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Invisible and Excluded: The Fate of Widows and Divorcees in Africa

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Across Africa, the impact of marital death and divorce falls more heavily on women, who may be excluded socially and lose their home and property after a marriage ends. One in ten African women above the age of 14 is widowed, and six percent are divorced. Many more have been widowed or divorced at some point in their lives.

“In the face of divorce or widowhood, women often struggle with serious economic hardship,” said Asli Demirguc-Kunt, Director of Research at the World Bank. “Unfortunately, designing effective policies to prevent these women from falling into poverty is hamstrung by sparse data and research.”

At a recent Policy Research Talk on the issue, Dominique van de Walle, a Lead Economist at the World Bank, argued that providing widows and divorcees a secure foothold in society is central to the broader struggle for gender equality. In much of Africa, marriage is the sole basis for women’s access to social and economic rights, and these are lost upon divorce or widowhood.

Women frequently inherit nothing when a marriage ends, and official legal systems offer little recourse. Some may even lose their children to the husband’s lineage. Broader patterns of gender inequality add to the heavy burden on women’s shoulders. They are shut out of labor markets, have fewer productive assets, and bear greater responsibility for the care of children and the elderly.

Just as widows are often hidden from view in their own communities, the absence of data limits broader public awareness of the issue. Quantifying the prevalence of widowhood and divorce requires information on both current widows and divorcees as well as the marital history of currently married women, and this is only available in 20 countries.*

The numbers show that brief marriages are a fact of life for many. Women tend to get married while young to much older men, and men are more likely to die in work-related accidents or in conflict. Many also succumb to HIV/AIDS. In addition, men who lose a spouse are much more likely to remarry than women, in part because of polygamy which is legal in 25 countries.

The options open to widows and divorcees after a marital dissolution vary greatly based on age, ethnicity, and social norms, but are often limited. In some regions, young widows are encouraged to remarry. Levirate marriage—a tradition in which a widow marries a relative of the deceased husband—provides a modest safety net, but the remarried widow often occupies an inferior position in the new household. In Senegal, for example, levirate marriage is associated with the lowest consumption levels for previously widowed women. These marriages can act as a poverty trap for those who cannot refuse due to a lack of means. In other settings, widows and divorcees may be shunned, ostracized, and dispossessed.

Divorcees and widows are also much more likely to suffer other forms of disadvantage. Relative to similar women in their first union, both groups have worse nutritional outcomes on average across Africa. In Malawi widows are five times more likely than women who are married (and never widowed) to be HIV positive. Divorcees are not far behind.

“The prevalence of HIV varies enormously across marital status, with widows having the highest rates of HIV infection in most countries where we have data,” said van de Walle. “These women are doubly disadvantaged, and societies often do little to help them cope with this extraordinary challenge.”

The disadvantages that widows and divorcees suffer also affect their families. Research in Mali shows that the children of widowed mothers have worse health and are less likely to be enrolled in school. In Zambia, in areas where customary rights do not support land inheritance for widows, married couples make fewer productive investments in their land. Where widows and divorcees suffer, society at large suffers as well.

Policy Can Help Address the Disadvantages Faced by Widows and Divorcees

“In many settings, working with the affected women solves one part of the problem,” said Bénédicte de la Brière, a Lead Economist at the World Bank. “But there also needs to be broader engagement with the community at large, and especially those in power.”

The right policy measures could shield widows and divorcees from the threat of poverty. Given the variety of countries, institutions, and legal systems covered in van de Walle’s research, no single policy formula applies across the board. Rather, policy makers will have to stitch together policies to fit their specific circumstances.

Policies that address systemic inequalities can enable women to support themselves in the face of a marital dissolution. These include reforms to credit markets, where women are particularly disadvantaged; ensuring equal ownership and inheritance rights for women; and securing customary marriages through registration and legal documentation.

Responsive policies can buoy widows and divorcees after a marriage ends. A widow’s pension can serve as a temporary safety net, as long as the benefits are transferred directly and securely to widows. Preferential access to housing and shelters is another measure that could help widows and divorcees in the event of a marital dissolution.

