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Tuesday, 12 June 2007
TEDGlobal follow-up
Topic: Development

Ethan Zuckerman has had a chance to reflect on the TEDGlobal conference, and has posted his thoughts.  I am most interested in the suggestions for reshaping aid to Africa, which he gleaned from the various critiques and defences offered during the conference:

- Build infrastructure that enables African businesses. This includes roads, railroads, ports, airports, and critically, power generating facilities.

- Encourage trade between African states and between African states and the rest of the world, in part by dismantling tariff barriers and unfair subsidies.

- If you aid governments directly, do so in a way that they use the money to support entrepreneurship, not to enrich “the hippo generation”. Look for ways to support the energetic, young “cheetah” generation.

- Public health, including maternal health and “ordinary” healthcare has to be a major priority going forward, not just AIDS and malaria care.

- Education is critical. A large percentage of the speakers at the conference were brilliant young Africans who’d had the opportunity to study abroad - it’s critical that great opportunities to learn develop on the continent.

- Value your diasporans, not just as investors, but as ambassadors and generators of new ideas.

- Image matters, not just to outside partners but to Africans who are mischaracterized as struggling and weak. Rebranding the continent - or individual countries - has to be part of the continent-wide change.

As he notes, these are not radical suggestions - it's implementing them that's challenging.  For example, changing the way that the donors who fund aid projects think about the purpose of aid and measure the quality of aid projects.  The meeting that I facilitated last month was about health programming in the South, and the consensus among the advisors at the meeting was that a holistic approach to public health is essential.  One of the major obstacles to implementing a holistic health approach is donor funding that is targeted exclusively at specific diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. malaria and tuberculosis.  This disease-specific focus tends to underplay the development of good community health that reduces the impact of these, and other diseases.  It also tends to allow for very little community definition of what project success looks like, since donors tend to rely on indicators established by "technical experts" to tell them whether a project is successful or not.  Getting donors to accept the validity of community-level goals and expertise when lots of money is on the line and there's a lot of pressure to demonstrate that a project is successful is a challenge, to say the least.  Shifting this mindset is going to take a lot of advocacy, and some donors who are bold enough to take a chance on new approaches.  Hopefully, the ideas spreading out of TEDGlobal will help spur advocates and donors to work to effectively address the critiques of how aid is delivered to Africa.  

3:23 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 4 June 2007

Topic: Development

Ethan Zuckerman is currently blogging from the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Kenya.  TED brings together thinkers and innovators for annual conferences in California, and biannual global conferences in different locations around the world. 

Zuckerman believes that the organizers of the conference have an ambitious agenda:

Emeka wants to convince you that, as John Perry Barlow once wrote, everything you know about Africa is wrong. You’ll be hard pressed to find voices here mourning the “failure” of Africa - you’ll find many more talking about potential, both tapped and untapped. Leaning on his work on Timbuktu Chronicles, Emeka has found a set of business innovators who will represent the core of the speakers list, complemented by scientists, politicians and musicians, the vast majority of whom live and work on the continent. I suspect that the overall message of the event will challenge the preconceptions of all participants, African and non-African.

The conference is already fulfilling this expectation, with Euvin Naidoo's reminder that "Africa" is not a monolith:

One major source of our ignorance about Africa is the tendency to forget that the continent is 53 separate countries. “To say ‘invest in Africa’ is meaningless.” You can make money and lose money in Africa. But it’s worth noting that companies like Bain Capital are coming into South Africa and purchasing retail companies - that’s a bet on the emergence of the middle class. Nigeria must be taken seriously - it’s going to be one of the ten largest economies in the world by 2020, and we’re already seeing Nigerian companies capable of raising money through Eurobonds, securities with no government backing.And Nigeria currently produces as much oil as Venezuela or Kuwait. There are 135 million people in Nigeria, and 700 ATMs - that’s an opportunity, for serving tens of millions of unbanked people.

Limited understanding of African countries and African people is furthered by the images and stories, largely negative, that pervade Northern culture:

Andrew Dosunmu, a filmmaker and photographer from Nigeria, starts his talk by telling us about encountering Joseph Conrad for the first time. He was a student in the UK, and he wondered about this Africa he was discovering for the first time, the Heart of Darkness that was so different from the Nigeria he grew up in, a place of life and vitality. As he looked aroung the UK, he found himself “confronting images that the Europeans were able to use to colonize Africa, grotesque images.”

