The latest Climate Change Report from the IPCC argues that human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems. The report identifies eight major risks with high confidence, and says that each of these risks contributes to one of more of the five “reasons for concern” (RFC) the authors identify:
- Unique and threatened ecosystems and cultural systems.
- Extreme weather events.
- Uneven distribution of impacts, with disadvantaged people and communities facing greater risks.
- Global aggregate impacts, for example global biodiversity loss.
- Large-scale singular events, such as Arctic ecosystems or warm water coral reefs reaching an irreversible tipping point.
The report isn’t totally pessimistic, and it concludes that transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways. It doesn’t say what the favoured options should be, and of course a mix of approaches should be taken, but we’d like your opinion on what the dominant options should be. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve labelled the options “government”, meaning intervention through regulation or taxation for example; “technology”, for example new ways to produce energy or reduce natural resource use; “behaviour”, for example consuming less or recycling more; or “markets”, for resources that become too expensive will be abandoned in favour of other solutions. You can select two options if, for example you think that technology plus markets or behaviour plus government is the best option.
Here are the eight risks.
Are your views on social issues based on the facts, or do you believe everything you’re told? Find out thanks to this quiz devised by Kate Lancaster, OECD editor in charge of publications dealing with social issues
Who’d be a CEO? Back in the days when the legendary Jack Welch was leading General Electric – and increasing its market value by more than a third of a trillion dollars – chief executive officers were the heroes of capitalism. These days, they seem as likely to show up on top-ten lists of failure.
Consider Thorsten Heins, appointed CEO of smartphone maker Blackberry in January 2012 at a time when it was haemorrhaging market share to Apple and Samsung. Mr Heins struggled to turn things around, but by the time he was eased out 22 months later the company’s share price was down almost 60%. That, in turn, hurt Mr Heins’ own earnings, which were linked to the share price. However, considering that he walked away with a farewell package estimated at between $14 million and $16 million, there’s another question you’d have to ask: Given the chance, who wouldn’t be a CEO?
Whether their companies are winning or losing, the popular perception is that CEOs are always winning – showered with bonuses when business is booming, gently let down on golden parachutes when things are going badly.
The reality, of course, is more complicated. For every CEO with a $6,000 shower-curtain, there are others working long days in forgotten corners of desolate business parks. Still, there seems little doubt that as a class, CEOs are doing fairly well for themselves. The Financial Times reported figures from the International Labour Organisation showing that the average pay of top CEOs in Germany rose from 155 times average earnings in 2007 to 190 times in 2011. In the United States, the multiple is 508 times.
But if CEOs are overpaid (and some would argue that – compared to footballers like Wayne Rooney or Hollywood stars like Robert Downey Jr. – they’re not) how should societies respond? One of the biggest trends in recent decades is “say on pay”, which provides company shareholders with some role in determining executive compensation. Does it work? Views differ, as was clear during a discussion earlier today at OECD Integrity Week.
One of the key advantages of “say on pay” – at least in theory – is that it should allow executive pay to be better linked to the company’s performance. But reporting on the experience of the United Kingdom, Martin Petrin of University College London cast doubt on whether that was really happening. According to data he presented, executive pay in leading UK companies has risen by an annual rate of 13.6% since 1998, while the share price of these companies has risen only by an annual average of 1.7%.
He also questioned another of the much-vaunted benefits of say on pay – namely, that by making executive-pay setting more transparent, it leads bosses to moderate their demands. By contrast, he said, it can lead to “ratcheting up”. This is where companies declare that since their executives are all above average (otherwise they wouldn’t have been hired), they must be paid above the median for their industry peers.
But despite the potential criticisms, the panellists generally accepted that say on pay is now an unstoppable tide. In some countries, such as the UK and Switzerland, say on pay is – to some extent – legally mandated. Others, such as France, have steered more towards self-regulation.
Denis Ranque, a leading French businessman and president of the High Committee on Business Governance, argued that hard law was not always the most effective approach. Speaking in French, he pointed out that “Enron had a system of governance where all the ethics boxes were ticked.” Rather than relying on hard law, he said, we should emphasise the role of transparency in executive-pay setting and in wider issues of corporate governance. “Just remember, whatever you do will be in the papers tomorrow. Think about your mother or your daughter’s reaction when they see it.”
