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Monday, November 28, 2016

Business & Finance Sri Lanka's Rebirth 100% trusted

Joseph E. Stiglitz

Sri Lanka has been deservedly praised for the progress it has made since the end of the war against the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009. The economy has grown at an average annual rate of 6.7 percent, and education and health statistics are impressive.
All developing countries face myriad challenges, but this is especially the case for a country that has suffered an intense 30-year civil war. The government will need to set priorities; but success will require a comprehensive approach.
Underlying wars, such as the fight with the Tamil Tigers are, typically, social and economic grievances such as real or perceived discrimination, and the failure of government to address wealth and income disparities adequately. Thus, more than transitional justice is required in Sri Lanka (or, to take another example, in Colombia, where peace with the FARC guerillas seems increasingly likely). What is required is full integration of the Tamils, Sri Lanka's embittered minority, into the country's economic life.
Markets on their own won't solve this problem. Sri Lanka will need balanced affirmative-action programmes that address the various dimensions of economic disparity and are attuned to the inequalities within the Tamil population. It will do no good to give a leg up to Sri Lanka's many rich Tamils, while leaving poor, lower-caste Tamils further behind.
Economic integration of the northern Tamil region will require heavy public investment in infrastructure, education, technology, and much else. Indeed, such investments are needed for the entire country. And yet tax revenue as a share of GDP is only 11.6 percent, about one-third that of Brazil.
Like many other developing countries, Sri Lanka simply enjoyed the fruits of high commodity prices in recent years (tea and rubber account for 22 percent of exports). Sri Lanka should have used the commodity boom to diversify its export base; the previous government of Mahinda Rajapaksa did not. With export prices down, and with tourism likely to suffer from the global economic downturn, a balance-of-payments crisis looms.
Some suggest that Sri Lanka turn to the International Monetary Fund, promising belt tightening. That would be hugely unpopular. Too many countries have lost their economic sovereignty in IMF programs. Besides, the IMF would almost surely tell Sri Lankan officials not that they're spending too much, but that they're taxing too little.
Fortunately, there are many taxes that the authorities can impose that would increase efficiency, growth, and equity. Sri Lanka has abundant sunshine and wind; a carbon tax would raise considerable revenue, increase aggregate demand, move the country toward a green economy, and improve the balance of payments. A progressive property tax would encourage more resources to go into productive investments, while reducing inequality and, again, boosting revenues substantially. A tax on luxury goods, most of which are imported, would serve similar goals.
Some in the country, citing inadequate inflows of foreign direct investment (despite marked improvement in the business climate), argue for lower corporate taxes. But such tax concessions are relatively ineffective in bringing in the kind of long-term investment that Sri Lanka needs; so to embrace them would needlessly eviscerate the already weak tax base.
Likewise, another frequently proposed strategy, public-private partnerships, may not be as beneficial as advertised. Such partnerships usually entail the government bearing the risk, while the private sector takes the profits. Typically, the implicit cost of capital obtained in this way is very high. And while the private sector can, and frequently does, renege on its contractual obligations (through bankruptcy) – or force a renegotiation under the threat of reneging – the government cannot, especially when an international investment agreement is in place.
Twenty-first century development strategies need to be different. They should be based on learning – learning to produce, learning to export, and learning to learn. There can be leapfrogging: in Sri Lanka's case, the benefits (apart from direct employment) to be gained from certain low-skilled manufacturing stages like garments may be limited. Given its education levels, Sri Lanka may be able to move directly into more technologically advanced sectors, high-productivity organic farming, and higher-end tourism.
But if Sri Lanka pursues such activities, it will need to ensure good environmental policies for the entire island. That will necessitate sound urban planning. Sri Lanka is fortunate to have a low level of urbanisation today; but this is likely to change in the next two decades. This gives the country the opportunity to create model cities, based on the adequate provision of public services and sound public transport and attuned to the cost of carbon and climate change.

Sri Lanka, beautiful and ideally located in the Indian Ocean, is in a position to become an economic hub for the entire region – a financial center and a safe haven for investment in a geopolitically turbulent part of the world. But this won't happen by relying excessively on markets or underinvesting in public goods. Fortunately, with peace and the emergence of representative political institutions, Sri Lanka today has a better opportunity than ever to make the right choices.

Maintaining support for reconciliation 100% trusted

Jehan Perera

THE government has been responsive to public pressure in multifold ways. It amended the budget in 16 different areas due to protests by trade unions and affected groups even though the budget deficit grew by more billions. It is investigating a case of abduction by one of its members. It has been responsive to concerns expressed by civil society about the absence of participation in both the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes. Prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a 24-member committee from political and civil society to obtain views on constitutional reforms from the public. This committee will seek oral and written submissions from the public and a report will be handed to a cabinet sub-committee on constitutional reforms. In addition foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera has appointed an 11 member committee to discuss and provide input on issues pertaining to the Geneva process.
It is important in a democracy that the people believe their government is prepared to both listen to them and change its decisions accordingly. On the other hand, the government has to balance the national interest as against the interests of specific groups, and to look at short term in relation to long term interests both for itself and the country. Embedded in both the constitutional reform process and the transitional justice process are potentially explosive issues which can be exploited by extreme nationalists and opposition parties for political gain. Even at present the issues highlighted in the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that Sri Lanka co-sponsored in Geneva, which relate also to truth seeking, reparations and institutional reforms, are being distorted as being solely about war crimes and taking war heroes to The Hague for trial by international tribunals.
The issue of equitable sharing of power between the main ethnic and religious communities who live in the country is another controversial issue that has a long history of conflict. The positions on the sharing of power that each community has is unacceptable to the others. A compromise is necessary. However, in the past the representatives of these communities would sit across the table and attempt to negotiate. This was most notably the case between successive governments and the various representatives of the Tamil people. At the present time, the fact that the government is a national unity government, and has the two main parties within it, and enjoying the support of all the ethnic minority parties, provides an unprecedented opportunity for consensual decision making. Instead of sitting across the table and bargaining with each other, this time there is an opportunity to sit on the same side of the table and address common problems together.

