Friday, 28 March 2014

Inspiring Change following International Womens Day

The theme for this years International Women's Day was Inspiring Change which made me look back at my experiences since leaving  IDS in 1991. Some moments have been really inspiring! 

What have they been?

  • When I went to Bangladesh a few months ago: Visiting the Microfinance for Marginal and Small Farmers Project. Some of the women reported that they had not only contested local government elections, but were also called upon to become members and assist in resolving cases of violence against women and girls. Some of the women had acquired land under their name during the time of the project and I saw men and women receive training in gender equality.
  • In the Theni district of Tamil Nadu, India: I saw women’s federations celebrate the birth of daughters and lead a grassroots campaign against sex selection. I saw these campaigns focus on clinics that disclose the sex of a foetus and bring them to book.
  • In the same state, a TV talk show hosted by Ippadikum Rose - a transgender woman, highlighted issues of sex, sexuality and relationships issues faced by transgender women. 
  • In Nepal 2007: UNICEF formed women’s para-legal networks at district and sub district levels which supported women facing gender-based violence and helped them to access justice. Around half of the para-legal network members were single women. Another initiative of UNICEF in Nepal was to strengthen community monitoring of maternal health, immunisation, infant and child nutrition, mortality and education outcomes in a gender, caste and ethnicity disaggregated manner. Apart from women, men and village development committee leaders, health workers and teachers were in the monitoring committee. Supplementary nutrition, parental education (e.g. that boys and girls eat together), school and health centre reform and tie-ins with poverty reduction programmes followed. 

What did they teach me about policies towards inspiring change?

  • Foster institutional change beyond sectors:  While sectoral projects and programmes are necessary, it seems absolutely essential to change institutions from a gender lens. Both the Theni community level campaign and community monitoring illustrate the importance of challenging community norms. Apart from norms is the issue of challenging power embedded in institutions. Bangladeshi women entering local governments, not as proxies but in their own right is an example of such change. So is the effort by para-legal workers in Nepal to hold the legal system accountable, or the Tamil Nadu experience of holding health markets and media to account on gender. 
  • Challenge those who hold patriarchal norms, and not only men: Lessons from Theni, as well as surveys in India show that both men and women hold patriarchal values like son preference, belief that men have the right to hit their wives under certain circumstances and so on. Women are sometimes victims, sometimes agents, but at times uphold patriarchy and other hierarchical systems. Feminists and development agencies have to address this complexity in their strategies. Strategies of working with men also have to deal with men as perpetrators and supporters, go beyond issues of violence against women into gender and care, health, education, economic and political participation. 
  • Recognise diversity amongst women and build diverse women’s movements:  Women are a diverse group in terms of race, caste, class, abilities, marital status and gender orientation. Hierarchies amongst women are not recognised adequately in development policy. Further, gender is seen as a binary system, and transgender persons are not taken into account in development policy or practice. Dalit women’s movements, transgender women’s movements and so on, need to be fostered, while at the same alliances need to be forged. Gender policies need to be framed in dialogue with these movements.
  • Broaden MDG indicators on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE): UN Women has advocated that the MDG indicators on GEWE should include freedom from violence against women, earning their own income, percentage of women with access to institutional credit, percentage of law enforcement professionals who are women, and house and land ownership. These indicators are indeed welcome, as well as its suggestion to integrate gender into all indicators. What could be added are indicators on attitudes such as ‘absence of son-preference’ (proxy could be sex ratio at birth). Indicators on women in decision-making roles in religious institutions and traditional councils, as well as access to safe and legal abortion could be considered There could be a guideline that all indicators need to be disaggregated across axioms of diversity amongst women. Finally, the vibrancy and independence of women’s movements could be an indicator.  
By Ranjani Murthy, IDS Alumni Ambassador for India

Monday, 24 March 2014

IDS: From business card to business partner

For the past five years after my departure from MA in Poverty, I have been luckily interacting with IDS. In this post, I will look back into my work experience and share how it affects my work.

