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Feminism: A Critique of Realism and The Way Forward

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In around eighteen countries of the world, for e.g. Bolivia, Iran, Qatar, Sudan and Syria, men can legally stop women from working. Women still need to take permission from their husbands to participate in the labour force of the country. There are around 59 countries yet to regulate laws concerning sexual harassment at workplace and around 45 nations with no laws protecting women from domestic violence. Women, even in the 21st century, are not independent in the true sense. Alone in South Africa, according to a survey conducted by the South African Medical Research Council, approximately one in four men surveyed admitted to committing rape. This alarming oppressive status of women even in the contemporary times leads us to the question, where did this male dominance come from?

 It is the colonialism, war and power struggle between the states which resulted into oppression of women even in the regions where women were particularly considered of high status. John Hoffman argues “states themselves are an expression of patriarchal power; leadership itself is monolithic, hierarchical and violent” (Hoffman, 2001) Historically, women had less rights and they were viewed as subordinate. Their role was limited to the household chores. During this time, only men had opportunities by which they participated in economic, social and political activities. Women lacked education and had fewer opportunities. In fact, for several years, women were not allowed to study ‘manly subjects’ such as science and law.Thus, leading towards a world of man forming a state and representing the interest of men. These manly states, being formed at the time when women had limited or in some places, no civil rights were led by a hegemon. This is also known as masculine hegemony.

Through the lenses of realist theories such as Hans Morgenthau, international society is anarchic in nature and all states function to maximize their state’s interest. These state’s interest is essentially achieved by power. Power, according to realism, equates military force and war. It revolves around the issues of war and security. It focuses on the role of nation-state and makes a bold assumption that all the states act in accordance to their national interest. It believes that states cooperate with each other solely for selfish national interest. Realist also don’t believe that the international organizations can establish peace where state cooperate without selfish interest. Plus, they believed that all the conflicts can be resolved only by coercion. (Morganthau, 1948) However, the emergence of economic interdependence due to globalization has increased cooperation from economic relations based on trade and investment. Furthermore, after the world war two, rise of multilateral institutions such as United Nations, led the world to more cooperative relations amongst states. For instance, realist failed to predict the fall of Soviet Union and peace post-cold war.  Hence, due to structural challenges and changes in the international relations, the relations amongst states does not revolve only around the realist issues of war and security.

In the late 1980s, theorist started to examine the role of gender in international relations. According to feminist, the conventional IR theories, realism and liberalism, present a partial view. The feminist theory has evolved through the three major movements, popularly known as waves of feminism. The first aimed to achieve recognition of equal rights, with a focus on suffrage. The second wave further demanded equal rights and treatment, and was marked by the emergence of the study of gender as a social construct. This feminist theory of IR is a critic of realism which focuses on power and considers patriarchy. Realism’s pessimistic approach to the international relations ignores the role of individuals. In contemporary times, the feminist theory brings new prospective to the international relations. J. Ann Tickner, a standpoint feminist argues that IR is gendered to “marginalize women’s voices”. She emphasizes that women have knowledge, perspectives and experiences that should be brought to bear on the study of international relations.” (Ruiz). Despite all the gender equality movements, we are still far from achieving the equality in society. Today, Women represent around 50% of the total population of world and only 39% of women globally participate in the labour force. As Emma Watson rightly points out, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcomed to participate in it?”  Out of around 193 countries, only 22 countries have female head of the states. According to the feminist, the key roles in international relations of diplomats, policy makers are played by men who come from patriarchal backgrounds. Thus, feminist challenge the Eurocentric and masculine theories of IR who fail to accommodate gender, race, class and ethnicity. Hence, on the contrary, feminism prioritizes development, peace and human security.

In the year 2014, Sweden, for the first time in the world, announced a feminist foreign policy and became the first country in the world to have a ‘feminist government’. Six years later, September 2019, Mexico pledged to adopt a feminist foreign policy during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier this year in January 2020, it became first Latin American country to launch a feminist foreign policy. France, Canada and Norway also expressed interest to set out feminist guidelines of their foreign policies. This indicates a beginning of new approach to the international relations.  Feminist foreign policy broadly refers to a state’s commitment to adopt policies wherein citizens, irrespective to their gender, live to their full potential. In case of Sweden, the country has recognized a separate gender equality policy since the early 70s. Hence, it was not as shocking for the citizen’s as it was for the world. The feminist foreign policy of Sweden emphasizes on three Rs: Rights, representation and resources. Rights refers to combating discrimination and full enjoyment of human rights, representation emphasizes on participation of women in decision making at all levels of the civil society, and resources seek to ensure that the resources are allocated to promote equality and equal opportunities. (Handbook Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy, 2018)

