Archive for the 'Equality and Diversity' Category

Why it’s the right time for a Citizen’s Income

Malcolm Torry

Malcolm Torry

By Malcolm Torry, author of Money for everyone, new this month

A Citizen’s Income is an unconditional, nonwithdrawable income for every individual as a right of citizenship. It’s unconditional: that is, any two working age adults would receive exactly the same amount, no matter how different the amounts they earn, the assets they own, or the households in which they live. Every person over retirement age would receive the same larger amount. And every child would receive the same as any other child. A Citizen’s Income is nonwithdrawable: that is, if you earn additional income, your Citizen’s Income remains the same. And it’s for every individual: so it’s not reduced if you’re living with someone else, or the person you’re living with earns some additional income.

In all of these respects a Citizen’s Income is the opposite of our current means-tested benefits. Means-tested benefits are conditional: on looking for work, or on being ill, on how much you earn, on who you’re living with, and on how much they earn. Means-tested benefits are withdrawable: so if you earn some additional income then your benefits are reduced – and you will often receive only 15p of any extra £1 you earn, or sometimes only 5p. And means-tested benefits are not always paid to the individual, because for a couple living together only one of them receives the means-tested benefit, whether that’s Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, so-called Tax Credits, or, in the future, so-called Universal Credit.

Is Citizen’s Income affordable? Details of costs can be found at http://www.citizensincome.org. For example, the FAQs on the website include a report on a feasible revenue-neutral Citizen’s Income scheme that grants a Citizen’s Income of £51.85 weekly to every child and every adult up to the age of 24, £65.45 to adults older than 24 and younger than 65, and £132.60 to everyone over 65 years old (a Citizen’s Pension).

Several recent books have suggested that a Citizen’s Income would be an important part of the answer to the growing inequality and other problems that our society faces today: but the last book to offer anything like an exploration of the subject as a whole, and of the arguments for and against a Citizen’s Income for the UK, was published over ten years ago. Money for everyone fills a significant gap. It argues for a Citizen’s Income on the basis that this is the kind of benefits system that we would invent if we were starting from scratch, and on the basis that a Citizen’s Income would solve many of the problems facing our society and our economy. It would provide a greater incentive to seek additional earned income (because it wouldn’t be withdrawn as earned income rises); it would be efficient and cheap to administer, it could attract almost no fraud, and there would be almost no errors in its payment (unlike our current benefits system); no stigma would attach to receiving it (because everybody would receive it); it would increase social cohesion (unlike our present tax and benefits structure, which divides us into benefits recipients and tax-payers); it would set us free from bureaucratic intrusion (whereas the present benefits system imposes cohabitation rules on us, meaning that civil servants need to know who is living with whom); and the radical simplicity of a Citizen’s Income would future-proof it (unlike our present benefits system, which belongs in the 1930s).

Money for everyone surveys the history of our benefits system, and of attempts at reforming it, and it suggests different ways of implementing a Citizen’s Income. It describes the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, Iran’s new Citizen’s Income paid to households, and pilot projects in Namibia and India. It constructs a list of criteria for an ideal benefits system, and finds that a Citizen’s Income would satisfy them but that our current largely means-tested system does not. The book asks the important question: Would people still work if they received a Citizen’s Income? – and finds that they would. Further chapters describe a Citizen’s Income as an answer to poverty, inequality, and injustice; ask who should receive a Citizen’s Income; study financial feasibility; discuss political feasibility; and ask which problems a Citizen’s Income would not solve.

Changing society and changing economy need a Citizen’s Income; Money for everyone shows that a Citizen’s Income is both desirable and feasible.

Money for everyone is available to buy with 20% discount at www.policypress.co.uk

 

The Day After

World Report 2013

World Report 2013

by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Excerpt from the introduction to Human Rights Watch’s twenty-third annual World Report. The complete introduction is available at http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/essays/day-after

Two years into the Arab Spring, euphoria seems a thing of the past. The heady days of protest and triumph have been replaced by outrage at the atrocities in Syria, frustration that the region’s monarchs remain largely immune to pressure for reform, fear that the uprisings’ biggest winners are Islamists who might limit the rights of women, minorities, and dissidents, and disappointment that even in countries that have experienced a change of regime, fundamental change has been slow and unsteady. Difficult as it is to end abusive rule, the hardest part may well be the day after.

It should be no surprise that building a rights-respecting democracy on a legacy of repression is not easy. The transitions from communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union yielded many democracies, but also many dictatorships. Latin America’s democratic evolution over the past two decades has been anything but linear. Progress in Asia and Africa has been uneven and sporadic. Even the European Union, which has successfully made democratic reform and respect for human rights conditions of membership, has had a harder time curbing authoritarian impulses once countries—most recently Hungary and Romania—became members.