But if say on pay is inevitable, it raises another question – who gets to have a say? Typically, it’s limited to shareholders, but the French academic Charley Hannoun said it may be an issue that’s of less concern to shareholders and more to stakeholders, most notably the company’s employees. After all, he argued, they were the ones most likely to be affected by the growing disparity in pay between the people at the bottom and the people at the top.
OECD Integrity Week 2014 – a week of public events focused on integrity in business and government and the fight against corruption.
Corporate governance – OECD research and analysis
Board Practices: Incentives and Governing Risks (OECD, 2011)
Corporate governance: Lessons from the financial crisis (OECD Observer)
Behavioural economics challenges orthodox economics theory and its foundational assumptions regarding human behaviour, its institutional underpinnings, its poor prediction power, and its intrinsic non-falsifiability. In orthodox theory, economic agents are assumed to be fully rational and completely informed. It’s not that they do know everything, but that they can know everything and there are means to learn – epistemology – and they know how to make the best choices for themselves (even if only probabilistically, and even if the choice (sic!) of the precise foundations of the theory of probability that underpins expected utility maximisation is colourfully ad hoc).
Individuals are assumed to have underlying orders of preference for all the alternatives which are knowable, although the means of getting to know them is never specified. These rational preferences are often represented by a utility function, which is assumed to be well-behaved. The “non-satiation” assumption promises that the satiation point will never be reached, at least in the economic domain. Thus, the individuals are always in a state where “more is better”.
Behavioural economics originated, almost fully developed, during the 1950s, and can be classified into at least two streams – Classical and Modern. We would argue that Classical behavioural economics (CBE), pioneered by Herbert Simon (1953), presents a more radical break with the tradition than Modern behavioural economics (MBE) originating in work by Ward Edwards (1954), respectively. The two streams have different methodological, epistemological and philosophical aspects.
First, MBE assumes economic agents maximising utility with respect to an underlying preference order – to which “an increasingly realistic psychological underpinning” is attributed. The “realistic psychological underpinning”, however, is not itself based on any computational foundation, in contrast to Classical behavioural economics, in which the cognitive psychology of choice was intrinsically constrained by a machine model of computation. CBE assumes no underlying preference order. An economic agent’s decision-making behaviour, at any level and against the backdrop of every kind of institutional setting, is subject to bounded rationality and exhibits “satisficing” behaviour – a word Herbert Simon coined from “satisfy” and “suffice” to describe a strategy for reaching a decision the decider finds adequate, even if it’s not optimal in theory. Put another way, MBE remains within the orthodox neoclassical framework of optimisation under constraints; CBE is best understood in terms of decision.
Second, MBE concerns the behaviour of agents and institutions in or near equilibrium; CBE investigates disequilibrium or non-equilibrium phenomena.
Third, MBE accepts mathematical analysis of (uncountably) infinite events or iterations, infinite horizon optimisation problems and probabilities defined over s-algebras and arbitrary measure spaces; CBE only exemplifies cases which contain finitely large search spaces and constrained by finite-time horizons.
There is no doubting the success of MBE. You could characterise it as a massive magnet which attracts different resources, new tools and ways of explanations. In fact you could almost claim that MBE has already become a new mainstream economics, as a consequence of it playing the role of a revised approach of orthodox economics rather than an alternative approach. CBE on the other hand, is developed on completely different grounds from MBE.
MBE is fostered by orthodox economic theory, game theory, mathematical finance theory and recursive methods (Not, however, recursive in the rigorous sense of recursion theory, which forms a key foundation in the development of classical behavioural economics), experimental economics and neuroeconomics, computational economics and subjective probability theory. It preserves the doctrine of utility maximisation and does not go beyond it or discard it (the consumer tries to get the most value possible from the smallest amount of money). Though the behavioural models do consider more realistic psychological or social effects, economic agents are still assumed to be optimising agents, whatever the objective functions may be. In other words, MBE is still within the ambit of the neoclassical theories, or is in some sense only an extension of traditional theory, replacing and repairing the aspects which proved to be contradictory.
