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The end of the perfect melons

Picture credit: Malaysia Tatler

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On May 2019, two melons from Hokkaido sold at the prices of 45,000 USD.

Yes, you heard it right. Two melons.

They were not your “regular” melons. According to Business Insider, which published the documentary on the world most expensive melons, these two are considered the “most perfect” in terms of size, sweetness and even the cracks on their skins.

The documentary went on a great length about the culture of melons in Japan. It’s a part of a “gift giving” culture – where exchanging melons is symbolic and signifies a lux life, generosity and yes “Japanese perfection”.

The farmers featured in the documentary demonstrate the growth and development of melons from its inception. Each of these “perfect melons” is grown on beds with air-conditioning and heating in order to control the temperature, they are watered on exact amount to ensure the exact result. Each tree, although can grow multiple melons, the only “perfect” one will be kept to let it grow. Each day, they will receive hand massage to ensure the absolute highest quality – not just about the taste but how it looks.

In Japan, melons are not just fruit. Growing them represents Japanese culture of hard-work, discipline and most of all the quest for perfection.

This quest says a lot about Japanese culture. Take the Omakase, where the chefs serve the “most perfect” pieces of fish that comes through the kitchen each day.

The farmers love crafting their skills, the buyers love their cash. Win-win.

“it’s part of the culture” – so they say.

Talking about growing melons reminds me so much about the stories of Japanese educational system.

Japan has long prided itself for being competitive educational system where students “perfect” their scores and rank ahead of their peers. Japanese students go through ardent educational system that compels them to memorize rote learning, excel in exams and get into prestigious university. It is believed through “this perfect route” students will succeed and be satisfied.

This culture has pushed Japan to lead economic competition with others for decades. The 1970s saw the United States published a paper, the Nation at Risk, to outline the fear that the United States’ students were falling behind the Japanese.

Despite valuing the collective, comformative and community, behind Japanese educational success is fierce competition amongst students that cause discomfort and discontent. One can go as far as argue that such mindset nurtures distress within the society.

I have had the privilege teaching Japanese students during my teaching career. One of my Japanese students, Mami Oda from Yokohoma, brought my attention to what she called “the dark side of Japanese success”.

When she talked dark, she meant, really dark.

The growing phenomenal of youth suicide.

Mami analyzed this tragedy in plain word:

Although Japanese are known for their hardworking and it is just work ethic that has helped build this prosperous country, but such focus is detriment to their health. While thinking only about contributions to companies or organizations, they are forgetting about themselves and their own achievements. Economic affluence does not necessarily lead to happiness.

On average, there were 30,000 people annually committed suicide, in other words,  more than 80 people a day committed suicide in Japan. In addition, more than 3 million are bereaved families who died in suicide. Therefore, one in 40 people were bereaved families of suicide.Data has shown that suicide is the top cause of death among 15 years old to 39 years old.

Report by CNN shows similar trajectory and confirmed this analysis.

More Japanese children and teenagers killed themselves between 2016 and 2017 than in any year since 1986, according to a government report.

The latest survey shows 250 elementary and high school age children took their own lives in that year for a variety of reasons including bullying, family issues and stress, the country’s Ministry of Education said Monday, according to local media.

Of course, suicide is multi-facet, deeply personal and highly sensitive to individual and context.

This is not to generalization. But the prevailing youth distress calls us to look deeply and critically into the values our society upholds and the impacts these values have on the mental health of our young.

The world that values perfection suggests that is one type of form that fits just right. Instead of celebrating the culture of fitting in to the perfect mold, an education system can do better than that.

It should.

It must.

Education system should encourage individual students to express their thought, senses of selves and creativity. Because a healthy and sustainable society values diversity and inclusion, we need to instill these values within our students since the start of their lives.

Cartoons, books, stories, movies and parenting – all that count to make a child a whole.

There isn’t a single activity that nurtures and ensures “perfect students”.

In education – talking about any single outcome is myopic. It is a process, an experience and the growth of that individual that defines who they are and become.

I watched this documentary about the “perfect melons” as an educator who believes, values and embraces diversity in children development. Wearing that hat, I am reminded of the educational philosophy by John Dewey, the renown educator of the twentieth century on this subject.

According to Dewey, a child is like a flower that we should let them grow naturally and organically. The family, schools and society have big parts to play like water, sun and soil that nurtures them.

As a society, we have a moral obligation to help our children develop to their fullest potential in the paces they can take, in the way most comfortable to their characteristics.

It is not just taking the village to raise a child. It takes the whole forest and a healthy forest requires diverse kinds of organisms to instill within these children to respect the differences of others’ talents, interests and ideas and of course, their own, perfectly imperfection.

