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Vico and the Modern Idea of History: Part II

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It is intriguing that within modern times (from Galileo and Bacon onward) the idea of global history was born in the European philosophical mind at the same time when European imperialism was at its apex, well supported by science and technology, (the st world of logical positivism) considered the definitive modern answer to all social, political and economic problems.

Specifically, historicism is born with the publication of Giambattista Vico’s New Science (1725) in the 18th century. Until then history was not considered universal but a rather tribal enterprise, not worthy even to be called a science since it was not concerned with universal problems. The ancient Greek certainly did not consider it a primary pathway to truth, neither did Descartes. History was considered as a teacher of sort who taught man about his past (as Cicero had pointed out, Machiavelli concurring) but the fact that it was man who made history and, at the same time and almost paradoxically, history made man, was yet unknown philosophically.

But by the 18th century, the so called age of enlightenment, the whole world could be envisioned as one stage wherein a single global drama could be played out. It was almost natural that Europe would arrive at the idea of universal history and see itself at the very center of its processes. Natural too that it should have put its meaning and interpretation in terms of Western Civilization. In fact, had there not been those early Greek thinkers who initiated philosophy as we know it, there would not be any science, no technology, and no atomic bombs either; which is to say, without its origins in ancient Greece there would not have been any modern culmination of science and technology either, what goes by the name of positivism.

Vico has taught us that to understand the nature of any cultural historical phenomenon one must study its origins. To even begin to grasp the advent of our modern technical civilization and the entrepreneur’s mind-set we ought not begin with the scientific mind-set of the 17th century but with its origins, as Vico has well taught us, and situate the emergence of the new modern science within the larger background of Western history. We need to begin at the beginning of thought among the early Greek.

When we focus on such origins we notice the strange fact that no such eruption of thought occurred in the ancient Oriental world. While it is true that the Chinese were (and still are) a highly intelligent people, that there is no indication that they were in any way at a lower intellectual level than the Greeks, they did not produce science, not even the beginning of science. There is little indication that, left on their own, they would have arrived at science. The contrary can be asserted: that the harmonious and well balanced patterns of Chinese civilization were against the reckless and dangerous adventure of the mind what we in the west call reason; a reason that needs to be followed and adhered to no matter where it leads.

While it is true that with Galileo the earth is no longer the center of the universe we have to keep in mind the bigger picture: that Greek science maintained that there an immediate bond between ourselves and nature. The motto for this nexus was Sozein ta Phainomena (to preserve things as they show themselves to be) which simply meant that the Greek scientist would preserve the nexus between natural objects and our direct perception of them. Objectivity in that observation is all important. No capricious gods there.

The question arises: why did philosophy which prepares the way for modern science originate among the Greeks? Why did it take place there? Why did it take place at all? To begin to answer this question we have to grasp the fact that human creation is not deterministic, human acts are unpredictable; that a new vision can go beyond any existing previous framework. That is to say, the outburst of light in ancient Greece need not have happened at all. Parallel universe are possible.

The birth of philosophy cannot be reckoned as the effect of a cause. The birth of philosophy, its origins, so important to determine its essence for Vico, is the point at which Being comes into its own and claims mortal minds. There is no more split between subject and object, between thought and Being. As Parmenides first perceived, they belong together in unity. Being is the whole, the All calling to thought. There is intellectual awe at the thought that the human mind is capable of raising itself above all that is, that it is, that it exists. Hence the famous question: why is there something rather than nothing?, a question which begins Heidegger’s Being and Time.

A century and a half after Parmenides Aristotle brings to completion the great age of Greek philosophy. This century and a half from Parmenides to Aristotle is the most revolutionary and speedy acceleration of all of history. This may seem preposterous to us moderns but consider this: the period opens with Parmenides’ vision of Being as an intelligible whole within which human thought is to find its elements. It is like the sun at sunrise: its light is still perceived as one of the things of the phenomena. It closes with Aristotle mapping out various and distinct realms of beings mapped out into the territories of different disciplines, not changed that much since then: logic, mathematics as a deductive system, physics or natural science, biology, psychology, ethics, politics, economics. Science is born, albeit to be intelligible to itself it has to cling to the maternal apron strings of philosophy. Now we are at high noon; the light of the sun pervades everything and yet, just because it is so pervasive it is no longer consciously perceived; it is just there taken for granted and needs to be rediscovered and disclosed again

For Aristotle to be is to be an individual entity of some kind, to exist is to be an individual instance of a species. So when the Greeks created philosophy proper they ceased to be aware of the light of Being itself in which they saw what they saw. The history of Being for Western thought begins therefore with the forgetting of Being. But the schematized world of Aristotle still has an inner unity which we moderns have lost without even being aware of it. That unity is the Greek sense of Physis which we translate as nature. Stones, plants, animals, stars, and planets still belong to the one cosmos within which man lives and has its being as a natural being. The cosmic alienation, the nihilism of us moderns, had not yet entered the Greek spirit.