Moreover, those who excelled at overthrowing the autocrat are often not best placed to build a governing majority. The art of protest does not necessarily match the skills needed for governing. And allies in ousting a despot are sometimes not the best partners for replacing despotism.

But those who pine for the familiar days of dictatorship should remember that the uncertainties of freedom are no reason to revert to the enforced predictability of authoritarian rule. The path ahead may be treacherous, but the unthinkable alternative is to consign entire peoples to a grim future of oppression.

Building a rights-respecting state may not be as exhilarating as toppling an abusive regime. It can be painstaking work to construct effective institutions of governance, establish independent courts, create professional police units, and train public officials to uphold human rights and the rule of law. But these tasks are essential if revolution is not to become a byway to repression by another name.

The past year offers some key lessons for success in this venture—as valid globally as they are for the states at the heart of the Arab Spring. There are lessons for both the nations undergoing revolutionary change and the international community.

[...]

The Arab Spring continues to give rise to hope for an improved human rights environment in one of the regions of the world that has been most resistant to democratic change. Yet it also spotlights the tension between majority rule and respect for rights. It is of enormous importance to the people of the region–and the world–that this tension be resolved with respect for international standards. A positive resolution will require acts of great statesmanship among the region’s new leaders. But it will also require consistent, principled support from the most influential outsiders. No one pretends it will be easy to get this right. But no one can doubt the importance of doing so.

The Arab Spring has inspired people the world over, encouraging many to stand up to their own autocratic rulers. As its leaders act at home, they also set an example for the world. Much is riding on making this precedent positive—one that succeeds in building elected governments that live by the constraints of rights and the rule of law.

World Report 2013 is now available to buy from www.policypress.co.uk

Why do we need a Census?

Image

Danny Dorling

by Danny Dorling, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield

The Census held in 2011 could well be the last of its kind. There is currently a review underway, but already government has proposed that there be no traditional Census held in 2021. A two-century-old decadal tradition, interrupted only by World War Two, is currently ear-marked to end.

I do not believe it, but I am told that if the current government decision is not reversed during 2013, then there will be no budget for another Census and too little time to reinstate it in the planning, even if there is a change of governing party in 2015. What is so odd about all this is that the Census is a cheap, old-fashioned, rather conservative survey. A Coalition that believes in small government would normally be expected to favour a Census over most of the workable alternatives, unless it would rather there were no reckoning at all.

Other countries have population registers so they know how many people there are and how they are coming and going, but the current UK government is opposed to ID cards and hence a population register. Several Scandinavian countries put their registers on-line including information on the tax paid by each individual so that everyone is able to check and ensure there is no evasion. I don’t think this is what the UK government had in mind when it announced the end of the Census, but maybe I am too pessimistic.

The Census allows social scientists to determine in what direction the trends are going. Within a week of the 2011 results being published, Ludi Simpson and Stephen Jivraj, on behalf of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at The University of Manchester, had analysed the results and determined that every single ethnic minority group within England and Wales had become more dispersed geographically despite rising in numbers in most cases. The same was true of every religion group except for the Jewish religion [1]. These findings can be downloaded here.

In the week before Simpson and Jivraj’s analysis was complete, the UK press had already decided that the rising numbers of many groups of people born outside of Britain meant that there had to be ethnic polarization within Britain. They were wrong, and because we had a Census and hence data for every local authority, it was possible to show that they were wrong. Without a Census we would not know.

Without a Census we will have no idea about how our towns and cities are changing. We will not know whether we are more all in it together, or if we are polarizing yet more economically while still mixing more by ethnicity. If there is not even an adequate replacement for the basic counts of people by age and sex in small areas then we will not be able to determine whether life expectancy has begun to fall in any area in the years to come. It last fell in particular places for particular groups during the 1930s depression.

Without a Census in 2021 there will be no graphs of the kind shown in the University of Manchester report. The shrillest voices will win over the most informed. Without a Census we will not know if there are actually enough bedrooms for all to be housed and where they are, we will not know who is working at more than one job, for too many hours, and who has too little work. We will not know where children are doing worse at school in a way that allows us to take account of all children (not just those at school and in the state-schools records) and we will not know where their prospects are most favourable when measured more widely. We will not know what it is that we are all together in, and how it has changed.

