Grounded by the British hartal

29/11/2011

Naomi Hossain

In Dhaka, the Institute of Governance Studies (IGS) BRAC University/Bath University conference has finally resolved the problem of governance in Bangladesh. I really think we might have cracked it. But the real beauty of the conference is that my friend David has been grounded in Dhaka because of a hartal. It is a bit mean I know, but he appreciates the symmetry. Anyone who has spent any time in Dhaka knows what hartal means: cancelled flights, curfew, stuck at home. But this time the hartal – or strike – was not in Dhaka but in Britain: David was due to return to London on the 30th. Everyone’s on strike. That means no immigration officials, which means no immigration. So David is grounded by the British hartal.

This was perfect symmetry too, to a side argument we had at the conference. My argument was that if you look at the supposed ‘clients’ (also known as poor people) in the Bangladesh system, many of them look remarkably like citizens and people with political agency. Not (as Geof Wood has it) as prisoners of a system that fails them. There are many ways in which these citizens are taking power and transforming their lives and relationships, including with the state. The mother story is that unruly politics and rude accountability are pretty good ways for poor and disconnected people (including women) to be heard; for various reasons these tactics can be relatively powerful in Bangladesh. But this is not only a Bangladesh story: strikes and demonstrations and staged protests and so on are on the rise around the world. And that is not coincidental: small and big political conflicts are inevitably arising out of the debris of the economic and austerity crises. Nobody finds these conflicts mysterious.

The volatilities and pressures from the external environment make it impossible to predict or think of intervening in the governance of Bangladesh with any serious expectation of knowing what might emerge. Global economic risks are certainly changing the internal political calculus in Dhaka. Securing resilience to the food price spikes and financial crisis of 2008-09 squeezed the fiscal space more than is comfortable, as we know from the budget and macroeconomic work by the Centre for Policy Dialogue. A close look at official statements shows that these new global risks are making the government think differently – about social protection for instance. So the global economy is pushing in unexpected directions, and on a rising global tide of unruliness.

I don’t think David or others bought the argument that popular mobilisation and global economic risk are now important drivers of change in Bangladesh’s governance. This may be partly because the future it predicts is violent and messy and by no means guaranteed to result in fairer arrangements. But those who analyse governance in Bangladesh generally stop well short of recognising influences from beyond national borders, or of treating popular mobilisation as effective demand for change at all. Everyone knows that the problems are political, but there is a strong residual desire to avoid this problem – not generally amenable to the kinds of technocrat tinkering produced by risk-averse aid bureaucrats – by talking about building better, more rational, more formal institutions. This appetite for discussing law as a possible solution to the issues we face I do find genuinely mystifying.

I noticed just now that the opening scene from David’s new book Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society (D. Lewis, 2011, Cambridge University Press) is one of riot: ‘the streets once again convulsed by demonstrations and a strike … blocked the highways … roads with barricades … picketed … demanding … protesters lost their lives in clashes with police … dozens were injured in the violence that followed.’ (pp. 1). That was David’s picture of Dhaka in late 2010. Yet only eight months later, in 2011, English cities were similarly in riot. And now David is himself grounded by hartal, not for once at Zia International Airport (or whatever they’ve renamed it) but at Heathrow. How long before BRAC hosts conferences on the state of governance in Britain?

Naomi Hossain is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.


From unruly politics to ballot boxes: rethinking the terms of democratic engagement in Egypt

24/11/2011

Mariz Tadros

On the surface of it, the latest protests in Tahrir Square seem like the January uprisings all over again: last Friday, the authorities warn protestors to vacate Tahrir at night, they don’t and the security strike back, which rather than instilling fear in the hearts of people only brings more and more crowds to the street. The same tactics of elimination are used as in the January protests: snipers targeting protestor’s eyes, the use of tear gas and brutal beatings. Just as Mubarak’s government showed a complete disconnect from the pulse on the street by making the kind of speeches that provoked more antagonistic sentiment, the same kind of vilification of protestors as criminals and thugs is happening again this time. Tantawy’s speech on Tuesday was out of tune with the pulse of Tahrir Square. Mirroring their approach from the 25th of January, when the Muslim Brotherhood leadership chose to play it safe with the authorities and not join the protestors, so too this time they chose to boycott the millioniyya of Tuesday and found themselves alienated and marginalized once more.