Different interests
HOWEVER, there is a gap between what is happening at the decision making levels of society and at the community level that needs to be noted. In the last days of 2015, I was in Anuradhapura to discuss issues of reconciliation with community leaders drawn from diverse backgrounds, including religious clergy, school teachers and local government officials. Looming large in any discussion in Colombo on the topic of reconciliation would be the issue of the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, which the Sri Lankan government decided to co-sponsor, and the issue of inter-ethnic power sharing when it comes to constitutional reform. Accordingly the key components for the government to take on would be the establishment of a truth seeking mechanism, judicial mechanism to ensure accountability for past crimes, compensation for victims and institutional reforms to ensure that there will be no repeat of the past practices that led to conflict.
However, at the Anuradhapura discussion it became clear that the interest of the participants was not confined to the UN resolution and on whether the judicial mechanism should be hybrid or not, and whether confessing the truth is part of the Sri Lankan cultural heritage or not. Even before there could be a discussion on the Geneva process and its implications, a Buddhist monk from the audience interrupted to ask whether not giving school children their school uniforms, and instead giving their parents a voucher to purchase their own school uniform, was a practice of good governance. This comment was followed by an observation by a school teacher present at the discussion who said that it was an inefficient use of the school principal’s time, as he had to certify the receipts that the parents had brought to prove their purchase of the school uniform — there being thousands of such claims to be certified.
Another issue that was of particular interest to the participants was of the fertiliser subsidy, which was one of the 16 instances of reversals in the government budget, though evidently not to the satisfaction of the farming community. The government decided to convert the fertiliser subsidy in to an allowance of Rs. 25,000 for farmers who cultivate less than 2 hectares of land. Even though the overuse of low grade fertiliser provided at highly subsidised rates in the past is believed to be responsible for the kidney disease prevalent in the Anuradhapura area, it was clear that the reduction of the fertiliser subsidy was able to generate considerable emotion. It was such tangible issues, close to the lives of the people, that the participants at the discussion on reconciliation wished to discuss more fully. This preference will have to be taken into consideration in any mass educational campaign that is intended to build the support base for reconciliation in the country.

Different impacts
THE message from Anuradhapura was that issues of constitutional reform and transitional justice, important though they are for national reconciliation, for the ethnic minorities and for the international community, are of less immediate consequence to the lives of the majority of people who are not national level decision makers or seek to influence them. What is of more consequence to them are matters of economic resources that impact on their lives on a daily basis. School uniforms, fertiliser subsidy, kidney disease and viable livelihoods are priority concerns that also need attention and responsiveness if the government is to obtain the political support of the people regardless of successes in constitutional reform and transitional justice.
Unfortunately the perception amongst the people at the grassroots level is that the government is favouring the rich over the poor. The lifting of the tax exempt income from Rs 500,000 to Rs 2 million a year was an entirely unexpected bonanza to those who are relatively well off in Sri Lankan terms. On the other hand, the increase in tax from Rs 2 million to Rs 10 million on collection centres for toddy will have a negative impact on the earnings of toddy tappers, who are amongst the low income earners and who are spread throughout the country.
There is a need for the government to follow the model it is adopting with regard to obtaining the views of the people on constitutional reform and transitional justice and utilise the services of civil society organisations that are in close contact with the economic life of the people, such as the Sarvodaya Movement. They can be a part of government mandated committees, as in the case of the civil society committees appointed to ensure people’s participation in the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes. There is also a need to ensure greater public and academic discussion on issues of the economy and on ensuring an improved environment for economic investments to be made. At the present time the discussion is more on issues of crooked deals and corruption rather than on creating an investment-friendly environment that could contribute to the economy. Progress on reconciliation will be easier if the economy is also growing and contributing to the betterment of the lives of all people irrespective of their ethnicity.
Jehan Perera is the executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

NO STRINGS ATTACHED An execution's dangerous ripple effect 100% trusted

Aasha Mehreen Amin

The execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, along with 46 other men accused of being involved in terror attacks and Al Qaida, has taken most observers by surprise. It may be interpreted as a deliberate show of Sunni power in the intensifying sectarian crisis in the Middle East. The resulting violence that led to protesters setting fire to the Saudi Embassy and the ultimate severance of diplomatic ties between the Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, is likely to escalate the volatility of the region and will be a major cause of worry for the world in general. With the two countries already involved in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen this execution may well be the catalyst for making the war on terror an even more complicated affair than it already is.
Human Rights Watch and other organisations have condemned the execution saying that the country's justice system was 'flawed with the absence of an appeal code' and that the terrorism law in Saudi Arabia is too broad and vague allowing for anyone to be accused of being a terrorist. In Nimr's case, he was accused of "inciting protest and … discord". His arrest in 2012 was hardly surprising in a country where dissent can be punished with death. He was a Shiite leader who led many anti-government demonstrations and had openly criticised the royal family for what he termed as discrimination against the Shiite community in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to death in 2014. HRW has alleged that there was no lawyer present during Nimr's interrogation and trial which no doubt, makes his execution even more unacceptable to the European Union and also embarrassing for long time ally, the US, which has already lost some of its charm after a nuclear deal with Iran.
But what has enraged Shiites around the world especially Iranians is that Nimr was lumped with AL Qaida operatives who had been found guilty of carrying out terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. In the Shiite world therefore, Nimr is a martyred hero who had to give his life for protesting the violation of rights of his religious community. Saudi Arabia's stance is that Nimr was trying to instigate secession and he had been punished according to the law of the land (Sharia Law) and due process was maintained, the carrying out of the sentence along with 46 others being merely coincidental. The timing however, raises questions regarding what exactly Saudi Arabia's role will be in the complex crises brewing in the region. In December, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman declared the formation of a 34 nation coalition to fight terrorism militarily, with Bangladesh joining on a false impression, Pakistan not even knowing it had been included and Indonesia – a Sunni Muslim dominated country rejecting it. Although the Saudi coalition against terrorism seems to have faded away from public discourse, Bangladesh must unequivocally, disengage from it. It must also stay clear of the sectarian conflict as it reaches a new dimension provoked by the execution.
The presumptuous declaration and the fact that none of the Shia dominated countries such as Iran and Iraq were invited to join, indicated an attempt to create a purely Sunni fraternity that would be ready to use military power in the region according to the briefing by the Saudi Deputy Prince. Whether this was just a reaction to Iran and Iraq's growing involvement in the war against ISIL or for other reasons is not clear. Now with the execution of Nimr and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring that Saudi rulers will face “the divine hand of revenge” for their actions, the Shia- Sunni divide is bound to grow wider and more belligerent from both sides.