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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New Social Compact

Child Abuse & Legal System

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In world where the population is high, crime rate is higher. China has a separate system because China has a large population but the laws are so strict that people are afraid to commit crimes. Legal System of Punishments in China is strict . The recent example in china is during COVID 19. People in China during lockdown was following the laws so strictly. On the other hand the situation in all others countries was very clear.

In countries where the punishments are harsher and deterrent, there is a reduction in crimes. Whereas in countries where the punishments are softer, people do not stop committing crimes.

When we discuss about the Punishments in Islamic Legal System , In Islamic law and the Qur’an there are severe punishments in heinous offenses. In Islam, it has always been the case that if a person commits a major crime, he should be punished in such a way that he becomes a lesson for others and people learn from it.It is in Islam that if someone steals, his hands will be cut off, then no one will ever dare to steal. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) said that if my daughter Fatima also stole, I would cut off her hands.

Legal System of Pakistan , If the punishment is severe then the crime will decrease, if the punishment is not severe then the crime will increase day by day. In our country’s legal system Islamic law exist but No proper implementation is there. We mostly follow the principles of the common law for punishment.

The Pakistan Penal Code deals with punishments in criminal cases. Its origin is from the Indian Penal Code which is dated back to the 1860. When Pakistan came into being they renamed this enactment as Pakistan Panel Code. In fact, the origin of the mentioned punishments in the said enactment have basis from the Common Law System which was the system of British Government in the 19th Century. When  British Government was ruling over the Indo-Pak subcontinent, they made these laws in the beginning.

The Indian Penal Code was the basic legislation made in the 1860. Later on in 1898 the Code of Criminal Procedure was enacted also. Now in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the same law is the basic criminal law with certain amendments. These laws have been changed a little bit, but their basic laws are the same and it is still implemented to a greater extent.

Example :According to section 377 of Pakistan Penal Code the unnatural offences are defined in a way that they are related to unnatural lust. If a man tries to have sex with a man and even if he tries to have sex with a child, his sentence is 10 years imprisonment. So if an offender wishes to abuse a child with a fear that if he is caught, he will be imprisoned, he will never commit such offense. Similarly if he knows that he will be released in little span of time on bail by getting the consent from the child’s family and by settling the matter by giving them some money, he may commit the offense without any fear. He may commit the same offense again and again.

Conclusion:It is important to create deterrence in punishments especially in heinous offenses so that people have fear of committing them. Only this way offenses can be controlled and society can be peaceful to live in.

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New Social Compact

East Africa: The status of women remains unequal at all levels of society

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For over two decades, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) has been fighting for gender equality, empowerment of women and improvement of women’s rights in Kenya and broadly in East Africa. Established in 1999, CREAW has used bold, innovative and holistic interventions for the realization of women’s rights. Most of its programs have focused on challenging practices that undermine equity, equality and constitutionalism, promoting women’s participation in decision making and deepening the ideology and philosophy of women’s empowerment.

In this interview, Mercy Jelimo, an Executive Program Officer at the Nairobi-based Center for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW) discusses the current situation about gender issues, landmarked achievements, existing challenges and the way forward. Here are the interview excerpts:

In your estimation and from your research, how is the situation with gender inequality, specifically in Kenya, and generally in East Africa?

MJ: This survey was commissioned by our partners Women Deliver and Focus 2030 with over 17,000 respondents covering 17 countries on six continents. The survey findings indicated that over 60% of respondents believed that Gender Equality had progressed. However, on average 57% of respondents also felt that the fight for gender equality is not over particularly because we see key aspects of gender inequality persist including:  unequal distribution of unpaid care, domestic work and parental responsibilities between men and women (the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the burden women bear as caregivers) different employment opportunities with religion and culture continuing to entrench discrimination against women.

Whereas in East Africa, the survey only covered Kenya, the results are shared across. In particular, the Kenyan respondents indicated that there has been notable progress in regards to Gender equality particularly when it comes to the legal and policy frameworks to guard against discrimination on whichever basis be it sex, religion, class or race.

Over the last quarter century, the country has promulgated a new Constitution and a raft of subsidiary legislations and policies that are critical to Gender equality. Some of these laws include but not limited to: the Sexual Offences Act 2006, the Children’s Act 2001, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, the Marriage Act 2014, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015, the Victim Protection Act 2014, the Witness Protection Act 2008, the National Policy for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence 2014, the National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence 2015, the Multi-sector Standard Operating Procedures for Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence, and the National Policy on the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 2019.

