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Islam and Democracy: False Perceptions or Pure Propagation?

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The Islamic Da’wah exhibits Islam as being peaceful and compassionate, in order to delude the infidels and to pave the way for their march to subdue the World.

Moreover, Muslim propagators assert, without hesitation and with high impudence, that Islam is the source of most aspects of Western modernism, and that the values and practices of Islam are the origin of human freedoms and civil rights.

To the consumption of ignorant Western audience, a huge amount of literature has been published under the rubric “democracy in Islam” mostly in English, with the following assertions: a) Islam and democracy are fully compatible; b) Islam has all the ingredients of modern polity and society; c) Islamic values are in fact the source of the democratic perceptions.

The problem begins with the fact that religion, perhaps any religion, is opposed to democratic values, by its own conceptions and principles. It is because the sources of commandment are from divine entity, while in democracy the source is the people, man-made laws, and sovereignty. Any debate on the connection between the two, religion and democracy, is seemingly artificial and may leads to a dead end. However, the astonishing fact is that more than all other religions, Islam is so far away, like between heaven and earth, from democracy. However, Islamic propagandists strive so hard to prove that Islam contains all democratic values from itself.

Why these efforts? The answer belongs to the Da’wah, propagation, realm, as to prove that Islam is the best and perfect religion. According to this, Islam and democracy are compatible, based on following: a) all individuals in the Islamic political system are sovereign, equal before the law, with full civil rights bestowed upon. b) Islam recognizes equality between all people – Muslims and non-Muslims, white over black, man or women. c) Islam does not accept dictatorship system or monarchy but democratic rule. The citizens’ opinion is decisive in formation of government and decision-making process. d) Islam was the first institution ever to advocate and to implement human rights as universal equality to all people. In fact, Islam has promoted the universality of freedoms over 1300 years before UN’s “Bill of Rights.” e) All forms of acts of violence are forbidden. “Jihad” as an aggression against innocent people is terror and by that and a distortion to Islamic law. f) Islam set an unprecedented standard for the ethics of dealing with captured enemies. They treated prisoners of war in a manner that has yet to be imitated in history by others. g) It is categorically forbidden to capture a free person and make him a slave. Slavery is forbidden. Islamic ethics places utmost importance on preservation of human life and dignity. h) In time of war, Islam decreed humane rules of war many centuries before such ideas were put into conventions in the West.

It is suggested to Western readers not to laugh and ridicule while reading this list, even it is hard. Each and every clause of these eight, if examined and analyzed by the three suggested criteria of investigation — Islamic Scriptures; Islamic history, and contemporary Islamic politics — fully reveals how grotesque and meaningless they are.  

Moreover, in the influential Muslim internet site, “Islam-on-line,” Muslim exegetes claim that Islamic democracy is fully compatible with Islam, while bringing reference from the Qur’an. However, the verses and practices quoted, absolutely do not refer to the objectives referred to. This is another proof how all these clauses are fabricated, twisted, and non-existent in Islamic reality.

The claim that Abu Bakr and his three successors, the four rightly guided caliphs (al-Khulafa’ al-Rashidun) were chosen in a fashion that reflected popular consent and by the people, is misleading and full of lies. For Muslims, including the Salafiyah groups, this era constitutes an ideal type in the Islamic political history. However, the reality is quite different. All the four caliphs were not elected but imposed on the community of the believers, rather they were nominated by small group from among the elders of the tribe; all of them did not receive the legitimacy of the others among the “political elite”, caused social schism, personal rivalry and political instability; three of the four Caliphs were murdered brutally, and witnessed civil wars. One can find anything in this era but certainly not democracy, freedoms, participation, and sovereignty.

How democracy is compatible with the Qur’an? Islamic propagators use four assertions: a) Shurah (consultation) as if it functions in Islam as a parliamentary Western Political system. b) Ijma’ (consensus) of the Islamic community, as if there is in Islam social and political pluralism based on majority rule. c) Ijtihad (innovative interpretation), as if there is readiness in Islam to absorb and integrate opposing values and conceptions. d) Hakmiyah (sovereignty), as if it expresses political participation of the people in the decision-making process.