The era of formal colonization is over, but the selective use of stories about "the reality" of Africa is not:

[Carol] Pineau is concerned about the long-term psychological damage of poor coverage of the continent. She reminds us that colonialism tried to ensure that colonies were never able to compete with their conquerors. She argues that the images of Africa are a form of this colonialism, and they perpetuate uncomfortable trends. “Aid has never, ever developed a nation,” she argues.

One of the problems is that we rarely take African voices seriously - she points to reports of snow on the peaks of Kilimanjaro. British geographic societies wouldn’t believe reports of snow on the mountain’s peak until a British explorer had been there. The same thing happesn today, she tells us, in coverage of relief work. The people actually giving food and medical aid are Africans, but the people interviewed on camera are the “white saviors.”

This challenge to the perception of aid as beneficial is elaborated more strongly by Andrew Mwenda:

“The media tells nothing but the truth [about Africa] but not the whole truth”. The stories covered - despair, civil war, famine - are not the only reality. Actually, they’re the smallest reality. These stories create a misframing of Africa, and lead us to the long solutions. By giving food to the hungry and medicine for the sick, Africa is stripped of self reliance and of hope.


Aked point blank whether he opposes all aid by Chris Anderson, Mwenda makes an important distinction - he thinks it shouldn’t be given to governments and should be given directly to indigenous groups and entrepeneurs.

And this is just a selection of tidbits from the first session.  There's a lot more coming over the next few days, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from the conference speakers. 

I hope that at least some further speakers will engage with Mwenda's critique of aid and propose ways in which aid could be delivered more effectively. My feeling about aid, which has unquestionably been shaped by my Northern upbringing and education as well as my involvement in Northern-based international development, is that Northern countries have benefited from a long history of exploiting Southern countries and therefore owe Southern countries assistance in overcoming this pattern of underdevelopment.  I'm interested to see whether other speakers share this perception. 

5:53 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Thursday, 22 March 2007
Women peacekeepers
Topic: Development

This year, the UN launched its first all-women peacekeeping unit.  The unit, comprised of Indian policewomen, is stationed in Liberia.  They serve a variety of traditional police roles, from guard duty to patrolling, crowd control, and providing armed back-up to the local police force.  Less traditionally, it is hoped that their presence will inspire Liberian women to join the local police and reduce the incidence of rape and abuse of local people by UN personnel. 

Reported cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Liberia were reduced from 45 in 2005 to 30 in 2006, even before the all-women was launched, according to the Christian Science Monitor.  The leader of the unit hopes that the presence of women peacekeepers will lead to a further reduction in these numbers, by increasing respect for women in Liberia and in peacekeeping operations generally.   

It will be interesting to see what the early effects of the all-women force will be.  One possiblity is that the number of reported cases of sexual abuse and exploitation, both by UN personnel and by local people, may rise.  Crimes of sexual violence often are not reported to authorities, due to social stigma and inappropriate or unclear structures for handling such crimes.  Local women may feel more comfortable reporting sexual abuse to other women, rather than male peacekeepers.  Or they may not - common identity based on sex might not override the obstacles posed by the Indian policewomen's position as foreign people holding power in terms of legal authority, armed force, and economic wealth relative to local women.  As Richard Reeves points out in the Christian Science Monitor: "You get [these abuses] not just with peacekeepers but with soldiers in general, and it gets worse the further they are from home and the more destitute the local population."  Abuse is not fueled solely by sex, but by the degree of power peacekeepers hold over local people.  Women peacekeepers will hold power just as men peacekeepers do. 

Will adding more women help with the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel?  Constant Lampey, a UN gender adviser, is of the opinion that the presence of women helps dilute a macho culture among peacekeepers: "if you have a contingent of 50 peacekeepers that are all men, the dynamics will be different than if you suddenly have 15 women, and 35 men."  However, the research I did for my thesis indicated that including a minority presence of women in the military has, at best, mixed results.  Women are as apt to adapt to the macho culture of the military as to attempt to change or mitigate it, so the simple introduction of women into military forces is unlikely to result in a substantive change to the attitudes that contribute to the abuse and exploitation of local people, especially if there is a pervasive attitude that being in a position of power entitles soldiers to treat civilians in whatever way they see fit. 