Modern science has been around for some three hundred years now. However we ought not forget that it is built upon the foundations of Greek science. Without Euclid and Archimedes, Newton would have been impossible. Yet most of us would agree that our science is not exactly that of the Greeks, or why would we call it “modern science”? More often than not we couple it with technology. In his Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead brilliantly deals with this conundrum. There he upsets one of the taken for granted assumptions of conventional history which seems to take for granted that the modern period begins when men turn from the faith of the Middle Ages to a reliance on reason culminating with the age of Enlightenment (18th century). What is overlooked is that the Middle Ages were characterized by the sweeping rationalism of the scholastics (among whom Thomas Aquinas) and in reality the modern period begins with a revolt against such a rationalism and a turning to the stubborn empirical facts of experience. It is that, according to Whitehead that is at the origins of the modern era.

Whitehead focuses on Galileo who insisted on mechanics established mathematically as the most important aspect of the new modern science. Indeed it became the central part of physics all the way to the end of the 19th century. Astonishingly, Galileo rather than stick with the empirical “irreducible and stubborn facts” sets up a concept which cannot be validated by actual facts. He postulates that a body in motion will continue to be in motion ad infinitum on a frictionless plane. The empirical fact is that our experience has never presented us with a perfectly frictionless surface nor with a plane which is infinite in extension. No matter, as far as Galileo is concerned. This concept of inertia is needed for his theory. Whitehead points out that medieval rationalism has not for a moment surrendered to the brute facts. It is the other way around: it posits conditions contrary to facts and then paradoxically it measures those facts in the light of those contra-factual conditions. Reason becomes “legislative of experience.”

Kant perceived this as the real revolution of the new science to eventually become the revolution within philosophy. As Bacon had intimated, the advancement of knowledge necessitated that we should stop following nature passively; rather we should question nature and force it to give us answers. The Critique of Pure Reason, is less an attempt to set up a system of idealistic philosophy and more an attempt to grasp the meaning of this new science and its consequences for human understanding.

So, Galileo is much more than an event in the history of ideas. We have come a long way since then and paradoxically rather than becoming masters of nature, the age of extinction is upon us. What has happened is a transformation of human reason which in turns transforms all subsequent human history. This change is pervasive reaching into religion, art and culture in general. In politics man is envisioned as a lord and master of nature transforming his social existence. So there is an essential bond between science and technology. Technology embodies physically what science has already accomplished in thought when science sets up its own conditions as a measure of nature.

Vico, on the other hand, insists throughout his opus that in order for Man to understand himself and avoid the danger of scientific objectification, he needs to attempt a re-creation of the origins of humanity. This is possible in as much as it was Man himself who created his own cultural origins, and therefore he can return to them. In the beginning there is the end. Thus he can hope to understand the destiny and meaning of his striving in space and time, which is to say, within history.

This kind of hermeneutical operation is possible but cannot be carried out by means of scientific archeological tools but by an act of the imagination, that most human of faculties which Vico calls fantasia. It is through imagination that Man may recreate mytho-poetic mentality. While the modes of thought of primitive Man were different from ours, the mind which created them is the same. Imagination may be impoverished in rational Man, who belongs to the third Vichian historical cycle, but it remains one of those modes of perceiving reality and remaining human. It is a sine qua non for the discovery of his human nature. Let us briefly explore how Vico explains the process.