However, these, all of them, are false fraud claims and without any substantiation or corroboration: Shurah refers in Islam only to the old tribal system of an advisory council of the elders, which include very scant elders or later on counselors. It has nothing to do with Western perceptions, Western democratic values, and there is not even one example in Arab and Muslim history and contemporary politics that in practice validate this claim. Ijma’ is again the tribal framework made up of the elders of the tribe, the ‘council of the wise men’, and only their voice is binding and for the decision-making processes.

Ijtihad shows by itself how the Islamic pretense is fraudulent. The fact is that the gates of Islamic Sunni innovative interpretations were closed in late eleventh century, due to the conviction that there is nothing outside Islam that is unknown and there is not a thing or set of conceptions that is worthy to be included in Islam from the beginning of history to the end of the world. Hakmiyah does not belong to the people but to Allah alone and dictated only by him. There is no and never have been political pluralism and participation in Islam. There is no other sovereignty on earth other than Allah and the rulers who imposed their rule on the subordinate people.

Western scholars who support the Islamic fraud claims, like the Esposito’s school of Georgetown, operate in three strategies: they exhibit claims and arguments without any scientific proofs or by quoting verses totally unrelated to the truth. They operate their elusive claims by declaring there are different kinds of democracy. There can also be a religious democracy, and Islam is the embodiment of spiritual democracy. At the same time, they accuse the West of being the cause for the lack of democracy in Islam, by preferring Muslim authoritarian rule as a means to continuing Western presence.

Amos Perlmutter calls the ‘Esposito School’ naïve, as harboring illusions originating in ignorance and lack of knowledge about Islam. The issue is not adjusting Islam to the values of representative democracy and human rights, but learning the true nature of Islam which is anti-democratic and anti-liberalism. Islam and democracy are incompatible, unless we decide to call everything and any form of government a democracy. If Marxist-Leninist Communism in the Soviet style could be called “popular democracy”, why not call Islam “religious democracy”?

The reality is that Arab-Islamic history and contemporary politics clearly shows: There is anything Islam but not democratic liberal processes; there were no sovereign states led by electorate people; there were never a civic society, citizen’s rights and freedoms. What is found are authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leadership, which was always the prerogative of the ruling elite, and the people have never been the electing and the sovereign. And that social misery and economic wretchedness are the dominant in Islamic politics, and not openness and freedoms.

Let’s define and analyze how democracy is defined and characterized, and what are its basic components. There are several types of democracy with two most important phenomena:

First, the centrality of the political institutions and the intensity of their influence, with a separation of powers, the functioning of branches of government as an array of checks and balances and their accountability and transparency. Sovereignty belongs to the electors alone, and the legitimacy of government flows from the existence of laws for the sake of the citizens. Power is decentralized, and the leader is less important than the political institutions.

Second, the central realm is the rights and liberties of the individuals with large political tolerance and pluralism of ideas and roles. There are many functional sub-systems with vital influence over governmental decisions and functioning. Political mobility is high, based on equality of opportunity and achievement, while maintaining a free market of information. The power of the bureaucracy is limited and the police operates as a serving body for the public and not a coercive tool of the government.

There are seven features that are the most important to understanding democracy: The individual freedoms and civil liberties; the rule of the law above all; sovereignty and citizenship belong to the people and are empowered by the people; the absolute equality of all citizens before the law; vertical and horizontal accountability of all the ruling systems; responsiveness, eligibility; transparency of the ruling systems to the demands of the citizens; mobility, political participation and equality of opportunities of the citizens.

When compares to Western democracy, Islam is characterized by the following:

In Islam the believer acts out of a commitment of faith and absoluteness, whereas in democracy the source of conduct is rationality, pluralism, choice and judgment.

In Islam the source of authority, sovereignty, and the rule of law are Allah’s alone. Everything stems from Allah and the will of Allah, while in democracy man is at the focus, logic is at the center, and political power meant to serve his security and needs.

In Islam there is only one legitimate party, the Party of God (Hizbullah), and all the rest are the parties of Satan. The party does not represent man’s freedoms, expression, participation, or self-organization, but demands joint action in favor of the Ummah in accord with Shari’ah. There is no legitimate opposition.

The ideology of all the Islamic movements is totalitarian religious dictatorship, governmental tyranny and political suppression without any civil and individual freedoms, and therefore, democracy is conceptualized as a kind of Shirk, associating other deities with Allah.

