Category Archives: Voices

Early Compensatory Basic Concepts Intervention Needed for All Grade R Learners

January 27, 2023
By 25517

Louis Benjamin (University of the Western Cape, 2001) received a Sylff Project Grant (SPG) to disseminate the Basic Concepts Program in Northern Cape Province, one of the poorest regions of South Africa. The program he developed is designed as a cognitive intervention for preschool children to enhance their preparedness for early school education and beyond. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the SPG program, implemented from 2019 to 2022, has succeeded in promoting learning and thinking in young children. The following article is reprinted from the website of Basic Concept Unlimited, an NGO led by Benjamin to promote the Basic Concepts Program in South Africa.   

* * *

The Basic Concepts Programme (BCP) is considered the first compensatory cognitive intervention programme for young learners (5-9yr olds) that has been implemented extensively in South Africa. The BCP is currently being scaled throughout the Northern Cape and has been implemented extensively in the Western Cape as well. It is our contention that a compensatory cognitive intervention programme like the BCP needs to be implemented on a national scale in South Africa.

But why should there be a need for such an intervention programme in the first place? Should we not rely on the national curriculum (CAPS) or other validated and established general education programmes to address the educational needs of young learners?

We incorrectly assume that merely attending a pre-school or school would adequately address the educational needs of most children. However, through our research at the Basic Concepts Foundation over the past 18 years, we have consistently found that 70% of school starters are not school prepared. In addition, researchers have found that 78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa were not able to read for meaning. Why is school attendance not a good predictor of learning? It might be a good start but it certainly is no guarantee that children will learn. What then would guarantee that all children learn?  



We incorrectly assume that children would automatically ‘hook into’ the curriculum as if the curriculum would mould itself towards the needs of every child. The curriculum provides only the content to be taught to all children and does not concern itself with pedagogy. Many children have never even experienced the inside of a classroom or encountered a formal instructional situation, yet inside the classroom we expect them to respond in vastly different and ‘schooled’ ways that emphasize logic and scientific reason over trial and error guessing. Thus lack of exposure to this school reasoning is an important cause of failing to learn.

And so starts the tragic mismatch between the teacher, curriculum, and learner. These are the critical aspects that define the dynamics of learning and often they never align.  We know that learners who are not engaged in learning find it difficult to thrive at school, and yet faulty assumptions about the automaticity of learning abound. Teachers are required to follow the curriculum, and often very rigidly, as this forms a central part of how they are monitored and evaluated. Yet, there is a need for a developmental and humanistic approach to connect learners to the curriculum content through a caring adult inside the classroom.

Another aspect is that learners often start school with enormous foundational deficiencies which if not addressed in the curriculum, might be exacerbated and even stymie learning. The problem is that merely trying to plaster the gaps with content does not help, particularly if that content is not presented at the right time in the right way. Furthermore, some concepts are developmentally more important than others. Through our work at the Basic Concepts Foundation, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of establishing the fundamental conceptual systems of colour, shape, size, position, number, and letter to support future learning.  

Teaching the core conceptual content, however, is a delicate process that requires an enormous amount of sensitivity from the teacher. One might compare the level of knowledge and skill needed to delicately guide the child to that of a gardener who needs to know exactly how much sun or water to give to his/her plants for them to thrive. The BCP attunes teachers to this complex human process by providing them with the tools (methods and approaches) to get a better understanding of the learning needs of their children so that they can thrive.

Finally, we find that children who become positively connected to their teachers will also start to trust them. Such children find that being schooled (which includes learning how to reason, think, develop ideas and communicate) helps them to make sense of the world and in fact, enlarges their world as they start to develop the confidence to expand their actions and thinking. Children who are self-initiating and become more self-regulating are driven to learn for the sake of learning. The opposite is true for dependent and passive children who wait for their teachers to teach them the curriculum and who will most likely not flourish or thrive.   

Thus we have uncovered some surprising truths about learning:

  1. Going to school does not equate to learning.
  2. School reasoning differs significantly from everyday reasoning.
  3. Learning involves much more than a curriculum.
  4. Learning is based on the primacy of ideas, basic concepts and language.
  5. Teaching is more than science; it is part art, compassion, and interaction.
  6. Confident and self-assured children are better suited to learning.

The Basic Concepts Programme (BCP) incorporates all  6 of these areas. We cannot assume that all children are hard-wired for school learning; nor are all educational settings prepared for the challenges that we find in the South African context. We should also not expect the education system (schools, curriculums, or teachers) to automatically accommodate the complexity of difficulties that children experience. We, therefore, propose that programmes like the BCP be extended across the country into more pre-schools and primary schools alongside the curriculum, not only to jump-start learning but to enrich teaching and learning, helping children to thrive and learn. We need to be sure that the intervention programmes used to produce change are based on valid theoretical models of learning and cognitive development. The BCP has been particularly thorough in establishing its scientific validity through an extensive doctoral study and action-based fieldwork over the past 18 years. It is urgent that we start to address the actual reasons that so many of our children continue to fail to learn through the universal introduction of an early years cognitive intervention programme that has been shown to promote learning, thinking and language in young children.