It is clear that the Muslim world especially, has to remain united in trying to combat terror groups like Al Qaida and ISIL. And individually most Muslim dominated countries, including Bangladesh, are quite aware of the crucial need to step up their efforts in terms of counterterrorism. Saudi Arabia, in the wake of innumerable terrorist attacks since 2003, has had a programme for the 'rehabilitation for convicted fighters' – young, radicalised Saudis who have been found guilty of terrorist activities who are 're-educated' to shun their extremist views and come back to normal. The programme is claimed by officials to be 100 percent successful. But its decision to execute a Shiite religious leader, who apparently only used the war of words not weapons, and its official severance of ties with Iran has created the danger of further tensions between Shias and Sunnis within Saudi Arabia and in other countries like Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, already afflicted with the disease. It will thus mean more sectarian violence and a perfect environment for ISIS and Al Qaida to radicalise young people, recruit them and carry out more attacks. Either way it spells disaster for both the western and eastern hemispheres.

President Obama visits a US Mosque 100% trusted

M. Serajul Islam

When Barak Obama was elected as the first black President of America in 2008 on the message of change for which the whole of the country was clamouring, the rest of the world was also excited. The reason was because by invading Iraq on false premises, President Bush had turned the United States and the world upside down. The destruction of Iraq in which hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed as “collateral damage” and failure to rebuild a destroyed nation have been the direct reasons for the birth of ISIS. The trillions of US dollars spent for the Iraq misadventure encouraged and led by the neocons advising President Bush was also the main reason that had pushed the US and global economy into recession.
The Muslims everywhere were also as excited as the rest of the USA and the world with the call for change by President Obama. His message of change was interpreted in the Muslim world as releasing them from any responsibility for the actions of the perpetrators of 9/11 that was illogically, irrationally and forcibly tied around their necks. The Muslims believed that President Obama’s call for change would also bring them closer with the West. They also believed that he would take one of the fundamental reasons that have aggravated the West-Islam conflict namely the Israel-Palestine conflict seriously and resolve it under his leadership.
Thus, Muslims around the world were excited when he went to Egypt in 2009 and made from one of the oldest seats of learning in the world, the Al-Azhar University, dismantled the neo-con view on Islam. He quoted from the Qur’an to establish that Islam is a religion of peace and that the acts of terror in which some followers of Islam have indulged had roots in their colonial experiences where their colonial masters who were Christians had imposed injustices upon them. The President nevertheless stated that the violent acts of a few but potent force within Islam that led to the 9/11 attacks on US soil had justifiably bred “fear and mistrust” in his country about Islam and Muslims.

 He weighed these facts and concluded that the religion of Islam and its glorious past, when reflected upon dispassionately, should convince everyone that it has been Islam “ that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment” and that “throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.” The President also touched upon USA’s roots of friendship with Islam in its founding years. And he urged strongly for a new beginning between USA and Islam based on history and in that context considered it of the utmost importance for his country to withdraw from Iraq to “leave Iraq to the Iraqis” and resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict that he considered a major source of tension.
Unfortunately, the President did not follow up on the promises he had made to the Muslim world in Cairo with the same conviction with which he had spoken. He did not take any serious initiative on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He withdrew US troops from Iraq but by the time that was done, the occupation had caused the damages and the seeds of future tension were already sown. Thus many now conclude that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed during the occupation without anyone bearing responsibility and the failure of establishing democracy in Iraq have been the twin causes for the growth of ISIS.
In his last year as President, he has watched and perhaps regretted that he did not follow up on his Cairo promises. Had he done so, he would not have seen the utter depths to which anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States has fallen these days making the neocons surrounding President Bush appear innocent. While there could have been some excuse to the anti-Muslim sentiments in the US following the 9/11 attacks because of the sheer magnitude of the violence that was a bull’s eye attack on US sovereignty; the bigotry that is now being witnessed in the United States led by candidates in the Republican Party who are aspiring to be the President of the country is unimaginable and unbelievable. True, largely under the influence of the media hype, ISIS has become a live threat to the majority of Americans to which ISIS barbarity shown around the world on the Internet has also contributed. Yet the truth is that so far, ISIS terrorists have not set foot in the United States and little has happened that would even be comparable to what the 9/11 terrorists led by Al-Qaeda had done. True also is the fact that ISIS’ terrorism has been horrific including its beheading of US journalists in captivity like James Folly but its victims have almost all been Muslims and non-Muslims under its territorial control. And all Muslim countries have condemned ISIS’ terrorism and have unequivocally stated that its actions are the antithesis of Islam.
Yet, led by Donald Trump with the pliant US media have created more security concerns from ISIS in the minds of Americans than there was following 9/11 attacks. President Bush who initially had faulted by his “crusade” comment in his first media reaction following 9/11 attacks immediately afterwards made serious efforts with politicians on both sides of the US political divide to underline that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks did not represent Islam or Muslims. Not so this time when Donald Trump in particular and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in collusion decided to use fear of Americans about ISIS for the new wave of absurd Islamophobia in their respective efforts to win the Republican ticket. According to White House Press Secretary, their anti-Muslim stance has been the poison that led to President Obama’s visit to the Baltimore mosque to assure American Muslims that they are as valued as US citizens as others who make up the US nation.
President Obama rebutted the current anti-Muslim rhetoric in clear and unequivocal language. He said:  “Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: You fit right here …you’re right where you belong. You’re part of America too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.” He called the anti-Muslim rhetoric, as bigotry that he said had no place in the United States and that all Americans together “got to show that America truly protects all faiths. As we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of the terrorists themselves.”
There was a sense of urgency in the President’s defence of Muslims in America not just because the bigotry of Donald Trump and others contradicted American values enshrined in its constitution but also because such bigotry is in total denial of understanding of Islam and Muslims and in particular, American Muslims. On the issues of equating Islam with terrorism and then making Muslims in America pay for it, reason and rationality, knowledge and reality have been trashed for narrow, parochial and hateful political agenda. American Muslims today are not just peaceful citizens but one of the most prosperous community in the country who are aware that their prosperity is dependent entirely on American values that they could deny only by putting at stake their own prosperity and their future.
President Obama was statesmanlike in his address in the Baltimore mosque. He spoke for over 40 minutes and the address was shown live on TV. It should put some sense to the majority of the Americans although it is not expected to have any impact on the bigots that are being motivated by the Republican presidential candidates. Nevertheless, the speech from the President though it came late as President Bush had pointed out was a case of better late than never. It is bound to have an impact on the saner section of Americans. Outside America it will restore America’s credibility as a nation upon whom the rest of the world could depend on to respect human values that are proudly enshrined in its constitution.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email is

