February 2020


  1. When Viruses Turn Political
  2. Two years after #MeToo put a spotlight on gender inequality, how is Asia investing in women?
  3. What battles over “gender ideology” mean for Colombia’s women human rights defenders
  4. What’s behind violence in South Africa: a sociologist’s perspective

When Viruses Turn Political

By            :               Ngaire Woods

Date         :               February 12, 2020

Source     :               Project Syndicate (https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/coronavirus-political-response-three-challenges-by-ngaire-woods-2020-02?a_la=english&a_d=5e43d45ed243f605e061168b&a_m=&a_a=click&a_s=&a_p=homepage&a_li=coronavirus-political-response-three-challenges-by-ngaire-woods-2020-02&a_pa=curated&a_ps=)


As the coronavirus continues to spread, the public must rely on international cooperation among governments to fight the disease effectively. But mounting pressures on political leaders risk pushing them toward more nationalistic short-term measures that are less effective or even counterproductive.

OXFORD – Before the coronavirus exploded into the news, a report by the World Health Organization warned that the world was not prepared for “a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic” that could kill 50-80 million people, cause panic and instability, and seriously affect the global economy and trade. The experience of the last 200-plus years has shown that only governments acting in concert can effectively fight such a pandemic – and even then, only with the trust and compliance of their citizens. This points to three challenges facing political leaders in the fight against the new coronavirus, now known as COVID-19.

The first challenge is that politicians are torn between looking decisive and adopting science-based measures that require careful explanation to a skeptical public. For example, governments in several countries, including India, Nigeria, Japan, and the United States, have recently instituted highly visible temperature checks on all passengers arriving at their airports. But feverish travelers can simply mask their condition by using fever-reducing drugs. Furthermore, Chinese researchers suspect that COVID-19 is contagious for up to 24 days before the person carrying it develops a fever. The,United Kingdom’s government therefore, is focusing on informing all arriving passengers about what to do if they experience symptoms after leaving the airport.

More seriously, on January 31, US President Donald Trump’s administration announced a temporary entry ban on all foreign nationals who had been to China in the past 14 days, unless they were immediate relatives of US citizens or permanent residents. Many other countries have imposed similar measures, but the effect could be exactly the opposite of what was intended.

Closing off China might seem justified. But doing so unilaterally, without building trust with other governments, makes it likelier that other countries – such as China’s smaller neighbors – will not notify the world when the virus spreads to them, owing to fear of being closed off and the massive economic costs this would imply.

The golden rule in fighting pandemics is to encourage affected countries to notify others immediately of any infection. Chinese researchers rapidly identified COVID-19, and – after international urging – shared its viral sequence, thus spurring global cooperation in the race to create a vaccine. In so doing, China complied with international rules that aim to ensure that countries work together to combat infections, rather than harming themselves or unnecessarily harming others through protectionist measures.

The second challenge for governments relates to communication. Accurate, trusted information is vital in fighting a pandemic. But in most of the world, citizens do not trust politicians to tell the truth, so they turn instead to social media and other sources of information.

Such platforms can facilitate greater transparency and instant reporting, which governments must not quash, as local officials in Wuhan initially did by threatening doctors who reported the new coronavirus. But social media also gives rise to “infodemics” of fake news and rumor that endanger public health. The WHO currently must refute claims that mouthwashes, nasal sprays, and sesame oil can prevent people from being infected with COVID-19. Likewise, online anti-vaccination campaigns in recent years have fueled an entirely preventable resurgence of measles.

On a positive note, the WHO is working with social media companies to ensure that reliable public information appears first when people search for news about the coronavirus. They also are cooperating in attaching warnings to the posts of groups promoting conspiracy theories and rumors about the virus, and in removing posts that endanger public health. All responsible politicians must support such efforts.

Equally, politicians and social media companies need to combat xenophobic reactions, which pandemics spur all too easily. There are already reports of a wave of discrimination against East Asians since the COVID-19 outbreak. Stigma and discrimination make it harder to combat infectious diseases, because they increase the likelihood that affected people will avoid seeking health care.