Civil democratic society is based on pluralism, bargaining, lack of uniformity and even lack of rigid order. In contrast, Muslim political tradition fears anarchy and disorder, and therefore, not any government is preferable to no government, but the government is oppressive and coercive. This leads to a total submission of the people.

Contrary to Qur’anic teachings, no egalitarianism exists between the leader and the subject, between men and women, between Arab and non-Arab, even between parts of society (center-periphery; city-village).

Perhaps the best example is in the words of Sayyed Qutb: Western values pose a critical threat to Islam, since in the West, man is at the center and logic is at focus, while in Islam Allah is at the center, and submission to Allah is the focus. In Islam, the source of authority, sovereignty, and the rule of law is divine, Allah’s alone. In Islam, the believer acts out of a commitment of faith and absoluteness. Islam does not represent man’s freedoms, participation, self-organization, but demands joint action in favor of the Ummah and in accord with the Shari’ah. The Islamic state must be based on the Qur’anic principle of the Shari’ah. It is complete as a legal and moral system and no further legislation is possible or necessary to the end of history.

For Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, `Abd al-Salam Farag, and many other exegetes, Islam is contrary to secular Western democracy, because Islam has the full answers to all humans needs. Democracy must accept Allah’s values of rule and sovereignty; where Islam makes law, there is no need for democracy; the concept of majority rule cannot exist in the Islam; Muslim religious laws decide permanently in all areas of life; Islam includes the entire human wisdom to the end of history; and accepting Western values is forbidden, being tantamount to apostasy.

For the Muslim believers Islam has all universes’ wisdom and contains everything in life from the beginning of the world to the end of history. For the Muslim believers it is clear: al-Islam Huwwa al-Hall al-Waheed (Islam is the only solution). Islam wishes to subordinate democracy to its own principles, and not to integrate itself and become democratic; to rule and dominate the Free World and not to recognize its diversity and pluralism, and to become part of modernity; to subordinate the Free World to its Shari’ah and bring back to the Islamic 7th century governance.

Arab regimes are military or monarchical, and the political behavior are almost the same, exemplified by authoritarianism and patrimonialism. Islam is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy, based solely on the sovereignty of the people and its civil rights and freedoms. Moreover, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ which is in fact ‘a Tribal Anarchical Islamic Winter,’ is a good example where Islamic regimes are in power, projecting the assertions of impossibility of Islam and democracy.

The Issue of civil society. When analyzing democracy, there is also the question of civil society, whether it can exist in the conceptions and praxis of Arab-Muslim political system. From institutional standpoint, civil society is made up of non-state actors and non-governmental organizations, which have developed in the community, through interest groups and sociopolitical mobility. It is institutionalized through individual rights and social differentiation, by political and regime tolerance; recognition of the rights and the freedoms of the individual; and lack of restrictions, enforcement and arbitrary intervention by the state.

In the Middle East, on account of Islamic tradition and developmental values, a civil society did not and yet is not ready to exist. The problem is not whether there are settings that can be interpreted as fitting the existence of a civil society, but rather their qualitative functioning. Even if there are parties, professional civil associations, and other NGO’s, the question is the extent of influence on the governing system and the decision-making process. The parties operate more on behalf of the regime, as mass organizations for political mobilization, rather than representing the people.

One can estimate the lack of civil society in the Middle East through the following:

a) The character of the regimes and leadership. Authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leadership do not enable the growth of true civil society with a capacity to function. The population is considered as inhabitants/subjects rather than free sovereign citizens. The leader’s will is what decides, and the inhabitants lack basic rights and freedoms. They act in accord with the will of the regime in the sense of giving support but not making demands on the political system. If we define democracy as “rule of the people, by the people, through the people, and for the people”, all these contradict the values of Arab-Muslim society. Most of the inhabitants do not participate in political processes, and do not have influence on shaping its policy. Indeed, in a state where Islam rules, constitutional, representative and pluralistic government cannot develop.

b) Social values. Political culture in the West is participatory. It represents norms, positions, and values of the individual and the group towards political institutions and the state. In Arab society, political culture is, in the best case, native (subjugated) at the center and parochial at the periphery. Most of society is cut off from politics, and sees it as a necessary evil (Sharr) that a man has no choice but to live with. The primordial values are opposed to the development of a civil society.