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teesta deal yet unsettled Inking of a clear deal has unfortunately been delayed yet again

“Highly productive and fruitful” talks are meant to deliver results, and not to procrastinate in making closing decisions. The recently ended Indo-Bangla foreign secretary-level talks have ended by holding talks and discussing a number of bilateral issues but, by sidelining the issue of implementing the fair share of Teesta river water. However, despite Bangladesh’s repeated attempts the meeting held in Delhi actually didn’t bear fruit, at least on the topic of Teesta deal, and have kept the issue pending for future discussions.

In the wake of successful transfer and exchange of the long awaited undecided enclaves last year, we were hopeful to see the Teesta deal to materialise within 2015, but that didn’t happen mainly due to India’s domestic political disputes and internal conflicts of interests among its states.
Apparently Bangladesh will have to wait longer to get her correct share of water. The abrupt drying up and near death situation of the once mighty Teesta has already affected the lives and livelihood of the northern region severely. Also the environment and ecology of that region is fast changing in the course of a desertification process. Barely 450 cusecs of water was available at Teesta’s Dalia point in the first 10 days of February last year and now that amount has dwindled even further. However, the situation cannot wait to get worse for further “fruitful bilateral meetings and dialogues”. Moreover, we expect our biggest neighbour to comprehend the gravity of a geographical calamity it has created for us.
Nevertheless, coupled with the West Bengal Chief Minister Delhi should also take this into serious consideration. Promised by the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and assured by the current PM Narndra Modi , the Teesta deal shouldn’t have taken longer to materialize, though we are fully aware of the causes behind its delay.
Placing the harsh realities of India’s internal disagreements on top, why should Bangladesh be a victim of it? Moreover, she is not asking the share of water to be judged from humanitarian perspectives, she is demanding for something which is naturally and lawfully hers.
India being on the upper riparian has to decide fast and realistically to implement the Teesta deal before our northern region turns into a desert. From the last secretary level talks our Indian counterparts, though edgy but welcomed open discussions on joint water resources management. Both sides are also working on a meeting at the ministerial-level combining with Joint River Commissions. This meeting should take place soon and be made more regular.
Given the history of our friendly and cooperative relations our neighbour has to acknowledge our equitable rights over all Trans-boundary rivers including Teesta and fast track processes to realize equivalent water sharing.
Water cannot be a political issue.

**Dried up Teesta hits livelihood

S Dilip Roy

“We used to have bumper crops here,” says farmer Mahir Uddin of Char Kalmati village in Lalmonirhat. “The Teesta River used to flow year-round but nowadays there's not enough water in winter for optimal agriculture.”
Across the villages situated on Teesta river shoals in Lalmonirhat, the outlook is similarly gloomy. Rachima Begum, a farmer of Gobordhan village located on a shoal in Aditmari upazila says because they need to access underground irrigation water by machine, farming has become less profitable.
“The people of the shoals need never face poverty if the river had water year-round,” she says.
The Teesta, which can be up to 2.5 kilometres wide, is currently reduced to a width of about 70 metres, with water only knee-deep.
“The river is all shoal and no water,” locals complain, as they describe how they can walk for miles along sand deposit stretches which now connect many island communities to the mainland.
It's bad news for boatmen like Noor Hossain of Char Parulia village in Hatibandha upazila who finds himself unemployed entirely. “It was unthinkable only a few years ago,” he says, “that people could easily cross the River Teesta by foot here.”
His colleague Abdul Gony, of the same village, blames the unilateral construction of the river barrage across the Teesta at India's Gazaldoba, around 100 kilometres upstream of the Teesta Barrage Irrigation project at Dalia in Lalmonirhat's Hatibandha upazila, for the poor river condition.
Over one lakh people live on 95 shoals in five upazilas in the district and with boats impractical they are often compelled to walk several kilometres across sand stretches to pursue mainland-based livelihoods.
Meanwhile Ranjit Chandra Das of Char Kalmati, by family heritage a fisherman, is also suffering. “Once I could catch about 10 kilograms of boirali fish every day,” he says, referring to the Indian flying barb, an endemic species traditionally caught in the area. “These days I can only catch about half a kilogram.”
The species, which is at risk of extinction, no longer breeds in the river for lack of water, he adds.
Lalmonirhat's executive engineer of the Bangladesh Water Development Board, Shibendu Khastagir, says the water level fell sharply in September, with all the district's rivers drying at an alarming rate.