Vico points out that primitive Man could not have been a creature of the intellect. He was steeped in the senses and the imagination. This gave his language, religion and other institutions a peculiar character, which is to say that the character of primitive Man’s institutions reflected the character of his mind, especially those pertaining to language. He identified three stages of human development: (1) the poetic or divine age: the age of the gods wherein imagination is strongest and reasoning is weakest. The mind of this era ascribes to physical things the being of substances animated by gods. (2) The heroic age: the age when heroes believed themselves to be of divine origin. This is the mind that creates Homer’s or Dante’s heroes. (3) The age of men: the age when reason and intellect reign supreme. This is the mind that produces the age of Enlightenment, so called. To these stages of development accrue thee different kinds of natural law: (1) divine laws, dictated by the gods, (2) heroic laws, dictated by the strength of the heroes but curbed by religion, (3) human laws, dictated by developed and autonomous reason. This is the age of the American and French Revolution and the Enlightenment.

The human mind not being static develops slowly over time and Vico, in the light of those three stages of natural law, says that it is a mistake (dubbed by him as boria dei dotti or “the arrogance of scholars”) to claim as universal features of all societies a law based on fully developed reason belonging to the third stage of development. This conceptual mistake is the result of a mistaken assumption, namely that the ideas and institutions of all historical ages are the product of a human mind whose character is fixed. The mistake explains in turn the inability on the part of philosophers and historians, who are the product of the third rational age of men and found mostly in academia, to recreate and understand fully mytho-poetic mentality, a sine qua non for the recreation of origins.

While this kind of misconception abounds in academia, it can also be easily found in popular culture. Let us take an example from the film medium. The movie Quest for Fire was inspired by the book The Naked Ape. Both book and movie purport to show primitive man’s first tentative steps toward his own humanity and toward civilized life. However, I would submit, that far from getting a recreation of origins, the reader and viewer is served with an image of primitive man as seen through a Cartesian paradigm. Both narrator and director bring to the recreation of primitive mentality all their rationalistic premises and assumptions. The most egregious and erroneous is the assumption that primitive man’s mind functions as a sort of lower underdeveloped rational mind. Corollary to this assumption is the one which holds that man’s origins can best be understood rationally, for the vantage point of the third cycle of history, that of full-fledged rationality.

That this is so is apparent from the very outset of the movie. Nowhere are the gods, issuing from primitive man’s fertile imagination, to be seen or heard. As Vico has pointed out, without a recreation of early man’s religious impulse, without the fear and the wonder inherent in this primordial religion, no beginning of man’s humanity and of his civilization can be recreated. And in fact, nowhere in the book and the movie is an act of “piety” to be discerned. I mean acts such as the burial of the dead, ritual dancing, marriage and sacrifice to the gods, cave painting. What we are treated to instead is strife and violence, indiscriminate mating and a thinly veiled competition for primitive technology, fire. The message is clear: the fit and the winners deserve to survive; the weak perish. This is not the primitive mind-set but unconscious social Darwinism.

All this is presented, mind you, despite the latest archeological findings of eminent archeologists, such as Leaky, suggesting that there might have been much more cooperation among early men than has been surmised; that what in fact assured their survival was less competition for natural resources and more of a common concern for the common good of the tribe and that religion was essential for conceiving the common good. And that explains why the book and the movie lack social phenomena such as ritual dancing and singing, initiation, potlock celebrations, the telling of fables or myths by which primitive man attempts to create order out of the surrounding natural flux continually assaulting his senses.

What gets most glaringly ignored is the most important institution of early man, namely language. Language is understood rationalistically as a mere utilitarian means of communication and an instrument of social control. What is accorded a privileged position is the incessant anxious search for fire (hence the title of the movie “Quest for Fire”) and the constant struggle with other men that such a search and possession entails. The premise seems to be that the tribe who controls fire wins the technological competition and earns the privilege of carrying on the evolutionary process. The unfit simply perish.

Within a Vichian paradigm, this is an obvious distortion. It is nothing less than a portrayal of modern rational man fighting for oil in Kuwait or Iraq, and measuring his humanity and civilization by mere economic standards. “I would have kept the oil,” says our newly president-elect. This rationalistic premise even assumes the character of a dangerous myth devoid of its logos when it takes on racial overtones. At the conclusion of the movie we are treated to the contemplation of the “naked ape,” the blue eyed, successful conqueror of the primeval forest (the Anglo Saxon?) washing himself under a water fall while his dark swarthy, less successful colleagues (the minorities) grove in filth in a cave.

Paradoxically the ancient Romans also thought of the Anglo Saxon as a dirty primitive man who did not know how to wash himself. But whether ancient or modern, this is practically a Madison Avenue advertisement: technological control of resources (fire) and hygienic living (water and soap for one’s body) leads to “enlightenment” and civilization. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Indeed the ape is naked in more ways than one. The nakedness is primarily one of spirit and intellect. That kind of impoverishment leads right back to the cave, albeit one endowed with a cellular phone and a fax.