CBE is based fundamentally on a model of computation – hence, computable economics – computational complexity theory, nonlinear dynamics and algorithmic probability theory. Unlike MBE, CBE does not try to endow the economic agent with a preference order which can be represented by utility functions; nor do equilibria or optimisation play any role in the activation of behavioural decision-making by CBE agents.
Classical behavioural economics exploits the powerful notion of “bounded rationality” proposed by Simon in 1953. Simon’s definition of bounded rationality encapsulates different notions, such as limited attention, limited cognitive capacity of computation sequential decision-making, and satisficing. For Simon, it is not evident and admissible to assume that human beings are able to exhaust all the information and make the “best” choice out of it. To put it simply: Simon took the limits of human cognition into account and devised mathematical means of describing the roles of memory, experience and intuition in solving problems. His agents do not think in terms of infinite horizon optimisations (nobody in their right mind would!) rather they try to make good decisions for only the near future, but with long-term targets in mind.
“Behavioural economics: Classical and modern”, Ying-Fang Kao & K. Vela Velupillai, (2013): Behavioural economics: Classical and modern, The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, DOI: 10.1080/09672567.2013.792366
 Whether there are ‘unknowable alternatives’ is never clearly specified – especially when the set of alternatives has the cardinality of the continuum, implying the invoking of some form of the axiom of choice, even in the routine implementation of an optimisation exercise. As a result, ‘the means of getting to know them’ cannot be specified in any constructive way.
 See, however, the caveat about probability in the first paragraph.
Before you shift over to springtime mode, take a moment to recall the wild weather that swept across North America earlier this winter. Powered by a “polar vortex,” freezing air and storms repeatedly swept across the continent, dumping deep piles of snow and stranding motorists in blizzards.
Something else may have been obscured by all those swirling snowflakes – the state of the economy. To explain, not only did the harsh weather make everyone’s life miserable, it also dragged down the economy in North America – shops were forced to close, flights were cancelled, people couldn’t get out of their homes. That, in turn, is reflected in the economic data for last quarter of 2013 and (probably) the first quarter of this year, which showed an unexpected dip.
But this winter blip looks to be masking what is otherwise a fairly rosy picture for major G7 developed economies, according to the OECD’s latest economic assessment. The assessment, released today, argues that economic growth in the G7, including, of course, Canada and the United States, is probably strengthening, despite fluctuations caused by the one-off winter weather (and the U.S. government slowdown in October) and an imminent tax revision in Japan.
There’s less encouraging news for the emerging economies. According to the OECD economists, a number of these economies are now experiencing a “marked loss of momentum”. As these economies now account for more than half of the world economy, that’s likely to curb global growth.
Source: Interim Economic Assessment, 11 March 2014.
Overall, then, first-half growth for the G7 economies looks set to be well up on the equivalent periods in 2012 and ’13. But, largely as a result of those one-offs, it’s likely to fall below second-half 2013 growth (although the OECD economists don’t rule out the possibility that this apparent dip in momentum may be due to more than just snow).
The performance of the Eurozone countries, however, continues to be spotty. Germany is doing well and is forecast to see annualised growth of 3.7% in the first quarter, but France will hover around 1% while Italy will be slightly under 1%. And while unemployment is showing encouraging signs of easing elsewhere, it’s showing little signs of improvement in the Eurozone.
What about the risks to all these forecasts? As we noted recently, the Great Recession highlighted failings in forecasting at the OECD and other international institutions. In response, forecasts now place a much greater emphasis on why they could be wrong, either because they’re too optimistic or too pessimistic.
On the positive side, the OECD economists are encouraged by signs that political tensions in Washington over government financing and the debt ceiling have eased, and by indications that Europe’s troubled banks are stabilising.
On the downside, and despite the progress so far of “Abenomics,” they’re concerned by the continuing challenges that Japan is facing from its huge public debt. The Eurozone, too, is not out of the woods, while China may be facing a risk of a “sharp slowdown”.
And, of course, there’s the continuing question of how emerging economies will respond to the slow return to normal monetary policy, especially in the U.S. The impact of the “taper” was clear in these economies both last year and in January, with currency weakness and falling prices for bonds and equities in a number of emerging economies. If these problems continue or worsen, that could be bad news for the global economy.