Farmer, fisherman, boatman and general shoal dweller alike, people here hope and wait for the government to take much-needed measures, including the finalisation of a fair water sharing treaty with India, in order to restore the year-round navigability that can alleviate suffering.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Four reasons to raise women’s pay that should make men happy

 by Lynn Stuart Parramore

EQUAL pay for women doing the same work as men should be a no brainer because it’s a matter of fairness. But this isn’t just about sisters getting what they deserve or even a convenient political talking point. Equal pay helps everyone, and ever more Americans are voicing their concern about continued disparities.
According to an Ipsos poll conducted for ThomsonReuters from February 27 to March 2, 66 per cent of respondents said that women are not paid the same as men for equal work, with 61 per cent of Republicans, 77 per cent of Democrats and 65 per cent of independents sharing that view. Nearly half of those surveyed viewed the issue as ‘very important’.
The fact is, equal pay benefits men and women, young and old, Democrat and Republican, and everybody in between. Here are four reasons why anyone who wants to see a thriving America should get on board the equal-pay train right away.

Economic growth
WHEN a woman takes home a smaller paycheque, it puts a crimp in her spending power. It’s time politicians in Washington recognised what marketers in America have been clear on for some time: Women are the main consumers in their homes. A whopping 85 per cent of purchasing decisions are made by women. They decide on most everyday items, like groceries and clothing, as well as on half of all automobiles, home-improvement products and consumer electronics purchased in the United States. Over the next decade, women are expected to control two-thirds of consumer spending, according to a 2012 study by strategic communications firm FleishmanHillard and Hearst Magazines.
If women made more, the additional money flowing toward goods and services would act as a much-needed stimulus to a US economy struggling to gain momentum. Just how much? In an interview with the Huffington Post, economist Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, calculated it would be enough to expand the economy by at least 3 to 4 percentage points — an effect even greater when you take into account the fact that pay hikes would entice more women to join the workforce.

Strengthening the middle class
WANT to help the incredible shrinking American middle class? Paying women fairly would go a long way toward that goal. Smaller paycheques, according to economist Evelyn Murphy, founder of The WAGE Project, cost the average full-time US woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life. With record numbers of women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle-class families, including the men and children who rely on their contributions.
In 2010, economist Heather Boushey testified before Congress that the typical American wife brings home around a third of her family’s total income. Boushey further noted that the trend in recent decades has been increased upward mobility for families in which the wife works. This additional income has made the key difference between families who are able to pull ahead economically and those who fall behind. Pay women their fair share, and more families can join the middle class and have a shot at economic security.

Attacking big poverty
RESEARCH from the Brookings Institution paints a disturbing picture of US poverty stuck at record levels, with the number of poor Americans growing by 5 million between 2008 and 2012. Data collected by Maria Shriver in her annual Shriver Report shows that a third of American women either live in poverty or are just on the brink.
Why do women experience an unequal burden of poverty? As economist Hartmann and her colleagues have observed, continued pay inequality is part of the answer.
Just paying women fairly, according to a regression analysis of federal data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, would cut the poverty rate for working women in half. Women of colour are particularly hurt by pay disparities; African-American women earn only 64 cents to a white man’s dollar, and Latinas take home a mere 54 cents.
The wage gap puts a terrible burden on families with only one female earner, which particularly hits African-American and Latino communities, where women are likely to support families on their own. The wage gap also increases the likelihood that women of retirement age will slip into poverty because their pensions and Social Security checks are shrunken by years of lower pay.

  • Global competitiveness
  • Pay inequality is a serious challenge to US competitiveness; it keeps women out of the workforce and renders them less likely to contribute the full benefit of their skills and talents to the economy. A 2014 report by the World Economic Forum, however, shows that the United States ranks 65th in wage equality out of 142 countries studied. The International Labour Organisation’s Global Wage Report 2014/15 shows that the United States was at the very bottom of the rankings on wage inequality out of 38 countries surveyed, behind places you might guess — Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Germany — but also behind Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia.
  • Clearly, something has gone wrong with US policy. One reason countries that rank high on pay equality got there is that they don’t just enact a piece of legislation and call it a day. They are constantly coming up with new policies, amending existing laws and promoting initiatives that attack this persistent problem.
  • Denmark, for example, passed the Act on Equal Pay for Men and Women in 1976. But it didn’t stop there — the act has been amended several times, most recently in 2008. Every third year, the minister of labour and the minister of gender equality put out a report on measures that guarantee equal pay. Denmark stays on the case. Washington could take a lesson there.
  • Republicans have blocked legislation that would help ensure that a woman is paid as much as a man for doing the same work. Democrats have seized the issue as one that will appeal to their base as 2016 approaches.
  • But if ever there were an issue that ought to be bipartisan, this is it. The idea of pay equality is about dollars and cents as much as about common sense. America can’t afford to lag behind.

***Missing link in women’s rights

Yakin Erturk

The continuation of the war on women in an escalated and violent fashion in many parts of the world has provoked me to write a book reflecting on my human rights monitoring experiences of the past two decades. One of the central challenges of the book, Violence Without Borders, has been to unpack the hierarchy of rights that deny women access to critical resources so needed in enhancing their capacity to resist transgressions on their rights. This article stems from a chapter of the book which argues that introducing a feminist political economy approach into the analysis can unravel the missing link in women’s human rights.
The problem
The recognition of violence against women (VAW) as a human rights violation was a turning point in the human rights movement. The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women affirmed that ‘…violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and… violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position….’
Since the adoption of the declaration, violence against women rose to prominence on national and international agendas at the expense of compromising its feminist content as the responses to the problem became dominated by a welfare oriented approach. Thus VAW is treated in a selective, compartmentalised and isolated manner, largely disconnected from gender inequality and women’s socio-economic rights, which impedes their capability to escape violence.
Although Article 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urges states to ensure women’s enjoyment of their economic and social rights, governments have failed to adopt measures to enhance women’s empowerment and access to productive resources. The detachment of VAW within the human rights movement from the broader struggles for social and economic equality, eradication of poverty and unemployment, livelihood security etc, reduced women’s human rights issues to one of ‘protection’ and women into victims in need of being saved.
Feminist economists’ and women’s rights advocates for long have emphasised the importance of women’s economic autonomy and called for integrating a gender perspective into macro-economic policies. This has become particularly urgent under neo-liberalism and the international financial crisis. The likely adverse impact of the crisis on women’s employment, livelihood security, the realisation of the full range of their rights, including the potential for increase in violence against them as well as on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to slash poverty, hunger, infant and maternal mortality, and illiteracy by 2015, has occupied the debates.
The exposure of socio-economic rights as the missing link within the women’s human rights movement made integration of a political economy perspective into the feminist approach to women’s right compelling. Political economy offers a materialist understanding of society that reveals the interconnections among the economic, political, and cultural/ideological spheres and incorporates race, class, and culture into feminist analysis. Such an analysis; (i) goes beyond mere distributional aspects of access to economic and social rights; (ii) identifies discriminatory policies, practices and entitlement structures that determine the gendered manifestations of these rights; and (iii) draws attention to the feminist critique of the hierarchy of rights resulting from the differential treatment of ‘first generation’ and ‘second generation’ rights, ie the twin covenants.
The assumption that violation of rights, poverty, and exploitation is not random, but embedded in structural inequalities, is the central principle of the feminist political economy perspective.

