bliss and the art of survival is found in an artist’s creative expression’, ‘a natural habitat for a woman writing fiction’, ‘I am an artist and all writers are artists and all artists are writers’, ‘I find so many things useful in the cold comfort of my rituals before I sit down to work. The ritual of creating, of living, of the invincibility of routine and silence, that inner space that you are most conscious of’.

In her mind’s eyes, she tells herself to shut her eyes, to believe the voice of her alter ego and everything it is telling her. It is telling her, selling her, her invisible doppelganger’s visions until she could even feel it in her heart. She was not tethered to anything in the material world. ‘The only possession that I came into this world with and am leaving this world with is this physical body.’ She had told her sister, Vanessa, who had been her most ardent companion during their childhood and adolescence. She lived in books and without them she would be lifeless, loveless and in their fundamental education they had given her she saw images of the wisdom she would one day come to possess.

This article/commentary was published online in as well as Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine as Virginia Woolf in the Flesh.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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New Social Compact

Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific

MD Staff



The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.

Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.

Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.

But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.

Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.

Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.

The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.

The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.

The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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New Social Compact

UN women’s commission opens annual session at ‘pivotal moment’ for gender equality movement

MD Staff



Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN and Chair of the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at the opening of the session. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Taking place at “a pivotal moment for the rights of women and girls,” the United Nations body dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment opened its annual session on Monday hearing calls to help women, especially those in rural communities, secure an end to the male-dominated power dynamic that has long marginalized their participation and muted their voices.

“Across the world, women are telling their stories and provoking important and necessary conversations – in villages and cities; in boardrooms and bedrooms; in the streets and in the corridors of power,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, opening the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62).

“From ‘MeToo’ to ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘The Time is Now’ […] women and girls are calling out abusive behaviour and discriminatory attitudes,” he added.

Under the Commission’s theme ‘Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls,’ the UN chief observed that although a marginalized group, they were often the backbone of their families and communities, managing land and resources.

Mr. Guterres said that supporting these women is essential to fulfilling our global pledge to eradicate poverty and to create a safer, more sustainable world on a healthy planet – 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mr. Guterres painted a picture of a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture in which centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy.

Calling it “the greatest human rights challenge of our time,” he said “progress for women and girls means changing the unequal power dynamics that underpin discrimination and violence.”

“Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies,” he continued. “That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I consider myself a proud feminist.”

The President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Marie Chatardova pointed to the Commission, as a critical instrument to strengthen the global normative framework for women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality.

The body is also as a key driver of ECOSOC’s work, with the Commission’s outcomes as bolstering the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and that of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to end poverty and ensure prosperity for all on a healthy planet.

Noting that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a theme that cuts across all the Goals, Ms. Chatardova said the Commission’s focus on rural women and girls was both timely and well-aligned with the 2030 Agenda.

According to the ECOSOC President, inclusion is a key element in all efforts.

Noting that the Commission has long provided a roadmap for the UN’s work in women’s empowerment and gender equality, she announced a special Council session in May to build sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies.

Gender perspective is critical

For his part, the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, noted that past challenges were approached without a gender perspective, which “has had a particularly damaging effect on rural women.”

Mr. Lajčák underscored that this needs to stop, and that women must be taken into account in all actions, from access to water to closing pay gaps.

Drawing attention to rural women as a major source of innovation, he explained that their empowerment would benefit everyone.

“These kinds of women do not need our help, in finding solutions,” he stated. “What they need is our support, in turning their ideas into reality.”

Calling gender equality “an urgent priority,” Mr. Lajčák he encouraged the Commission to carry on with its important work “until every woman, sitting in this room today has the same rights, and the same opportunities, as the man sitting beside her.’

“Thank you for continuing your calls. Let’s make them stronger than ever,” he concluded.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted the importance of this year’s focus on rurual women.

“It speaks to our commitment to fight some of the biggest challenges of our time: poverty, inequality, intersectionality and an end to violence and discrimination against women and girls, no matter where they live, or how they live, so that we ‘leave no one behind,’” she stated.

Calling it “a tipping point moment,” the UN Women chief urged the forum to seize the opportunity to secure and accelerate progress, build consensus and share best practices to serve “the poorest of the poor.”

“It has never been so urgent to hold leaders accountable for their promises for accelerating progress” on the SDGs, she said.  An unprecedented hunger for change in women’s lives was being seen around the world, as well as a growing recognition that when women banded together, “they can make demands that bite.”

“Women are fighting to take steps that change their lives, and they are refusing to accept the practices that have normalized gender inequality, sexual misconduct, exclusion and discrimination across all walks of life,” she argued.

She urged everyone to unite around the common cause, as set out in the principles of equality in the UN Charter, “to make this a moment of real acceleration, change and accountability.”

The chair, Geraldine Byrne Nason, said the current session is a key moment on the path to ending discrimination against women and girls once and for all.  Indeed, “time is up” on women taking second place around the world, she said, challenging the Commission to do more and do better.

CSW functions under ECOSOC, acting as the UN organ promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.  CSW62 runs until 23 March.

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New Social Compact

UNESCO Rewards Outstanding Teacher Initiatives in Chile, Indonesia and the UK

MD Staff



Three programmes designed to empower teachers have been named as winners of the 2017-2018 UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize: The Center for Mathematic Modeling of the University of Chile, the Diklat Berjenjang project of Indonesia and the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers will be awarded on 5 October as part of World Teachers’ Day celebrations at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris when the each winner will receive $100,000.

The Center for Mathematic Modeling of the University of Chile (Chile) is rewarded for its Suma y Sigue: Matemática en línea (Adding it up: Mathematics online) programme which was developed to address the performance gaps in mathematics between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and improve the quality of maths teaching in general. It is a ‘learning by doing’ programme organized by grade levels and curricula, enabling teachers to focus on their specialized area of mathematics teaching. It blends face-to-face sessions with intensive virtual instruction. The programme is scaleable, easily accessed by teachers in remote areas, and it promotes inclusion.

The Diklat Berjenjang project from Indonesia is rewarded for bringing quality professional development to early childhood teachers, notably in the poorest and most remote areas. It helps meet Indonesia’s need for teachers skilled in creating stimulating learning environments for young learners. It helps identify potential teacher trainers and provides step-by-step written guides, follow-up assignments and exchanges.

The Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was selected for its highly innovative and impactful approach to training teachers in various professional environments in Ghana. It promotes child-centred and play-based pedagogy in early education to replace traditional talk chalk disciplinarian methods. Practicing teachers receive a two-year training, combining workshops with smaller peer group meetings in which they are paired on the basis of their complementary strengths to engage in classroom observations and in class coaching.

The three winners were selected from 150 nominations submitted by the Governments of UNESCO’s Member States and UNESCO partner organizations on the recommendation of an International Jury of education professionals.

Established in 2009 with funding from Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of Dubai, the Prize is awarded every two years to projects that have made outstanding contributions to improving the quality of teaching and learning, especially in developing countries or within marginalized or disadvantaged communities.

More information on the prize:

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