Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

Talk the talk – but not walk the walk

1 December, 2008

That’s the way Larry Elliott in The Guardian sums up the donors lack of urgency in meeting the MDGs. Commenting on the just released UNESCO Education for All report, he writes:

“… donor countries can talk the talk but not walk the walk. According to the Unesco study, the aid required for even the most basic primary education provision in poor countries is US$11 bn (£7.2bn) a year. In 2006, spending amounted to around $4bn, leaving a funding gap of $7bn. To put that figure into context, it is around 10% of what Britain spent this autumn recapitalising the banking system”.

Maybe they will walk the walk at the UN Financing for Development summit now underway in Doha. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. “When financial systems fail, the consequences are highly visible and governments act,” concluded UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. He added “When education systems fail the consequences are less visible, but no less real”.

I would add that education is the only investment you can be sure of getting at least some return on – provided it’s of good quality and children complete a minimum of 4 years primary education. Well-educated people earn more in the labour market, and find it easier to absorb new technologies and methods when they run micro-enterprises and farms. Education is a means to break the inter-generational transmission of chronic poverty (see this CPRC study for Bangladesh).

And even if it didn’t raise income much – which might be the case in economies that are growing only slowly – it certainly improves health status, especially of children, when mothers are educated. Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children than mothers with no schooling (go here). Gender inequality in education has high costs for both the family and society (see this IFPRI study).

So the chronic underfunding of education reminds me of that old quotation: if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.


A Fun Way to Harness the Energy of Children to Deliver Clean Water

12 November, 2008

In the discussion of my recent post about bottled water I mentioned that sales of bottled water at Manchester University support water pumps in Africa. Specifically, Playpump, a wonderful invention from South Africa.

As children spin on a roundabout, clean water is pumped from underground into storage tanks. The pumps cost about US$9,500 to install. They are much faster and pump at a more reliable rate than hand-driven pumps, and can supply up to 1,400 litres of water an hour.

Better water infrastructure in Africa not only reduces the incidence of the main water-borne illnesses, but also reduces the amount of time that communities spend collecting water from (often dirty) ponds and rivers. Since water collection is often an activity for girls, requiring them to walk many hours when water is inaccessible, it provides more time for them – including more time in school. More information on Playpump can be found here.

A Ribbon for Safe Motherhood

22 September, 2008

Every minute another woman dies during childbirth – or soon after from easily preventable causes. Many die before childbirth, in pregnancy. Death takes mothers, daughters, and wives from their communities, leaving widowers and orphans.

Today in Manchester I heard Sarah Brown and Brigid McConville speak movingly of their work with the White Ribbon Alliance for safe motherhood. WRA is an international alliance with members in 91 countries and National Alliances established in 11 – ranging from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh to Zambia. It is taking the campaign to New York this week for the UN Millennium Development Goal summit to push on the maternal health goal (MDG 5). Improvement has been limited: DFID sums it up:

“. There are two targets: one to reduce maternal deaths and the other to provide universal access to reproductive health. Little progress has been made over the past two decades and MDG 5 is severely off-track”.

Poverty is a cause of maternal death. An African woman has a 1 in 16 chance of dying from a pregnancy while a European has a 1 in 1,800 risk. And maternal mortality is a cause of poverty. The household loses not only a human life, but the income that the woman’s livelihood provides. The Chronic Poverty Report cites health crises, and the associated impact on the household’s resources (including health fees), as a big initiator of the descent into chronic poverty. This makes for hungry and sick children. Orphans are more likely to die after their mother’s death – their chance of death is three times the average for children in the 1-5 age group. One mother’s death thereby ripples across the generations.

Do check out the WRA video for their Promise to Mothers Lost campaign, and read Sarah Brown’s letter in Elle.

It’s Called the Girl Effect

18 September, 2008

CARE has a neat video on the huge impact of educating girls: “It’s called the girl effect”. Indeed it could be an investment with one of the largest returns — for both the individual and their society.

Larry Summers found that  on average wages increase by more than 10% to 20% for each additional year of schooling (with the returns being especially high in Africa and South Asia, where literacy is lower: go here). He calculated that there was a much higher return to society from investing in the human capital of girls than in such ‘hard’ infrastructure as electric power plants. And then there are the positive effects on infant mortality, maternal mortality, and the position of women in their societies. Summers did his calculations back in the early 1990s, and subsequent research has continued to confirm the substantial benefits of girls’ education.

For further work in this area go to the BWPI working paper series. Farhad Hossain and Tonya Knight discuss the use of micro-credit for education in Bangladesh in ‘Financing the Poor: Can microcredit make a difference?’. The Grameen bank provides education loans (as well as scholarships for its clients). Increased female education has contributed to improving their social status over the last three decades: this is evident in the number of women who now have jobs in banking and other service sectors in Bangladesh.