Sandra Whitworth has argued that one problem with UN peacekeeping is that it follows a military paradigm and relies on personnel who are trained in aggressive tactics by their national militaries (for example, see her article on abuses in Somalia perpetrated by Canadian peacekeepers).  Even an all-women unit trained in police tactics may be vulnerable to perpetrating abuse on local people, if the organizational culture and systems in which they work do not do enough to discourage abuse of civilians.  The UN has instituted policies and structures aimed at reducing abuse of local populations, but still must rely heavily on troop-contributing nations to train and discipline peacekeepers.  Even if the UN has the best and most effective abuse prevention policies and practices in place (which remains to be seen, since most of them have only been in place for a few years), implementation is likely to be uneven because of the high degree of control that troop-contributing countries retain over their forces. 

I hope I'm not portraying the deployment of the all-women unit as a bad thing, or an ineffective effort.  Women peacekeepers may have access to people and places that men don't - for example in communities where men and women have clearly defined spheres of activity that are defined by sex.  Women peacekeepers would presumably gain access to women's areas more easily than men in such cases, and be able to offer more effective assistance to women and children.  I am hopeful that the presence of women police officers in Liberia may indeed contribute to greater respect for women's capabilities, expand the range of roles open to women, and encourage women to become police officers themselves.  But I am reluctant to embrace what I see as a perception that women have a "civilizing influence" on men.  I think it asks too much of women, presumes too little about men, and obscures the impact of social or organizational control (or lack thereof) over its members.  The UN needs more women, but it also needs to take a hard look at why some people who work for it are convinced that they can get away with abusing local people, and I worry that recruiting more women will be seen as sufficient "fix" and that other problems rooted in inequality may not receive as much attention. 

Via My Heart's in Accra

7:55 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2007 1:15 AM BST
Saturday, 17 March 2007
Missing Women
Topic: Development

Over and over again, through the course of my work and my education, I have heard Amartya Sen's charge that 100 million women are missing in the world, primarily in Asia.  This came up frequently, usually to illustrate the health impacts of discrimination against women.  In his initial publication on the "missing women", Sen proposed that the conventional wisdom that women make up the majority of the population of the world is erroneous, based on the high ratio of women to men in the populations of Europe and North America (1.06 or higher).  In other parts of the world, particularly South and West Asia, North Africa, and China, this ratio is lower (.94 or less).  Sen argued that, "[i]n these places the failure to give women medical care similar to what men get and to provide them with comparable food and social services results in fewer women surviving than would be the case if they had equal care."

Revisiting the problem of missing women in a 2003 publication, Sen made the case that improvements in healthcare in many of these societies had reduced women's mortality rates, but that ratios of women to men remainded largely unchanged because of an increasing incidence of sex-selective abortions.  India outlawed the practice of fetal sex identification, except for cases in which determining sex would be medically relevant, in an attempt to prevent sex-selective abortions from occurring.  Sen extrapolates the incidence of sex-selective abortion in Indian states from birth statistics, comparing the rate of female to male births in various states to that found in Germany, and attributing the difference to the abortion of female fetuses. 

And this is what I have heard for the past 10 years or so: that women are missing - in vast numbers in some societies - and that they are missing because women and girls in some societies receive less food and less nutritious food than men and boys, they are less likely to receive adequate medical care, and that as technology makes fetal sex determination easier and more wide-spread, female fetuses are more likely to be aborted than male fetuses. 

I just learned that a new factor has been introduced into the equation.  In 2005, Emily Oster proposed that the prevalence of Hepatitis B in a country's population must be taken into account when considering a gender gap that favours men.  According to this Slate article, Oster decided to examine the problem of the missing women after learning about research that indicated that women who carry Hepatitis B are significantly more likely to give birth to boys than to girls.  Oster's research indicates that approximately half of the 100 million "missing women" can be attributed to a high rate of Hepatitis B infection in a country's population.  Further, she discovered that as much as 75% of sex ratio difference in China can likely be explained by the effects of Hepatitis B.  Interestingly, less than 20% of the difference can be attributed to Hepatitis B in India, Pakistan and Nepal.  I have often heard India and China lumped together in discussions of attitudes toward girl children and women, based largely on their high rates of "missing women."  Obviously, Oster's research undermines the basis on which those comparisons rest.