Crucially, the fight against COVID-19 requires infected people to trust public authorities enough to identify and help to track down everyone with whom they have been in contact, thereby enabling appropriate isolation measures to be put into place. This is less likely in an atmosphere of stigma and discrimination.

Finally, preparedness is key. Governments must commit resources ahead of time and have a ready-to-go command structure in the event of a global public health emergency. But politicians often are loath to invest in disease prevention, finding it much easier to claim credit for a shiny new hospital. More insidiously, they can cut funding for preventive programs in the knowledge that future governments will face the consequences.

The good news is that governments have begun to take pandemic preparedness seriously in the wake of previous outbreaks of SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola, and Zika. Following the Ebola crisis in 2014, for example, US President Barack Obama’s administration established a directorate for global health security and bio-threats within the White House National Security Council. It also introduced a system for coordinating international, national, state, and local organizations, both public and private, to confront a global epidemic, under the direct authority of the president.

The bad news is that Trump unwound and dismantled these preparations last year. He also cut funding for efforts by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help other countries prevent infectious-disease epidemics. But when other countries cannot identify and contain a virus, it is more likely to reach the US.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the public must rely on international cooperation among governments to fight the disease effectively. But mounting pressures on political leaders risk pushing them toward more nationalistic, short-term measures that are less effective or even counterproductive.

Ngaire Woods is Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

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Two years after #MeToo put a spotlight on gender inequality, how is Asia investing in women?

The field of gender lens investing is rapidly growing in Asia, where the female labour force is rising and women are on the verge of wielding immense investing power. However, challenges remain when it comes to women’s leadership and creating inclusive and safe spaces for women.


By            :                Zafirah Zein

Date         :               February 5, 2020

Source     :               Eco-Business (https://www.eco-business.com/news/two-years-after-metoo-put-a-spotlight-on-gender-inequality-how-is-asia-investing-in-women/)


More than two years after the #MeToo movement made headlines and women’s rights became a front and centre issue globally, the world of business and finance appears to be waking up to the benefits of inclusivity and being mindful of women and their critical role in the economy.

Today, as more companies seek to limit harm against women and generate social and environmental impact, gender lens investing (GLI), has become one of the most rapidly growing segments of impact or sustainable investing.

More than just putting a female perspective on finance flows, GLI aims to accelerate gender equality and unlock economic growth through the increased participation and leadership of women.

In a 2015 impact investor survey by J.P. Morgan, an investment bank, about one-third of the survey’s participants explicitly targeted gender equality or women’s empowerment as a key theme for driving gender equality and increasing financial returns, while a study by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and advisory firm Intellecap revealed in 2018 that GLI is on the rise in Southeast Asia, where low financial inclusion is a major obstacle to women’s economic empowerment.

According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, advancing women’s equality in work and society would raise collective gross domestic product (GDP) in Asia Pacific by USD$4.5 trillion by 2025. 

However, even though businesses and financial institutions are increasingly recognising the large potential of gender lens investing, women remain heavily underrepresented in leadership positions in the region. 

How does GLI create an enabling space for women-led businesses? 

GLI integrates gender-based factors into investment decisions, which translates to investing in women-owned or women-led businesses, enterprises that advance gender equity in the workplace and those that offer products and services that provide value for women.

It also includes investment in businesses that help fight social issues that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as access to education, sexual harassment and violence.

“It’s very well known that not a lot of capital goes to female-led ventures, and there is a population out there that is underserved because of that,” said Amra Naidoo, co-founder of Singapore-based venture capital fund and startup accelerator Accelerating Asia (AA).

“From a business perspective, you’re also missing out on a massive opportunity with the female market because there are not enough female founders out there creating solutions for women. It’s hard to expect men to create these solutions.”

More than 40 per cent of AA’s start-up portfolio are female-led ventures, while it is the only venture fund in the region with a female general partner — Naidoo herself. This year, four out of ten start-ups in AA’s accelerator program had women co-founders, including an on-demand beauty and lifestyle services platform called Romoni.