Vico, on the other hand, defines primitive man’s mode of thinking as “poetic wisdom” and considers it nothing less than the master key to the understanding of his thought. As already seen, in the first two stages of development, imagination prevails over reason, and myth (the image) prevails over logos, i.e., the rationally explained meaning of those myths. In those two first stages, imaginative universals are preeminent over any, if indeed there are any, intelligible universals derived from abstract thought.

To understand the imaginative universal one has to begin with myth which for Vico is the primordial spiritual movement of primitive man, the mediator between nature and spirit, between what is useful and what is moral, between natural necessity and law. Vico is the first thinker to be aware that indeed myth is truth that incarnates itself in images, a symbol of truth, as it were. Myth is a very concrete image of the world expressing in very rudimentary fashion the ethico-religious experience of primitive man; an experience rooted in fear and wonder and which is always at the origins of religion.

For Vico, myth rather than logical thinking is the first form through which truth reveals itself. In other words, myth is the primordial historization of the eternal and mytho-poetic mentality is always related to religion even when it appears in adversary relationship to it. It is the first indication of the passage from the bestial to the rational, but even more importantly, it is the veil of transcendence hiding under the particular and the finite—the concrete historical moment of Being.

Based on this speculation on myth Vico can confidently assert that the first science to be mastered in recapturing human origins is the interpretation of myths (SN, 51). Myth is primitive man’s answer to questions he cannot answer conceptually but which demand a prompt answer on which may hang the very future of civilization, even the very meaning of life. It is the instrument of imagination for making sense of the surrounding world and gives it some kind of shape and meaning. The first of these meanings is identifiable for Vico in thundering Jupiter, father of the gods. This is a god that provokes fear, an emotion on which, as pointed out by Lucretius, primitive religion is based. But this fear is positive: it orders the bodily activity of primitive man and is the foundation of human thought and human society. To understand human origins, it is necessary to somehow recapture that primordial fear.

As the Vico scholar Donald Phillip Verene has well rendered it: “Any genuine beginning in thought requires the power of fantasia to produce true speech. The reflective mind is not the support of itself, any more than reflective society is the support of itself, but develops and always has beneath its activity the imaginative forms of early life.” (Vico’s Science of Imagination, p.18). This is the crisis of any beginning placated by the expression of the myth, a sort of faith in the myth.

Great poets like Dante are able to re-create this fear of beginnings as they begin their work and go on a journey of self-discovery. Because of that first myth of thundering Jupiter Vico could confidently declare that primitive man’s life is “poetic.” He could moreover declare that the most difficult and yet most necessary task of the reflective mind of modern man is that of pondering the origins of human existence, but not in an abstract way but concretely, paying attention to particulars, and then showing how providence unfolds its plan.

Vico is also the first thinker to point to a development in man’s spiritual life: at the beginning man is all sense, then he is fantasia, and finally he is intellect. To those three stages correspond the three forms of language: sign, images, concepts. Thus the “poets,” as myth makers turn out to be the first historians of primitive humanity. The universal incarnated itself in the image and becomes a fantastic universal which presents itself as a “poetic character.” Hence, properly understood, the gods and the heroes of antiquity represent aspects of life and moments of history.

Here are a few representative examples: Hercules: the founding of the institution of the family through the twelve enterprises needed to safeguard it. Medusa: the victory of Man over the primeval forest. Venus: sacred and profane love. Mercury: commerce. Neptune: navigation. Cibele: the earth’s fertility. Flora: springtime. Pomona: autumn, and so on down a list of thirty thousand gods enumerated by Varro, ushering from the fertile imagination of primitive man who, spurred by emotions of fear or wonder, created a separate divinity for just about every natural phenomenon he observed.

Here it bears repeating that Vico is also the first to point out that Homer could not exist as an actual individual poet: the Iliad and the Odyssey have different poetic styles. Homer is a poetic character to be interpreted as an image of primitive man who was a “poet” and made history by narrating it in the imaginative language and mode consonant with the particular era in which he lived. As Vico himself renders it: “The mother of wonder is ignorance of reasons and scarcity of abstraction.”