“How abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of Wicked Woman, yea, of a traitress and bastard.” That’s the opening of John Knox’s 1558 diatribe The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women in which he explains that “To promote a Woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation or city is:
A. Repugnant to nature.
B. Contumely to God.
C. The subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.”
In fact, it’s not a multiple choice, all these are the correct answer.
He helpfully points out that “Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him.”
How much has changed since, and how much do you know about it? Try the quiz to find out. If you’d like some help finding the answers, try the following:
DAC network on gender equality “the only international forum where experts from development co-operation agencies meet to define common approaches in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Social Institutions and Network Index (SIGI) “first launched by the OECD Development Centre in 2009 as an innovative measure of the underlying drivers of gender inequality for over 100 countries. Instead of measuring gender gaps in outcomes such as employment and education, the SIGI instead captures discriminatory social institutions”
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International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, it’s all one to you, isn’t it?
You’re a manly man, or a womanly woman, and you think doing the dishes is a threat to manhood.
You think ladies should be treated well, but those women’s libbers are nothing but troublemakers.
If your son asked for a Barbie doll for his birthday, you’d refuse, not for the same reason as people who score less on the quiz, but because of this.
Question 1 of 15
If participation rates in the labour force for women were to reach those of men by 2030 in OECD countries, GDP would be boosted by:Correct
And inequalities exist even when they are in the labour force. In OECD countries men earn on average 16% more than women in similar full-time jobs. At the top of the pay scale, the gender gap is even higher, 21%, suggesting the continued presence of a glass ceiling. The average pay gap between men and women widens to 22% in families with one or more children. For couples without children, the gap is 7%. Overall the wage penalty for having children is on average 14%, with Japan and Korea showing the greatest gap, while Italy and Spain have almost none.
The impact of pay inequality is dramatic over a woman’s lifetime. Having worked less in formal employment, but having carried out much more unpaid work at home, many women will retire on lower pensions and see out their final years in poverty. Living an average of nearly 6 years longer than men, women over 65 are today more than one and a half times more likely to live in poverty than men in the same age bracket.Incorrect
Question 2 of 15
Who asked the jury if “they would let their wife or servants read this kind of book”?Correct
Yes, and on hearing Griffith-Jones’ question, the rest of the prosecution team started quoting Lawrence, or at least they were heard muttering “Oh f*ck”. Anyway, it turned out that the jury would let their wives, servants and anybody else read it, and the book was published shortly afterwards.
Since then, though it may not be related, girls outperform boys nearly everywhere in PISA’s reading tests, and between 2000 and 2012 the gender gap in reading performance in favour of girls widened in 11 countries. If you’d like to find out whether you’re smarter than a 15 year-old, try the PISA test.Incorrect
But he could have.
Question 3 of 15
Computer programming was invented by:Correct
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, wrote the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, around 1843. The Ada programming language is named in honour of her. Today however, only 20% of students in computer science courses are women and only 14% of patents are filed by women.
On the educationtoday blog, Marilyn Achiron looks at women’s absence from STEM occupations.Incorrect
You must restart the question to find the correct answer
Question 4 of 15
Which of the following was NOT used as an argument against women’s suffrage:Correct
That’s right, although that said, this argument or something similar probably was used, but we couldn’t find any documentary evidence. What we did find though, looking at OECD’s Women in Government data, is that in 2012, women accounted for only 26.8% of parliamentarians and 24.9% of ministers in OECD countries.Incorrect
But we had trouble finding a right answer for this question ourselves.
Question 5 of 15
Who said “There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.”Correct
Helen Grant’s statement, reported here, is at odds with the conclusions of a WHO report on Girls’ participation in physical activities and sport that “rather than focusing on ‘girl-friendly’ sports, we should be looking for ways to make sports and other physical activities more ‘child-friendly’ and ‘youth-friendly’.
Lack of physical activity is one of the causes of obesity, but OECD Fit not Fat study of the subject found that in most countries, boys have higher rates of overweight and obesity than girls. Girls tend to have higher rates in Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark), as well as in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia.Incorrect
It sounds like it should have been, but no.