Also check out the work of Ruth Levine and Nancy Birdsall at CGD. A good site for advocacy and research, especially on what the IMF and World Bank are up to, is Gender Action.

Nobody Dies of Hunger in Uttar Pradesh — It’s Official

6 March, 2008

“There is absolutely no case of hunger deaths anywhere in the state”. At least that’s what one of the top officials of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh claims in a BBC report here.

Jatai, a resident of Ghoorpatti village, thinks otherwise. How does she know? Well, she’s lost five members of her family over the last 18 months — to hunger. But then, she’s not a wise state official. Just a mother trying to make ends meet while coping with her grief.

The state government has clearly stuck its collective head in the sand. “It is strange how the party which is in power denies there have been any starvation deaths, but as soon as they are in opposition, they start shouting about hunger deaths,” comments one human rights activist. It seems that India’s chronically poor are only worth noticing around election time.

What to do? Sort out the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for a start — too few poor people know their rights or receive any kind of help. Back in 2006, Jean Drèze in The Hindu commented: “There has been plenty of drum-beating but relatively little by way of effective action…. Sometimes the situation reminds me of a notice I saw once in a shop window, advertising a second-hand television. It said, “Sound only.””

So where’s the picture? Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA 2005) any adult willing to do casual labour at the minimum wage is entitled to employment on local public works within 15 days (limited to 100 days per household per year). The Right to Food Campaign tracks progress (and read the ODI briefing paper by Disa Sjoblom and John Farrington here). Not enough funds are reaching the poor. And the scheme has also seen corruption — at least, that’s what we hear. Let us know if you think different.

Still, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of pessimism. And at least some of the criticism of NREGA is malign and by people who don’t give a damn for the poor. We need to ignore the spiteful and focus on the legitimate and constructive investigations — for, as Jean Drèze emphasizes in a January 2008 piece in The Hindu: “The extension of the NREGA to the whole country, just three months from now, is one of the biggest organisational challenges any government has ever faced. It is also an unprecedented opportunity to build the foundations of a social security system in rural India, revive village economies, promote social equity, and empower rural labourers. As things stand, however, this bold initiative looks like a political stunt, shorn of the far-reaching preparations that are required to make it a success”.

India can, and should, do better for Jatai.

Why so Many Malnourished Children?

2 February, 2008

Maternal and child undernutrition is the cause of 3.5 million deaths, 35% of the disease burden in the under-fives and 11% of the total global disease burden — according to a new study by Robert Black and team in The Lancet (go here). Vitamins, minerals and a daily feed of breast milk could prevent a third of these deaths (lack of Vitamin A alone accounts for 600,000 deaths every year).

Improved nutrition in early life also makes for more productive adults — enabling them to earn higher wages (see this paper by John Hoddinott et al.). They can then afford to better feed their children. So, reducing maternal and child malnutrition can help break the transmission of poverty across the generations (see Kate Bird’s recent CPRC overview).

These numbers makes a powerful case for investing more in child (and mother) nutrition to defeat chronic poverty. But what to do exactly? The 2004 Copenhagen Consensus decided that providing micronutrients had the best cost-benefit ratio of all nutrition interventions. And this intervention was No.2 in the experts ranking of 17 possible ways to improve the world (control of HIV/AIDS was No.1).

Although malnutrition kills about 2 million under-fives every year, the world spends only $250 million on nutrition aid — according to UNICEF’s Bruce Cogill. This compares with the $3 billion spent on HIV/AIDS, which kills about 380,000 children (under 15) (Report here). It’s hard to make these resource allocation decisions, but clearly donors need to step up nutrition support — and be creative in raising the funds (increase taxes on foods associated with obesity in the rich world? Its one possibility. Generates a ‘double dividend’: more money for hungry kids, and less diabetes and heart disease in the North).

Those working with the micro-finance revolution will be pleased to know that women’s access to micro-credit improves the nutrition of young girls (see this UNU-WIDER paper by Basudeb Guha-Khasnobis and Gautam Hazarika). It helps women earn an income to feed their families, especially girls who often get less priority when times are hard. So that’s another tick in the box of micro-finance.

So far so good. But these great interventions are now pushing against a countervailing force: the recent and rapid run-up in world food prices. What is this doing to child nutrition? Let us know.

Human Trafficking — the Dark Side of Globalization

29 January, 2008

The ease with which we can now travel, send money, and communicate has dramatically reduced the costs of shipping human beings — into prostitution and forced labour. Our recent post highlighted Hatti and Maiti Nepal and their work to help those trafficked in Nepal. The plight of Nigerian children trafficked through Manchester is reported here.