Unravelling structural hierarchies
Power operates not only through coercion but also through the structured relations of production and reproduction that govern the distribution and use of resources, benefits, privileges and authority in the home and the society at large. Identifying how the institutional and ideological formations of society shape gender identities and statuses and where the boundaries of rights and freedoms are drawn provides viable entry points for altering and re-configuring these structures towards achieving equality.
Applying a political economy approach to women’s rights has been particularly useful in unravelling three interrelated structural factors that underlie women’s subordination and heighten the risk of violence against them.
The first factor is sexual-division of labour within public and private spheres, with corresponding patriarchal gender ideologies. Within this context, women are held primarily responsible for unremunerated and often invisible work in the household, thus undermining their bargaining power vis-à-vis men and other women acting on behalf of male power. Similarly, care related work in the labour market, where women are concentrated, is also devalued. Globalisation has extended sexual-division of labour to the transnational realm and as women from developing countries migrated to provide care services for families in wealthier countries reproductive work became internationalised.
The strict division of roles in the domestic sphere constrains women’s public sphere participation and limits the economic opportunities in domestic or transnational markets, thus entrapping many women into potentially abusive and violent environments.
The second structural factor concerns neo-liberal market forces. In the contemporary global era, capitalist competition has fuelled the demand for cheap, flexible and unregulated labour to maximise profits locally and transnationally. Within this context, the relocation of industries to the periphery disrupted, at times destroyed, local economies and unleashed a ‘free-floating labour-force’ in search for alternative sources of livelihood. Markets, intersecting with gender hierarchies in developing countries encountered dislocated young women and drew them into wage employment in export processing zones or in the care/service sectors of global cities on a scale unseen before.
This phenomenon, often referred to as ‘feminisation of migration’ and ‘feminisation of labour-force’, had contradictory consequences for women. While women became empowered by gaining independence and autonomy from the family, due to the volatile nature of work conditions new vulnerabilities and risks confronted them. At the same time, women’s integration into the labour market, more often than not, destabilised the patriarchal family and created a crisis in masculinity, increasing the risk of domestic violence.
Neo-liberal policies also created an enforcement gap in both property rights and labour contracts as state capacity to regulate the labour market and to tax profits eroded. Lack of enforcement coupled with the withdrawal of the state from social services created a vacuum in human security at large. Unskilled and marginalised women, who lack access to resources and basic capabilities, became particularly burdened and poverty stricken.
Community based enforcement and support mechanisms were quick to respond to the vacuum left from the withering away of the welfare state, thus strengthening communal/tribalising tendencies and allowing non-state actors to seize the opportunity for legitimate representation of identity politics as well as monopolising service provision  to impoverished groups. These trends have reinforced the culture/religion-based discourses that challenge the universality of human rights norms and reject women’s claims for rights and equality.
The third structural factor is related to the gendered dimensions of war, peace and security, which are intimately connected to patriarchy and the neo-liberal global economy.  Violent conflicts, often arising from contestation over land, resources and power are indicative of shifts in hegemonic relations locally as well as globally. When warfare strikes, VAW by state and non-state actors, perpetuated with impunity, becomes heightened, generalised and the norm. Sexual violence as a weapon of war became a salient feature of recent conflicts.
Women alone, no doubt, bear the burden of war, which is often indiscriminate of sex, age, colour or creed. However, it is the systematic, patterned and odious ways, in which they are targeted, both within the community and by the ‘enemy’ side, is what makes their case in need of scrutiny.
Values that motivate war do not necessarily preclude women as soldiers, just as the fact that the ‘motherhood’ motive does not rule out war-prone acts. Women are known to have chosen to take up arms for various reasons, including protecting their children and themselves.
Conflict and war and the security agendas impose trade-offs between military spending and spending for development and human rights protection, particularly that of women. In the post-conflict phase investment in reconstruction projects are prioritised over human security concerns and may involve privatisation of public services and infrastructure that often threatens household survival and places greater burden on women’s labour.
A political economy analysis unveils the intimate link between peace and justice; peace without justice is not sustainable. The prioritisation of national security and electoral machinery by governments over human security in many post-conflict situations has proven to be destabilising in the long run. When women are excluded from access justice, physical security and socio-economic rights, the distinction of war and peace may not be all that meaningful. The war on women transcends conventional notions of  war and peace.

Hierarchy of rights
The preferential treatment of civil and political rights (ICCPR) over economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR), stands as a major constraint to transforming the conditions that underlie gender inequality and VAW.  The Committee on ICESCR noted at the 1993 Vienna Conference that, ‘…states and international community as a whole continue to tolerate all too often breaches of economic, social, and cultural rights, which, if they occurred in relation to civil and political rights, would provoke expression of horror and outrage and would lead to concerted calls for immediate remedial action’.
States continue to perceive civil and political rights as ‘obligatory’ and economic and social rights largely as ‘aspirational’. It is assumed that the latter can only be progressively realised depending on the resources available to a country, where as the former rights must be guaranteed immediately without compromise. Critics have argued that progressive realisation also applies to civil and political rights as both Covenants impose positive duties on governments in their effort to comply with their obligations without discrimination. Budgetary implications of the implementation of human rights norms cannot excuse a state of non-discriminatory compliance with its obligation to improve the socio-economic conditions of people within its jurisdiction, or to adopt macro-economic policies that might undermine the requirements of the ICESCR.