But van de Walle cautioned that research on the effectiveness of these policies is limited. The fate of widows and divorcees may depend on the willingness of African countries to invest in their most vulnerable people by evaluating whether these policy options notably improve the financial stability and social standing of their widows, divorcees, and their families.

* Data for these 20 countries were obtained through Demographic and Health Surveys fielded between 2004 and 2013. The data are further limited by the fact that they only cover women aged 15-49 and, for currently married women, only cover how a previous union ended but not a full marital history.

Source: World Bank

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Nearly 350 Million Children Lack Quality Childcare in the World

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Two unrelated children, one eight and the other ten, share a bed at a cholera treatment centre in Sana'a, Yemen, due to lack of resources. Photo: OCHA/Ahmed ben Lassoued

More than 40 percent of all children below primary-school age – or nearly 350 million – need childcare but do not have access, according to a new World Bank report launched today. As a result, too many children are spending time in unsafe and unstimulating environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inadequacies in childcare provision and the vulnerability of the sector across the world.

The new report, Better Jobs and Brighter Futures: Investing in Childcare to Build Human Capital, highlights how investments in childcare can increase women’s employment and productivity, create new jobs, improve child outcomes, drive economic growth, and support a more resilient and inclusive recovery from the pandemic. It notes that the struggles so many parents have experienced during the pandemic to balance childcare and work responsibilities may also generate policy momentum to address the issue.

Investing in quality, affordable childcare is key to unlocking pathways out of poverty, helping everyone achieve their potential, and increasing equity – all of which are cornerstones of a country’s economic growth and productivity. 

The first five years of a child’s life are a period of rapid brain development.  Providing children with a safe and stimulating environment during this time has huge returns and makes subsequent education investments much more effective,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank’s Global Director for Education. “But 40 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries need childcare and do not have access.  We need to urgently expand investments in childcare.”

In order to maximize both female labor force participation and child development, governments play a crucial role. They can help ensure that quality childcare is available, affordable, and meets the needs of all families, particularly the most vulnerable. Expanding the childcare economy and building the childcare workforce also can create up to 43 million new jobs while facilitating more people—particularly women—to be able to seek or return to employment.

Without quality childcare, parents—and in particular women—face an enormous hurdle. The lack of access can keep women from returning to work after childbirth, limit the quality or quantity of employment and earning opportunities, which can result in substantial negative impacts on family welfare,” said Caren Grown, World Bank’s Global Director for Gender. “The World Bank is supporting countries as they take action to develop childcare solutions that can increase women’s labor force participation, improve child development and human capital outcomes, and reduce inequalities.”

The report highlights five key policy goals that governments can take to accelerate progress towards quality, affordable childcare for all families that need it:

1. Expand access to childcare by promoting different types of provision – to meet diverse family needs (this may include center and home-based care options, providing flexible funding for families, and covering extended working hours, among others).
2. Prioritize childcare coverage for the most vulnerable families and ensure low-cost and free options are available.
3. Allocate sufficient financing to make childcare affordable for families and ensure quality.
4. Define clear, workable institutional arrangements and build system coherence – and ensure alignment across different parts of government.
5. Ensure that children are in safe and stimulating environments through a robust quality assurance system and a supported and capable workforce.

The report comes on the heels of the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law 2021 report, which found that women around the world continue to face laws and regulations that restrict their economic opportunity as the pandemic is creating new challenges for their health, safety, and economic security.

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Mental health alert for 332 million children linked to COVID-19 lockdown policies

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A seven-year-old child looks out the window in Istanbul, Turkey, during the COVID-19 emergency. Closure of schools, disruption of health services and suspension of nutrition programmes, due to the coronavirus pandemic, have affected hundreds of millions of children globally. Photo: UNICEF

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says the mental health of millions of children worldwide has been put at risk, with at least one in seven forced to remain at home under nationwide public health orders – or recommendations – during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on new research, it said on Thursday that more than 330 million youngsters have been stuck at home for at least nine months, since the virus spread uncontrollably this time last year.