50 million "missing women" is still a high number, and as Oster herself points out, her research likely somewhat overstates the impact of Hepatitis B on the absolute number of female infants born.  Behavioural factors and social values are still important - plenty of research has documented that discrimination against women and girls with respect to food and health care takes place in many societies and has short and long-term impacts on women's well being.  Oster's research does not indicate that preference for men and boys is not still a significant problem in many societies.  But it does add another layer to the problem (and suggests a possible partial solution - universal vaccination against Hepatitis B), and I'm interested to see how long it takes her research to be incorporated into the "conventional wisdom" about the problem of missing women.

7:46 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007 7:50 PM BST
Sunday, 11 March 2007
Heads up
Topic: Development
EE just informed me that Slate has been running a really interesting series of brief essays about tourism and Aboriginal culture in central Australia.  It starts here, and over the course of five days, covers a wide array of issues related to tourism and Aboriginal culture and communities.  It's definitely worth checking out.  

3:32 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Ugandan women demand inclusion in the peace process
Topic: Development

Refugees International has published a great story about a couple of their staff encountering a march by Ugandan women to demand that women be included in peace negotiations, and that women's concerns be taken seriously in the peace process.  I wonder what the time-lag was - the march happened in November, but the story didn't reach their website until a few days ago.  Not complaining, mind you, just curious.  It looks like the only major Northern organization that got the story out more rapidly (aside from UNIFEM, which was a supporting organization for the march) was IWPR, and their story doesn't center the demand for women's inclusion in the peace process in the same way, initially emphasizing women's support for the peace process.  A SudanTribune article from early November takes a similar approach.  

I peripherally encountered gendered critiques of peace processes and peace building efforts while researching my thesis, and these critiques expressed similar concerns about accountability as those recently raised about reconstruction efforts.  This question of accountability is a huge one, because it's about who matters in society.  Reconstruction efforts have demonstrably been less concerned about the people in the communities that are rebuilding, than government and international donors.  What kind of message does that send?  Peace negotiations have tended to involve high-level politicians and military leaders, nearly always male.  What message does that send about who matters in society?  The women marching in Uganda are saying that they matter, and they've done the work to back it up - according to the SudanTribune article, they've consulted women in northern Uganda and will be developing a women's position paper on the peace process.  

I don't want to say too much more without more research and thought, but I did want to point out these stories while they were fresh in my mind, as I don't think I'm going to be doing serious thinking of a non-personal nature for the next few days.  As my departure deadline creeps ever closer, I'm becoming ever more aware that I've got a lot to figure out for myself in upcoming weeks.  Navel-gazing ahoy . . .  

11:05 PM GMT | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 April 2007 2:31 PM BST
Wednesday, 17 January 2007
Reconstruction and corruption
Topic: Development

My brain is reviving.  I actually feel interested in writing about something peripherally related to my thesis.  The liberal application of a diverse range of novels over the past few weeks must be working its restorative magic . . .

The Observer has published an article about a recently-released study of the effects of post-conflict reconstruction activities that has yielded some interesting findings.  Tiri, an anti-corruption organization whose work is focused in the global South, coordinated research by local NGOs into the impacts of post-conflict reconstruction aid in eight countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, recipients of a total of $65 billion in aid assistance.  The press release (pdf) accompanying the country reports provides an overview of the results that sharply criticizes current reconstruction aid practices.  

"[T]oo often, the actions of the international community in postwar societies leads to new conflict.  It is driven by the insistence of countries and international organisations that reconstruction follows their agendas and tight timetables." ~ Jeremy Carver, a founder of Tiri

As part of my own research, I read many critiques of international organizations' failure to adequately address women's needs in emergency situations, or to even consider matters like gender relations in disaster-affected communities.  This was generally attributed to the pressure to spend resources quickly, and often on certain specific activities, usually determined by donor organizations and "international experts" with little to no input from the affected communities.  The argument was made, again and again, that while no one is denying that immediate needs for relief assistance are pressing, "saving lives" could also be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo in emergency response.  "We have to save lives, therefore assessing the impact of what we do on gender relations within the community is too costly and difficult."  