Question 6 of 15
How is a school dropout from a poor family helping to tackle a major women’s health issue in India, improving girls’ educational enrollment and fighting rural poverty at the same time?Correct
As this BBC report explains, Arunachalam Muruganantham invented a simple machine rural women can use to make cheap sanitary pads. Poor menstrual hygiene is the cause of 70% of all reproductive diseases in India, and 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating. The machine also provides jobs for rural women.Incorrect
Question 7 of 15
International Working Women’s Day was proposed in Copenhagen in 1910 by Clara Zetkin at the first international women’s conference organised by the Socialist International. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February 1909. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March 1975, during International Women’s Year.
The date is linked to the history of the day. International Women’s Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job. In 1913-1914, as part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists. In 1917, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar).Incorrect
You’ll find the right answer here.
Question 8 of 15
The PISA tests show that girls are usually more worried about solving a maths problem than boys, but in one language group tested, the boys are more anxious than the girls:Correct
Boys in all the Arabic-speaking countries tested reported “feeling helpless when doing a maths problem” more than girls maths, but they’re not alone – that’s the case in a quarter of the countries surveyed. However, boys in general ouperform girls in maths by the equivalent of three months in school. That doesn’t mean girls can’t do well: girls in Shanghai outperform boys in every other school system in the PISA at maths. You can find out more here.Incorrect
Question 9 of 15
The world’s biggest-ever survey on violence against women was published this week showing the extent of the problem in EU member countries. It shows that 33% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 (62 million women); 22% have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner; 5% of all women have been raped; 43% have experienced some form of psychological violence by either a current or a previous partner; and 33% have childhood experiences of physical or sexual violence at the hands of an adult. Which country reports the highest rates of violence against women:Correct
One of the most surprising results is that countries with a good reputation on women’s issues come out worst in the survey. In Denmark 52% of women report suffering physical or sexual violence, with Finland (47%), and Sweden (46%) coming second and third. However, the report’s authors suggest five explanations for observed differences between countries which require further exploration:
1) The extent to which it is culturally acceptable to talk to other people about experiences of violence against women, including to survey interviewers.
2) Higher levels of gender equality could lead to higher levels of disclosure about violence against women, as incidents of violence against women are more likely to be openly addressed and challenged in societies with greater equality.
3) Women’s exposure to risk factors for violence can be examined at the Member State level with respect to factors that might increase exposure to violence, such as patterns in employment (working outside the home) as well as socialisation and lifestyle patterns (going out or dating).
4) Differences between countries in overall levels of violent crime, which need to be examined alongside findings on violence against women. For example, a greater degree of urbanisation in a country is generally related to higher crime rates.
5) As there is evidence, including in this survey, of a relationship between perpetrators’ drinking habits and women’s experiences of domestic violence, different drinking patterns in Member States may help to explain certain aspects of violence against women.Incorrect
The results are surprising, and clicking on the correct answer (Denmark) will show you fuller details and explanations. Unfortunately, the software doesn’t allow you simply to redo the question, you have to start the quiz again.
Question 10 of 15
In which country do men spend the most time eating, sleeping and making themselves look pretty?Correct
Italian men spend almost half the day (11 hours and 37 minutes) looking after themselves according to OECD data on time spent on personal care. And in a dramatic announcement when the results became known, the OECD also revealed that overall, women spend more time than men on unpaid work like shopping or housework. Turkish women spend the most time doing unpaid work at 377 minutes a day, while Korean men are either astonishingly efficient or something else, since they only spend45 minutes.Incorrect
They may be exceptionally well-dressed, well-fed, and rested, but they’re not the world champions.
Question 11 of 15
In an OECD survey of government agencies, eighteen responding agencies agreed that financial literacy was an important policy issue in their country, four disagreed and two did not know. Similarly, most also agreed that gender equality was an important policy issue in their country: seventeen agreed, two disagreed and four did not know. How many of them agreed that the need to address the financial literacy of women and girls was an important issue?Correct
Only eight respondents agreed that the need to address the financial literacy of women and girls was an important policy issue, while twelve disagreed and four did not know. The OECD gives developing countries advice on “policy coherence“. Maybe it’s time to broaden the scope.Incorrect
The results show that women have more difficulty in men with basic financial operations like calculating interest. They also show that many governments have trouble adding one policy to another.