This has left them feeling isolated and anxious about their future, said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder: “Tens and tens of millions of youngsters have been left feeling isolated and afraid and lonely and anxious because of these enforced lockdowns and isolations that have become as a result of this pandemic.”

He said countries needed to emerge from this pandemic “with a better approach, a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that probably starts just by giving the issue the attention it deserves.”

Mental vulnerabilities

Half of all mental disorders develop before the age of 15, according to UNICEF and the majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide annually, are under 18s.

The UN agency also said that the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide.

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said that when day after day “you are away from your friends and distant loved ones, and perhaps even stuck at home with an abuser, the impact is significant.

“Many children are left feeling afraid, lonely, anxious, and concerned for their future. We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that starts by giving the issue the attention it deserves.”

For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded with abusers. Children in vulnerable population groups – like those living and working on the streets, children with disabilities, and children living in conflict settings – risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely.

According to WHO, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health support is increasing.

UNICEF responding

To respond to growing needs, the agency has offered support to Governments and partners to prioritize services for children.

In Kazakhstan, this has led to the launch of a UNICEF platform for individual online counselling services, alongside distance training in schools for mental health specialists.

In China, the agency has also worked with social media company Kuaishou, to produce an online challenge to help reduce anxiety in children.

Later this year, UNICEF will dedicate its biennial flagship report on the state of the world’s children, to child and adolescent mental health, in a bid to increase awareness of the global challenge, exacerbated profoundly by the coronavirus.

Boost investment

“If we did not fully appreciate the urgency prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, surely we do now”, said Ms. Fore.

Countries must dramatically invest in expanded mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools. We also need scaled-up parenting programmes to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home.”

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The Only Wealth, There’s in Man

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The famous quote of Jean Bodinprovide us with an important visualization about the   human capital in developing countries, in order to achieve the millennium development goals.

However, these goals remain challenge that must be realized despite in this epidemiological crisis which created an economic and social threat around the world, it destroyed the pillars of human development such as: education, health and income, so the Index of Human Development has declined to 1,8%.

In fact, the Covid 19 pandemic has put developing countries in a state of emergency to confront this disaster, by strengthening the intangible resources of which human capital is a part.

This article aims to demonstrate the importance of human capital in development process relying on the experience of National Initiative for Human Development, as a pioneer reference that place people at the center of public policies.

The human capital: from conception to process

The concept of human capital is not newly. Yet, it was previously introduced by Adam Smith[1]in his theory. The latter believes «human capital includes the set of skills and abilities that individuals acquired through family education, study and learning. This acquisition result in real expenses that correspond to fixed and integrated capital in the individual which capital is self part of his fortune as the society to which he belongs”.

Furthermore, Adam Smith’s theory was extensively reformulated by economist Gary Beckerin 1964, in his book entitled ‘’Human Capital’’, Becker placed humans at the center of economics and emphasized the important role of investment in human capital, he worked to show that human capital corresponds to all the productive capacities that an individual can acquire through the accumulation of general or specific knowledge and another forms of skills.

The idea raised by Becker reflects the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s who said : “any one can discover his talents and develop his potential, in the face of the danger of neglecting his humanity and that happiness comes through the realization of the potential of each one ”

These theories devoted to human capital have been developed over the past decades by many international researches and studies as World Bank and The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports.

According to the World Bank report, Human capital consists of the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate throughout their lives, allowing them to realize their potential as productive members of society.

The report point’s out three main components of human capital index as “survival, education, and health”. This indicator was recently created by the World Bank Group as part of the “ Human Capital Project”, so countries can use it as measure productivity for future generation based on what it would be like if this generation benefits from optimal education and health conditions.

In addition, HCI contains three main criteria: the infant mortality rate (rate of survival to age 5), the quality of education (number of school years and quality of education) and health (developmental delay in children and survival rates to adulthood). Otherwise, the combination of these criteria gives a value between 0 and 1, if the index approaches to 1, the country offers good education and health to its citizens, so thus its new generation become more productive, and if the HCI is 0.6, it means that the economic productivity of the younger generation will be 60% of what it could have achieved under optimal education and health conditions, so the country will lose 40% of the economic potential of this generation.

