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Overcoming cultural barriers with sound economics

Zainab Salbi's picture

This post is the first in a series on "Gender and Conflict" which explores gender issues in the context of crisis and violence. Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International, discusses the cultural complexities involved in working to improve the lives of women in fragile and conflict-affected states.

   Photo © Women for Women International

Working to improve the lives of women in fragile and conflict-affected states raises complex cultural issues, but sound economic arguments paired with practical solutions can help overcome resistance. 
 
Culture and tradition are too often used to justify the stifling of debate about change, especially when it relates to women’s lives. As an Iraqi-American woman who grew up with Muslim traditions and ended up traveling the world through my work with Women for Women International, an organization that supports women in conflict-affected areas, I have had plenty of exposure to these attitudes.

The use of culture as a defensive weapon blights the lives of women from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan and Afghanistan.  It is used as an excuse to silence opponents. Although the intention may be to respect cultural traditions, it often leads to policies that undermine the social and economic advance of women. 
 
A classic example of this occurred in the first year of the Iraq invasion, when the US governing authority switched food distribution from public stores to mosques. This policy was intended to respect Iraqi culture but, in fact the policy changed the role of the mosque from a private to a public role. For the mosque has played a public role associated with government actions in Iraq’s modern history.

Navigating the maze to peace

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

Photo © istockphoto.comWhile much of the world has made rapid progress in building stability and reducing poverty over the past 60 years, states beset by persistent violence and fragile institutions are being left far behind.

Today, 22 out of the 34 countries furthest from reaching the Millennium Developing Goals, or MDGs, are conflict ridden or emerging from some form of turmoil. The MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015, cover hunger, poverty, child mortality, maternal health, and other key challenges.

The plight of those 22 countries—and how prosperity eludes them—was foremost in my mind when I was in New York earlier this week to take part in a debate at the UN General Assembly on "UN Peacekeeping: Looking into the Future." The proceedings were webcast.

My session focused on the nexus between security and development and you can read my intervention here.

Let me tell you more about the daunting challenges faced by those 22 countries. They account for two out of three of all infants and children dying. They also account for three out of four of all mothers who die in childbirth.

My panel talked about these countries in the context of the challenges of multi-dimensionality of peacekeeping, peace building and development. We talked about how, after conflict, the process of reform can create stresses that reignite violence. We also touched on the dissolving boundaries between institutional mandates and the challenges this poses for international organizations.

The World Cup and lessons from South Africa’s transition

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Who would have thought that rugby could change the world?  Two decades ago the apartheid regime in South Africa was brought down by a range of pressures.  But the clincher for many South Africans was being ostracized from rugby and other global sporting competitions. 

As South Africa prepares to open the 2010 World Cup, the country's passion for sport is offering an equally powerful way of celebrating its full membership in the international community.

With the national team about to square off against Mexico in the first of this year's matches, I am thinking as much about the drama of penalty shoot-outs and the like as lessons of peaceful transition. 

When I was in Cape Town a couple of months ago I visited the city’s brand new football stadium which is squeezed between an up-scale residential neighborhood and the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a pretty amazing structure.  I also visited one of the gritty townships in the Cape Flats area north of the city. It was hard to believe I was in the same country.

The peace process that produced the country’s first one-man one-vote elections in 1994 unleashed a wave of optimism that reverberated around the world.  It took with it the systemic divisions of the apartheid era but South Africa’s trajectory over the intervening years shows how difficult it is to put divisions and violence of the past behind and start over.

Rethinking conflict in cities

Nigel Roberts's picture
     CinC's working assumption is that conflict in cities cannot be completely eradicated.

Recently I visited Cambridge, England, for an Advisory Council Meeting of the Conflict in Cities and the Contested State (CinC) Program.  They are looking at everyday life and possibilities for transformation in cities around the world affected by violence. Working on the WDR 2011, I found their approach very interesting and helpful.

I asked Professor Mick Dumper, one of the program’s Co-Investigators, to write a short note for us on the team’s work:

"Jerusalem, Belfast, Nicosia and Mostarall very different cities with different histories and problems but also all cities that are riven with religious, ethnic and national conflicts.  How does one both recognise their differences but also seek to draw out some underlying common patterns in the urban nature of their conflict?  And what priorities can be identified that will help policy-makers, donors, politicians and community activists formulate pre-emptive or responsive actions to help ameliorate the suffering and distress experienced by their residents?  Attempting to answer these questions is one of the tasks of a five-year British research program entitled ‘Conflict in Cities and the Contested State’.

Remember the basics

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Earlier I wrote about ‘connect technologies’ like Twitter and YouTube, and how they are changing the way the world perceives and acts on conflict. Examples are the so-called Twitter Revolution in Moldova and, more recently, the use of YouTube to get the story out of post-electoral Iran.

The potential of these technologies is not in doubt. The challenge is to harness them to make a difference. This is of particular interest to the WDR team because we are looking at communication in relation to the causes and dynamics of conflict, as well as expectations and legitimacy of institutions after violence.

The peace campaigners and political activists I met at of the London meeting of the Alliance for Youth Movements have built their success on new media but they have never lost sight of these tested principles of political advocacy:

    The best storyteller wins.  Photo © Donatella L. Lorch.

Tell your story: If you want to break through the noise in our cacophonic world, you need to find ways to grab your audience’s attention and make them ‘feel’ your cause. Once a human face, voice and a compelling narrative are in place, people are more likely to engage and take action. Remember, the best storyteller wins

Focus on the long-term. Measure your progress against clear benchmarks. Beware of an over-simplistic drive for the endgame and recognize that the activist’s job is seldom done, even when you think you’ve got there.