Kenya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, among other instruments. However, even with this robust legal framework, accountability and the implementation of these laws have lagged behind.

The status of women and girls as compared to men and boys still remains unequal at all levels of society both public and private. This imbalance manifests itself as normalized negative social norms and ‘cultural’ practices with brutal violations against women and girls continuing to be perpetrated, women being excluded from leadership and decision making  positions, limited in their political participation and women and girls being denied access to economic opportunities.

Undeniably, women and girls continue to be victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including rape, domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. In fact, as of March 2020, according to statistics from Kenya’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), 45% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence with women with girls accounting for 90% of gender-based violence (SGBV) cases reported. Harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage are still prevalent, with the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014) reporting a national FGM prevalence rate of 21% for women and girls aged 15-49 years of age. The prevalence rate differs from one practicing community to the other, with communities such Somali (96%) Samburu (86%) and The Maasai (78%) having significantly higher prevalence. 

Sadly, this is the story across all the other countries in East Africa where we have progressive legal and Policy framework but with zero accountability mechanisms. It is worth noting that in 2018, the East Africa Community Council of Ministers approved the EAC Gender policy which is key to ensuring that gender equality and empowerment of women are not only integrated into every aspect of its work but provides an outline of key priority areas for partner states. The EAC has also instituted other gender mainstreaming efforts including the EAC Social Development framework (2013), the EAC child policy (2016) the EAC Youth policy (2013), a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy for EAC Organs and Institutions, (2013) amongst others.

By the way, what are your research findings that you presented in report on Jan 28? Are there any similarities and differences about gender studies in other East Africa countries?

MJ: The key findings from Kenya can generally be used to paint a picture of the situation in the EAC region. Apparent Gender disparities in the region remain in a number of areas such as in political representation, access to education and training, access to quality and affordable healthcare, high unemployment rates of women, rampant sexual and gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, inadequate financing for gender needs and programs. 

Firstly, when asked about the status of Gender Equality, the majority of respondents identified Gender Equality as an important issue (96%) and that government should do more (invest) to promote gender equality.

Secondly, the role of religion and culture; how boys and girls are socialized and unequal representation were identified as obstacles to gender equality. This finding indicates the work that still remains to be done for Gender equality actors in Kenya and other partner states in the EAC. The most important step to achieving gender equality is dismantling systems and structures that promote and protect inequalities. whereas the country has made tremendous progress in having relevant legal and policy frameworks, there is still lack of implementation of these laws – this finding answers the why question– because institutions, people and structures are still very patriarchal. Furthermore, the lack of representation of women (also cited by Kenyan respondents as an obstacle) might explain the failures in implementation of the laws and policies.

Thirdly, the respondents identified corruption as the most important issue facing the country. This finding is also supported by the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa survey that showed that more than half of citizens in the continent think graft is getting worse and that governments were doing very little to curb the vice.  The impact that corruption has on service delivery cannot be overemphasized especially on public goods such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation. More specifically, is the resulting lack of public financing to programs and interventions that address gender needs & promote gender equality.

A recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Report by Transparency International indicated that all the countries in East Africa with the exception of Rwanda scored below the global average rate of 43 out of 100. More importantly is that the report noted that countries that perform well on the CPI have strong enforcement of campaign finance regulations as this correlates with the dismal performance of women in politics who often than not do not have the requisite political funding to mount effective political campaigns and outcompete their male counterparts.

What would you say about discrimination or representation of women in politics in the region? Do you feel that women are not strongly encouraged in this political sphere?

MJ: There has been significant progress when it comes to women’s political representation and participation with a majority of the countries in the EAC region adopting constitutional quotas and other remedies to promote representation. All the countries in the East Africa Community have achieved the 30% critical mass with the exception of Kenya (21%) and South Sudan (28%). More women occupy ministerial portfolios that were perceived to be the preserve of men such as defense, foreign affairs, manufacturing, trade, public service and so forth. Not to miss that the leading country globally – Rwanda is from the region (63%).

However, most institutions including parliaments are still male dominated and women in the region still face a number of challenges including violence against women in politics, religious and cultural beliefs and norms that limit women role, lack of support from political parties, lack of campaign financing and unregulated campaign financing environment with the progressive legal and policy frameworks yet to be fully implemented. These challenges continue to limit the representation and participation of women in public and  political sphere. The region is yet to have a woman as a president just to illustrate the glass ceilings that remain.

Tell us about how women are perceived (public opinion) in the society there? How is the state or government committed to change this situation, most probably by enacting policies?

