Archive for July, 2012

SPA Conference Review

Image of blog authorA review of the 2012 Social Policy Association conference
By Lee Gregory, PhD Candidate Cardiff School of Social Sciences

When asked to review the recent SPA conference for the Policy Press blog I have to admit it raised some concern. How do you review something so large and diverse when you really get to see so little of everything that is going on? But I soon pulled out a couple of overarching themes from the conference, which perhaps make this year stand out from previous years.

First, of course, this year’s SPA was a joint event. Working in collaboration with the East Asian Social Policy research network (EASP) the conference brought together a wide range of perspectives, ideas and research. This was reflected not only in the range of papers on offer to delegates but also in the plenary sessions which drew out some comparative discussions between East Asia and the UK in relation to inequalities: a topic of renewed concern during a time of “austerity”. The conference ended with the ambition of future collaboration, on the basis of a joint agreement signed by the SPA and EASP, to continue working together.

The second overarching issue was the use of twitter. Whilst twitter may have been in use during previous SPA conferences, this year conference had an official hashtag #socpol2012 (for the non-tweeting readers, this is a way to label a post on twitter so posts can be collected together). The use of twitter actually addresses, to some extent, the concern that passed through my mind when first asked to write this blog piece. By following the hashtag I was able to read the key points coming out of presentations and discussions in paper sessions I couldn’t attend. Tweeting during conference also allowed a new platform for sharing ideas. Not only accessible to the public but also providing a digital record offering small insights into the conference.

Both of these developments are refreshing and encouraging. Refreshing because they provide new opportunities to connect with other academics (and the wider public), to share ideas and thinking. Encouraging, because they show a concern within the SPA to look beyond the conference to wider audiences.

One theme repeated from last year was the need to campaign and seek change not just to defend the social sciences but to challenge the ideas and policies being put forward by the Coalition Government (although I would urge a need to consider the devolved context in which policy debates now take place, I am, after all, currently based in a Welsh institution). Seeking collaboration with other organisations reminds us of the global contexts in which these issues take place, and twitter gives us a local means of engaging debate and change.

Lee Gregory, PhD Candidate Cardiff School of Social Sciences
http://ljgregory.wordpress.com/

Can childcare markets deliver?

Chilcare markets book cover By Eva Lloyd, co-editor of Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service?

At first glance it may seem far-fetched, if not downright distasteful, to draw parallels between developments in childcare markets and emerging findings in the recent disturbing report from the deputy Children’s Commission’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with a special focus on children in care (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012). But both cases highlight risks attached to private-for-profit agencies delivering social welfare services on behalf of public bodies.

Modern states traditionally have varied in the amount of public support provided for early childhood education and care systems and other types of social welfare provision. Compared to commodity markets, childcare markets tend to form part of a mixed economy, in parallel with developments in social welfare markets such as the residential childcare market. In this mixed economy, the state, private-for-profit and private-not-for-profit providers all play a role in its provision, funding and regulation. The conclusion becomes almost inescapable that prioritising business interests, including profit or surplus, may underlie the geographical clustering of private sector care homes which was identified in this report. Almost half of all children in care were living outside the local authority with primary responsibility for their welfare, thus promoting their vulnerability, in particular to sexual exploitation (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012, p 8).

There is growing evidence that marketisation and privatisation – including corporatisation – risk deepening, consolidating or widening inequalities of access to social welfare services. They may also drive up costs and promote qualitative differences between provider types. That this also applies to childcare markets, a distinctive and rapidly growing phenomenon in the present global economic climate, is shown from a range of disciplinary perspectives in a new edited book from the Policy Press, Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service?

This book documents the economic and policy backdrops of eight current childcare market systems, allowing comparisons between privatisation and marketisation processes of early childhood services within their national policy and political contexts. It examines their consequences for parents, children, providers and the systems themselves. Alongside this it offers material about ‘raw’ and ‘emerging’ childcare markets operating with a minimum of government input, mostly in low income countries or post-transition economies in the process of adopting a market model. Finally, it explores alternative approaches and interrogates the case for government intervention.