 

Reprinted from the website of Basic Concepts Unlimited.

 

Teaching Myself to Be a Teacher, Learning How to Be a Student, Educating Others to Educate Themselves

January 23, 2023
By 24051

Rui Caria, a PhD candidate and teacher at the University of Coimbra, describes his personal journey to becoming the teacher that he wished he had had. The journey has led him to create a YouTube channel as well as a new course at the university that addresses the questions of why study and how to study. He draws on literature as a means of bringing to life the concepts that he teaches.

* * *

I

In 2019 I became a teacher and a PhD candidate at the same time. Becoming a teacher didn’t make me jump to the other side of the classroom, it only put me on both sides.

I thought of myself as someone familiar with the side of the student. Not because, at that point, I had six years of university education behind me, but because of the challenges I faced during those years as a student.

Law school had been challenging for me. I entered one of the most demanding faculties in Portugal very unprepared. As a high school student who only studied on the evening before his exams, I suddenly found myself faced with thousands of pages of reading material, hours of lectures by people who didn’t captivate me, and studying things that, as it turned out, I didn’t find that interesting. On top of that, there was no certainty that I could afford the next tuition.

These challenges made me pose many questions regarding education. What is the value of education? What does it mean to be a student? How would this education aid myself and others around me? How could I truly educate myself?

Talking with many of my fellow students throughout, I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one posing those questions. Many students didn’t know why they were studying. They had to make a choice at 18 years old, did it as best they could, and now found themselves asking if they had made the right one.

These questions never left me. Not after I graduated, not after I did my master’s degree, and not when I became a teacher and PhD candidate. On the contrary, now more than ever, I felt the weight of their importance. I was on the receiving end of the questions and felt the need to be able to give answers. If I didn’t, I felt that I didn’t deserve to be a teacher and couldn’t keep being a student.

From early on, I saw being a teacher as an opportunity to do good; to have a positive influence on the lives of young people. Perhaps it was because, as a young student, I wished someone had done that for me. I wanted to be a teacher capable of offering young students a “why” that would drive them to keep chasing their education to its fullest potential.

Whatever the outcome of my journey might be, I had to better myself and take action: become an agent, rather than a subject, of education.

 

II

I decided that I should be able to teach my students beyond the subjects of my lectures. This meant finding ways in which these subjects related to the world and to individuals themselves. I needed a connection between these realities that was appealing, accessible, and enriching.

Thinking about this, I realized how I had come into contact with a variety of subjects through literature. Stories had made me more interested in philosophy, psychology, history, sociology, and even physics. They did it either by allowing myself to suffer like a character whom chance would never allow me to be or by plunging me into an immersive world that the currents of time would never allow me to swim to.

Why simply write a concept on a blackboard and point at a textbook when you can bring it to life through the words of some of the most eloquent, imaginative, and wise people in the history of the world?

I saw the potential of stories to enrich the way I taught law and the way my students learned. But I also knew it would be difficult to tell students, “Read the subject’s textbook, your notes. . . . Oh! And also, this 400-page novel.” People have smartphones with high-speed Internet and infinite scroll; one must know what he is competing against. Innovation was the answer.

I created a YouTube channel where I read small portions of classical works of literature that touched on topics of law. The videos were small and gave a short explanation of how the specific portion related to a specific concept. Videos were uploaded monthly during the semester and, at the end of each month, students who participated in the project were invited to discuss the ideas of the book and relate them to what was taught in class.

It gave a new depth and life to what we talked about in class. Suddenly, the concept of justice wasn’t just something you read on a textbook but a difficult problem that Aeschylus, the father of tragedy in Ancient Greek theater, posed against the judgment of Athena herself in one of his plays. The death penalty wasn’t just a remote idea, it came to be seen through the eyes of Albert Camus’s character Meursault as he ponders the meaning of truth waiting for the guillotine.

For this project, I was awarded the 2021 Prize for Pedagogical Innovation by the University of Coimbra.

The author holds the plaque of the Prize for Pedagogical Innovation that he received in 2021.


III

I wasn’t completely satisfied after receiving the prize. I had thought carefully about the project and decided it was worthy of pursuit, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it; and it proved to be useful and innovative, otherwise it wouldn’t have been awarded. Still, I came to find its scope limited. I was teaching my students beyond law and pointing them to literature and its ocean of ideas, but there were many more things that I wanted to teach them and couldn’t inside the confines of my lectures on law.

I still saw many of them struggling with their role as university students. I saw lack of motivation born from a sense of uncertainty about the future. I understood that many wanted to learn more and efficiently but didn’t know how to study. For many, as was the case for myself during my graduate years, everything was a question.

I took it upon myself to provide answers as best as I could. I decided to create a full course, for free, open to all the students at the university, designed to answer two big questions: Why study? How to study? I pitched the idea to the vice dean responsible for the development of undergraduate students and got the approval to create and teach the course.