"Transparency and accountability of aid to its beneficiaries comes last in donor priorities.  Reconstruction settings demand immediate attention, but not at the expense of integrity."

This lack of accountability to the people that aid is meant to help has meant that a range of abuses have been gone unrecognized or unaddressed for far too long.   In the case of my own research, I discovered that recommendations aimed at protecting aid recipients, particularly women, from gender-based violence in post-conflict communities and refugee camps is a relatively recent introduction to the "good practice" literature on emergency response, and is generally acknowledged as an on-going challenge.  (As an aside, Maia recently wrote a powerful reflection on what she believes is the only possible lasting and effective solution to rape.)  I also remember hearing stories from former colleagues about large amounts of resources, both money and goods, disappearing from emergency programs.  Often these stories were told or met with an attitude of "that's the cost of doing business."

I believed that at one point.  Now I think that it's the cost of doing business, the way we do business now.  Whether any individuals or organizations have the motivation to seek and test new ways to do the business of emergency response and reconstruction that don't bear the costs associated with lack of accountability to the intended beneficiaries of aid remains to be seen.  Hopefully, this research will provide some much-needed guidance to the aid community in doing just that.  And I hope that the upcoming policy paper based on the research will be released to the public - I'm interested to see whether gender concerns will factor into Tiri and its partners' assessment of what the aid community should be held accountable for in reconstruction programs.  

(via If You Only Read One Thing This Week

6:02 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007 6:40 AM GMT
Saturday, 26 August 2006
Increased Sexual Assaults in Darfur
Topic: Development

I got an e-mail from a friend today indicating that the International Rescue Committee is trying to get this story publicized as widely as possible, hoping to solicit a more active response from governments and the UN:

Increased Sexual Assaults Signal Darfur’s Downward Slide

23 Aug 2006 - More than 200 women have been sexually assaulted in the last five weeks alone around Darfur’s largest displaced camp, Kalma, an alarming trend that is yet another sign of the region’s plummeting security situation.

The situation is so dire that about 300 women convened a meeting in Kalma on Aug. 7 to plead for more help from the outside world -- particularly from African Union troops mandated to protect civilians. 

 The figures presented in the report are staggering - an increase of in the rate of sexual assaults from 1 a week to 40, on average in Kalma camp.  The last five weeks have been horrible, but when you think about it, the situation before was pretty awful, too.  Think about how much fear there is around the threat of rape in the US, a country that experiences a reported rape rate of 0.4 rapes per 1,000 people on an annual basis.  I don't want to go drawing too many comparisons, because definitions (e.g. 'rape' vs. 'sexual assault') are just one difficulty here, but Kalma camp has a population of about 91,000 people,1 so at the previous rate of 4 assaults per month at most, the rate per 1,000 people would have been .04.  Over the past five weeks, the rate of sexual assault has been 2.19 per 1,000 people - 5 times the annual rate for the entire the US and an increase of 50 times over the previous rate in Kalma.

I probably should've stayed away from the statistics, I'm sure I've screwed something up, either in calculations or comparison.   The IRC report illustrates the stark choice the women in Kalma camp have made.  They must leave the camp to collect firewood to cook with, a fact that is known by their attackers, who then can lie in wait for the women miles outside the camp:

If men went instead, they would be killed. “We … have chosen to risk being raped rather than let the men risk being killed,” one woman said at the Aug. 7 meeting

Women and girls have also been physically assaulted on their trips to gather firewood, at nearly the same rate as reported sexual assaults.  The report says that increased 'firewood patrols' by African Union peacekeeping forces are needed.  The number of such patrols has declined from a peak of three patrols per week - the way the report is written it isn't entirely clear whether there is one patrol per week now, or there has only been one patrol in total since mid-April.  What's interesting to me, in light of my research, is that it also isn't entirely clear whether the women asked for increased firewood patrols in their meeting, or whether this is a need identified by the IRC.  