Those authors writing from an education or childcare background emphasise the position of children, especially vulnerable children, and consider the detail of the care and education they are likely to receive within a market system. The economists’ contributions, on the other hand, consider the childcare market from the perspective of wider economic analysis and prediction, and they view childcare as a more or less well-functioning sector of the market. But despite these contrasting starting points, evidence presented challenges the expectation that the market will create incentives for providers to offer consumers more choice and competitive pricing, leading to a better balance between service supply and demand. Instead, all chapters in their own individual way demonstrate the case for increased attention to the ethical demands inherent in negotiating the interplay between social, political and economic issues and tensions within childcare markets.

This position is cogently argued by Jennifer Sumsion on the basis of her case study of the rise and fall of ABC Learning, the Australian childcare corporation which briefly became the world’s largest for-profit childcare provider, and virtually monopolized the Australian childcare market before its spectacular collapse in 2008. From her analysis of the current Dutch childcare system, Janneke Plantenga concludes that local providers and loyal parents do not by definition generate efficient markets, but that their atypical nature may generate additional market regulation, aiming at steering and perhaps limiting the choices of providers and parents. Even in New Zealand, according to Linda Mitchell, a state and community partnership model can build early childhood services more responsive to the wider context of children’s lives and supporting a stronger local sense of community than a market approach, while the Norwegian childcare system as described by Jacobsen and Vollset, does indeed operate on a non-profit basis, while still offering parents choice, by using a wide-reaching regulatory approach and judiciously targeted – and generous – public funding.

Rather than primarily ideologically driven conclusions, the book presents a balanced and pragmatic case for reform and outlines constraints needed to ensure that mixed economies of childcare can deliver equitable services.

Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood at the University of East London, UK, and Co-director of the International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare (ICMEC), has extensive childhood policy research experience. Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service? is edited by Eva Lloyd and Helen Penn and is available now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

The petty politics of the anti-inequality brigade

Daniel Ben-Ami

The following is an extract from an essay on the Spiked website.

It is easy to make the mistake of assuming there is a big drive towards equality in the world today. Politicians, pundits and even billionaire financiers rail against the dangers of inequality, excess and greed. A handful of Occupy protesters claiming to represent the ‘99 per cent’ against the super-rich ‘one per cent’ are widely lauded in influential circles. Parallel campaigns slate the wealthy for failing to pay their fair share of tax. Officially sanctioned campaigns promote fairness, social justice, social equality, equal access to education and the like.

From this false premise it appears to follow that radical politics is alive and well. If equality was historically a core principle of the left then, so it is assumed, the current discussion must be enlightened and humanistic. Those who oppose the plethora of apparently pro-equality initiatives are therefore cast as reactionary souls who are probably in the pay of giant corporations.

The aim of this essay is to show that there is no dynamic towards equality at present. Instead there is a drive towards what could be called the therapeutic management of inequality. This is not a trivial distinction. On the contrary, the two sets of ideas embody fundamentally opposing conceptions of humanity.

Historically, support for equality was ultimately about trying to achieve the full human potential or what was often called the perfectibility of mankind. It meant advancing from a more backward society to a civilised one. In its most advanced forms it married a desire for social equality with support for economic progress.

In contrast, the discussion in recent years has shifted decisively against the idea of economic progress and towards a deep suspicion, even hatred, of humanity. It promotes initiatives to counter the dangers of social fragmentation in an unequal society. Indeed, this fear of a disintegrating society can be seen as the organising principle behind a wide range of measures to regulate supposedly dysfunctional behaviour. These range across all areas of personal life, including childrearing, drinking alcohol, eating, sex and smoking. Such initiatives assume that public behaviour must be subject to strict regulation or it could fragment an already broken society.

A distinct feature of the current discussion is that the rich are also seen as posing a threat to social cohesion. Their greed is viewed as generating unrealistic expectations among ordinary people. In this conception, inequality leads to status competition in which everyone competes for ever-more lavish consumer products. A culture of excess is seen to be undermining trust and a sense of community.

The contemporary consensus thus marries the fear of social fragmentation with anxiety about economic growth. It insists that the wealthy must learn to behave responsibly by maintaining a modest public face. It also follows that prosperity must be curbed. This is on top of fears about the damage that economic expansion is alleged to do to the environment.

This drive to curb inequality is informed by what could be called the outlook of the anxious middle. It is middle class in the literal sense of feeling itself being torn between the rich on one side and ordinary people on the other. Its aim is to curb what it regards as excesses at both the top and bottom of society. It sees itself as living in a nightmare world being ripped apart by greedy bankers at one extreme and ‘trailer trash’ at the other.