Based in Bangladesh, Romoni started off as a Facebook page in 2016 after founder and chief executive officer Armin Zaman Khan faced challenges scheduling an appointment with a hairstylist. After talking to the beauticians in her neighbourhood, she found out that most of them provided home services to their clients after work hours to earn extra income.

Khan then connected the dots and signed on a couple of freelance beauticians that could work on-call from her page to cater to the growing number of corporate women and mothers who preferred salon services in the comfort of their homes.

Not a lot of capital goes to female-led ventures and there is a population out there that is underserved because of that.

Amra Naidoo, co-founder, Accelerating Asia

Since then, Romoni has grown to become the one-stop destination for the beauty and lifestyle needs of women in Dhaka and a credit facilitation platform for micro and female entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. Khan hopes to further build a business incubation platform that will help women become full-fledged entrepreneurs with knowledge of fintech and access to growth capital and other financial services. 

“In the context of Bangladesh, it’s hard to become an entrepreneur, because you normally don’t get much family support and you have to be completely independent,” said Khan. “It’s especially tough for women entrepreneurs, which is why there are so few. You have to go to places, meet people and make yourself visible. Our society is not friendly to girls who are that visible and mobile.”

She added that successful female entrepreneurs are typically supported by a network of other businesswomen.

“We have been successful in making the women we bring on board financially independent and able to grow their businesses. But their community of fellow entrepreneurs has definitely made them stronger,” she said.

“There’s a very strong female presence, especially in emerging markets, where women are doing really incredible things. Also due to the nature of where we are in the world, with challenges such as climate change and other development issues, you’re generally doing good in some way and solving a fundamental problem by starting a business in this region,” echoed Naidoo.

Research has shown that other than access to finance, the most common obstacles to the development of women’s entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia is the prevalence of inherited customs and social norms which create specific pressures on women, such as keeping work confined to the home.

According to research, even though female participation in Asia’s workforce has grown to over 40 per cent — higher than the global average — women in leadership positions in Southeast Asia remains low, with the exception of the Philippines and Vietnam. In the entire Asia Pacific region, there is only one woman in leadership positions for every four men. 

In Vietnam, female-owned businesses made up 30 per cent of total enterprises in the country in 2015, which the government hopes to increase to 35 per cent this year, while the Philippines is leading in gender equality in the workplace and has a female-to-male leadership ratio of 0.96. 

Why investing in women matters 

Studies show that women drive 70 and 80 per cent of all consumer purchasing, especially because women are often in charge of making household purchasing decisions.

“Most of what happens in the home, for example what food to cook and what needs to get fixed, are decisions made by women. And if you look at market statistics, it is difficult to win over female customers but they are the most loyal,” said Khan, noting that the women-focused industry in her country has boomed over the last five to six years.

“In Bangladesh, this is heavily influenced by the fact that average incomes have risen. By 2025, we are going to have more than 25 per cent of the population above the poverty line and women will want to upgrade their lifestyles and have branded clothes, cosmetics and good quality services,” she said.

If a company wants to be stronger and more responsive to customers’ needs, it has to have gender diversity in its leadership, which means making boards more gender-balanced, said Caterina Meloni, founder of Connecting Founders, an advisory firm that helps women-owned businesses raise capital in Southeast Asia. 

Research from McKinsey has also found that the more gender diverse a company is, particularly at the management level, the more profitable it is likely to be. 

“Women consumers have completely raised the bar in what they expect out of products and services. And that means that companies that don’t have women in decision-making positions will have difficulties hitting this bar because the best people to truly understand women’s needs are women,” said Caterina, adding that even in industries where the majority of customers are women — fashion and cosmetics — men still dominate.

Removing gender bias in the workplace

In a 2018 interview with Anna-Karin Jatfors, deputy regional director for United Nations Women for Asia Pacific, she revealed that the impacts of sexual harassment and violence on women’s mental and physical health are proven barriers to women’s employment and performance at work. She also linked the lack of gender diversity on boards and in the workforce to high incidences of workplace harassment.

