There is a lot that development practitioners don’t know about the Pacific Islands. When it comes to the laws of these small island nations scattered throughout the ocean separating Asia and the Americas, most people outside the region know even less. Add the dimension of gender to the mix and you might be met with blank stares.
The sun sets this year on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include the elimination of gender disparities in education at all levels. Even though the number of countries that have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education between 2000 and 2015 has increased from 36 to 62, girls continue to face the greatest challenges, especially in access to secondary education.
The negative consequences of lack of education are visible throughout a woman’s life. An uneducated girl is less capable of making her own family planning decisions. A child bride is more likely to face health issues and psychological distress, and her children are more exposed to malnutrition and illiteracy. Education, thus, is fundamental to the development of both aspirations and skills: an educated girl is more capable of managing property and her finances, and has higher chances to have access to credit.
Women’s leadership and access to decision-making positions are also strictly dependent on educational attainment. In the long term, the lack of education affects a girl’s future capacity to seek and get employment and to have an income. Economic independence is reflected not only in a woman’s capacity to spend, save, acquire property and invest, but also in the freedom to get out of abusive domestic relationships, particularly economic violence.
The fallout from the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh has had severe domestic and international reactions. The international buyers and governments have responded vehemently to these events. Careful reappraisal of labor issues has been universally identified as a key area of reform. The objective is to ensure workers’ safety and workers’ rights. Poor labor standards can adversely affect Bangladesh’s overall reputation in the exporting sector. The government has been pressured to take a series of measures to improve workers’ safety. Representatives of the Bangladesh government, the European Union and the International Labor Organization met in Geneva on July 8, 2013 to promote improved labor standards and responsible business conduct in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Following up on the commitments made in Geneva, Bangladesh’s legislature recently amended the Bangladesh Labor Law to provide improved protection, in law and practice, for the fundamental rights to freedom of association and the rights to collective bargaining, among others.
Are these good economics and good politics now and in the future?
Madame Ngetsi wanted to start a business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What was her first step was in making her dreams a reality? Did she go to a bank for a loan, a notary to formalize her documentation, or the company registry to register her company? In fact, her first stop was to go to her husband to get legal permission to start her business. By law, Madame Ngetsi has to have written legal permission to register a business, formalize a document, open a bank account, and register land—a requirement that doesn’t apply to her husband.
In Sierra Leone's rainy season, the Sewa River, feared by many locals for its powerful currents, floods over its banks separating entire villages from basic services. Konta health clinic in Kenema district operates near the shores of the Sewa, and during the six-month rainy season, five of Konta’s 17 dependent villages cannot access the clinic. If women in those villages give birth during the rains, they entrust care to traditional birth attendants; if children fall ill, they turn to traditional medicine, stockpiled drugs, and, often, prayer. As one woman explained during a recent community meeting in Konta, these are the only options, even if the all-too-frequent consequence is death. Hearing her account, it’s difficult not to feel a strong sense of injustice, even in an incredibly resource-constrained country like Sierra Leone. But is there a role for the law in remedying this situation?
Even though Chinese law offers farmers protection from land grabs, readjustments, and other confiscations, news reports paint a different picture of embattled farmers defending their land from local officials working in concert with developers. In fact, every year 3-4 million farmers lose their property to land readjustments and other forms of compulsory forfeiture in China.
Many of these farmers do not know their legal rights. According to independent surveys, fewer than 30% of farmers have heard of China’s Property Law, the most important law governing properties, and land rights. As a result fewer than 10% of Chinese farmers ever appeal to administrative and judicial institutions when their land rights are violated.
Literary writers do not think much of the law. In the last century, Anatole France wrote, mordantly: “The majestic equality of the laws prohibits the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread.” More recently, Aarvind Adiga says, “The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. . . . The judges? Wouldn't they see through this obviously forced confession? But they are in the racket too. They take their bribe, they ignore the discrepancies in the case. And life goes on.”
In countless movies about America's wild, wild west- - think about the many classic westerns you've seen -- the story follows a familiar pattern. There is a town known as, say, Tombstone where law-abiding citizens go about their daily lives. Outlaws ride into town. They steal, pillage, plunder, kill and maim. Then they ride out of town -- hard. The sheriff, furious, gathers a body of armed citizens on horseback. They are known as the posse. The posse rides out of town, determined to catch the outlaws. It is a hunt. The posse hunts down the outlaws, and there is a showdown. The bad guys are killed or unceremoniously hanged. Justice is deemed served. The sheriff and his posse ride back into town as the music picks up. Citizens welcome them joyously. They are heroes. The moral order is restored, and all is well.
Since the unceremonious dispatching of Osama bin Laden and the huge, visceral reactions to the event by the citizens of the United States - also known as 'a fist pump' moment -- I have been thinking about all my favorite wild, wild west movies. The modern posse is, of course, no longer a group of citizens, but Navy SEALS with superlative skills. And the modern outlaw is a terrorist from another tribe but one able to kill thousands. And the sheriff? Well, who would have believed who the modern sheriff turns out to be!