Feminist foreign policy broadly means the acknowledgment of injustice that exist globally. It emphasizes on building peace promoting organizations and criticizes military alliances such as NATO. The feminist foreign policy also criticizes the five permanent members of the UN security council who are the world’s biggest arms exporters. Sweden not only become the “strongest voice for gender equality and full employment of human rights for all women and girls” but also inspired many countries. For instance, global south’s first country to have a FFP, Mexico, not only aims to include women’s rights but also LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, immigration and trade. (Delgado, 2020)

The FFP of Sweden has made a significant impact. In 2017, Sweden during its presidency at the united nations security council elaborated and emphasized on gender equality. It also played a crucial role in peace talks with respect to Yemen crisis. Yemen crisis is influenced by the Arab spring, an anti-governmental protest, against the president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is in power since last thirty years. This uprising ended with a political deal, mediated by the United Nations and the Gulf cooperation Council. Thus, president Saleh stepped down and gave power to the vice president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Followed by a national dialogue conference, a constitution was agreed to be drafted. This process led to tensions between the parties and the negotiations resulted into escalation in conflict and formation of Saudi led coalition in March 2015 with support of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan, UAE and Qatar. (they further left the coalition in 2017). The coalition had received arms and intelligence from powerful countries such as USA, UK and France. This has created more conflict since they conducted several air campaigns causing death of civilians and a major humanitarian crisis. As the tensions grew, not only women and children but civilian’s vulnerability grew. The UN officials have called this a ‘man-made crisis.’ Sweden’s Foreign Minister as well as one of the architects of feminist foreign policy of Sweden, Margot Wallström, played a key role. She had personally visited Yemen after catastrophic bomb blasts in the country.  Khaled Al- Yamini, the foreign minister of Hadi government and Houthi’s representative, Mohmad Abdelsalam signed the ‘Stockholm agreement.’  The Stockholm agreement came in three parts, the first part dealt with ceasefire and redeployment of forces, then the second term of agreement was facilitating the movement of humanitarian aid and lastly, Prisoner swap (reuniting POW with their families). This was a breakthrough agreement as it brought an end to a long pending peace talk. The usage of diplomatic technique of negotiation to resolve a conflict is the practice of feminist approach to the study of IR.

The theory of ecofeminism is a branch of feminism which examines relation between women and nature. Ecofeminist draw parallels between oppression of nature and oppression of women. French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne coined the name in her 1974 book le feminisme ou la mort (Feminism or Death). She argued that everything is related to everything else. Man dominates the nature for selfish interests and in similar ways women are oppressed and objectified. Thus, liberation of women is essential to bring about the environmental change. Connecting the feminist foreign policy of Sweden and ecofeminism, we can see a positive impact with respect to action towards climate change. Sweden worked to mainstream gender equality in the new Paris climate agreement (COP21). Sweden gained regional support to put women forward and in focus for climate change and climate justice. This led to the establishment of Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice. This campaign was supported by over 7700 organizations. Along with this, Sweden has adopted a climate policy, aiming for zero net greenhouse gas emission by 2045. The Swedish government has a specific fund for bilateral cooperation with strategic countries in the field of environment and climate. Currently, cooperation with around ten countries, among others Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, China, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, USA, and Vietnam are financed by the fund. For e.g. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has been cooperating regarding India’s ambitions to phase down the use of the powerful greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons. In addition to peace talks and climate change action, Sweden has taken action to strengthen the human rights of refugee women and girls. According to Linklater, critical theory can be seen as the instrument of powerless to advance more equitable global relations. Sweden has initiated multiple bilateral-multilateral meetings to address the link of migration and human trafficking, prostitution. Sweden has successfully ensured that these issues are included in the UN resolutions and in the declaration of UN summit for Refugees and Migration, 2016. Hence, looking at the feminist foreign policy of Sweden through the lenses of ecofeminism, critical theory and feminist theory, it appears to be the new way forward in IR. (Sweden, 2017)

Besides Sweden, India’s declaration of Triple Talaq as unconstitutional, Argentina’s vow to legalise abortion and emergence of female state leaders such as Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Dilma Rousseff and Tsai Ing-wen has introduced world a new feminist leadership. Furthermore, during the extraordinary crisis situation- covid19 outbreak, under the leadership of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan recovered exceptionally well. Jacinda Ardern’s emotional response to terrorist attack and Angela Merkel’s strategic Ukraine crisis’ negations with Russia indicates as rightly said by Barack Obama, “If women ran every country in the world, there would be improvement in living standards and outcomes

Intern at Indian Council for Cultural Relations and a masters student at Jindal School of International Affairs; former student of B.A. in French Literature from Ruia College, Mumbai with a robust experience of one year in France as a Rotary Student-Ambassador of India to France.