However, ever since the #MeToo movement exposed rampant injustices against women in the workplace and generated discussions around sexual assault and harassment, businesses and organisations, particularly in the United States, have worked to introduce or refine their codes of conduct to bring about safer and more inclusive spaces in their offices. 

“Awareness is the best thing to have come out of [the #MeToo movement]. When it’s at the front of people’s minds, and companies are starting to look at their own policies and practices, people will start thinking about how they contributed to these systemic problems and what they are going to do about it,” said Naidoo.  

In her company, Naidoo is introducing a Gender Advisory Group in a bid to advance gender equality in the start-up ecosystem in Asia. The group serves to provide advice on opportunities related to gender equality by bringing together professionals and experts from a range of industries and backgrounds such as tech, investment, academia and not-for-profit work. 

Besides focusing on a gender lens approach to investing, Naidoo hopes that the group can create a platform for mentoring and women’s leadership, as well as precipitate a safe ecosystem for women in the start-up space. 

“It’s the way that society has been conditioned to think about women’s work,” said Naidoo on why women face more barriers in business. “Across every industry, you start to see women dropping off when they get to certain level and that is because of so many different factors such as access to childcare and unequal pay. There are so many elements in the system that work against women.” 

“We’re always thinking — how can we reduce some of those barriers within our own ecosystem in order to make it easier for women to access those opportunities out there?” she said. 

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What battles over “gender ideology” mean for Colombia’s women human rights defenders

Violence against women and the LGBTI community has a long history in Colombia’s state security apparatus, and recent murders of women human rights defenders are a continuation of a decades-long, strategic extinguishing of people trying to make positive social change in that country.


By            :               Rachel Schmidt

Date         :               February 4, 2020

Source     :               Open Global Rights  (https://www.openglobalrights.org/gender-ideology-and-colombias-women-human-rights-defenders/)


When the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed its historic peace accord with the Colombian government in 2016, people worldwide lauded the peace deal as pathbreaking because of its focus on gender and women’s rights. Headlines celebrated this “first-ever” peace agreement that emphasized women’s rights as a core priority. What was eclipsed by those celebrations, however, was the fact that the public referendum on the agreement failed in part due to inflammatory rhetoric about “gender ideology”—a derisive term used increasingly by conservative religious leaders to stir up a form of moral panic that links gender equality with social deterioration.

The original draft of the agreement had a substantial section on gender, women’s rights, and LGBTI rights, but it arrived amidst a wave of controversy that had risen to a fever pitch in 2015 over same-sex marriage and LGBTI rights in schools. The stated purpose of the gender focus in the agreement was to recognize the disproportionate effect the conflict had on women, especially in terms of sexual violence, and on the LGBTI community. This gender focus was also supposed to recognize and address the fact that women were less likely to hold land titles and to address the historical political exclusion of both women and people in the LGBTI community.

But religious and political leaders who had rallied against the Ministry of Education the year before also rallied against the peace accord, quickly labelling the agreement’s language of LGBTI rights as “gender ideology” that would directly threaten traditional families. They argued that the agreement put Colombia at risk of “homosexual colonization”, despite the fact that the agreement did not discuss same-sex marriage at all. Despite progressive laws on women’s rights and gender equality, parts of Colombia still retain a strong tradition of machismo (hyper-masculine ideals of power, aggression, and patriarchal dominance) in some circles, and women who stand up for their rights are a threat to those ideals.

The UN High Commission on Human Rights has reported that killings of women human rights defenders in 2019 increased by nearly 50% compared to the year before.

When the referendum failed, members of the FARC delegation and the Colombian government quietly met with conservative leaders, hammering out an agreement deemed more acceptable and, arguably, less revolutionary. The hard-won gender equality language that was fought for by Colombian LGBTI groups, grassroots women’s organizations, and guarantor countries was watered down, though some argued that it was merely made more specific. The number of references to gender was reduced; for example, in terms of political participation, instead of “gender equity” the accord now refers to the “equitable participation between men and women”, and similar language changes are found in the land restitution section. The final text of the agreement also mentions the traditional family as the “fundamental nucleus of society”.