IDS is a reliable ‘business card’

“I am Ippei Tsuruga, working for Japan International Cooperation Agency, and I am also an IDS graduate.” That is how I introduce myself when I meet new people, and it works much better than just giving a boring business card.

As a staff member of a bilateral development agency, I often meet senior government officials and practitioners in developing countries. You could imagine how challenging but important the first meeting is to build up good relationships with those experienced people. Talking about IDS is always a good start for a friendly conversation. In my experience, people in the development community somehow link to IDS. Even though they are not IDS alumni, they likely have friends or colleagues from IDS or work together with IDS. All of them have a good impression about IDS and its alumni.

IDS is a powerful knowledge bank

Whenever I need information about poverty related issue, I rely on the source of IDS. In 2011, I was in Kenya to conduct a stock taking survey for formulating an assistance portfolio in response to the worst drought in 60 years. Our agency had not been involved in any interventions in arid areas. So we had no experience and no networks. I had only one week to map who was working for what projects, to find out needs, and gaps for further investment. Where should I start? That was my first reaction when I got this task.

What I did was to go to the IDS website and Eldis catalogue to learn about existing social protection mechanisms and key players for the issue in the country. I then found that the Hunger Safety Net Programme, a cash transfer scheme, was a flagship social protection scheme, and IDS’ Centre for Social Protection was involved. Having a contact, I visited the ministry in charge of the programme on the first day. It was completely successful. Beginning with the introduction mentioned above, we started very friendly discussion and I got a lot of information about the project, the overall framework of social protection in the country, and focal points at other agencies. Our mission ended up with a comprehensive assistance package at the end.

IDS is a partner

As Lawrence Haddad summarised in his blog Development Horizons, we are working on a joint research project on Quality of Growth. I join to coordinate this project and contribute one paper. I particularly like this project because of its critical perspectives.

When talking about growth, one of the biggest questions is what we expect from growth. Why do we want growth? It may be for money, savings, or wealth. Development practitioners might say for helping the poor out of poverty. Then another question comes. Growth for whom? Policy makers and development partners still tend to quickly translate ‘growth is good for the poor’, trickle-down theory. Even though they further think of the question in depth, they might be stuck at pro-poor growth discussions. Is it enough to cover the issues that we are facing today?

My passion is to work for poverty alleviation throughout my career. That is something I learned from IDS. When I left IDS in 2009, one of my dreams was to work with IDS. It has come true. IDS has given me a lot even after my graduation. I believe that my responsibility is to devote my career to poverty reduction.

This blog is by IDS alumni Ippei Tsuruga and has also been posted in The Povertist.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Welcome to 'Politics of Gender'

This is a guest blog from current IDS MA students Moe, Ana, Precious, Stacey, Mohamed, Pramita, Jungyoun, Ahra & Ulrica who are organising a mini-conference - 'The Politics of Gender' - on Monday 24 March, IDS Room 121, 10am -12pm.

  • How does the law shape our understanding of gender and citizenship? 
  • How do different ways of structuring political institutions affect how women and men participate as citizens and their chances of accessing decision-making positions and authority? 
  • What meaning do concepts like justice and human rights have in the process of implementing gender? 

These - and many other questions - have been touched upon in the module called 'Politics of Implementing Gender'. In the course, we have been talking about the basis of politics, the state, citizenship, and democracy. How do states institutionalize patriarchal values? What are the implications of the public/private divide for women's political aspirations? We have debated representation and quota systems, and reflected on the law and legal activism. There have been many good discussions and personal reflections based on the different experiences in the group, and we are now ready to take our thoughts on the politics of gender one step further and share them in a wider context. 

As part of our assessment, we have arranged a mini-conference where we shall present on topics that have emerged from the course. 