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New Social Compact

Remote Learning during the pandemic: Lessons from today, principles for tomorrow 

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Education systems around the world reacted to COVID-19 by closing schools and rolling out remote learning options for their students as an emergency response.  New World Bank analysis of early evidence reveals that while remote learning has not been equally effective everywhere, hybrid learning is here to stay.

Going forward, for remote learning to deliver on its potential, the analysis shows the need to ensure strong alignment between three complementary components: effective teaching, suitable technology, and engaged learners.

“Hybrid learning – which combines in-person and remote learning – is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all,” emphasized Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.  “Information technology is only a complement, not a substitute, for the conventional teaching process – particularly among preschool and elementary school students. The importance of teachers, and the recognition of education as essentially a human interaction endeavor, is now even clearer.”

The twin reports, Remote Learning During the Global School Lockdown: Multi-Country Lessons and Remote Learning During COVID-19: Lessons from Today, Principles for Tomorrow, stress that three components are critical for remote learning to be effective:

  • Prioritizing effective teachers: a teacher with high subject content knowledge, skills to use technology, and appropriate pedagogical tools and support is more likely to be effective at remote instruction.
  • Adopting suitable technology: availability of technology is a necessary but not sufficient condition for effective remote learning.
  • Ensuring learners are engaged: for students to be engaged, contextual factors such as the home environment, family support, and motivation for learning must be well aligned.

The reports found that many countries struggled to ensure take-up and some even found themselves in a remote learning paradox: choosing a distance learning approach unsuited to the access and capabilities of a majority of their teachers and students.

“Emerging evidence on the effectiveness of remote learning during COVID-19 is mixed at best,” said Cristóbal Cobo, World Bank Senior Education and Technology Specialist, and co-author of the two reports. “Some countries provided online digital learning solutions, although a majority of students lacked digital devices or connectivity, thus resulting in uneven participation, which further exacerbated existing inequalities. Other factors leading to low student take-up are unconducive home environments; challenges in maintaining children’s engagement, especially that of younger children; and low digital literacy of students, teachers, and/or parents.”

“While pre-pandemic access to technology and capabilities to use it differed widely within and across countries, limited parental engagement and support for children from poor families has generally hindered their ability to benefit from remote learning,” stressed Saavedra.

Despite these challenges with remote learning, this can be an unprecedented opportunity to leverage its potential to reimagine learning and to build back more effective and equitable education systems. Hybrid learning is part of the solution for the future to make the education process more effective and resilient. 

The reports offer the following five principles to guide country efforts going forward:

Ensure remote learning is fit-for-purpose. Countries should choose modes of remote learning that are suitable to the access and utilization of technology among both teachers and students, including digital skills, and that teachers have opportunities to develop the technical and pedagogical competencies needed for effective remote teaching. 

Use technology to enhance the effectiveness of teachers. Teacher professional development should develop the skills and support needed to be an effective teacher in a remote setting.

Establish meaningful two-way interactions. Using the most appropriate technology for the local context, it is imperative to enable opportunities for students and teachers to interact with each other with suitable adaptations to the delivery of the curriculum.

Engage and support parents as partners in the teaching and learning process. It is imperative that parents (families) are engaged and supported to help students access remote learning and to ensure both continuity of learning and protect children’s socioemotional well-being.

Rally all actors to cooperate around learning. Cooperation across all levels of government; as well as partnerships between the public and private sector, and between groups of teachers and school principals; is vital to the effectiveness of remote learning and to ensure that the system continues to adapt, learn, and improve in an ever-changing remote learning landscape.

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Youth embody ‘spirit’ of 21st century more than parents

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Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and other global challenges, children and youth are nearly 50 per cent more likely than older people to believe that the world is becoming a better place, according to the results of a landmark intergenerational poll published on Thursday. 

The international survey was conducted by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gallup, the global analytics and advice firm, and has been released ahead of World Children’s Day on 20 November. 

The Changing Childhood Project is the first poll of its kind to ask multiple generations for their views on the world and what it is like to be a child today.  

Part of the solution 

Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF Executive Director, said that despite numerous reasons to be pessimistic, children and young people refuse to see the world through the bleak lens of adults. 

“Compared to older generations, the world’s young people remain hopeful, much more globally minded, and determined to make the world a better place,” she added.  

“Today’s young people have concerns for the future but see themselves as part of the solution”. 

More than 21,000 people in 21 countries participated in the survey, which was conducted across two age cohorts – 15-24 years old, and age 40 and up – and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hopeful, not naïve 

Nationally representative surveys were undertaken in countries across all regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America – and income levels.  

 The findings revealed young people are also more likely to believe childhood has improved, and that healthcare, education and physical safety are better today when compared with their parents’ generation. 