c) Institutional Values. In Islam, reference is made to normative values that indicate the nature of a good society and the proper community. The system of beliefs refers to a collectivity, which the individual is dependent on, while he is not important in his own right. Civil democratic society is based on pluralism, bargaining, lack of uniformity, and even on a lack of rigid order. Muslim political tradition fears anarchy and disorder. Therefore, any government is preferable to no government, and this leads to submission and political cynicism.

d) The Role of Islam. The principles of Islam are in contradiction to the values of civil society: the absoluteness of Allah’s supremacy that everything depends on him and determined by him. The source of authority and sovereignty is not by social contract or from the people rather it is by Allah alone. Contrary to the Qur’anic teachings, there is no egalitarianism in between the leader and the subject, between men and women, between Arab and non-Arab, or even between parts of the society. The concepts of democracy, liberalism, and parliamentary government, are identified as Western, and rejected out of hand, as indecent phenomena representing materialism, moral corruption, and lack of morality.

From an analysis of these features, the answer is that of Huntington, concerning the waves of democratization in the West, that in non-democratic societies we find political decay and not political development. Indeed, a civil society, however it may be defined, does not exist in any Arab-Muslim state. Even the appearance of political parties and formal associations by itself does not necessarily mean a fundamental move toward democracy, since political parties remain ineffective and play a mostly ceremonial role that serves to legitimate the state and its policies. This does not symbolize pluralism (ta`addudiyah), and even Interest groups, a primary agent of civil society, remain either non-existent.

Indeed, Islam is the very antithesis of Western democracy. One cannot find signs of democracy in Islam, but totalitarianism of thought; oppression of freedoms, and denying basic civil rights. Islamic Scriptures, History and contemporary politics are the proof.

Bernard Lewis claims that historically the Muslim world has been authoritarian and coercive from its inception, and thus a democratic culture has not been internally, culturally, socially, politically and economically, developed. It is non-existent. Classical Muslim exegetes largely agree that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Islam is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. It altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on foundations of the sovereignty of Allah and the Khilafah of man.

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New Social Compact

Pandemic Threatens to Push 72 Million More Children into Learning Poverty

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Photo: UNICEF

COVID-related school closures risk pushing an additional 72 million primary school aged children into learning poverty—meaning that they are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10—according to two new World Bank reports released today. The reports outline a new vision for learning and the investments and policies, including on education technology, that countries can implement today to realize this vision. 

The pandemic is amplifying the global learning crisis that already existed:  it could increase the percentage of primary school-age children in low- and middle-income countries living in learning poverty to 63 percent from 53 percent, and it puts this generation of students at risk of losing about $10 trillion in future life-time earnings, an amount equivalent to almost 10 percent of global GDP. 

The new report, Realizing the Future of Learning: From Learning Poverty to Learning for Everyone, Everywhere, lays out a vision for the future of learning that can guide countries today in their investments and policy reforms, so that they can build more equitable, effective, and resilient education systems and ensure that all children learn with joy, rigor, and purpose in school and beyond the school walls. 

The accompanying report, Reimagining Human Connections: Technology & Innovation at the World Bank, presents the World Bank’s new approach to guide investments in education technology, so that technology can truly serve as a tool to make education systems more resilient to catastrophic shocks like COVID-19 and help in reimagining the way education is delivered. 

“Without urgent action, this generation of students may never achieve their full capabilities and earnings potential, and countries will lose essential human capital to sustain long-term economic growth,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development, in today’s launch event. “Having over half of children worldwide in learning poverty is unacceptable, and so we cannot continue with business as usual in education delivery.  Through visionary and bold action, policymakers and stakeholders around the globe can turn this crisis into a boon to transform education systems so that all children can truly achieve learning with joy, rigor, and purpose, everywhere.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought two massive shocks. School closures have left most students on the planet out of school—1.6 billion students at the peak in April 2020, and still almost 700 million students today. The negative impact of the unprecedented global economic contraction on family incomes has increased the risk of school dropouts.  Marginalized groups are likely to fall further behind.  Girls are facing increased risk of adolescent pregnancy and early marriage during the pandemic. And children with disabilities, ethnic minorities, refugees, and displaced populations are less likely to access suitable remote learning materials and to return to school post-crisis. 

