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Ladies Specials: Gender and the Public Space

Darshana Patel's picture

The “Ladies Specials”  are women-only commuter train recently launched in four Indian cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta).  While not a new practice, public transport exclusively for women is becoming popular.  (Mexico City introduced women-only buses in January 2008 and commuters on Japanese trains know a thing or two about this too.)

Harassment on the train or bus is not just an annoying nuisance for women.  It influences a whether or not a woman chooses to enter the workforce in the first place. (Or maybe whether her family or husband will allow her.)

Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It (a) Right: Citizen Access to Information in Latin America - PART 2

Antonio Lambino's picture

A follow-up to an earlier post on Toby Mendel’s new book The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey.  11 country cases and a comparative analysis chapter are organized around the following categories: definition of access to information (“The Right of Access”); rules for processing of information requests (“Procedural Guarantees” ); public authorities responsible for disclosure (“Duty to Publish”); grounds for refusal to disclose (“Exceptions”); complaint mechanisms for refusal of access (“Appeals”); punishment for obstructing access (“Sanctions and Protections”); and public engagement and education (“Promotional Measures”).  

The systematic manner in which Mendel breaks down each country analysis gives the reader a comparative sense of the 11 Latin American countries covered.  As I continued going through the country chapters, I gained an appreciation for the various dimensions of how the “right to information” has been institutionalized to varying degrees in different countries in the region.  It became clear to me that all these categories are important in getting a sense of whether the “right to information” is indeed a right since, as we know, when it comes to law, the devil lurks in the details.

The Uncontained Outbreak of Deal Anxiety

Sina Odugbemi's picture

An instructor in Law School was the first to explain to me the nature of  'deal anxiety' as a problem for business; now I know that  it is a problem for governance reform as well. For a lawyer 'deal anxiety' manifests when a client - usually a business executive - is so anxious to close a business deal she ignores the need for her attorney to exercise due diligence over the contract. For instance, what happens if there is a dispute? What dispute resolution mechanisms might be needed? What about conflict of laws if it is an international contract? Are we going to use the laws of the domicile of Party A or Party B? And so on. You'd be amazed how many business leaders just want to shake hands on the deal, and get on with 'the real business of making money', until something goes wrong and both sides reach for their lawyers ...as cowboys reach for  guns. Then you have a shoot out.

In international development, 'deal anxiety' manifests as the pell-mell rush to get a (reform?)  project going. Whether in grant making donor agencies or in multilateral lending institutions there is a tendency to rush to close the deal, get the partner government to sign the relevant documents, get the internal approving authorities to say Yes. The attitude is: Let's keep this moving folks!

Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It (a) Right: Citizen Access to Information in Latin America - PART 1

Antonio Lambino's picture

UNESCO recently published Toby Mendel’s The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey.  The book is organized around the following sections: international standards and trends; features of a Right to Information Regime; 11 Latin American country chapters; and a comparative analysis on the legal and regulatory aspects of the issue.  While Mendel’s new volume is a significant and substantial addition to the policy scholarship on this topic, what struck me initially is the boldness of the book’s title.

The title audaciously starts with “The Right to Information…”, in stark contrast with an earlier major publication on the same topic by the same author entitled Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey, first published by UNESCO in 2003 with a revised edition released in 2008.  As I started reading the chapter on international standards, I found that Mendel explicitly states the reason for this:

Quote of the Week

Antonio Lambino's picture

"Constellations of Change

Media structures, laws, and policies are scarcely ever modified to find a more beautiful form, or even to develop a more efficient way to achieve commonly agreed-upon goals.  Changes in structure, including changes in law, occur because of pressure from within industry, the society, and the government, from within or without the state... Because (the global communications system's) contours are important for the fundamentals of national identity, for trade, and the world political order, the shaping of it is a matter not only of domestic preference but also of international debate and foreign policy."

Monroe E. Price (2002, pp. 12-13)                             
Media and Sovereignty: The Global Information Revolution and Its Challenge to State Power

Putting Ideals to the Test: Health Councils in Brazil

Darshana Patel's picture

My last post on this blog discussed public deliberation as a political ideal and what happens when that ideal is tested in an actual decision-making space.   In a paper about municipal health councils in Brazil, Andrea Cornwall gives a blow-by-blow description of what happens when deliberative spaces stop being polite and start getting real.  

Health councils were established in Brazil’s 1988 ‘Citizens’ Constitution’ and empowered citizens with the right to review and approve executive-level budgets, accounts and spending plans on health programs. Although overshadowed by the participatory budgeting process, Brazilian health councils can also provide some important lessons on how to deepen citizen engagement and decision-making.   Through the example of these health councils, Cornwall argues that three elements in particular are often “under-theorized” by deliberative democratic theorists.  First, understanding political culture is important. Second, how do party politics infiltrate and impact these spaces?  And last, how is power challenged in these spaces?  (She describes discussions in this deliberative space more as confrontational rather than reasonable.)

Financial Management Reforms and the Realities of Politics

Sina Odugbemi's picture

There is probably no area of 'governance reform' work that is as technocratic and as ubiquitous as public financial management reform. It is where experts of different kinds - economists, accountants, auditors or all the above - work on improving the plumbing of governments, how revenues are collected and managed with efficiency and a minimum of leakage. Because the technical skills involved are deep and carefully honed over years of specialist training it is also an area where experts often seek to work in a politics- free zone by trying to ignore taking on the realities of each political context and just work on the plumbing. There is no doubt that a lot of good work is going on here, but there is also no doubt that a lot of the work is less effective than it might have been because interventions don't seek to work the politics of the initiative.

Stairway to Mobilization

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The ultimate goal for working on the demand side from a political communication perspective is the mobilization of the public. We want to drive citizens who lack information and efficacy to being an active public, participating as relevant actors in the public sphere and in thereby in political decision making processes. Here at CommGAP, we base our approach on a range of literature from the study of public opinion and social movements and came up with what we call the "Stairway to Mobilization." In the coming days and weeks we will try to illustrate this concept with practical examples and case studies, but for now lets discuss the theoretical background.

Quote of the Week

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"For I know that, despite the huge constitutional difference between a hereditary monarchy and an elected government, in reality the gulf is not so wide. They are complementary institutions, each with its own role to play. And each, in its different way, exists only with the support and consent of the people. That consent, or the lack of it, is expressed for you, Prime Minister, through the ballot box. It is a tough, even brutal, system, but at least the message is a clear one for all to read. For us, a Royal Family, however, the message is often harder to read, obscured as it can be by deference, rhetoric or the conflicting currents of public opinion. But read it we must."

HM the Queen, Golden Wedding. In The Best After-Dinner Stories, Tim Heald. The Folio Society, 2003.

The Public and Its Pundits

Antonio Lambino's picture

The public needs its pundits.  Those with expertise on various topics, ranging from financial derivates to pop psychology, serve as “opinion leaders” on the important and not-so-important issues of the day.  From personal experience -- talking to family, friends, and colleagues -- I notice that we tend to repeat what we hear from them on various topics, whether consciously or not. 

We know from applied communication research that, over time, people tend to retain bits and pieces of information while forgetting their sources.  How many times have we made authoritative statements and when asked where we got the information, say something like “I don’t remember from where exactly but I’m pretty sure that… “  This is normal because we can’t be expected to keep track of each and every information source.  And we can’t be expected to come up with our own erudite analysis of each and every public issue either.  Hence, we need pundits.  But we should also keep in mind that not all of these experts on all things public are created equal.  We could very well be mouthing off as hard fact something a pundit shared as her or his own misinformed opinion. 

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