Therefore, without human capital, a nation cannot maintain sustainable economic growth, prepare its workforce for skilled jobs of future the possibility of competition in the globalized economy. Thus, this capital was considered as an interlunar factor of the country’s wealth. Knowing that total wealth consists mainly of intangible capital, add into to produced capital and natural capital.

Consequently, it appears that these human, natural and produced capitals constitute the basic elements of intangible capital. This capital resides in the interaction that takes place between the different types of assets, by adding the tangible assets “ produced capital ”, which are the result of human activity, financial assets, buildings, infrastructure, urban equipment and land, as well as natural assets“natural capital”, such as fossil fuels, minerals, agricultural land, cultivated land, pastures, forests, protected areas, materials raw materials, farmland, forests and protected areas, and human capital.

Moreover, in 1986 the concept of intangible capital appeared by the French specialist in niche markets “ Bruno Bizalion ”, this economist pointed out that the company’s capital also include intangible factors, and then he developed a method which evaluate this intangible potential.

Five years later, the Swedish organization theorist “Leif Edvinsson” used this term in his study of evolution of group management practices. This research was contacted in collaboration with American writer ‘Michæl Malone’, and published in 1997 when they learned about the company hidden wealth, either we say everything you use to create value which one cannot necessarily discover by reading its balance sheet (not all the values of the synergies of the organization are shown). Therefore, intangible capital is related to definition the difference between the real value of the market or the firm and book value.

For the World Bank, the concept of intangible capital is differs from its previous theories. it indicates that the wealth and geopolitical strength of a nation can be built not only with natural resources and built wealth, but also with its capacity for innovation, level of education of its citizens and social cohesion that reigns there.

In its report entitled “Where is the wealth of nations” the World Bank devised a new method of evaluating the wealth of nations, called intangible capital. This capital consists the sum of human capital (all the skills and knowledge available in a country), social capital (the ability of individuals to work together to achieve set goals) and institutional capital (the quality of legal, educational and health systems in place in a country).

As a result, human capital remains an essential element in this process of wealth accumulation and progress which determines earning capacity, and brooding employment horizons of individuals to evaluate the level of income and distribution in the community. Knowthat the development of human capital is not limited to the economic dimensions only, but take in consideration political, social and cultural elements.

The promotion of human capital: A development approach

The promotion of human capital has been a decisive importance in public policies for many developing countries, so there is no strategy or program initiated by the State, local authorities or private sector that mention it.

In this regard, since 1960, Morocco has developed various strategies and programs that fall within the framework of national programs to universal school education and fight illiteracy; social development strategy (SDS) in 1993 to improve social indicators such as education, health and priority equipment; drinking water supply program for the benefits of the rural populations (PAGER) in 1995; social priorities program (BAJ1 ) in 1996 focused on basic education, especially for girls, health care, and employment promotion; rural electrification program (PERG) in 1996; rural development (1997); special decentralized development program (2001).

Nevertheless, these programs and strategies did not succeeded in evolution the level of social indicators in various areas of development. Therefore, the country’s index of human development ranges in position 126.

To remedy this situation, the public authorities have proposed a new approach to struggle poverty and social exclusion in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program.

This approach give significant increase in the gains on consolidation of democracy  in the area of freedom (protection of human rights, public freedoms, justice and gender equality) illustrated by social projects such as the educational reform with education as the second priority after territorial integrity, the entry into force of the Compulsory Health Insurance (AMO) and the measures taken to maintain the continuity of the main pension schemes, the social housing programs have mobilized additional resources, in particularly extra-budgetary, from outside the budget which witnessed new renewed mobilization of all actors involved in the unemployment problem, the national program to support the creation of a business by adapting training to the changing needs of the national productive system and managing  the labor market.

In 2005, these realizations has supported with an innovative strategy named National Initiative for Human Development. This initiative aims to change the social work in the country by opening up a new horizon and an exceptional coherence centred on the development of human capacities.