Question 12 of 15
What is the main cause of death of women worldwide?Correct
Globally, cardiovascular disease, often thought to be a “male” problem, is the number one killer of women. Breast cancer is the leading cancer killer among women aged 20–59 years worldwide.
Ischaemic heart disease kills 96 women per 100,000 population (the same as strokes), and hypertensive heart disease another 17.
As you’d expect, there are big differences depending on income level. In low-income countries for example major killers are often absent from the top ten causes of female deaths in other places. The main causes of death in the poorest countries are lower respiratory infections (96 per 100,000 population), followed by HIV/AIDS (74) and diarrheal diseases (71). If added together, the biggest killer would be conditions linked to pregnancy and childbirth, with preterm birth complications accounting for a death rate of 49 per 100,000), maternal conditions 26, and birth asphyxia and birth trauma 25.Incorrect
In some ways this a trick question since it asks about the global trend, while cause of death is heavily influenced by factors such as age group and development status of the country, and diseases that are major killers for one set of the population are far less important or practically non-existent elsewhere. The WHO provides full details here.
Question 13 of 15
Who’s more satisfied with their life, men or women?Correct
There doesn’t seem to be much difference. The OECD carried out a survey using a scale called the Cantril ladder which asks people to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most satisfied. Although there is large variation across countries – with the gap between countries with the highest satisfaction and those with the lowest being approximately 3 points on the scale – gender doesn’t seem to play a major role in shaping people’s subjective evaluation of their own lives. Significant differences by gender are found only for employment and health status, which are stronger drivers of life satisfaction for women than they are for men. And in more news, it turns out that people who are rich and healthy are more satisfied than those who are poor and sick. Read all about it here.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, people in sunny South Africa are the most miserable, while those in gloomy Norway are the most cheerful.Incorrect
That may be true in your circle, but it’s not the case generally.
Question 14 of 15
What’s the worst country to be a woman in according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap, “designed to measure gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in individual countries rather than the actual levels of the available resources and opportunities in those countries […] in order to make the Global Gender Gap Index independent from the countries’ levels of development.”?Correct
Yemen comes last of the 136 countries ranked by the World Economic Forum according to “gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria”. Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden occupy the first four places, and OECD countries take eight out of the top ten, with the Philippines coming in at number 5 and Nicaragua at 10.
The spoof magazine cover is one of three produced by Catapult, a US-based crowdfunding site for International Women’s Day. If you click on the image, you’ll see the full story in The Guardian. Among the statistics quoted are these:
14m girls — some as young as eight years old — will be married against their will in 2014.
An estimated 1.2m children are trafficked into slavery each year; 80% are girls.
In New York City, the average age at which a girl first becomes a victim of commercial sexual exploitation is 13.Incorrect
The World Economic Forum doesn’t agree with you.
Question 15 of 15
South Africa’s Sexual Violence Research Initiative has produced a briefing paper on Modifying Gender Role Stereotypes in Children. It says that: “Parents convey expectations of gender role conformity starting in infancy , with one study finding that parents hold gender-typed expectations of their sons and daughters in the first 24 hours following birth. Another found that children show an awareness of their parents’ communication about gender roles from two to two-and-a-half years of age, with the early provision of gender-differentiated toy selection typically reflecting parental stereotypes”Incorrect
You seem to have misheard. Listen more closely.
Today’s post is by Erwin van Veen (Twitter @ErwinVeen) a senior research fellow with the Clingendael Conflict Research Unit of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, based on interviews conducted by the author during a recent visit to Guinea.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, a UN-supported stabilization package has helped put the ongoing transition from military to civilian rule in Guinea on a more sustainable footing. It largely took the form of a set of security sector reform interventions. While progress since 2010 has been substantive, Guinea today remains fragile. This highlights security as a critical precondition for development. It also demonstrates that initial security improvements must be followed up to become sustainable. Finally, it suggests what kind of results external money may ‘buy’ in a transition context. All three issues raise challenges for donors in terms of their policy focus (e.g. in the context of the post-2015 debate), their ability to commit long-term and their need to demonstrate clear-cut, ‘value-for-money’ results.