1.    From ‘ More segregation or more mixing?’ briefing document from The Economic and Social Research Council’s Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE). A pdf can be downloaded here http://www.ethnicity.ac.uk/census/

The only real alternative to the exploitation of migrants is genuine grassroot organising

Vittorio Longhi

Vittorio Longhi

To mark International Migrants Day (18th December), Vittorio Longhi, author of The immigrant war, discusses the exploitation of migrants and how to overcome this.

Every day an average of two coffins arrive at the international airport of Kathmandu.

They are bringing back the corpses of Nepali migrants who went to work in the Middle East or in the Persian Gulf.  According to the authorities they die in accidents, particularly on building sites or in road accidents. But many are murdered by traffickers, and many others, especially women, commit suicide because of sexual abuse and harassment.

In the Americas in the last ten years, about 2,000 people have died trying to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. These deaths are usually due to exposure or dehydration – as the migrants cross the deserts of Arizona – but also drowning, in the case of those trying to cross the rivers. The most striking number, however, refers to Latino migrants who are kidnapped by criminal gangs and killed because they fail to pay a ransom.

As for those who have tried to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean, it is estimated that since 1990 at least 20,000 people have died.

These are not the numbers of mere accidents, these are the numbers of an actual war: a war against immigrants.

And the conflict does not relate only to the undocumented nor does it stop at the borders. Even when migrants succeed in obtaining a legal work permit, pulled by the labour demand of richer countries, they are still faced with violation of core rights. Historically, the worst jobs with the hardest working conditions and the least pay are reserved for migrants. In addition to this, they often face discrimination and exploitation,  and even  xenophobic and racist attacks.

This happens even more frequently in times of economic crisis, when migrants are seen as competitors in the local labour market and therefore a target and an easy scapegoat for public anger against widespread unemployment.

How sustainable is the current migration system in the long term? What is the international community doing about it? How can we manage migration realistically, giving people both dignity and safety?

The migration question has certainly not been resolved by militarising borders further or by reducing visas and permits, often following domestic political agendas, instead of a realistic evaluation of actual social, labour demand and development needs.

The global phenomenon of contemporary migration cannot be left to the decisions and solutions of individual states.

There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to develop effective cooperation through regional agreements within the scope of multilateral relationships between industrialised countries and developing countries.

However, the governments of receiving countries are reluctant about the possibility of global migration governance. They are unwilling to transfer the power over border control and the conditions under which migrants stay on their territories to some supranational body.

Oddly, the governments of sending countries also do not seem keen on enforcing a binding regulatory system that would interfere with their ability to supply cheap labour to richer countries and benefit from their remittances.

As for the international community, none of the UN agencies and other international bodies that deal with migration issues, from the ILO to the IOM, now has the role of coordinating national or regional policies, let alone carrying out a function that is binding on individual states.

The existing international treaties that try to regulate labour migration and ensure safety and dignity along the whole migration route, have been ratified and implemented by a relatively small number of states, and rarely from richer receiving countries.

Therefore, the only concrete, immediate, alternative to further exploitation and violation of human rights is genuine grassroots organising by migrants.

This phenomenon has come to the surface in the last few years, and this has happened in different manners and places. A new generation of migrant workers is revealing all its potential for conflict, as migrants change from being passive victims of exploitation to become new, conscious social agents, capable of fighting for their own rights and contributing to the revival of a wider protest.

Whether it is the struggles of Asian workers in the building sites of Dubai, of the Mexican farm labourers in the fields of California, of the undocumented African cooks in the restaurants of Paris or of the Moroccan metalworkers in Italian factories, migrants are more and more determined to bring labour back to the centre of contemporary societies.

These struggles, although spontaneous and uncoordinated, are connected to the multitudes of the Occupy movement and the Arab uprisings; all show people wanting to restore dignity to labour, social justice and a future to new generations – of migrants and locals together.

Vittorio Longhi is the author of The immigrant war, available to order with 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

New directions in research and policy ‘with’ and ‘for’ Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

Andrew Ryder

Andrew Ryder, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society

by Andrew Ryder, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol

In the past, academia and Gypsy Lorists have conducted research ‘on’ rather than ‘for’ and ‘with’ Gypsy, Roma Traveller communities. Since Acton’s groundbreaking publication Gypsy Politics and Social Change in 1974, there has been a growing movement away from such hierarchical approaches. The publication of Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society provides a platform for current UK ‘voice scholarship’ on Gypsy, Roma Traveller issues.

Many of the book’s authors have fused research with practice and activism. The book demonstrates the values of such emerging research approaches and their validity in policy formation at a national and European level. Such processes are, in theory at least, set to be given greater impetus through the establishment by the European Union of a Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. The EU Roma Framework places an emphasis on engagement and deliberation with Roma communities, within which inclusive forms of research can play a pivotal role in facilitating dialogue, policy design and measuring progress.

