On the second day of the three day regional workshop on affordable land and housing in Thimphu, Bhutan, country representatives continued to share policies and projects that their countries have devised and implemented and with that, the ideas that have or have not worked. One common theme was the interest in the development of secondary cities either around the periphery of rapidly urbanizing growth centers or as growth nodes strategically located along infrastructure such as regional transportation networks to create a ‘system of cities’. These growth centers often present a wealth of opportunities for the poor who flock to the cities from villages with the aspirations of a better life. However, this influx often strains the city’s services and infrastructure at an unsustainable rate.
The World Bank and Oxfam India co-organized a high energy event earlier this week - Joining Forces to End Violence Against Women. It was an intense two days – about 200 participants from diverse backgrounds gathered to listen, to educate each other, to speak up, and to build alliances; in short, to join forces towards the next step. Several of them congratulated the “movement” on progress – on having coopted unlikely allies, on the fact that more men were involved than ever before, and that public outrage against violence is widespread in South Asia. Surely, this will lead to change, is the implicit hope. But long-time warriors like Flavia Agnes, voiced angst and discouragement, as only those who have spent a lifetime of struggle are entitled to. Finally, the anger came from 21-year old Urmila Chaudhary – freed from bondage as a Kamalari – “where were you all when I was pledged to a family as a maid at the age of six”, she asked a somber audience?
“If I don’t get a hundred it would be a bad day.” said Muniran Bibi. She sounded like an ambitious cricket player. “The boat clinic is our only chance of getting health care here on the island.” she insisted. “If not many people come, a big chance would be wasted for them.” Her eyes were bright with anticipation.
It’s June 16th, 2013. When you walk through the desolate, empty streets of Kathmandu today, where the effects of another bandh (strike) are clearly visible, you can’t help but wonder: will we Nepalis ever stand up and speak out against any of the injustices we see in our society or will we silently trudge on as always?
Sitting in a conference room at the Trade Tower in Kathmandu, I feel enormous hope that yes, we will. It’s a room filled with more than a hundred young techies and gender activists, all of whom braved the monsoon and the bandh to be a part of the Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon – a platform to bring together diverse stakeholders to work on technology solutions to VAW issues.
There are thunderstorms. There is a strike. And there is the hackathon to end gender-based violence in Kathmandu, Nepal—all happening on the same day.
On a rainy Sunday, some participants woke up at 5 a.m. to walk more than 8 miles to get to Trade Tower Business Center, Thapathali—the site of the hackathon.
It’s inspiring and energizing.
“Young people ought not to be idle,” quipped Margaret Thatcher, “It is very bad for them.” That was twenty years ago. With over a million youth currently out of work in Britain today – 21% of the population – her words remain unfortunately prophetic. And it’s not just industrial countries that are in a funk. The “arc of unemployment” does not discriminate: it cuts across southern Europe through the Middle East to South Asia. Almost half of the world’s young people live along this arc, and it is a demographic dividend that is quickly becoming a demographic liability.
Consider South Asia: a region home to the largest proportion of unemployed and inactive youth in the developing world, a whopping 31%. Many attribute this to social norms, as many South Asian women do not work for cultural reasons. But with a growing middle class, gender norms are rapidly evolving.
Violence against women is a pervasive problem worldwide, causing the deaths of more women between the ages of 19 and 44 than wars, cancer, or car accidents. In South Asia, gender violence is widespread and persists in many forms, as the statistics below demonstrate:
- Every week in Bangladesh, more than ten women suffer from an acid attack
- In India, 22 women are killed every day in dowry-related murders
- In Sri Lanka, 60 percent of women report having suffered physical abuse
- In Pakistan, more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called “honor killings”
- And in Nepal, the practice of enslaving young girls, whereby parents sell their young daughters – typically age 6-7 – to be girl servants is still widely practiced
Many regions and countries face urbanization challenges, South Asia is no exception. Although the region is currently the least urbanized region in the world, its urbanization rate is on par with Africa and East Asia with a projected influx of 315 million into urban areas by 2030. As such, the World Bank flagship program on urbanization strives to link key policymakers and practitioners to promote a more efficient urbanization process in South Asia through the exchange of experiences and ideas. The 3rd workshop in this series gathered over 80 professionals from 7 South Asian countries, the World Bank and the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements in the beautiful city of Thimphu, Bhutan.
Let’s take a second and ponder over the word “Youth,” and play a game of word association. What comes to your mind? Given that I fall into the youth bucket, my list of associations is mostly positive, with a few exceptions. Yet, from a development perspective, youth can sometimes be perceived as the (excuse the word play) “problem child” demographic - What can we do with them, and how do we do it?
Did you know that approximately 1/5th of South Asia’s population lies between the ages 15 to 24? What is more, young adults also comprise 50% of the unemployed in the region. While many may view this as a sad state of affairs, Youth Solutions, the recent collaboration between Microsoft and the World Bank, viewed it as an opportunity for empowerment.