Vico’s thought has ethico-religious dimensions which modern man, despite his lip service to history as a teacher, all but ignores. The Vichian particular moves the imagination and is aesthetically beautiful, but it does more than that, for “poetic wisdom” is a movement of the divine (the transcendent) descending into the human and conversely, of the human (the immanent) reaching for the divine. These two complementary poles, human free will and divine providential order, appear contradictory and mutually exclusive to the reflective mind. They are however paradoxically related and inseparable. The particular of primitive mytho-poetic mind and the universal of abstracting “pure” mind capable of reflecting upon itself may be distinguished but may not be separated: they remain complementary to each other. Thus man is able to render judjment upon history once he has intuited that he is his own history.

Croce erred in trying to downplay one pole (the transcendent) in favor of the other (the immanent). The Vichian mind-set, on the contrary, has little in common with a Cartesian mode of thinking in love with dichotomies such matter/intellect. This is so because it is so immersed in life and history that its clarifying processes coincide with the clarification of life and history. That kind of clarification is never as neat as abstract thought but it is certainly less sterile than Cartesian clear and distinct ideas.

In short, what Vico is saying is basically this: the coming wisdom of the philosophers is already implied non-rationally in the “poetic wisdom” of primitive man. When Man begins to think humanly, he has already given birth to a rudimentary kind of metaphysics. As Ernesto Grassi has pointed out in his Rhetoric as Philosophy: the Humanist Tradition, within the human mind the cognition of things precedes judgment about them; hence a topic necessarily precedes critique. The faculty of topics makes the mind ingenious and ingenium is the source of the creative activity of topics; it is the ability to see and make connections between disparate and even contradictory notions. In other words, ingenium is a “grasping” rather than a deductive property. In as much as primitive mytho-poetic mind possesses ingenium, it has an unconscious metaphysics which becomes conscious later through reflection. The historical process, however, admits of no fractures between one moment and the next.

Man is continually moving between two complementary poles such as passion/virtue; barbarism/civilization; spontaneity/reflection; and intuition/reason. This complementation seems to be built in the very structure of reality. Later Heidegger, like Vico, will reach the conclusion that “…multiplicity of meaning is the element in which all thought must move in order to be strict thought…” (What is called thinking). This complementation and multiplicity is especially present in Vico’s concept of providence.

One caveat is in order. Throughout the New Science Vico remains aware that ethical action cannot be founded on purely imaginative truth but more properly on reflected truths (SN, 1106). Vico, after all, has not called his work a myth but a science. In order to alleviate the primordial fear, early man had a psychological need to grasp a global vision of reality through the myth and thus evaluate choices. However, the contradictions remained largely unresolved, and that is fine at the first stage of development. However, when it happens at a later stage, problems arise. When, within a fanatical organization such as the Nazi party, myth wants to guarantee its own irrefutability, it proceeds to suppress the logos, i.e., the content or rational meaning within it. Wagner’s German myths certainly were used in such a mode by the Nazis with some help from an equally misconceived and misinterpreted Nietzschean philosophy emphasizing “the will to power” and the advent of the Uberman.

Guido De Ruggero in his Da Vico a Kant best explains the relationship of myth to reason in Vico by pointing out that within the “imaginative universal: the aesthetic element is expressed by the adjective (imaginative), while the intellectual rational element is expressed by the noun (universal). The proper function of imagination, therefore, remains that of a limiting adjective and neither adjective nor noun can be absolutized; they are complementary to each other.

Another way of explaining the relationship myth/reason is to think of the relationship form/content. Without content, form is meaningless. The form is myth, the content reason. An adjective is meaningless by itself when it is deprived of the noun it modifies. Similarly, mythic assertions self-destroy when they are separated from logos. On the other hand, the proper function of myth is never that of reducing the unknown and mysterious to rational clarity, rather it is that of integrating the unknown and the known together in a living whole wherein the limitations of the external self may be transcended. To use a metaphor adopted by Unamuno somewhere, myth is like a mountain on the small island of rationality and scientific knowledge, the more we climb the mountain the more vast the expansion of the sea of what is still unknown will appear to the climber.

So the search for the true meaning of myth becomes for Vico one of the essential tasks of literary interpretation. In that sense Vico is the grandfather of modern hermeneutics in vogue in today’s literary and philosophical circles. The tragedy of our “enlightened” times is that Vico is still little known, even in the land he was born and raised in. The time is ripe for a remedy to such a glaring cultural flaw.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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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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New Social Compact

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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