Another point of importance is that academia in this field is coalescing within the European Academic Network on Romani Studies . This is being sponsored by the EU and Council of Europe and aims to “…facilitate intercultural dialogue and support efforts towards the social inclusion of Romani citizens in Europe. The project raises the visibility of existing research and fosters cooperation with policymakers, by providing evidence for better conceived policy initiatives”. Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British Society seeks to achieve similar objectives not just in reviewing the progress of social inclusion agendas at a UK and European level but also in adopting an intercultural approach facilitating debates on identity and diversity.

The book argues that inclusion may necessitate a paradigm shift in the UK and Europe from neoliberalism, and from what has been described as the ‘race to the bottom’. This is where nation states reduce welfare and intervention to make themselves more competitive and attractive to investors but where, through notions of the ‘small state’, they increasingly stand on the ‘sidelines’ and fail to intervene or challenge inequality. Evidence suggests that the adoption of neoliberal economic policies has come at a high price for Roma communities now confronted with the legacy of deindustrialisation, namely mass unemployment but also the role of scapegoat.

An alternative is presented in ‘global responsibility’, which is embedded in social justice and human rights. It is a worldview that seeks to promote responsible citizenship worldwide, based on the principles of solidarity and the dignity of the human person and the common good, and offers a global counter-hegemonic discourse.

Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, edited by Joanna Richardson and Andrew Ryder, published on 12 September 2012 and can be ordered now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Are Gypsies and Travellers likely to be more included in local communities following the introduction of new planning policy by the Government?

Gypsies and travellers book cover

‘Gypsies and travellers’, published this week

By Joanna Richardson, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers and Principal Lecturer in housing at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Councils across England are looking at the impact of new planning policy introduced earlier this year by the Government. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its accompanying document the new Planning Policy for Traveller Sites requires local authorities to have an up-to-date body of evidence on need for Gypsy and Traveller sites and also to have identified a rolling five-year supply of land that could help in the deliverability of sites.

A decision made by the Planning Inspectorate in Hull that, due to a lack of up-to-date evidence, the development strategy was ‘unsound’, as reported by Inside Housing, has already created some anxiety amongst those councils who have not updated their Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments, or identified land to include in core strategies. There is nervousness that planning decisions will be appealed in the future unless updated evidence is included in strategies now.

It is right that local authorities should concern themselves with planning and deliverability of sites, as the NPPF does create this impetus to ensure evidence on accommodation need and land supply is included in strategies. However, the challenge does not stop here; there is a need for councils to be concerned about actually delivering sites; and not just private sites but also affordable sites too.  Deliverability of sites is a hugely contentious issue as I found in my Joseph Rowntree Foundation research back in 2007 and this has not eased much since then.   

However, there are many more issues facing Gypsy and Traveller communities which flow out of a lack of accommodation, not least the seeming hostility to Gypsies and Traveller in many communities. There are health problems, challenges in accessing education and employment and seeming tensions in the justice system played out to the world during the eviction at Dale Farm. The media and politicians have a role too and the discourse in our newspapers, television and online has not got any more responsible and balanced than examples demonstrated for some original research I carried out for my book The Gypsy Debate published in 2006. 

The recent research undertaken as part of writing Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society,  a new book co-edited with Andrew Ryder and including a number of renowned experts including from the Gypsy and Traveller communities, demonstrates that objection to new sites is still strong in many local communities. One co-author, Maggie Smith-Bendell, has lived this experience for decades and provides a compelling first-hand account in the chapter on accommodation needs and planning issues. Another primary eye-witness account from the Gypsy community comes from Richard O’Neill who discusses the challenges he faced in trying to monitor press representation of travelling communities and hold them to account. Other chapters in the book include an examination of health, education, social work and employment issues written by academic experts in their fields. My co-editor and author Andrew Ryder writes with Iulius Rostas on the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies so that the wider view can be taken and reflections made on progress for Gypsies and Traveller empowerment and inclusion in British society.

Our book shows that whilst there have been many changes in the political and economic context for Britain, the challenges faced by Gypsies and Travellers in this country are still severe and action is needed, now.

Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, edited by Joanna Richardson and Andrew Ryder, is published on 12 September 2012 and can be ordered now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

The Paralympic Legacy – A New Dawn or a False Dawn for Disabled People?