This essay will examine the significance of the contemporary fear of inequality. First, it will examine current criticisms of inequality made by politicians, the media and academics in more detail. Typically, they are keen to promote economic sacrifice, thus paving the way for austerity, while supporting intrusive measures to curb social fragmentation. Second, it will look at the historical support for equality from the Enlightenment of the late seventeenth and eighteenth century onwards. Typically, egalitarians of this period linked their support for equality with notions of progress and the realisation of human potential. Economic advance was often seen as playing a central role in this process.

In conclusion, it will examine the damaging consequences of the current debate. It is harmful on both political and economic grounds. On the one hand, its therapeutic drive to regulate behaviour makes it a gross threat to individual freedom. On the other, through its populist rhetoric it paves the way for the popular acceptance of austerity. In this respect, what could be called ‘green egalitarianism’ is essentially about promoting equitable sacrifice. Its goal is to ensure that pain is ‘fairly’ distributed in society.

This essay focuses on the transformation of the discussion of economic and social equality. However, it should be noted in passing that there is also a parallel debate to be examined in relation to the redefinition of political and legal equality.

Read the rest of this essay on the Spiked website.

Daniel Ben-Ami is the author of Ferraris for all: In defence of economic progress, published by The Policy Press.

Q&A with Minky Worden, editor of The Unfinished Revolution

Unfinished Revolution no 3

Image from The Unfinished Revolution. Photograph Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

The unfinished revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights outlines the recent history of the battle to secure basic rights for women and girls, including in the Middle East where the hopes raised by the Arab Spring are yet to be fulfilled.

The book’s editor, Minky Worden, is Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch where she develops and implements international outreach and advocacy campaigns.

Here, she talks to us about developing the book and the future for women’s rights.

Firstly, can you tell us how the idea for the book came about?

The genesis of The Unfinished Revolution was an interview with Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer. She recounted her life story: as a young lawyer, she had been the first female judge in pre-revolution Iran, and was on the frontlines of that revolution. But after the political revolution in 1979, Iran’s legal system was changed to give women half the value of men in law, and Dr. Ebadi was made a secretary in the court she had once presided over. The Iranian government has since persecuted her for human rights and women’s rights work. So Shirin Ebadi’s story, which she tells in the book, is a cautionary tale for today.

We have seen political revolutions sweep decades-long dictators from office in the Middle East and North Africa. But we should remember that when new governments are taking power, when constitutions are being rewritten, this is a time when women and girls can either have rights advanced and solidified – or basic rights and freedoms can be rolled back.

And despite the undeniable progress achieved in women’s rights around the world in the past two decades, much remains to be done. The “unfinished revolution” refers to the global struggle for gender equality in education, work, health, and political participation. In many countries, women are legally considered second-class citizens, and in others, religion, custom, and traditions – from ‘honor killings’ to denial of property, labor and economic rights – block basic freedoms such as the right to work or study, and access to health care. Around the world, women and girls are trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery; rape is used as a weapon of war in conflict zones, and women still face major obstacles to education and reproductive freedom.

There are a wide range of contributors to the book. How did you manage to bring so many diverse people together?

Of the 33 contributors to this anthology, half are Human Rights Watch experts based around the world who wrote on topics ranging from rape in the Congo to maternal mortality in India, and domestic violence in Europe.

Others are key colleagues such as Georgette Gagnon, who has been the human rights director a the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and contributed a powerful chapter on how women in Afghanistan may be losing ground. We felt it is important to bring voices of women on the frontlines including Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia and Esraa Abdel Fattah from Egypt because they are themselves agents of change and share our vision that now is the time to tackle the “unfinished revolution” for women’s rights.

The book talks about a revolution in thinking about women’s rights as human rights. What differences do you think this would make to women’s lives?

In Dorothy Thomas’s chapter, she calls it “the power of an idea”. This concept is a key to changing mindsets, particularly in countries where so-called “harmful traditional practices” such as female genital mutilation, or ‘honor killings’ prevail. Our book seeks to make a reality of the slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights” by looking at practical and multi-dimensional solutions that work to empower and end abuses of women and girls.

A central feature of the book is a number of pieces from women who are victims of human rights abuses.  What do you think these heart-rending stories can tell us about the future battle for human rights?