Now, Emma Thompson and Sam Roddick have teamed up to highlight this modern slavery at a UN forum which meets in Vienna in February (go to UN.GIFT). They are backing an art installation that dramatically explores globalization’s dark side.

7 cargo containers illustrate what happens to women sold into the global sex trade. Each container — by a different artist — shows the stages of the trafficking process, starting with hope and then descending into fear and despair.

The installation was first shown last September in London’s Trafalgar Square, to much praise (video here). Emma Thompson is Chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation, which helps the victims of human rights violations and raises awareness of human trafficking. (Helen Bamber herself worked to help concentration camp victims).

Last week, 11 Romanian children were taken into care after being seized from alleged child traffickers (who were using them for crime on Britain’s streets, including Manchester, in a modern version of Oliver Twist). Go here for why kids in Romania still get a hard deal.

The choice of containers for the exhibition is inspired. Globalization would not have been possible without the container. The introduction of this humble steel box from the 1950s onwards allowed a much faster turnaround at ports, thereby dramatically cutting the costs of global trade. Now it is used to smuggle people.

Abandoned containers have been turned into homes by the poor. But now the construction industry is starting to use them to build affordable homes (there is one housing development in London). And a new school in Cape Town is built using containers (go here)

Get Your Cheap Designer Handbags Here

26 January, 2008

Just joking, wanted to get your attention.☺ But if you do need a good bag then go to Hatti Trading, a social enterprise that supports survivors of human trafficking as well as disadvantaged and stigmatized women in Nepal.

Nepal’s poverty is among the world’s worst. A difficult terrain makes it hard to eke out a living, communications are limited to outlying areas, and infectious disease is rampant. Deforestation and now global climate change threaten the sustainability of many communities. And the on-off 11-year old conflict adds to the impoverishment. As a result about 7 million people (30% of the population) live below the poverty line. There are big caste-based differences in poverty incidence and human development outcomes, with many in the lower castes living in chronic poverty (see this ADB study).

One positive development is the flow of remittances from Nepalis abroad — which are especially important to impoverished rural areas. This has reduced poverty from 42% to 31% over the last 10 years — good progress, especially during conflict (see World Bank).

But despite this good news on the direction of poverty, many young girls are still sold into prostitution and bonded labour. Trafficking of girls to India is prevalent. Escape is difficult (and dangerous). And their communities may not take them back if the girls do get out — making it difficult to find any kind of livelihood. Unfortunately many then get sucked back into their former ‘life’ with all its attendant risks.

Hatti Trading helps these girls to make a new start. It works with local charities such as Maiti Nepal to rescue and rehabilitate victims, and to generate the kinds of livelihoods that end the poverty and misery driving girls into the hands of traffickers.

For us scholarly types Hatti bags are excellent for carting your books around. For techies there is a great laptop bag. And they might stay in fashion longer than any designer bag.

David Beckham — New Goal: Ending Child Poverty

23 January, 2008

Former Manchester United star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham has appealed for the world to get moving on child poverty during a 4 day visit to Sierra Leone — where 27 per cent of children die before they reach five (in a country rebuilding after years of civil war). Dad-of-three Becks can be seen in a YouTube video here, visiting health clinics and feeding centres. “It’s shocking and tragic, especially when the solutions are simple”, he said.

And undernourished mothers produce weak children: with poverty being transmitted across the generations (check out CPRC policy briefs and CHIP).

Becks was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2005. You can see a video of him discussing his role here. He was inspired by UNICEF’s rapid action in dealing with the Asian Tsunami disaster, as well as his involvement with the United for UNICEF programme (under which Manchester United has raised £ 2 million since 1999).

Becks also took time out to kick a ball around with some of the locals (go here). Manchester United has a keen following in West Africa, recently boosted by signing Angolan forward Manucho who joins after the Africa Cup of Nations. Three United Stars — Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra (born in Senegal) — feature in UNICEF AIDS-awareness posters in Sierra Leone (go here).

Meanwhile, Posh and the Spice Girls play Manchester …….

Thinking of a career change?

15 January, 2008

Thinking of a career change? Bored with your office job, and only 4 weeks paid holiday a year? Need to get out more? We have just the job for you.

Become a coal miner in Kyrgyzstan. You can start early: ten years old is acceptable. Over on the Childhood Poverty Research and Policy Centre (CHIP) they have a film about a Bakyt, an 11 year old coal miner. Go here to see the movie. One to think about next time you are sitting warm in another dull meeting.