The Paralympics is currently taking place in the UK against a backdrop of heavy cuts to disability benefits. George Osborne was booed when he attended a medal ceremony, as was Theresa May, and the sponsorship of Atos (who carry out the controversial tests to determine whether claimants of incapacity benefit are “fit to work”) has caused controversy and protest. Here, Alan Roulstone, co-author of Understanding Disability Policy, examines the 2012 Paralympic legacy and whether it could be a false dawn for disabled people:

Alan Roulstone

There has been much talk ahead of and during the London Paralympics 2012 of the legacy of the Paralympics in changing attitudes towards disabled people. The British Prime Minister captured these sentiments of hope at the games’ opening ceremony noting the promise for: “Eyes are being opened, attitudes hopefully shifted”. This and many similar comments by social leaders are suggesting a longer term shift in attitudes towards disabled people engendered by the successes of disabled athletes.

Such change would of course be very welcome indeed, especially during a period of recession when disabled people are struggling to retain or gain paid work. Indeed, even the most ambivalent observer could not deny the power and social exuberance at the sight of very fit and talented disabled athletes attaining the very pinnacle of sporting achievement. That said, the assertion that a wider and lasting legacy may be seen in attitudes and treatments of disabled people has to be viewed with real caution.

Firstly, there is no evidence at all that the treatment of disabled people in countries hosting Paralympic games has improved the lot for disabled people more generally. There is little evidence that the Sydney or Beijing Paralympics have discernibly improved disabled people’s lives. China continues to be coy about the use and extent of institutions for many even young disabled people. Australia is busy implementing a Basics card for welfare recipients, many of whom are disabled, which will ensure that spending can be monitored and that swathes of the Australian population will be denied access to the parallel cash economy. This, it is feared, will enshrine a form of social apartheid where types of spend will be associated with welfare status, the effects of which will be potentially deeply stigmatising.

A number of things are being muddled, it can be argued, in the assertion that many disabled people can be helped by the Paralympics being staged in London. The first relates to disability diversity. Although the different events and challenges see hugely diverse categorisations being applied -amputee, double amputee, muscle weakness, sight limitations – the common denominator here is that of elite trained, fit, largely young individuals with physical impairments. These are not simply athletes, but elite athletes who have made a career in a given sport. No one denies the sheer effort and determination in achieving such levels in sport. Many of those however facing the worst attitudes and treatment barriers are people who are unwell, may have flare-up conditions ( such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell disease) which makes even limited physical activity difficult.

There is of course a risk that only those disabled people who are seen to overcome their predicament will be treated as heros and well regarded;  or to use a high-jump metaphor, that the bar of social expectation will be set even higher. This mirrors what happened when stories of austistic savants began to hit the public consciousness in the 1980s and a number of my friends and colleagues with autism/Aspergers syndrome were asked what it was they could do that was special. Sometimes, a little knowledge is of course a dangerous thing.

The reality for many disabled people is that, whilst some can work, given the opportunity, and many can contribute to a range of important social activities, they may face major social, environmental  and attitude barriers in everyday life. They are some distance from the heroic image of a medal winner mounting a podium. However as a disability researcher and policy writer it has long been my view that disabled people are heroic in contending with the daily obstacles of the built environment, the shifting of the ‘welfare category’ in a way that severely disadvantages former welfare recipients.

The most difficult aspect of the Paralympics for many disabled people has been the bizarre juxtaposition of seeing great sporting achievements (rightly) being applauded and poster girl/boy images of photogenic disabled people alongside arguably the most aggressing and top-down reform of welfare since the Poor Law. This is not simply a reform of welfare along the lines of the Fowler reforms of the 1980s, this is a fundamental reassertion of who counts as disabled. Disabled people once accredited by medical and DWP/DSS authorities as ‘disabled for life’ risk being told they are  no longer ‘that disabled’ and will be reviewed periodically or worse still have been taken off Disability Living Allowance. The same mindset is already being applied to Employment Support Allowance recipients/applicants and there are many horror stories as to who is being told they are ‘fit for work’, including people with terminal cancer and brain tumours.

Disabled people are diverse, it goes without saying. The binary worldview that there are heroes and villains cannot justly be applied to disability. Disability is complex – people may emphasise their challenges to get the welfare support to which they are entitled, but will of necessity have to emphasise what they can do when applying for paid work – this says more about contemporary society than it does about disabled people. The sooner sick and disabled people are seen as contending with different barriers – from hurdles, high jumps, to medical and welfare systems – the better. This type of re-evaluation would be a truly Olympic change to policy thinking.

Alan Roulstone is Professor of Applied Social Sciences (Disability Policy) at Northumbria University and Honorary Professor at Swansea University, UK.

Understanding disability policy by Alan Roulstone and Simon Prideaux is available for only £15.00 (RRP £21.99) during September from our 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.


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