Shared responsibility for women’s human rights
Despite these human rights obligations, states in responding to violence against women have tended to focus more on reforming juridical and legal structures, and less on altering economic and social structures. Combating VAW and ensuring women’s human rights imposes a positive obligation on states to effectively comply with their obligations under the twin covenants. In the context of global restructuring and financial crises, economic and social rights are particularly crucial – not only to women’s enjoyment of their rights, but also for preventing the deepening of gender disparities.
While patterns of economic destabilisation associated with neo-liberal economic policies that facilitate the integration of global markets have varied from country to country, inequalities and vulnerabilities for women, including opportunities for their access to paid work have shown similar cross-country trends. Gender inequality, unequal entitlement structures, economic insecurities of global capitalism, as well as weakening state capacity for regulation and distributional justice have to a large extent determined how women experienced globalisation. Poor women who are systematically denied access to economic social rights are particularly at risk of greater hardship and abuse.

It is important to note here that globalisation has increased the role of corporate power over macro-economic processes. This calls for expanding the concept of positive obligation to include these transnational non-state entities. Sovereignty in the new global order must be understood as shared responsibility of states, the international community and non-state actors alike. The promotion and protection of a holistic view of women’s human rights must be pursued transnationally.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Massacre in Africa

Gordon Brown

WHY is it that schools and schoolchildren have become such high-profile targets for murderous Islamist militants? The 147 students killed in an attack by the extremist group Al-Shabab at a college close to Kenya's border with Somalia are only the latest victims in a succession of outrages in which educational institutions have been singled out for attack.
Last December, in Peshawar, Pakistan, seven Taliban gunmen strode from classroom to classroom in the Army Pubic School, executing 145 children and teachers. More recently, as more than 80 pupils in South Sudan were taking their annual exams, fighters invaded their school and kidnapped them at gunpoint. Their fate has been to join the estimated 12,000 students conscripted into children's militias in the country's escalating civil war.
Every day, another once-vibrant Syrian school is bombed or militarized, with two million children now in refugee camps or exiled to makeshift tents or huts. And next week will mark the first anniversary of the extremist group Boko Haram's night-time abduction of 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in Chibok, in Nigeria's northern Borno state. With continued assaults on local schools, Boko Haram has escalated its war against education – making the last two years Nigeria's worst in terms of the violation of children's rights.
In the past five years, there have been nearly 10,000 attacks on schools and educational establishments. Why is it that schools, which should be recognized as safe havens, have become instruments of war, and schoolchildren have become pawns in extremists' strategies? And why have such attacks been treated so casually – the February abduction in South Sudan elicited barely any international comment – when they in fact constitute crimes against humanity. 
In the depraved minds of terrorists, each attack has its own simple logic; the latest shootings, for example, are revenge by Al-Shabab for Kenya's intervention in Somalia's civil war. But all of the recent attacks share a new tactic – to create shock by exceeding what even many of the most hardened terrorists had previously considered beyond the pale. They have become eager to stoke publicity from the public outrage at their methods, even transmitting images of their crimes around the world.
But there is an even more powerful explanation for this spate of attacks on children. A now-common extremist claim is that education is acculturating African and Asian children to Western ways of thinking (Boko Haram in the local Hausa dialect means “Western education is a sin”). Moreover, extremists like Boko Haram and Al-Shabab calculate that they can attack schools with impunity.
Hospitals tend to be more secure, because the Geneva Conventions give them special protection as safe havens – a fact often recognized by even the most murderous of terrorist groups. Until recently, we have done far too little to protect schools and prevent their militarization during times of conflict. But, just as wars should never be waged by targeting hospitals, so combatants should never violate schools.
Once slow to respond, the world is now acting. Thirty countries have recently signed up to the Lucens or Safe School guidelines, which instruct their military authorities how to prevent schools from being used as instruments of war. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, recommends designating abductions of children from schools a “trigger violation” for the naming of terrorist organizations in the secretary-general's annual report to the Security Council.
And, thanks to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, the Global Business Coalition for Education, and former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria has now piloted the concept of safe schools. This has meant funding school guards, fortifications, and surveillance equipment to reassure parents and pupils that everything possible is being done to ensure their school is safe to attend. Now, under Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan is adopting the safe school plan.
In a year when there are more local conflicts than ever – and in which children have become among the first (and forgotten) casualties – it is urgent that we make stopping attacks on schools a high priority. In dark times, children and parents continue to view their schools as sanctuaries, as places of normality and safety. When law and order break down, people need not only material help – food, shelter, and health care – but also hope. There is no more powerful way to uphold the vision of a future free from conflict than by keeping schools running.

The writer is former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, is United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

Source: The Daily Star, 07 April 2015

Commitment and resolve required to fight terror

Muhammad Zamir

One of the unfortunate elements used by terrorists and those wishing to achieve their goals through the invoking of fear is to try and establish a nexus between faith (as they interpret it) and any issue they might be involved in.  On the other hand, a common aspect in all religions is promotion of the welfare of others, peace and understanding. It is also denoted that violence needs to be avoided. It is also reiterated that within a community and between different communities, there will be efforts to facilitate dialogue, equal opportunity, transparency, good governance and accountability. 