Now, over three years later, the UN High Commission on Human Rights has reported that killings of women human rights defenders in 2019 increased by nearly 50% compared to the year before. While women’s involvement in conflict (both in state groups and in non-state groups) may be an illustration of shifting gender norms, the debate over “gender ideology” shows that these norms are far less malleable than we might hope. Research indicates that violence against women often goes up after a peace agreement, largely due to war’s disruption of traditional gender norms. In addition, a comprehensive database of peace agreements between 1990-2010 found that only 16% of 585 agreements contained specific references to women (including even nominal mentions). Only seven of these (1%) included attention on specific needs of women and girls in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) processes. Another study on 31 peace processes between 1992-2011 found that only 9% of peace negotiators were women, despite research showing that peace negotiations that include women are more durable. In Colombia, then, with the emphasis on women’s rights and gender equality, many of us cautiously hoped that the peace would endure.

But “peace” has made things worse in certain areas of the country: the killings of rights activists are most prominent in areas that used to be under FARC control. Since the FARC vacated, much of this land has been taken over by rival guerrilla groups, paramilitary organizations, and drug traffickers due to the power vacuum that the government did not fill when the FARC demobilized. For people in these regions, the violence has become worse since the peace deal, not better. Indigenous women and women ex-combatants are at particularly high risk, especially ones who have taken up political leadership positions and are pushing for gender equality and land redistribution. The triple stigma of being an ex-guerrilla and a woman and a human rights advocate is deadly in Colombia, which is why many women, especially deserters, go to great lengths to hide their ex-combatant status. Being an indigenous woman human rights defender is even worse: rights defenders most likely to be targeted are those defending indigenous and environmental rights.

What can be done when a peace deal that was supposed to emphasize women’s rights makes some women’s lives worse instead of better?

What can be done when a peace deal that was supposed to emphasize women’s rights makes some women’s lives worse instead of better? It is perhaps unfair to blame the peace deal—the environment of violence against women, and against rights defenders more generally, was in place long before the “gender ideology” debate. The Colombian government’s long-standing framing of the guerrillas as narco-terrorists has historically subsumed, by extension, anyone leaning even slightly left: union leaders, university students, human rights defenders, peasant farmers growing coca, and people simply living in guerrilla-controlled areas. The Colombian military’s history of colluding with misogynistic paramilitary death squads to target social leaders, and police and military participation in “social cleansing” missions to rid the streets of “undesirables” (including prostitutes, LGBTI persons, and street children), also make it clear that this violence is structural and systemic.

Indeed, violence against women and the LGBTI community has a long history in the state’s security apparatus, and these recent murders are a continuation of a decades-long, strategic extinguishing of people trying to make social change in Colombia. Even the government’s attempt to downplay thousands of extrajudicial executions of civilians by labelling them “false positives” is evidence of an administrative tradition that would rather cover things up than face them head on.

As the government continues to lag on implementing key elements of the peace deal, and with several prominent FARC leaders now having re-armed, it is unlikely that women human rights defenders will get adequate protection—or even attention—from the government anytime soon.

The Colombian government needs to own its role in this violence, and perhaps we all need a reminder that peace is not just the absence of war. Inclusive peace, after all, must consider everyone’s security, not just those that sat the bargaining table. Those of us in the international human rights community cannot afford to place Colombia neatly into the “post-conflict” category, celebrate the Nobel peace prize, and trust that things will improve. These women are part of our community. They are us. We are them.

They deserve better.


Rachel Schmidt is a PhD candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, specializing in International Conflict Management and Resolution. Her dissertation research focuses on disengagement pathways from armed violence, based on extensive fieldwork in Colombia. She is also the lead content editor at OpenGlobalRights.

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What’s behind violence in South Africa: a sociologist’s perspective


By            :               Lindy Heinecken

Date         :               January 16, 2020

Source     :               The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/whats-behind-violence-in-south-africa-a-sociologists-perspective-128130)


The 2018 Global Peace Index listed South Africa as one of the most violent and dangerous places on earth, and getting worse.

South Africa has a long history of violence. It was used as a tool of power and governance by colonialists to repress and control the indigenous people. The apartheid regime from 1948 used violence as part of its repertoire to gain and maintain social and political control.