This highlights yet again the need for stringent standards of behaviour on the part of peacekeeping forces.  Women who rely on peacekeepers for protection from attacks while miles away from camp collecting firewood must be able to trust that the peacekeepers themselves will not attempt to sexually assault or exploit them.  Sadly, this is not case: Refugees International has reported that there have been allegations of sexual abuse made against peacekeepers in Darfur.   RI commends the African Union for the speed of its response to these allegations, but is critical of the fact that systems were not put in place from the start of the mission to prevent abuses occurring.  It's discouraging that no prevention and protection system was put in place, particularly in light of the work that the UN has done in recent years to address its own systemic problems with abuse in peacekeeping missions, and the fact that few peacekeeping missions since the late 1990s have gone without allegations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers - it is a known risk that needs to be addressed.


1 According to this recent position posting for a job in the Sudan



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3:32 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 24 July 2006
Experience, perspective, and paying attention
Topic: Development

Once upon a time - I'd like to say that it was when I was younger and more idealistic and thought that marching in the streets was going to affect the course of American politics, but really, it was when I was younger and couldn't think of a better way to express my disgust with the way US foreign affairs were being conducted - I was something of an active demonstrator.  During the build-up to the invasion of Iraq I went to protests in DC, I went to protests in Baltimore.  I marched, I chanted, I held signs.

And I found myself in a difficult position when those activities failed to make any sort of impact on the Bush administration's plans.  The difficulty I found myself faced with was that my belief that the invasion was wrong conflicted with my belief that when you make a mess, particularly a nasty, ugly, infrastructure-and-stability-destroying mess of another country, those responsible for the mess should also be responsible for making a good-faith effort to clean it up.  After the invasion happened, the tenor of protests changed to demanding the immediate withdrawal of military forces, and I didn't think it would be wise or humane to withdraw without re-establishing infrastructure and some degree of day-to-day stability and security in Iraq.  

Then I started in on my thesis research, and reading about the threat that some peacekeeping troops and relief and aid workers represent to local populations began to instill doubt about my position.  Reading studies about the trafficking of women and girls to Bosnia and Kosovo to work in brothels that soldiers and civilian workers frequent, studies about aid workers and peacekeepers exchanging food for sex with refugee women and girls, and the failure of civilian and military organizations to adequately address these issues - these are the sorts of things that made me start questioning my earlier position.  

The latest post on Baghdad Burning only exacerbated this questioning.  River discusses atrocities in Baghdad, including the killing of a young friend of hers and the recent story about American soldiers raping a girl and killing her family (Heart at Women's Space wrote a series of gut-wrenching posts about this story, beginning here), and asks:

Why don't the Americans just go home? They've done enough damage and we hear talk of how things will fall apart in Iraq if they 'cut and run', but the fact is that they aren't doing anything right now. How much worse can it get? People are being killed in the streets and in their own homes- what's being done about it? Nothing. It's convenient for them- Iraqis can kill each other and they can sit by and watch the bloodshed- unless they want to join in with murder and rape.

Just to further complicate matters, I then read this perspective from an Afghan man, reported by Vasco Pajama, a development worker in Kabul:  

For many years, the Russians tried to occupy our country. They sent over a hundred thousand soldiers. About thirty thousand of their soldiers died. Yet, they were not able to control even one province. Now, we only have less than 40,000 international troops. And about the same number of Afghan troops. And we control all the country. Every province and every capital. Insurgents do not have control any of these. How can this be done without the support of the Afghan people? This shows that Afghans want international troops here. In fact, our worry is that they may leave too early.  (emphasis added)

I was interested in this perspective because it echoes sentiments I once heard from Bosnian colleagues about their concern that war would start again if international forces withdrew from their country.  The comments in the thread following this post question and add complications to the picture this quote paints.  In particular, there's a very interesting discussion of who is perceived to have a 'valid' opinion in these matters, and there are contrasting local opinions offered.  

The point of this post?  I don't know.  I'm wary of trying to draw a unifying point from two individual perspectives in two different, difficult and very sensitive situations.  I guess if I have even an inkling of a point, it's one about listening to people, or maybe even more importantly taking the time to ask people for their opinions and then paying attention to what they say.  And paying attention to what opinions you accept as valid - where they come from, what they're saying, how they affect your own perceptions and opinions.  (It's really elementary stuff, all this, and yet I keep getting - and needing - reminders of how very important it is to be aware of where I get my information from and how it's delivered.)  And, of course, I wanted to share a couple of posts I found thought-provoking, which, really, may be point enough.

