It is hard to talk about South Asia without invoking its demographics. The region will contribute nearly 40 percent of the growth in the world’s working age (15-64) population, and will need to add a staggering 1 to 1.2 million new entrants to the labor market every month for the next two decades. Absorbing the influx of youth into the labor force is one of South Asia’s core challenges. But while economists grapple with employment statistics and economic policy, jobs are created at the grassroots. Entrepreneurship is the spark that lights the fire, and the engine that generates opportunities in local communities.
Arif Jafar had no choice about coming out as gay. In 2001, he was arrested in the northern Indian city of Lucknow at the AIDS prevention agency where he worked, charged with running a sex club, jailed for 47 days, and named in the newspapers, in a case that helped spark a legal challenge to India’s sodomy law, known as Section 377. (Needless to say, he denies that the AIDS agency was a sex club.)
“Before jail, I was open, but not that open,” says Jafar, 42, a mosque-going Shiite Muslim who now runs the Maan Foundation, an AIDS prevention group (“maan” means “respect” or “pride”). “Now everybody in the city knows.” Despite the arrest, Jafar (right) says he loves Lucknow and will never leave. “If I ran away, people would start having the perception that I did something wrong,” he says.
Jafar’s case has dragged on for 11 years without coming to trial, but in the meantime, the law criminalizing homosexuality has been overturned in Delhi High Court. Retired Justice Ajit Shah, who wrote the decision, is an unassuming man, greeting us in sandals in his modest apartment. Yet his landmark opinion broke through several centuries of bias and freed up India’s nascent movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to come into its own.
“While unemployment is around 5% in Sri Lanka, youth unemployment is nearly 3 times that. Youth unemployment is a critical challenge for us right now”, I said, in my remarks on Sri Lankan perspectives at a South Asian youth dialogue on the sidelines of the World Bank–IMF Spring Meetings last month. “Hey, what are you complaining about? Youth unemployment is almost 50% in Greece right now!”, was the immediate response I got from a World Banker in the audience. I was taken slightly aback, but it made it very clear to me - the youth unemployment issue is a gripping issue for many of the world’s economies right now, and even if the numbers may not always be on the same scale and each country has different reasons for why it’s a high-priority policy issue right now.
The last year and a half has seen everyone sit up and take notice of youth unemployment like never before – either because of the Arab Spring or protests by discontent educated youth in European capitals. The attention of economists and governments alike is on it – how did it become such a challenge? How can we address it?
Last week, I discussed the optimistic and pessimistic views of South Asia's development potential. As I highlighted in my book, Reshaping Tomorrow, South Asia is among the fastest growing regions in the world, but it is also home to the largest concentration of people living in conditions of debilitating poverty, human misery, gender disparities, and conflict.
I also ask if South Asia is Ready for the Big Leap. The optimistic view is that India will achieve double-digit growth rates benefiting the rest of South Asia. The pessimistic view is that growth will be derailed by structural and transformational challenges. In this entry, I will make some suggestions on how South Asia could realize the optimistic view.
What can be done?
India’s estimated 700,000 hijras, or transgender women, generally get little or no schooling, their families often reject them, and they join marginalized and feudal communities where their employment options are sex work or ritualized begging. They are likely to die young, of violence – like Anil Sadanandan, a transgender activist murdered in Kerala state during my recent visit to India – or AIDS. They are among India’s most destitute women, yet they are ignored by the World Bank, despite its strong focus on the “gender agenda.”
On April 3, 2012, the World Bank announced the “Imagining Our Future Together” art exhibition competition for young artists (those born after 1975) to submit samples of their work to be included in an upcoming traveling exhibition, “South Asia Artists: Imagining Our Future Together.” The deadline for submissions was April 30, 2012.
We received applications from 231 artists in all eight South Asian countries:
Sri Lanka: 8
South Asia is among the fastest growing regions in the world, but it is also home to the largest concentration of people living in conditions of debilitating poverty, human misery, gender disparities, and conflict. In my book, Reshaping Tomorrow, I ask if South Asia is Ready for the Big Leap.
The optimistic view is that India will achieve double-digit growth rates benefitting the rest of South Asia. The pessimistic view is that growth will be derailed by structural and transformational challenges. Which of these two outlooks will prevail?
The Optimistic Outlook
The optimistic outlook is based on favorable trends, including improved governance, the demographic dividend, the rise of the middle class, and the new faces of globalization.
All countries in the region have an elected government for the first time since independence leading to governance that is more focused on development. Improved governance will enhance the politics of democratic accountability; diminishing the importance of identity politics; and the rates of incumbency – the likelihood of a sitting politician being re-elected – are down.
What is the account penetration among women in South Asia? Has the spread of bank agents affected how adults do their banking in Bangladesh and Nepal? How are people all over South Asia saving, borrowing, making payments and managing risk?
In the past, the view of financial inclusion in SAR has been incomplete, and the details unsatisfying. A patchwork of data from diverse and often incompatible household and central bank surveys was the only information available with which to construct a regional picture.
With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion Indicators (Global Findex) we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows for comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage their daily finances and plan for the future. The Global Findex database also identifies barriers to financial inclusion, such as cost, travel time, distance, amount of paper work, and income inequality.
Are you a South Asian artist from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka and born in or after 1975?
You are invited to share examples of your work for the exhibition South Asia Artists: Imagining Our Future Together.
Imagining our Future Together is a juried group exhibition that will be on display in throughout South Asia and beyond.
The concept of the exhibition comes from the realization that cooperation among the countries of South Asia is the key to the region’s success in the 21st century. And what better example of transcending borders and breaking stereotypes can be seen than in art created by emerging artists, some of our society’s most perceptive, creative and genuine minds?
Imagining our Future Together is an opportunity to communicate your experience, feelings and thoughts as visual artist to the rest of the world.
Dr. Suneeta Singh made that simple yet powerful statement during a panel discussion on “Empowering Gender Minorities in South Asia” on March 14, 2012 at the World Bank. Singh, a former Bank staffer and CEO of consulting firm Amaltas, spoke via videoconference from Delhi, India, while Nepal’s first openly gay elected official, Sunil Babu Pant, dialed in from Kathmandu.
Pant told the story of how he built a grassroots movement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people in Nepal, beginning in 2001. A turning point was in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay and transgendered people “are natural” and mandated certain benefits and an end to discriminatory laws. Today, the country is drafting a new constitution, and Pant said that if passed, it will be one of the most progressive in the world with regard to the rights of sexual and gender minorities.