Such a culture of violence is hard to stop, especially when it has become a legitimised and institutionalised form of coercion.

South Africans are living with this legacy.

But, to understand the level of violence in democratic South Africa, it is useful to engage with the work of the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung. He identified three main sources of violence: direct, structural and cultural. These provide a useful lens to understand the underlying causes of conflict that fuel violence and undermine positive peace.

Direct violence

Direct violence or personal violence includes a physical or psychological component to produce hurt and harm, to the point of killing. It can occur between individuals, groups and nations and is an act of violence with a clear subject, object and action.

This includes war, torture, fighting, gun violence, and physical and emotional abuse. In South Africa, these acts of direct violence are reflected in the high levels of violent crime – including rape and murder as well as domestic and gang violence directed at people.

While not peculiar to South Africa, direct or personal violence is facilitated by easy access to weapons, a general climate of lawlessness, high levels of violent protests and corruption within the criminal justice system. Without doubt, this has contributed to the public feeling unprotected, and has increased distrust in the police, while allowing crime to flourish. But such direct, visible acts do not explain the underlying causes of the violence.

Structural violence

Underlying direct violence is structural violence entrenched in unequal power relations embedded within society. Structural violence is defined as social and personal violence arising from unjust, repressive and oppressive political, economic, and social structures that affect people’s chances in life.

These structures control access to quality education, employment and health care. They affect the basic human needs of survival and welfare. In education (the most crucial, in my view), these inequalities are growing. The fact that only a few people can afford to send their children to well-resourced, fee-charging schools widens inequalities.

For example, the higher education participation rate is just 15.6% for black South Africans, while for Indian and white people (aged 20–24) it is 49.3% and 52.8%. This dictates future employment. Similar discrepancies exist in access to basic health care, between those who can afford private health care, and the poor majority who depend on the failing public health care system.

This indirect, silent violence affects more people than direct violence as it erodes one’s ability to gain access to goods and services necessary for survival through legitimate means.

It is this social and economic inequality that fuels violent crime and protest in the country. Since 2008 more than two million people have taken to the streets in protest every year as a result, a clear indication of the “rebellion of the poor”. A recent example of such violent protest and the effect of widening conflict into surrounding communities is seen in the decision by Rio Tinto, the mining group, to shut its Richards Bay operations and freeze an expansion project.

Such events have been met with higher levels of direct police violence and brutality. Yet this does not provide the complete picture. Rising levels of crime and violence are linked not only to the country’s economic, social and political woes, but to other underlying cultural factors.

Cultural violence

Cultural violence is symbolic violence where, for example, language, religion and ideology are used to legitimise or justify direct and structural violence. This feeds into a social culture of discrimination, racism, prejudice and sexism, which contributes to the vicious cycle of violence.

This is reflected in the high levels of sexual violence and systemic institutionalised patriarchy that foster the culture of violence against women.

Cultural violence is strongly influenced by prevailing attitudes, beliefs and messages that surround people in everyday life. A culture has developed in the country where direct violence is seen as the most effective means to respond to conflict.

A discourse has emerged that glorifies the use of violence, through war narratives, by some political leaders who use military values, symbols and rhetoric to mobilise and gain support. This perpetuates militarism as an ideology that embraces social practices that regard the use of violence as normal and desirable. One can see this within the police.

Turning the tide

The challenge is how to turn the situation around, as all three forms of violence are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. Seeking to suppress violent crime in South Africa through the threat of direct violence by the state, such as deploying the army to combat gangsterism in the Western Cape, is not the solution.

It reinforces the notion that violence is to be met with violence, without addressing the deeper underlying structural and cultural issues that perpetuate conflict.

Addressing structural and cultural violence is a lot more difficult than addressing direct violence, but lies at the root of the violence experienced in South Africa. Failure to do so may lead to even more severe levels of violence that could potentially destabilise the state, putting the safety and security of people in even greater jeopardy. Sadly, the country continues to focus on direct violence instead of addressing the causes.

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