For 15 years ago, this social project has permitted the realization of countless projects and actions of rising future generations as enhancing health and education services, improving income and economic inclusion of youth people, promoting entrepreneurship & employment, and supporting social & solidarity economy.

In this context, the National Initiative for Human Development has established an arsenal process at the national and territorial level in order to achieve these projects for benefits of society and citizens, to involve panoply of actors present in each territory to participate in the program process, through creation the local, provincial and regional committees which bring together the various stakeholders (local population, associations, regional authorities, experts, and representatives of ministerial departments …). These actors have contributed to implementing within framework of these programs and have taking into consideration issue of citizens’ standard of living at the local level.

These aforementioned mechanisms have been straightened  approve of integrated approach to enhance human capital, to develop new structures named “youth platforms”, this space  considered as forums for interaction between various programs adopted by different stakeholders in the public and private sectors which work for economic inclusion of youth people and rural women by listening, directing them to support and develop their personal skills so that they can bring their ideas and turn them into real projects that constitute sources of local intangible wealth.

In general, this participatory approach demonstrates the importance of human capital as source of wealth creation if it is properly valued.

So, the promotion of human capital has appeared essential in the recent epidemiological crisis,  For that reason, the Moroccan development model must be based on expansion of capacities & freedoms as well as working to stimulate human possibilities & potentialities, taking into account the social and cultural heritage, customs, governance, new information and communication technologies.

To invest in human capital, it is important to promote a systematic foundation for long-term plan that respect the specifics of issues related to education and health, based on the following facts:

– Consolidation of citizenship and human rights (make it possible to release the capacities and potentials of citizens so that they can fully contribute to the achievement of development).

– The importance role of the civil society and its synergy in development process (because development cannot be envisaged without involving civil society).

– Awareness of proximity factor, made on the intangible resource of each territory in order to give an identity or an image for each “city”, each “village” and each “douar”, as taking into the national context in which we operate.

Eventually, the promotion of human capital is not just a goal that must be achieved but rather development approach conditioned on participation and inclusion of human being in this process as an actor regardless of his gender and age.

Bibliography:

  1. Jean Bodin was a French jurist and political philosopher (1529 -1596).
  2. Adam Smith, is a Scottish econimist and  philosopher  (1723-1790).
  3. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. Daanoune Rachid and El arfaoui Marouane, ‘’ the concept of intangible capital: the ambiguity of a terminology, Journal of Academic Finance, Vol 9- N ° 1, Spring 2018.
  5. Gary Stanley Becker was an American economist who received the 1992 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
  6. G. S. Becker, Human Capital, A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, Columbia University Press for the National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1964.
  7. Leif Edvinson et Michæl Malone, Intellectual Capital : Realizing Your Company’s True Value by Finding Its Hidden Brainpower, Collins 1997.
  8. Michael Shawn Malone, Publisher, investor, businessman, author of numerous books on business and high technology such as “The Virtual Corporation”.
  9. Michel Vernières “the notion of human development” in institutions and development seminar, December 2004, p 2.
  10. Rapport mondial sur le développement humain, PNUD 2005.
  11. Resche, Catherine, 2007. «Human Capital : l’avers et le revers d’un texte métaphorique.», LSP and Professional Communication, 7-2 , 23-4.
  12. Sen Amartya,‘’ a new economic model: development, justice, freedom ’, 2nd edition, Odile Jacob, 2003, p 15.
  13. Stéphanie Fraisse-D’olimpio, ’the foundations of human capital theory’, SES-ENS, 2009.
  14. Stiglitz Joseph, Towards a new development paradigm, political economy, 5, 2000, p.5-3
  15. World Bank. 2005. Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/7505
  16. https://www.banquemondiale.org/fr/publication/human-capital/brief/about-hcp
  17.  http://www.indh.ma/capital-humain/
  18. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/fr/home/news
  19. https://www.cmcmarkets.com/fr-fr/actualites-et-analyses/lindice-de-capital-humain-nouvel-indicateur-de-la-banque-mondiale

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