In responding to the pandemic, education systems have been forced to rapidly implement innovations in remote learning at scale. To reach as many children and youth as possible, they have used multi-modal remote learning approaches that combine online resources with radio, TV, mobile, as well as printed materials for the most vulnerable. However, the huge digital divides – from connectivity to digital skills – and inequalities in the quality of parental support and home learning environments is amplifying learning inequality.

“Effective action today to mitigate large and mounting learning losses, recover, and rebuild stronger is needed more urgently than ever to accelerate the acquisition of foundational skills and, increasingly, 21st-century skills for every child,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education. “There is a window of opportunity to build on the lessons of the pandemic and to build back a system that is  equitable, where all schools and homes have the conditions and support for learning; that is effective, where teachers and schools are equipped to support each student at the level she needs; and that is resilient, with education services that are well-managed and ensure continuity in the learning process between the school and the home and community.”  

Countries can chart their own path with a political commitment to carry out investments and reforms in five pillars that ensure that: 

1. Learners are prepared and motivated to learn—with a stronger emphasis on whole-child development and support to learning continuity beyond the school, as well as better preparation through quality preschool, early stimulation, and nutrition.

2. Teachers are effective and valued—and ready to take on an increasingly complex role supported by technology that enables teaching students of diverse learning levels. This requires a meritocratic career path and continuing support through practical training that focuses on the quality of instruction.

3. Learning resources, including an effective curriculum and blended learning, supporting pedagogical practices that ensure that every student is taught at the level she needs.

4. Schools are safe and inclusive spaces—with a whole-and-beyond-the-school approach to prevent and address violence and leave no child behind.

5. Education systems are well-managed—with school leaders who spur more effective pedagogy and a competent educational bureaucracy adept at managing using technology, data, and evidence.

What core principles should guide reform efforts, so that policies within each of these pillars offer the greatest value for money and are scalable and sustainable? While there is no single path toward the future of learning, high-performing systems share some common tenets:  pursue systemic reform, supported by political commitment and a whole-of-government approach, that focuses on learning for all children; focus relentlessly on equity and inclusion; act on the basis of evidence and focus on results; ensure the necessary financial commitment; and make smart investments in education technology.

Throughout the five pillars, countries can effectively harness the power of education technology—or “EdTech,” encompassing hardware, software, digital content, data, and information systems—to support and enrich teaching and learning and improve education management and delivery.  As noted in the Bank’s new Reimagining Human Connections: Technology & Innovation at the World Bank report, EdTech can create new connections between teachers, students, parents, and broader communities to create learning networks. The investments in EdTech can pay off if ministries of education ensure they are:

  • Embedded in broad, sustainable policies and programs that enable schools and education systems to provide blended in-person and multi-modal remote learning; 
  • Geared to support teachers being prepared to navigate distance learning and personalize instruction in and beyond the school; and 
  • Oriented toward assessing that learning is actually happening and using data to develop early warning mechanisms to identify and help children who are at risk of dropping out or falling behind. 

For its part, the World Bank’s Education Global Practice has rapidly ramped up its support to countries.  In all, the World Bank is supporting COVID-19 response investments in 62 countries, covering the entire cycle from early childhood to higher education. The Bank’s overall new commitments in education during the last fiscal year reached US$5.2 billion, the largest figure ever, and expects to add another US$6.3b this year. The World Bank is supporting the appropriate, cost-effective use of EdTech for expanding access and improving learning for all students. So far, WB efforts are reaching over 400 million students and 16 million teachers—about one-third of the student population and nearly a quarter of the teacher workforce in current client countries. 

Overall, the World Bank Group (WBG), one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. It is supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of WBG supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. The WBG is making available up to $160 billion over a 15-month period ending June 2021 to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans and $12 billion for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

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To Achieve the SDGs We Must Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls

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During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence from the 25th of November to the 10th of December, the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens contributes to the Orange the World Campaign globally and in Austria, calling for the elimination of violence against women and girls.

Five years ago, in 2015, the member states of the United Nations (UN) agreed on 17 global goals to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Since then, these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have evolved into a guiding roadmap for finding long term solutions to global challenges. “Leaving No One Behind” has become the key message of this agenda, as the global community emphasised that the SDGs can only be achieved if peace and prosperity holds true for everyone.

Women make up half of the world’s population, but they still struggle to even exercise their fundamental human rights. A staggering one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence against women and girls is, thus, one of the most pervasive human rights violations and perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the deeply rooted imbalances in power in our societies. How will we ever reach the SDGs if such inequalities still exist?