 Honestly, although I asked her to write it, and have read it dozens of times, the story of a girl in Congo that opens Anneke VanWoudenberg’s chapter make me choke up every single time I read it.

These testimonies underscore the urgency of justice and change, particularly in countries where the lives of women and girls are at stake every day, such as the DRC, Afghanistan, Somalia or Iraq, but also in countries where the abuses are more insidious – in Europe, where domestic violence occurs behind closed doors, or the United States where many immigrant women face threats when they try to cross the border from Mexico or even once they have made it safely across the border.

There are several proposals within the book for new policies and solutions. What can people reading the book do to help?

First, thank you for reading the book! Second, it is easy to become complacent that progress for women is always forward. At times of political upheaval or transition, as with the military pull-out in Afghanistan, it is absolutely essential for leaders to engage on the subject of protections and freedoms, and to send the message that women’s rights are a top priority. When leaders don’t prioritize women’s rights, that sends a message too.

So write your leaders that it matters very much what messages are sent about women’s rights, and stay on top of what is happening through Human Rights Watch’s website. You can also consider getting involved in a global campaign such as “Girls Not Brides” efforts to end child marriage. Make your voice heard!

On the Human Rights Watch website, there are examples of success stories resulting from your campaigning. Can you tell us about any recent successes in the field of women’s rights?

One recent advance for women is the Saudi government’s announcement that it would allow “qualified” female athletes to compete in the London Olympics, following intense outside pressure from Human Rights Watch and concerned women athletes.

Can you tell us more about this current campaign regarding Saudi sports for women?

Despite this modest advance, it is at best a partial victory because we have still not succeeded in ending the effective ban for women who want to play sports inside Saudi Arabia. Gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia is institutional and entrenched. Millions of girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools.

The fact that so few women are ‘qualified’ to compete at the Olympic level is due entirely to the country’s restrictions on women’s rights.

Human Rights Watch is seeking the end of discrimination against women and girls who want to play sports in Saudi Arabia. More broadly, we continue to push for long-term reforms in the kingdom, such as an end to the male guardianship system. For more information, please visit http://www.hrw.org/let-them-play.

Find out more about The Unfinished Revolution

A Historic Moment for Women’s Rights

Christiane Amanpour

An extract from The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights, edited by Minky Worden

Unfinished Revolution cover image To the one who makes the lonely feel they are not alone, who satisfies those who hunger and thirst for justice, who makes the oppressor feel as bad as the oppressed. . . . may her example multiply,
May she still have difficult days ahead, so that she can do whatever she needs to do, so that the next generation will not have to strive for what has already been accomplished.
—Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, from his poem “To Shirin Ebadi,” read at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2003

In October 2011, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named three women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize—an award won by only a dozen women since 1901. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman were honored “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights,” in a declaration that was clearly intended to send the message that the moment for women and girls to achieve basic rights had arrived.

The Peace Prize citation proclaimed, “We cannot achieve demoracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” As the Nobel Committee emphasized, this moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades for women and girls.

I have been a foreign correspondent for almost three decades in just about every war zone there is. I have made my living in an overwhelmingly male profession, bearing witness to some of the most horrific events of the end of the last century. In this time, we have seen enormous changes in law and practice, with measurable progress in women’s ability to get an education, to work, and to make decisions about their own bodies.

Yet as this book seeks to explain, in much of the world, basic rights such as control over their lives and access to health care remain far out of reach for millions of women and girls.

In India, some state governments can’t be bothered to count the number of women dying from preventable causes in pregnancy and childbirth. In the United States, rape victims are denied justice through bureaucratic inertia. In Somalia, warlords and famine—yet again—threaten women’s lives and families. In some European countries, women fleeing domestic violence are sent home to “work it out” with their abusive spouses. In Saudi Arabia, women of all ages live under a male guardianship system, preventing them from working, studying, marrying, driving, or traveling abroad without the permission of a male guardian—a father, husband, brother, or even a son.

China is a country of contradictions that has lowered infant and maternal mortality rates, and raised education standards, while still imposing a one-child policy that often leads to major abuses of women, including forced abortions. Indeed, in many countries, the picture is mixed, with progress in education and maternal mortality paired with escalating health threats such as HIV/AIDS and barriers to participation in public life.