As with the first occupation of Tahrir Square eleven months earlier, this time too, youth coalitions tried to instate their own moral economy amongst the ranks of the protestors. This is an attempt to create unity and present a particular vision of the polity: no political party slogans, no religious rhetoric, remember, it is all about saving Egypt .However, the truth is that this is not a unified front against a common enemy like the days of Mubarak. This is a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army on one side, against other political forces. This time, the protestors are challenged not only with removing a dictatorial and incompetent military regime, but with changing the conditions of choice under which voters will be going to the elections – and the latter is no easy task.

But let us not be deceived that civilian rule is a necessary but insufficient condition for the instatement of a democratic system. If the elections go ahead next week as scheduled, the only winners to emerge out of this current political struggle are the Islamists: the Brothers and the Salafis. Let us not forget that when the protests initially began last Friday, they were led by the Brotherhood and the Salafis to object to the clause affirming the civility of the state in the proposed supra-constitutional principles known as the “Selmi document”. The Brotherhood went home that night, the Salafis stayed and the security massacres started. Then when the youth revolutionary forces took to the Square, joined by others, the demands changed – and a demand for civilian rule became the catch cry. No doubt the military had used the civil/religious card as a divide and rule strategy to prolong its rule and it is time they read the writings on the wall: their time had expired.

If the elections take place next week all eyes will be on the ballot boxes, the widely celebrated proxy for liberal democratic rule and no doubt the Islamists are well positioned to bring in the votes. So what if the Islamists gain the majority, if this the will of the people, you might say. Give them a chance, they can’t be worse than the military, some say. Besides, if people don’t like them, they can vote them out in five years time. Such thinking places too much weight on liberal procedural mechanisms’ capability for instituting systems that are democratic, let alone inclusive. A snippet from Khaled Montasser’s recent column gives us an idea of what is happening in the rest of Egypt while the protestors fight it out in Tahrir Square:

A domestic worker from the poor urban settlement of Al Zawya Al Hamra was approached by two bearded men who gave her a bag with “the Freedom and Justice party” sticker on it (the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party). The bag contained meat, oil and sugar, and a pen and pencil and ruler for the children. The woman was elated but then they asked her for her ID and told her that they know she won’t go to the elections and they are prepared to save her because arrest awaits those who do not go to vote. They told her that as they are Godly people, they will safeguard her ID. This incident was repeated with many women in the area .

The answer to the question of what is the use of her ID for the Brothers if she can’t go to the ballot herself?, lies in the comments in response to Montasser’s article: Easy, the Muslim Sisterhood is organized and mobilized, it is not hard for a woman wearing a niqab (face veil) to go in to vote repeatedly, using the collected IDs, in particular if the situation is one where identity checks on women are lax. Such are the speculations of the commentators.

Something else that is lax that is likely to undermine the power of the ballot box to tell us what the people think is the security situation. With thugs claiming the streets and sporadic violence erupting in many places, surely the conditions of exercising free choice through the ballot boxes are undermined? If the protestors win the struggle against the military through people power in Tahrir Square, the struggle against an Islamic state is a far tougher, more painful and drawn out one.

The sacrifice of the people who are losing their lives in Tahrir Square is a great one, and it is one that is inadvertently clearing the floor for the Islamists who have absolutely no intention of ruling by consensus, but by the power of the majority. Sadly, at this moment there is a blurring of lines, such that protesting in Tahrir Square and voting in parliamentary elections are seen as part and parcel of the same democratic package – and they are not. Unruly politics in Tahrir Square may afford a certain space for inclusive democracy, the orderly politics of elections under the present conditions will not. It will lead to a majoritarian democracy that is highly exclusionary. The act of claiming Tahrir Square is one thing, claiming a ballot box constituency is another.

The moral economy of one of Tahrir Square is not the moral economy that rules the streets in elections…the question now is whether it is possible to transform the ownership of the moral economy of Tahrir Square into a broad constituency among the people? Or is it that the power of unruly politics lies in its ability to create a rupture with the status quo but has more modest power in influencing the political outcome?