Added (because comments still aren't working, thanks ever so much for the lovely new system, Tripod), from my mother:  

I was cleaning the basement yesterday and came across the June-July 2002 edition of The Catholic Worker.  There was a tribute to Fr. Rutilio Grande that coincides with your last paragraph.

Fr. Grande served the poor in El Salvador and was a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Fr. Grande was murdered a month after Romero became Archbishop.

I quote from the article:
One year after [the murder], an old woman was asked what she remembered most about Fr. Grande. 'What I recall most,' she said, 'is how one day he asked me what I thought. No one had ever put that question to me in all my 70 years.'

Later in the article, it says: "there is one constant element in all [Grande's] pastoral work: to seek, always, the greatest possible participation of the people at the base - never to proceed autocratically, but horizontally."

4:57 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006 4:21 AM BST
Sunday, 5 March 2006
I'm an expert?
Topic: Development
Paul tagged me in on the freshest meme to hit the internet: what five resources - online or otherwise - would you point people to, if you wanted to give them an entry into your field of expertise?

I've never really thought of myself as having a field of expertise. Maybe procrastination. I've honed my gift for it over many, many years. Similarly, I've been a student for many, many years. They fit together, those two fields. I suspect that's not quite what Paul had in mind, though.

Professionally, I never thought of myself as a microfinance 'expert', although it's the field I have the most experience in. A year of postgrad study is not sufficient to allow me to consider myself a 'gender expert', and I'm not sure what it takes to become one.

So, in the grand tradition of under-prepared students everywhere, I will take the original assignment, elide it to suit the minimal amount of work that I've done, and hope that I can write it all into an at least semi-coherent whole.

1. Grab attention in the intro: Best! URL! Ever! It can't win best non-e-mail web app until they fix the 'import bookmarks' problem issue, but all the same, I'm amazed at how quickly I've come to depend on del.icio.us. It's a helpful in any field of endeavor (including procrastination). Not only does it save all your bookmarks in one place and let you tag and search them, it also lets you see if anyone else has bookmarked the same page, and shows you their other bookmarks. This can be very helpful for discovering resources on a variety of topics - or just an entertaining distraction.

2. Lead in with a strong initial argument: A good all-purpose entry point into the field of microfinance is the Microfinance Gateway. It has an extensive on-line library, several discussion lists, a consultant database, listings of upcoming conferences and events - it's a solid effort at being a 'one-stop shop' for microfinance information, although the user interface and search functions can be a bit bewildering at first.

3. Introduce the topic you're not as strong on: For research in gender and development that is truly from a gender perspective, rather than a perspective in which 'gender'='women' (as is too often the case in practice), the Institute of Development Studies has some great resources (and interesting research in other fields, as well).

4. Tie your topics together to demonstrate that you're making intellectual connections: Linda Mayoux manages a suite of websites that are excellent resources for those who are interested in gender and microfinance beyond the argument that more credit=better lives for women. She's also known for her work on participatory approaches and impact evaluation, if microfinance isn't your thing. If gender isn't your thing, you're on the wrong blog.

5. Wrap it all up with a brilliant conclusion: Argh. This is always where I crap out. Informal polls of my friends indicate that I'm weird in finding the conclusion far more difficult to write than the introduction, but I've always found endings much more difficult than beginnings. I'm trying to think of a fifth resource, and I've got nothing.

But I want to get this posted, so I'm going to cheat. It doesn't really provide an entry into a particular field, but Chandra Mohanty's article 'Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses' (summary here, but be advised that the language is not plain and the page design is a bit eye-watering) has been a source I've returned to many times over the past year, because the attitude she critiques - that 'third world' women are victims who need to be saved, and that 'first world' women will save them - are still very much in evidence in feminism and in development. It's an attitude that disempowers women in the third world and uncritically promotes the superiority of 'Western' values. It's a valuable reminder of what I do not want my own work to be.

What are you an expert on: agnoiologist, DamselFish, k8teebug?

12:01 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006 10:46 AM GMT

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