In 2008, the UN, under the leadership of its 8th Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, pushed for a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world, called UNiTE to End Violence against Women. The campaign called on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.Ithas, for example, worked to adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls, in line with international human rights standards.

In 2015 UN Women became the agency entrusted to lead the UN’s efforts to advocate the elimination of violence against women and girls. To strengthen UNiTE, UN Women announced the “Orange the World” campaign, to take place annually during the period between the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the 10th of December, Human Rights Day. During these16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the world’s most prominent monuments and buildings are illuminated in orange, representing a future free from violence against women and girls.

Hosting the United Nations and located in the heart of Europe, Austria plays a key role in boosting the campaign on a local and international level. UN Women Austria, Soroptimist International Austria, HeForShe Austria and the Ban Ki-moon Centre are working in close partnership on the Austrian contribution to Orange the World. In 2019, the partners counted over 130 Austrian buildings in monuments illuminated in orange during the 16 Days of Activism. In 2020, the aim is to surpass this number and to shed light on current challenges regarding gender-based violence with the support of the Austrian actress Ursula Strauss as the campaign’s spokesperson.

2020 has been rattled by the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging data has shown that the lock-down measures around the world were accompanied by a spike in reported domestic violence cases. This alarming development demonstrates that action must be taken to prevent the aggravation and contribute to the elimination of what UN Women has named ‘The Shadow Pandemic’.[1]

Image Reference: https://www.unwomen.org

To spread the message of the campaign to a wider audience and discuss the issues of the Shadow Pandemic with high-level actors, two online events will take place during the Orange the World timeframe.

At a virtual high-level roundtable on November 26thtitled “Tackling the Shadow Pandemic –Violence Against Women During COVID-19 Times”, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, Regional Director of UN Women Asia and Pacific Mohammad Naciri, CEO of Avon Angela Cretu, and women’s rights activist Trisha Shetty will discuss what steps can be taken to address the spike in violence against women during COVID-19. The event will be hosted by the Co-chairs of the Ban Ki-moon Centre, 8th UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and 11th President of Austria Heinz Fischer.

On December 1st,the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Ban Ki-moon Centre will host a Virtual Expo called “Education, Empowerment, and Effective Policies: Innovative Initiatives Preventing Gender-Based Violence”. As part of UNODC’s Education for Justice Global Dialogue Series, changemakers from around the world will come together and present how they take action to prevent violence against women and girls.

To make the world a safer and better place for all, we must all do our part to eliminate violence against women and girls in all its forms. We encourage you to get active in the Orange the World campaign by hosting an event, sharing its messages, and becoming part of this global movement!

About the Ban Ki-moon Centre:

In 2018, Ban Ki-moon and Heinz Fischer founded the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens (BKMC), to empower women and youth to become global citizens within the framework of the SDGs. Acknowledging that gender-based violence restricts, if not prevents individuals to be a part of and contribute to the 2030 Agenda, the BKMC, based in Vienna, Austria, also advocates for the elimination of violence against women and girls. The Ban Ki-moon Centre has been an active contributor to the Orange the World Campaign in Austria since 2018.

Reach out and learn more at www.bankimooncentre.org


[1]https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/issue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5006

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Gender equality agenda of SDGs and Feminist Mobilization

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The revolutionary result of a two-year long process of intergovernmental debate and deliberation was a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that was formally declared in a UN summit from 25th to 27th September 2015.  Also known as the Global Goals, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly aim to push highly relevant agendas to be addressed by the year 2030. Amidst the targets set that facilitate basic human existence, such as no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, there is the equally important strong Goal 5 that need special focus. The increasing wave of feminism and feminism-educated individuals created on bringing to fruition the agenda of Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality.

Goal 5 holds world governments accountable to their role in putting an end to gender inequality. According to the UNDP’s official manifesto, it proposes to stamp out discrimination and gender-based violence; eliminate child marriage, educate women on their sexual and reproductive health and their reproductive rights, ensure that they have adequate access to PHCs for sexual health check-ups; work on making education and the workforce and equal-opportunity platform for men and women; expand economic opportunities for women and girls; and finally, attempt to reduce the unfair conditions of unpaid work on women. As compared to the earlier designed MDGs that focused minimally on gender roles, these edicts represent a paradigm shift in the thinking of policy makers.