MJ: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I ‘ll tell you what you value” This quote by President Joe Biden aptly captures the state of affairs in the region in relation to gender equality. The countries in the region have continued to enact and reform legal and policy frameworks but have largely remain unimplemented. The primary reasons being lack of financial and accountability mechanisms to ensure that these programs and policies are actualized. For us to reach to the conclusion that governments are committed to promoting gender equality and women empowerment, we need to see a shift from lip service to prioritization and adequate resourcing of programs that advance gender equality.

What platforms are there for improving gender equality, for ending gender-based violence and for discussing forms of discrimination there? Do you suggest governments have to act now to accelerate issues and progress on gender equality in East Africa?

MJ: As Deliver for Good Campaign partners in Kenya together with other gender equality advocates, the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa Agenda 2063 provide important blueprints to developing our society economically, socially and politically. The Deliver for Good campaign is an evidence-based advocacy campaigns that call for better policies, programming and financial investments in girls and women. Most importantly, the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is an important mobilization moment to ask governments and private sector to accelerate progress not just in East Africa but globally. Specifically, we will be using this moment to call on governments, not only make bigger and bolder commitments but also, to ensure that they match these commitments with financing and accountability mechanisms.

As the Deliver for Good campaign partners in Kenya, we have a particular interest on one of the GEF Action Coalitions – Gender Based Violence – to leverage on the Kenyan government leadership and the political will to end traditional practices that are harmful to women and girls such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Particularly and in line with the survey findings, we will be calling for: increased accountability for physical and sexual crimes against women; increased investment on prevention and protection programs while calling for inclusive efforts and programs that leave no woman behind in Kenya and East Africa.

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New Social Compact

RUSAL Receives Guinea’s Best Company Awards For Fight Against COVID-19

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Russian Aluminium, a leading global aluminium producer, announced early February that its representative office in Guinea was awarded the Guinea Best Company Awards for its contribution to the fight against COVID-19 and socially responsible policy during the pandemic.

Since 2010, the Guinea Best Company Awards have been presented annually by the Think Tank of COPE-Guinée (Coordination of Guinean non-governmental organizations for the promotion of excellence) to 50 enterprises in Guinea and West Africa that have demonstrated significant achievements across various fields such as industry, economics and public life.

Assessing the results of 2020, the COPE-Guinée named Alexander Larionov, RUSAL General Director in Guinea, among the top 50 managers of commercial enterprises in the region. The results were based on indicators such as compliance with high standards of Corporate Social Responsibility during the pandemic, including the preservation of jobs, wages, social payments, investment projects, as well as the special contribution of enterprises to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Guinea.

The award ceremony was held in Conakry under the chairmanship of the High Representative of the Head of State, Claude Kory Kondiano, who noted in his speech: “Entrepreneurs and businessmen play a leading role in the development of Guinea, which has made significant progress in many areas over the past 10 years under the leadership of President Alpha Conde. Today’s ceremony is a great opportunity to pay tribute to the best of those who create jobs and support the national well-being of our country.”

Commenting on the RUSAL management in Guinea’s award for its achievements in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility and the fight against COVID-19, Yakov Itskov, Director of RUSAL’s Alumina Business, said: “For 20 years, RUSAL has been successfully developing its business in Guinea and has always helped the country’s residents in difficult times. In 2015, we built a state-of-the-art epidemiology center in Guinea to fight the Ebola epidemic, and in 2020, we opened another multi-functional infectious disease treatment center to counter COVID-19. We will continue to provide systematic support to Guinean healthcare, guided by the principles of social responsibility of business.”

In addition, in July 2020, RUSAL delivered medical humanitarian cargo intended to combat the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The cargo included dozens of medicines, as well as modern medical equipment and consumables for the treatment of patients with coronavirus. In November 2020, RUSAL supplied two new ambulances to Guinea, both equipped for providing emergency medical care and resuscitation of patients, including ventilators.

RUSAL was the first private company to assist Africa in fighting against the spread of dangerous infections. During the Ebola epidemic outbreak in Kindia in 2015, RUSAL built the Centre for Epidemic and Microbiological Research and Treatment (CEMRT). The center has since been acknowledged nationally as one of the sites for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 in Guinea, and received the first patients with coronavirus. In June 2020, the new multifunctional medical center for the treatment of infectious diseases was constructed in Fria.

RUSAL has been operating in the Republic of Guinea since 2001, and remains as one of the largest international investors in the country. In Guinea, RUSAL owns Compagnie des Bauxites de Kindia (CBK), as well as the Friguia bauxite and alumina production facility. In addition, RUSAL is continuing with the implementation of a project aimed at developing the world’s largest bauxite deposit Dian-Dian in Boke. The proven reserves of this field amount to 564 million tons.

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