However, despite their optimism, youth are far from naïve.  The poll showed they want to see action to address the climate emergency.  At the same time, they are skeptical about the information they consume on social media, and struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety.  

This generation is also more likely to see themselves as global citizens, and they are more willing to embrace international cooperation to combat threats such as the pandemic. 

Aware of risks 

The survey also found children and young people are generally more trusting of national governments, scientists and international news media as sources of accurate information.  

They are also aware of the problems the world is facing, with nearly 80 per cent seeing serious risks for children online, such as exposure to violent or sexually explicit content, or being bullied. 

Young people want faster progress in the fight against discrimination, more cooperation among countries, and for decision-makers to listen to them. 

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed who are aware of climate change believe Governments should take significant action to address it.  The share rises to 83 per cent in low- and lower-middle countries, where climate impacts are set to be greatest. 

21st century citizens 

In practically every country, large majorities of youth said their countries would be safer from COVID-19 and other threats if Governments would work together, rather than on their own. 

They have also demonstrated stronger support for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights, with young women at the forefront for equality. 

The survey also revealed a strong alignment between the two generations, including on the issues of climate, education, global collaboration, though some of the deepest divides occurred around optimism, global mindedness and recognition of historical progress.   

“While this research paints a nuanced view of the generational divide, a clear picture emerges: Children and young people embody the spirit of the 21st century far more readily than their parents,” said Ms. Fore.  

“As UNICEF prepares to mark its 75th anniversary next month, and ahead of World Children’s Day, it is critical we listen to young people directly about their well-being and how their lives are changing”.

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Seva, a book that is here to heal the world

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It was early in February this year that I visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Walking outside the beautiful golden studded Gurudwara, I couldn’t help but feel awe at the langar that was being served. Prepared for lakhs of devotees everyday. Imagine a kitchen that is equipped to feed around one lakh people everyday, what goes on in the minds of people working at the Golden Temple tirelessly to feed one lakh devotees? There is really only one value behind their actions – Seva. Seva literally translates to helping others and seems simple at the outset. But to understand it deeply, you need to read Jasreen Mayal Khanna’s Seva published earlier this year.

Seva – Sikh secrets on how to be good in the real world by Jasreen Mayal Khanna is a book that is here to heal the world. It is a much needed book during the current times and promotes the values of helping others while outlining basic things that we often forget to do – say thank you daily, embrace joy, work harder than you pray, practice equality at home, help someone everyday, be brave, learn to laugh at yourself and live in Chardi Kala. While other points might seem easy and direct, the last one, Chardi Kala might not be obviously understandable to many outside the Sikh Community. What is Chardi Kala? It is the mental state of eternal optimism and joy. The Sikh Community is popularly known across the world for helping others and Jasreen Mayal Khanna explains more about the Sikh practice of Seva, serving others.

For a few, doing Seva comes naturally because it has been taught to them since childhood. This is especially valid for people from the Sikh Community who, as Khanna tells us in her book, are taught to contribute towards community service from a very young age. For some, they need to ingrain Seva in their life to lead a more balanced and happy life. We often forget that the individual and the community are woven into a beautifully intricate fabric that relies on each other. We are only reminded of how interconnected we are to each other during times of crisis. The COVID 19 pandemic has been a great reminder about how we need each other to survive. Friends, family and complete strangers helping out each other during times of the pandemic has been revolutionarily eye opening. The truth is that we should not need a pandemic to make us realise how interconnected we are. Books like Seva are an ode to that fabric of interconnectedness that is often forgotten in the world today. With ancient Sikh secrets and promoted values of happiness, the book heals readers in ways more than one. You quite literally need to read this book to lead a more balanced life.

While many Indians have been reading books like Ikigai talking about Japanese secrets to life, books like Seva hit far closer to home for Indians. Reading the book is also a testament to secularism since you can understand more about a community that you possibly interact with daily. Moreover, the book also gives you the opportunity to understand more about the values of the community that you can easily pick things from. Seva is not just a read for Indians, but deserves to be popularised across the world. The book will hit the UK market in May 2022.

“I had my first baby in the first wave of Covid. Through the pandemic, I kept seeing examples of Sikhs who were risking their own lives to help absolute strangers. And while I was very proud, I was not overly surprised because doing seva is second nature to Sikhs. I knew that this is a story that the world needs to hear, that my son Azad needs to hear. I wrote Seva because it is, in a way, the solution to the problems of modern life. Read it to believe it. “, Khanna says rightly. She is quite right about this, you need to read it to believe it.

I hope you can enjoy the book with some traditional Sikh Panjiri, the most delicious sweet made from wheat flour and dried nuts.

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