When we talk of feminist mobilization, we often start with a bleak picture that progressively improves. Women with radical opinions are ignored or dismissed as being inexperienced. Out of the many roadblocks faced by feminist groups, a primary one is a general feeling of not being heard. This ranges anywhere from a despondent acceptance to abject frustration. Moreover, this does not exist only in the context of men. Smaller feminist movements are often drowned by larger, more populist feminist agendas. Younger women who are developing their philosophy on feminism tend to choose offbeat paths as they aggressively reject traditional governmental structures. In a large number of instances, there is enough initiative but a dearth of resources. 

Since the 1990s, there have been the advent of a number of structures that are, at their core, against the idea of an independent woman, who sees herself as equal to a man in every way. A few of these include; an unstable global economy that is also wrestling with economic inequality among nations; a completely disregarded worldview on climate change and global warming that pays no heed to an increasingly large number of climate refugees, out of whom women and children survive the least; an increasing number of non-liberal governments and organizations in both high and low income countries where women are discriminated against and seen as second-class citizens; a large mass of migrant displaced populations that keep exponentially increasing due to new clashes daily; and a regression of popular opinion into what seems like medieval times, with no respect for integrity, bodily autonomy, and sexual and reproductive rights, as well as basic human rights to refugees and migrants in receiving countries. Not to mention, the gamut of telecommunications in the present times coupled with the massive volume of information exchange have pushed us as a people into a world where social media is regarded as the gospel truth, and the messages sent via these platforms are used to spread ideas of hatred, inequality, false perceptions and discrimination.

These increasing societal challenges, go hand in hand with deeply unsettling evidence on the widespread inequalities and gender crimes that seem almost entrenched in the fabric of our existence. The Global Gender Gap Index is a system of ranking a total of 144 countries according to their education, economic opportunities, health delivery systems, and political participation. The most recent version of this index was published in 2017 by the World Economic Forum, whose findings show that some parameters of the gap may have worsened in recent years instead of getting better. In terms of estimating earned income in USD, the gap increased considerably after the financial global meltdown in 2008. The index has made an estimate that going forward from 2017, it will take 217 years to completely abolish this gap only in the workplace, and over 100 years to close this gap overall. It seems that only the health and education sectors are somewhat progressing when it comes to achieving some kind of equality, but the same equality in the economic and political sectors between women and men seem to be but a distant dream – they are exponentially increasing each year.

However, there has been renewed interest from funding sources and policy makers on ‘investing in women and girls’ and combined with this strong push from the UN, has made some significant headway.

In The Context of India

As with feminist mobilization, one tends to take on a slightly defeatist attitude when talking of India’s role in global feminism. However, by no means can it be said that India as a country has not been making strides.In 20 years (1994-2014), India has lifted nearly 144 million people out of abject poverty under various government schemes, including the largest employment scheme in the world, the MNREGA, almost half of whose members are women.

In a historic 2016 legislation the law promised 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, to ensure that women do not quit the workforce after planning a family. A renewed push towards gender equality in education is seen by the advent of programs such as the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan and the Right to Education Act, 2009, which have been instrumental in helping to exponentially increase the gross enrolment rate for girls at the primary school level. Further, there have been similarly encouraging statistics recorded at the secondary school level – the rate of enrolment for girls has increased from 55.5% in 2008 to 78.9% in 2014-15 and at the higher secondary school level it has gone up from 31.6% in 2008 to 53.8% in 2014-15.

While these findings are highly significant, it points to the gamut of work that is still to be done. While India seems to progress in the right direction in terms of policy, it tends to lag behind in understanding the cultural applications at the grass-roots level. According to a study conducted by the Oxfam Organization, there appear to be deep stigmas attached to women working in agriculture. There is also a statistic that might seriously impact India’s feminist movement – that highly educated women tend to leave the workforce to make ‘respectable’ marriages to higher caste and higher income households. 

This points to a shocking number, that being that the contribution of women all over the world to the global GDP is 35%, but Indian women represent less than half of that at 17%. Based on the rankings released by the Labour Force Participation,India comes in at a rank of lowly 120 out of a total of 131 countries, even though 42% of Indian women graduate by education.