Mariz Tadros is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and will be publishing IDS Bulletin 43.1 “The Pulse on Egypt’s Revolt” in January 2012


A passionate family: Reflections on the WSSCC Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene

14/11/2011

Robert Chambers

This was the first ever Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene. There have been the regional meetings – Sacosans, Africasans and so on, but never one for the whole developing world. Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) (and most notably Archana Patkar, who got a standing ovation at the end) did a great job in imaginative and thorough planning. The facilitation by Archana, Barbara Evans and others was outstanding. WSSCC had brought together some 450 of us. There was fuller representation of Africa than usual, and fewer Indians than one might have expected. There was a family feel about it for those of us who pitch up for the regional ‘Sans’, and a sense of common purpose and commitment which was stronger than before. That augurs well. I didn’t pick up any sense of institutional rivalries.

What stands out now the four main days are over?

  • Passion And it is a common passion. Jon Lane set the tone with an eloquent unscripted introduction in which he drew on Gandhi and Mandela. He mentioned that worldwide about half of the toilets constructed for people were either not used or used for other purposes. Demand-led, not supply led…
  • Behaviour change This was a good idea, a plenary in which people from different fields gave their insights into what leads to behaviour change. All of their contributions fitted, supported and helped to explain Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), more or less like these soundbites distilling what they said:
    ‘No health education, please!’ (Yes, that really was said)
    Telling people to send girls to school does not work (Yes that really was said)
    Focus on want, need, desire
    For behaviour to change, experiences have to be ‘radical, real, immediate and dramatic’
    Let choice be compelling so that there is no choice
    When frames of mind change, behaviour change is easy
    For behaviour change, social norms must change
  • Equity and inclusion. These were big, big themes throughout. We had previously excluded people who here came to talk to us in small groups – rehabilitated manual cleaners, slum dwellers, disabled, minorities. We spent part of a whole morning on this, set up by Louisa Gosling of WaterAid who has written authoritatively on this. Everyone will go away with this firmly imprinted. A lot was said on the shift from the Millennium Development Goals approach (and how well it is filling the glass) – to right-holders and duty bearers, and the concept that as long as the glass is not full, and people are excluded, are we as duty-bearers not guilty of discrimination? This from Archana. And this orientation came across powerfully from my nomination for the wittiest speaker award – she had us in stitches – Nomathemba Neseni, Commissioner, Human Rights Commission, Zimbabwe.
  • CLTS Bushfire in Africa was Kamal Kar’s title for his rousing presentation, and that imagery seems increasingly justified. Jane Bevan said she thought those in credibly Open Defecation Free (ODF) communities in Africa might now number not four but five million, sustaining the sense that much spread there is exponential (though of course not everywhere). Sammy Musyoki impressed with his presentations on urban CLTS in Mathare, and on the use of mobiles in monitoring. Kamal and I (mainly Kamal) did a four hour CLTS ‘training’ in which we re-christened a familiarisation. Though in competition with field visits in Mumbai, we still got about 25 people, and had fun taking over and messing up some of the paved area outside the hotel with a role play of triggering and lots of (yuk!) yellow rangoli powder which stayed on your hands. The joint IDS- CLTS Foundation stall was well set up by Andii Paul, and attracted a great deal of attention – much material was picked up, many signed up for the bi-monthly e-newsletter. There were country meetings around CLTS – Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania,Madagascar. And lots of energy.
  • CLTS ‘debate’ or moving forward? A debate had been planned but the atmosphere was different. There isn’t much debate about CLTS – yes or no – now. The sceptics are fewer. It is an extraordinary change, and has happened fast. I noticed the same at the Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) conference a couple of months ago in Loughborough. Instead of a debate we split into topic groups and brainstormed. Old ground had to be covered in the groups to bring people up to date, but that was all right. The PHAST issue seems to have subsided – there doesn’t seem to be much argument there any more – it is so painfully obvious why the PHAST approach is incompatible with and undermines, inhibits, slows, stops CLTS. All the same, we still need practitioners to record their experiences. The concerns now (except still in much of India – the elephant in the room) are how to do better with and through CLTS, and how to go to scale with quality and sustainability. Louis Boorstin of the Gates Foundation called for going straight to scale, without pilots (there is a debate to be had there, but perhaps it’s a question of semantics) and realism ‘call it like it is’ and convened a breakout meeting on going to scale with CLTS and total sanitation – experiences of how to do it.
  • Handwashing surprise Steve Luby from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDR) astonished with his finding from rigorous research in Bangladesh that of the five times when you are meant to wash your hands – after shitting, after handling children’s shit, before eating, before preparing food, and before feeding a child, only two had a significant effect on the incidence of diarrhoea. Which two do you think? The answer is at the end of the blog.
  • Nepal number 15 The first 14 countries can welcome a new member to the club. In the week before the Forum, Nepal adopted CLTS as national policy for rural sanitation, making it the 15th country to do so, and the second outside Africa, the other being Indonesia.
  • India Still underplayed. The gross enormity of open defacation in India, and its impacts on undernutrition of children, on livelihoods, on poverty, is still not really recognised as it should be. If India still has 56-58 per cent of the open defactation in the world, we need to get our minds around this, and so does the Indian Government. The Hindustan Times carried an article about undernutrition in Mumbai, and quoted IDS Director Lawrence Haddad that India was an economic powerhouse but a nutritional weakling. A third of the children in Mumbai are undernourished.
  • Shit transect Visits were organised to slums, one of which didn’t seem from the video to be a slum at all, but it wasn’t necessary to go far. Sammy, Naomi and I walked just ten minutes from our five star hotel to an area I had found when jogging. In the early morning we saw children crapping in the middle of a tarmac road, six  men in a small plot of vegetation where they must surely have been stepping on the stuff, and shit on raised flat concrete surfaces. All gross, disgusting and smelly. And oh a disused toilet block, and another quite dirty one actually in use, all of these apparently draining into a stream that feeds into the (beautiful?) lake of which we had such a good view from our lap of luxury. Back in the hotel, I washed my trainers.
  • ‘Shit’ is OK The word was widely used, even in the concluding plenary. This is a watershed passed, a mini but meaningful tipping point from which there is no return. We collected more words for the international glossary.