Between 1984 and 2009 the people of Guinea lived under a series of military and strong-arm governments that combined oppression with repression, plunging the country into a severe economic downturn. In 2010, the election of president Condé heralded a first step towards the return of civilian rule. However, the role and behavior of the armed forces continued to pose a critical challenge to political stability. The military retained a strong grip on political life and a visible position in society: theft, intimidation and violence were common. Citizens experienced the military as a daily, random threat on the streets.
In a rare show of unity, ECOWAS, the AU, UN and Government of Guinea recognized the instability of this situation in 2010 and jointly conducted a review of the country’s security situation. It led to a comprehensive, UN-supported, initiative to stabilize the security sector. Two-and-a-half years later both the results and the challenges look substantial. While Guinea’s poor governance and economic situation – exacerbated by its ‘bad neighborhood’ – still make for a combustible combination, the specter of another coup is fading. The military has moved from the streets into the barracks, weapons have disappeared from sight and civilian oversight improved.
A census of the armed forces that led to the retirement of 4000 out of roughly 24,000 soldiers – with dignity and a package – proved a critical part of the intervention. It helped reduce corruption in the military by weeding out ‘ghost soldiers’, reduced the potential for violence and increased the affordability of the military. Most importantly perhaps, it was a first step in restoring an ‘esprit de corps’ amongst the armed forces. Another key part of the intervention included the creation of a small, UN-led team to provide strategic advice on the security sector reform process to the office of the president. Leveraging the UN’s prestige, this team played an important role in maintaining momentum, building confidence and stimulating the re-instatement of critical institutional practices. Finally, additional interventions enabled difficult conversations to start on sensitive topics like democratic oversight and better protection of women against violence. The entire package came at the bargain price of $11 million out of a total Peace Building Fund (PBF) envelope for Guinea of $18 million.
What is remarkable is that in such a short time span a legal framework governing the security forces has been put in place, the previously prevalent culture of military secrecy has been reduced, the budget for the security forces is now publicly available (the government itself financed the retirement of the most recent contingent of soldiers in December 2013) and public consultations are going on about the role of the security forces (including the police) in society. No less important for the citizens of Conakry, soldiers now obey traffic laws like anyone else. The military is poised to contribute a battalion to MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) later this year, which will further increase its accountability, cohesion and esprit de corps.
These results may not seem transformative in Western parliaments – they are in Guinea.
Three factors played an important role. First, the UN leveraged the credibility it gained from staying in the country throughout Guinea’s crises – bilateral donors largely left – to advantage. Second, PBF funds were mobilized in a timely and flexible manner. It is worthwhile recalling that Guinea is neither post-conflict nor hosts a peacekeeping mission – the usual criteria for PBF support – and so this is a testimony to the catalytic role the fund can play. Third, and most importantly, the Guinean government recognized the urgency of the process and drove it hard, putting political capital on the line. Three decades of coups and military rule undoubtedly provided a useful reminder of the consequences of failure.
However, the devil is in the detail and this progress has, in a way, merely thrown up the next set of challenges. For example, now that the army has vacated the social space it used to occupy to the benefit of the police, the latter needs to step up to ensure public security. So does the country’s notoriously ineffective justice system. Yet, they are poorly governed, led, paid, trained and equipped. Reforming these organizations is also likely to command less political interest. For example, the 2009 ‘stadium massacre’ remains unresolved despite there being clear clues as to suspects and appropriate next steps. Finally, funds are becoming scarcer now that Guinea’s ‘success’ puts it at risk of seeing its PBF funding discontinued and donors in-country are few and not necessarily well-coordinated. Without further political and financial support the reform process may flounder, setting the scene for a slow erosion of what capacity has been created and increasing the potential for future violence.
Hence, paradoxically, if next steps cannot be taken, the success of the stabilization intervention may increase instability. A lack of prospects, basic services and poor governance continue to ensure that small incidents can spontaneously escalate and quickly lead to widespread violence. For example, a two-month long span of blackouts in some of the poorer suburbs of Conakry resulted in massive demonstrations leading to at least one death and several injured on 18 February. Police performance was poor. Such incidents are frequent.
In other words, given its help in achieving initial successes, can the international community now demonstrate it has staying power in accompanying the next step of the security sector reform process? Time will tell and yet the challenge is real.