The purpose of the conference is to reflect on how the law shapes our understanding of gender, citizenship, and identity. We will explore concepts like social justice, transformative legal reform and quota systems, as well as human rights and family law. 

We want the conference to be an opportunity for reflection and sharing, and engage the audience in exploring spaces for transformative change in policy and law to achieve gender equality. 

We want to discuss, share, and learn with you! Welcome to 'Politics of Gender'!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Traction Politics is taking birth in India!

India’s the biggest democracy in the world with around 790 parliamentarians representing their constituencies and states in New Delhi and around 4,215 members of legislative assemblies in different state assemblies. Then there are numerous representatives in urban areas to municipal corporations, municipal councils and town councils.

There are no set ways, to enter into politics in India. Currently I see there are 'Five feeder lines to politics':

  • From political families or from the glamour world (sports, bollywood etc).
  • Student/college leaders Incubated by industrial tycoons to garner their interests
  • Side-kicks/Chamchas of Netas after 15-20 years of mindless dedication
  • Contractors  - who enter into politics to get more govt. construction business 
  • IAS officers turned politicians

Someone from middle class, from a non-political family background has neither means nor any incentives to enter politics.

The anti corruption campaign started by Baba Ramdev and later joined by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and General V.K. Singh has a left a huge residual effect – It created a market/demand for political candidates with clean image and development focus. Maybe such instincts were always there in some/many among the Indian voters, but these campaigns have further strengthened the thought. This is the only tiny space opened, where normal people can engage with politics. I call it “traction politics” and it seems to be taking birth in India!

By Shantanu Gupta, IDS Alumni and development consultant based in India

Monday, 3 March 2014

Eyes to the Future: Why we need a Scholarship Fund

By Anna Shepherd, IDS Partnership Fundraising Manager

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela 

How true this is.

And we all know how much there is in the world that needs to be changed for the better. For every action that must take place – to eradicate poverty, to tackle injustice, to promote respect and equality – there must be a sound underlying theory and strategy, a logical and evidence-based rationale that will win over any doubters and ensure sustainability.

IDS research and teaching provides the underpinning for development theory and action. Our international Alumni go forward equipped to engage with global issues, to make those changes and to go on to teach others.

We receive many applications for our prestigious development masters programmes and requests for PhD supervision. But in too many instances talented men and women are unable to take up their well deserved offer of a place due to financial constraints. This situation produces a class and geographical imbalance amongst our students and unfairly curtails talent and commitment. It is something that our Alumni, students and staff recognise and often identify with – many of us did not get where we are today without a helping hand. (I myself went to university with 2 small children and my PhD was only made possible by substantial support from a well-known medical charity.)

So who are these students who need our support? Let me give you two of many examples:

Twice, a young woman who works in advocacy and support for sex workers in South Africa has applied to IDS and twice she has been accepted. Her NGO work involves striving for human rights, and supporting policy, legal and other interventions; a masters from IDS would both strengthen and inform the important on-the-ground work that she does day in and day out. On each occasion she has tried valiantly to raise the necessary money for her tuition and living costs, only to fail to secure the full amount needed.

Another gifted young man from Pakistan was the fortunate recipient of a fees only scholarship from an outside agency, but this first class candidate had his visa refused by the British High Commission as he was unable to raise the money to make up the difference between the scholarship he had been granted and the full amount required to cover his maintenance. He is from a family that is not well off and lost his father as a young child. As a local government worker, his salary is simply not enough.

The loss of such talent, of the opportunity to educate and collaborate with strategically placed men and women who can make a difference in some of the most challenging corners of the globe, is a loss to us all and to our collective future.  

This is why we have the IDS Scholarship Fund. It is the right to education, the striving for betterment of the individual and of society that has impassioned all of us here at IDS, not least our director, Lawrence Haddad, who has recently requested that any tokens of respect and admiration being considered for his imminent departure, be translated into donations to the IDS Scholarship Fund.

Join us. Make a real difference. To one. To many.