Yes, there is recognition that there might be the aberration of fundamentalism or strict, orthodox interpretation of religious tenets or rituals. There is also however the general realization that in the contemporary world, one without frontiers, thanks to digitalization, there will be efforts made to avoid violence arising out of mixing religion with politics or the socio-economic dimensions. It is believed that if such a course of action is not followed then conditions within the state structure might unravel leading to behaviour that result in bloodshed.
In Islam in particular, compassion and understanding is underlined and believers are asked to respect others in the pursuit of their faith. Tolerance is underlined in Ayat 6 of Sura (109) Al-Kafirun. Unfortunately, sometimes this is forgotten because of mixing religion with politics and because of political ambition. Points are then sought to be scored through violence, intimidation and wanton killing.
We are witnessing today evidence of such transgression in the manner in which activities are being carried out in several parts of the world- in Africa, in the Middle East, in South Asia or in South East Asia. 
Potent in character and nature, the juxtaposition of belief (faith) and politics is proving to be a undesirable catalyst that is undermining the potential of the 
peaceful path of growth. It is affecting children and the latent possibilities for movement forward that a society is entitled to. 
Consequently, it is most unfortunate to note that over the last decade and half, extremists from different religious faiths have resorted to their own selfish agenda at the cost of amity, peace and stability. This has created uncertainty, fear and anger. This in turn has contributed towards instability and prejudice.
Terrorists appear to have hijacked religion as an instrument for justifying acts which are not consistent with existing international legal process or human rights or principles enshrined in different constitutional documents. Misinterpretation of secular measures and quest for political dominance have resulted in killings and maiming of innocent people, mostly civilians of both genders located in soft targets in urban areas far away from armed conflict zones. 
Anger transformed to hatred resulted in the most unfortunate attacks on 9/11 in New York and Washington, USA resulting in thousands of death. Then there was the 2004 siege of the Russian school in Beslan by Chechens where more than 300 died. The same year witnessed the Madrid train bombing which killed 191 and wounded more than 1,800. There was also the multiple bombing in the London underground which killed 53 and injured more than 700 innocent civilians. One cannot also forget the serial bombings in Delhi, India in 2008 that left 30 dead and 130 injured. The multiple bombings in Mumbai the same year killed 166 and wounded nearly one hundred, 
There has also been the despicable kidnapping of 276 school girls by the Islamic militant Boko Haram group in Nigeria and their forcible conversion to Islam. It is understood that most of these girls have since been forcibly married off to Boko Haram members. This has been followed by the kidnapping of nearly 400 other women and children by the same group. 
We have also noticed similar outrages that have been carried out by the ISIL group in the Levant, particularly in Iraq and Syria. 
One would have expected Islamic theologians living in the Middle East or in other countries belonging to the OIC coming forward and expressing strong condemnation of such terrorist acts. That unfortunately has not happened. 
Their lack of criticism, possibly, according to some analysts, has been due to the rising number of deaths of civilians (termed as collateral damage) caused by drone attacks on alleged terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. 
These actions are (as claimed by the perpetrators) supposedly undertaken to ensure security in the context of national interest but some have pointed out that indiscriminate drone attacks may also be described as ‘extra-judicial killing’ where the accused is not given a chance to defend himself.
Mass violence has been particularly evident in Pakistan over the last decade. The earlier nexus between their armed forces and the Taliban (to promote Pakistani interests in Afghanistan) has now taken an inverse turn for the worse and infiltrated into Pakistan through osmotic effect. An attack on a Shia shrine in 2013 resulted in 120 deaths. This was followed in September 2014 by a terrorist attack on a Church that cost nearly 80 lives. 
The latest attack on a school in Peshawar on 16 December run by the Pakistani military authorities for their children as well as children from the civilian community was gruesome to say the least. A suicide squad belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the school and this resulted in the death of 136 school children, eight members of the school staff and all the terrorists engaged in this attack. The children were shot dead in cold blood while engaged in the pursuit of education and knowledge, a process that has been strongly supported by no other than our Holy Prophet (pbuh). The attack was carried out on the doorstep of the Army Cantonment.
Analysts have since pointed out that the killing of the children of the army personnel by TTP was meant to convey a clear message to the Pakistan Armed Forces that this was revenge for military campaigns that had been carried out by these Forces against militants in North Waziristan where Islamic fundamentalists are trying to impose forcibly their socio-political version of Islamic tenets on inhabitants living in this region. 
The attack on the innocent school children in Peshawar has quite justifiably been seen as an outrage by the world. 
Since then, the Pakistan government have also swung into action. Ground assaults and air strikes on Taliban units in areas near the border with Afghanistan have resulted in the death of 77 alleged militants. Such action has been particularly undertaken in the Provinces of the Khyber Agency and North Waziristan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also lifted the six-year moratorium on death penalty in terror cases and this has led to executions of four guilty militant prisoners. Human Rights Watch has termed the executions ‘a craven politicized reaction to the Peshawar killings’ and demanded that no further hangings be carried out.  Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has however gone on record expressing his determination to push for the 
‘final elimination’ of all the militants. 
This tragedy in Peshawar took place about the same time as the senseless and unfortunate siege of the Cafe in Sydney, Australia which resulted in the death of two innocent persons and also of the misguided gunman, trying to prove a point that was essentially a misinterpretation of the Islamic faith. 
Both these recent incidents have managed to convey a wrong branding of Islam.
In Bangladesh, we have also witnessed coordinated acts of militant terrorism carried out by the banned outfit –Jamat’ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) - in 2005. It may be recalled that almost at the same time; around 500 bomb explosions took place in 63 out of 64 Districts. The presence of ‘Bangla Bhai’ at that time was described by the then government as a ‘figment of the media’s imagination’. Fortunately, more realistic pre-emptive monitoring and coordinated counter-terrorism efforts since 2009, has led to potential for terrorism being brought under somewhat of a control. 
One feels that time has come for serious soul searching and introspection. The Islamic communities all over the world have to identify the causes for this persistent growth of militancy in different parts of the world. The western world, the guardians of democratic behaviour and upholder of human rights also need to take a step back and question themselves as to whether their action or inaction in certain areas are contributing to this emerging hatred.  For example, they will need to satisfactorily address the unresolved question of Palestinian Statehood and justice for the battered people in Gaza. There cannot be two value systems of justice.
Similarly, there has to be a coordinated effort by the Arab countries as well as countries in North Africa and Afghanistan to seriously address issues related to corruption, violence, sectarianism and problems arising out of elitist governance systems. 
If this can be done expeditiously, it will take the wind out of the sails of terrorist organizations like ISIL and 
Al-Qaeda. Militancy thrives on perceived inequality of opportunity and partisanship. If that ends, it will be better for all of us. 

Source:  The Independent, 06 January 2015