So, well done and thank you WSSCC, and let’s look forward to a summary from this Forum. May the ripples spread wide. Some may be through the Communities of Practice that were launched (see WSSCC website). And don’t let this be the last Forum but the first, so that we can look forward to the next!

PS: The answer is after shitting, and before preparing food

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.


Care work should be at the heart of a people-centred economy

08/11/2011

Rosalind Eyben

The Occupy campaigns are fuelling a long-needed discussion about how to design an economy that delivers equity and sustainability. A vital element in this debate concerns the unpaid work that is done outside the market economy. This includes not only unpaid work in family farms and businesses but also the feeding, caring for and generally meeting the material and other needs of families and neighbours. Caring forms the bedrock of human wellbeing and replenishes the human resources needed for sustainable economic development. Everyone has the right to receive adequate care and the right not to be exploited when providing care.

Women undertake the bulk of unpaid care work

In most countries round the world, women undertake the bulk of unpaid care work. In developing countries, where there is less access to labour saving technologies and – for low income families - irregular or difficult access to water and energy supplies, women work longer hours at caring than men, low-income women work longer hours than better-off women, and rural women work longer hours than urban women. The invisibility and undervaluing of care work also has an impact on women’s wages as domestic workers and in jobs such as nursing and care of children and the elderly. Until challenged by feminists, women’s caring role was ‘natural’, and thus not identified as a matter requiring a policy response.

Conventional development thinking emphasizes economic growth over human wellbeing and ignores care (pdf) as a public good that sustains and reproduces society and on which markets depend for their functioning. Women’s resilience may not last forever and it urgent that we work for an alternative economic system that reflects and places a value on equitable relations between women and men. Commonly-held assumptions about how the economy works need to be challenged in this time of global crisis because such assumptions risk bringing greater misery and impoverishment for those who can least protect themselves from collapsing markets.