Think laterally. The best route is rarely a straight line between two points. Esra’a Al Shafei, who runs the digital network MideastYouth.com, spoke about her fight for the rights of Ba’hais and Kurds as a way of addressing, tangentially, other entrenched forms of injustice in the Middle East and North Africa—including discrimination against women.

How to change the world

Nicholas van Praag's picture

     Violence reporting tool

Can new communications technologies change the way we change the world? That’s the big question.  Last week I got some clues from an international crowd of peace campaigners and social activists who have used digital communications to great effect. 

They were meeting in London under the banner of the Alliance for Youth Movements, a US NGO umbrella group. The focus was on new media as a game-changer in dealing with today’s morphing, metastasizing forms of conflict.

This is a trend we are tracking in the World Development Report 2011 which looks at conflict, violence and development.  I was in London with Carol Pineau, the curator of Conflict Convo—an initiative we are launching to revolutionize the feedback loop from people living in conflict zones.

After two-days of fascinating conversations, this is my checklist of what a would-be world changer needs to remember about new media:

Let them drink milk

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Reflections on a journey through the Rift Valley..

My main take-away from a visit to Kenya last month is that the ‘post-electoral violence’ has deep pre-electoral roots.  While inter-ethnic violence is not uncommon, the legacy of the displacement of tens of thousands of people in early 2008 seems to have created a Balkanization of Kenya. There is so much poverty, so much hatred, so much fear, and so many politicians willing to exploit this, that I felt a long-term peace is still elusive.

Driving up the Rift Valley, ground zero for much of the violence that erupted after the disputed elections in December 2007, I got a chance to hear tale after tale of loss and disruption, and to learn about people’s hopes and fears for the future.

   Hoping for a better future. Photos © Nicholas van Praag

At first it is hard for me to remember all the ethnic groups and follow the history of decades of social and ethnic disparity.  In many places Kikuyu were attacked by Kalenjin.  In others, Kikuyu gangs killed and displaced Luos and Luyas and Kalenjins.

The outcome today is a redrawing of many towns and villages along ethnic lines.  Most prominent of all is the town of Naivasha, reknowned for its flower farms that export roses and carnations around the world.  Once home to many different groups, it is almost entirely Kikuyu now. Luos and Luyas have been kicked out, their jobs taken.  None dare to return.

View from the bottom: the conspiracy of violence in Nairobi's slums

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Urban violence has reached unprecedented levels in many cities around the world, destabilizing whole societies and making life miserable for its victims.  It is a trend we are looking at in detail in the upcoming World Development Report which looks at conflict, violence and development.

To get a better understanding of the complicated inter-play between poverty, gangs, and bare-knuckled politics, I visited Nairobi's Mathare slum which is home to 850,000 people.  Julius, who runs the Julius Mwelu Foundation, showed me around.  I took a small video camera with me and this is my report:

Video blog: Nairobi's slums from WDR Video on Vimeo.

Do you have a big idea that can help address Conflict and Fragility?

Natalia Cieslik's picture

 

Call for Proposals - Feb. 15 – March 2

Soliciting Innovative Approaches and Research to be presented during the Conflict and Fragility Week in Cape Town, South Africa, April 12-15, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention. Many times, people living and working under the most difficult and challenging conditions, with minimal tools and capacity, have come up with creative and even innovative solutions to the enormous challenges they face. Organizations and researchers around the world have been equally creative working with communities living in situations of fragility and conflict to find solutions to ensure delivery of basic services, improve governance and create jobs.

Innovation Fair: Moving beyond Conflict
This Innovation Fair, organized by the World Bank Group, is seeking to identify such high-impact approaches to working in fragile and conflict-affected states in order to share and, if possible, scale them up. The Fair will convene international experts on conflict and fragility, development researchers and practitioners, software developers, donors and private sector to exchange experience, establish new collaboration, and forge longer-term partnerships.

What the %*$& happened here?

Nigel Roberts's picture

Gaza City, January 9, 2010

"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit. "No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way."

Winter in Gaza

I first visited this place in 1994. Even then, the name was synonymous with misery. What I remember, though, was a crowded, contentious place possessed with energy and, in the minds of many, the hope of an end to 46 years of exile.

    Photos © Natalia Cieslik
Rex Bryan, Yezid Sayigh (from left), and I on the right during our trip to Gaza.

I haven’t been here for four years, and am here on WDR business with Yezid Sayigh (our West Bank and Gaza case study author), Rex Brynen and Natalia Cieslik of the WDR core team. Today, Gaza feels dead. It’s cold. A few green Hamas flags droop from the electricity lines. Much of the damage from the battles of December 2008 has been cleared away, but bullet-strikes run up and down many of the apartment blocks. There is little color anywhere; little of the efflorescent graffiti that once covered walls, few advertizing bill-boards, hardly any of the posters of ‘martyrs’ once claimed by contending political parties. As we drive the length of the Strip, the streets are almost empty.

Only a few Gazans can get out of the Strip now, almost all across the southern border into Egypt. Trade with Israel is a fraction of what it once was. The large modern facility Israel built at Erez to manage the flow of daily laborers is almost empty. Little except basic foods comes in through the Israeli cargo terminals, and only a few cut-flowers and vegetables are allowed out. Everything else comes in across the Egyptian border, most of it through a network of more than 100 tunnels dug by entrepreneurs beneath the fence at Rafahpetrol, cigarettes, bottled water, clothes, cement, allegedly 4-wheel drives, and even a lion and a zebra for the Gaza zoo.

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