In several places, including Iraq and Afghanistan, women are losing ground, facing violent insurgencies that threaten and attack women who are active in public life or work outside their homes. As Rachel Reid writes in this anthology, a common form of threat in Afghanistan is the “night letter” left at a house or girls’ school, such as this ominous letter sent to a female government employee: “We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government, otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working.”

With societies from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya in political transition from repressive dictatorships, fundamental questions remain about whether women will indeed benefit from the overthrowing of tyrants. It is not yet clear whether they will be allowed to participate in the new political systems in the Middle East, or whether their rights will be protected under the region’s new constitutions.

This book is designed to spotlight these and other pressing problems for women and girls in the world today, and to give a road map to solutions that can work. In these pages you will meet tenacious women human rights defenders. You will hear in their own voices from women and girls who have faced unimaginable terror and grief. And you can decide for yourself whether so-called “traditional practices” such as early marriage or female genital mutilation are just harmful practices that have no rightful place in the world today.

Human Rights Watch was one of the first international organizations to treat domestic violence as a human rights issue. In war-torn Bosnia and Rwanda, researchers documented systematic rape and other forms of violence against women as a “weapon” in war, laying the groundwork for courts to later prosecute sexual violence as a crime against humanity. The organization’s experts, such as Nadya Khalife, who writes movingly about her work to end female genital mutilation in Iraq, show us how it should be possible at this historic moment for women’s rights activists to expand local campaigns and achieve truly global impact.

In some cases, as when Eleanor Roosevelt championed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, change for women can come at the stroke of a pen; in other cases, change takes generations. In Libya and states now building institutions from the ground up, addressing rights and protections for women is not yet at the top of priority lists. However, as the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer points out, this is a shortsighted and dangerous approach because “the vibrancy of these potential democracies will depend on the participation of women.”

When women are fully empowered, there is clear evidence that previously unthinkable opportunities develop, for them—and also for their families, communities, and countries. The effectiveness of women as peace negotiators in conflict zones led the United Nations Security Council to adopt Resolution 1325, which recognized “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” as well as “the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.” The selection of Leymah Gbowee as a laureate of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was based largely on her tireless activities as a peace negotiator in Liberia.

In September 2011, just before the Nobel committee announced its award recognizing the vital work of women, the world lost one of its few female Nobel laureates. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was a pioneering professor who led an environmental revolution in her native Kenya. Her key to success, she often said, was empowering women “to create a society that respects democracy, decency, adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and the rights of women.”

It is a time of change in the world, with dictators toppling and new opportunities arising, but any revolution that doesn’t create equality for women will be incomplete. The time has come to realize the full potential of half the world’s population.

Christiane Amanpour is the anchor of ABC’s Sunday morning news program, This Week with Christiane Amanpour. Chief International Correspondent at CNN from 1992 to 2010, she joined CNN in 1983. Amanpour has reported on and from the world’s major hot spots including Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iran, Iraq, Rwanda, and Somalia, and has won every major broadcast award—including nine Emmys, four George Foster Peabody Awards, two George Polk Awards, and the Courage in Journalism Award.

The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights was published by The Policy Press in the UK & Europe on 4 July 2012, £14.99. The book is available to buy at 20% discount from our website.

You can hear editor Minky Worden talking about some of the issues in the book on a podcast or follow news relating to the book on its Facebook page.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates

Archives


Urban policy and practice

Publishing with a purpose

TessaCoombes

Policy & Politics blog with a focus on place

Blog

Publishing with a purpose

Public Administration Review

Public Administration Review is a professional journal dedicated to advancing theory and practice in public administration.

EUROPP

European Politics and Policy

Urban Studies Journal

Publishing with a purpose

INLOGOV Blog

Official Blog of the Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham

JOURNAL OF PUBLIC POLICY

The official blog of the Journal of Public Policy

Social Europe Journal

debating progressive politics in Europe and beyond

OUPblog

Publishing with a purpose

PolicyBristol Hub

Publishing with a purpose

Publishing with a purpose

Democratic Audit UK

Publishing with a purpose

Path to the Possible

Democracy toward the Horizon

finding development

The views depicted here are my own, do not represent the views of anyone/anything else, and cannot be reproduced in whole or in part without my express written consent.

The Policy Press Blog

Publishing with a purpose

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,765 other followers