Juggling demands

The last thirty years have seen increasing numbers of women entering the market economy. Most have to juggle the demands on their time between their paid activities and unpaid care work. As a result they are frequently employed on a part time or piece-work basis where wages are lower, employment less secure and collective action or negotiation more difficult. These changes have coincided with in some countries a decline of state provision and everywhere an increased involvement of the market in care.

Women who can afford to do so hire poorer women, often underpaid and over-worked and in many parts of the world subject to racial discrimination.

The neglect of care is the greatest scandal of development policy

Care is a public good that sustains and reproduces society. Yet, despite all the evidence of its importance and accumulating research findings, most development organisations remain blind to all but the paid, visible forms of women’s economic contribution. Development policies and programmes have failed to address the inter-connected interests of women as producers, employees and carers with negative effects for individual, family and social wellbeing.

From a political analysis perspective, it is clear that neglecting care has political advantages, allowing governments to pass on its costs to families and communities, rather than financing care as a public good. At the same time, the women who are the most over-whelmed with care responsibilities are those with the least voice and chance to influence policy choices partly because the time they spend on care excludes them from political participation. The neglect of care is the greatest scandal of development policy.

Care’s importance to the economy and society must be recognised for example through integrating unpaid care into systems of national accounts. Recognition will encourage development agencies and governments to do more to reduce the drudgery through labour-saving technologies and reliable access to water and energy supplies. Support must be given also to redistributing care more equitably, not only within families but also among and between families and other providers of care services i.e. community based and non-governmental organisations, the private sector and state agencies.

More politically challenging is the maintenance and expansion of core public services to reduce unpaid care work. This is why, global and local debates are needed for people to re-imagine potentially diverse ways in which their social and political economy could be re-ordered so that care is recognised and properly supported as the foundation for living well together.

Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.


Sexuality, development and continued colonialism?

03/11/2011

Stephen Wood

When opening a broadsheet newspaper in the last few weeks, you can’t have failed to see a disproportionate number of column inches devoted to a shift in policy from the UK Government towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. Making international aid conditional on a good track record on LGBT rights is now floated as a concrete policy, with countries such as Uganda and Ghana in the firing line for cancelled aid. On the surface an increased commitment to tackling sexual rights may be seen as a welcome development, but is this the right approach to achieve truly progressive policies?

Of course it is important for LGBT rights to play a greater role in our foreign policy outlook. However, cracks in the government’s new approach are already beginning to show – earlier this week a coalition of all the major African LGBT and human rights organisations released a strong statement illustrating their disquiet over the UK Government’s stance and calling for a more nuanced approach. Additionally, the UK approach to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place this week has ignored the efforts and undermined years of lobbying from LGBT groups in the global South, whilst stepping forward to speak for others without any sense of history… or  irony.

Once again, these UK activists and politicians are ignoring rule number one of working on international development, which is to start by listening to the lived experience of those you are campaigning to support. The truth is that activists in other countries have a more sophisticated sense of their own political contexts, know what strategies will work best and where to apply pressure. For those of us who want to see a more just and equal world, this means we must listen, pledge solidarity and apply pressure as and when requested. We are running the risk of being viewed as arrogant amateurs who think they know best: the worst kind of colonialism repackaged for the 21st century.

We are already seeing the unintended results of this policy strategy. In a number of African countries, homosexuality is portrayed by a hostile media and political elite as an imported cultural abomination. Reduction of international aid, (still desperately needed in severely poor countries) will be blamed upon Western imperialism and LGBT communities in these states will be convenient scapegoats. This can already be seen in Malawi, where this is another instrument with which to demonise communities already under siege.

A cynic might wonder whether this threat to reduce UK aid to homophobic states provides a progressive sheen to a longer-term policy of reducing aid levels. Why isn’t the UK Government pledging to provide aid directly to those NGOs with a proven track-record in extending human rights to LGBT citizens? Why isn’t more financial support given to the inspiring, frontline work these groups are undertaking in-country under the harshest circumstances?

Stephen Wood is the Team Administrative Co-ordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and can be found on Twitter at: StephenWood_UK