Between the years of 2005 and 2012, the Indian workforce was severely depleted by almost20 million women, due to various reasons. This staggering figure is almost equal to the collective population of Sri Lanka. Every one of these women who chose to discontinue their professional aspirations should be regarded as a lost opportunity for their families and for their country, but most importantly, for themselves. The Indian feminist movement that has paved the way for these discussions to take place in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, has played an important first step in reaching a state of equal respect and opportunity by 2030.

According to policy makers at the ECOSOC Youth Forum held at the UN Headquarters in New York, Mr Ravi Karkara (Senior Adviser to the Assistant Secretary General, UN Women) and Mr Rohith Porhukuchi, the young feminist movement has been indispensable in cementing the SDG agenda. Further, they recommend a greater number of educated women taking up the mantle at advocacy campaigns related to the equality and women empowerment sectors. For example, the UNiTE campaign is creating a large impact through its global, regional and multinational advocacy initiatives and is actively working to mobilize individuals and communities to its cause. This campaign supports the efforts of women’s initiatives and organizations dedicated to their upliftment, but actively engage in work with men – to sensitize and educate them to their cause – along with celebrities, artists, sportspeople, media, corporates and a whole host of others. 

The UN Women’s “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” campaign, again holds world governments accountable to make national public commitments to uplift women and eliminate the challenges that prevent them from reaching their full potential. The HeForShe and MAN UP campaigns also take a stand on gender equality and women’s rights.

Conclusion

During the ongoing process of deciding the SDG agenda, it was common knowledge that key economic issues such as financing, investments, trade, tax laws and unlawful transactions, while extremely important, grossly outstripped and took precedence over issues of feminist advocacy.  This problem was further complicated by the decrease in the authority of the UN, and the rise of ultra-conservatism in many powerful nations across the globe as a result of rapidly spreading religious fanaticism and evangelism. 

In spite of these issues, the global and Indian feminist movements have been extremely organized and have used their resources effectively to bring about small facets of change, using techniques learned from the time of the 1990s conferences and their 5-yearly regional and global reviews. According to the paper Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Feminist Mobilization for the SDGs, by Gita Sen, some of these almost ground-breaking reforms include: 

  • Recognizing in the initial stages that there is value in being awarded an official status as part of the Major Groups and utilizing the Women’s Major Group as a platform to voice feminist issues, especially bas civil society is moving more into a zone of closed spaces.
  • Utilizing bodies such as WWG in order to involve concerned persons in critical aspects of campaigning, such as financing and media engagement.
  • Actively seeking out other bodies with similar interests and agendas and networking with them in order to reach shared goals.
  • Being able to coordinate with and mobilize these bodies peacefully with effective and quick conflict resolution when required 
  • Making it a point to never compromise on technical support, language and expertise on processes, so that they can come across as trustworthy and strong in their dealings with official negotiators. 
  • As an extension to the above, further honing the negotiation abilities of young budding feminists.

Feminist advocacy platforms need to be constantly discussed and negotiated periodically. Feminists need to forge valuable partnerships with select organizations and perhaps even corporates that are sympathetic to the feminist cause, but also are able to effectively bring about long-term changes in areas such as finance, education, trade, investment and climate change among others. The annual Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development is the result of a feminist group working with tandem with such an organization (www.2030spotlight.org). The first report was unveiled during the UN High Level Political Forum in July 2016 and was received well among both UN member states and civil societies, being the first major media published which was critical of ongoing responses to feminist needs.

The ability of feminist organizations to defend their vision will need a clear manifesto, exceptional analytical skills, better communication and organizational strategies, and the ability to form collaborations where the youth plays a strong role. 

In totality, this work makes the claim that is that the size of the environment affected is directly proportional to the strength, organization and nature of facilities involved in bringing about a significant social mobilization.

REFERENCES:

1. Gita Sen. Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Feminist Mobilization for the SGDs. Global Policy Volume Jan (2010); 10(1)

2. United Nations Development Programme

 3. UN Women

4. Mary Hawkesworth. Policy studies within a feminist frame. Policy Sciences Jun (1994); 27(2-3), pp. 97-118.

5. Paola Cagna, Nitya Rao. Feminist Mobilization, Claims Making and Policy Change: An Introduction. Wiley Online Library. doi

6. Eric Swank, Breanne Fahs. Understanding Feminist Activism among Women: Resources, Consciousness, and Social Networks. Socius. doi

7. jacobinmag

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