For months, apart from everything else I was doing, I devoted myself to research and thinking, as honestly and as well as I could, about the answers I would give.

I went after the “why.” My approach to the importance of education had always been grounded in the literature that helped me through tough times. Existentialist philosophy had come to frame much of my world view, especially the work of Albert Camus.[1] The idea of gathering strength within yourself in the face of a world that was indifferent to your existence was dear to me. The intuition in me came to be that, in some way, education should serve to make you stronger. On the other hand, the works of Dostoyevsky had made me believe that there was tremendous value in the good acts one can do for people and that the memory of good could sustain you for a lifetime. Education wasn’t only about making you stronger but about making you stronger so you can be good and help other people.

As I read beyond my literary interests and started to look at how models of development relate to education, I came across the notion of the human capabilities approach in the work of Martha Nussbaum, which resonated with my intuition. Education could in fact be conceptualized as a means of developing capacities in individuals that, in turn, would help them raise other individuals and eventually their own society.

The new challenges posed by the demands of writing a PhD thesis had already put me into contact with the “how” of studying. As I read more about it, it became clearer that studying should be done in a way that was both effective and efficient. The tools necessary to study in this way overlapped with the methods of peak performance that were applicable in several other fields. They lead to the best results. But to perform at your peak, changes in your environment and in yourself were required. Habits must be changed, attention must be sharpened, mindsets must be reinforced. And a vision of the future must be kept vivid and clear: that you can forever learn, forever grow stronger, forever be better, for yourself and for others.

I learned about all of these things and taught them all, for the first time, to the several students that attended the first edition of the “Why Study, How to Study” course at the University of Coimbra.

 

 

IV

Creating and teaching a course to students at the university where I studied and now teach was, without a doubt, something I never thought I would be able to do. But it’s one of the most meaningful things I have ever had the honor of doing. Now, I’m glad I had all those doubts as a young man arriving at university. I’m thankful for the suffering that brought them. With time, they transformed from ghosts to guides. I stopped running away from them to start running toward them, and in doing so, I found myself having a journey that I deem worthy of dedicating these words to. One where I had to teach myself to be a teacher, because I wanted to be the one I never had and the one my students deserved. One where I learned how to be a student by never ceasing to ask questions, by not giving up on the hard journey to find the answers. One where I educated others to educate themselves, because I believed there are few greater gifts.

 

[1] I previously wrote about him in another article for Sylff Voices (https://www.sylff.org/news_voices/28458/).


A video of the author talking about the project can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d54F2XdZC4w&ab_channel=UniversidadedeCoimbra

The Rise of Civilizational States: Civilizational Discourse in International Relations

December 20, 2022
By 29256

Tamas Dudlak, a 2021 Sylff fellow from Corvinus University of Budapest and a recipient of a Sylff Research Abroad grant in 2021, here discusses the concept of the civilizational state, developments surrounding it, and how it is exploited in politics. Confrontational civilizational narratives serve to create group cohesion by building on a sense of in-group pride, Dudlak points out, but efforts feeding on such differences cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence.

* * *

The discourse on civilizations has taken hold in international politics since Samuel Huntington’s famous book on the “Clash of Civilizations.” The emergence of the multipolar world order and the cultural turn in the 1990s has enhanced the importance of civilizational differences. The prominence of civilizational identity is not only a reaction to globalization but is itself part of the globalization process. The globalization process pluralized the identities within and beyond the state. Although civilization as a unit of analysis is highly contested, its importance lies in its frequent usage in cultural and political debates[1] and is often considered “an institution and an actor in international politics” (Yeşiltaş 2014, 69). Drawing on Johann Arnason, Fabio Petito (2011, 767) argues for “civilizations, defined in a fundamentally culturalist-religious sense.” Civilization is an essentially cultural entity based on imagined and/or actual cultural links between societies (nations) (Tetik 2021, 4).

 

Ideas Surrounding the Concept of the Civilizational State

As the political theorist Christopher Coker (2018) noted, we now live “in a world in which civilization is fast becoming the currency of international politics.” In his book, Coker analyzed the idea of the civilizational state through the examples of Western civilization, Japan, China, Russia, India, and the Muslim civilizations. The phrase “civilizational state” was popularized by the British writer Martin Jacques (2012), and Weiwei devoted a book to explaining the phenomenon in contemporary China based on “a new model of development and a new political discourse” (Weiwei 2012, x).

The discourse on civilization has been reactivated by three developments of global implications:

  1. The crisis of the Western liberal establishment and Western countries. Europe’s crises continue after the global economic crisis. The West “lost its monopoly over the globalization process” as significant development models and opposing value systems exist (Sherr 2008, 9). A series of crises have shaken the Western world and the European Union: the identity crisis of the Union in the aftermath of the EU constitution referenda, euro crisis, financial crisis, weakening liberal democratic ethos, unfulfilled economic promises in East-Central Europe, foreign policy failures in the Middle East and Ukraine, migration crisis, and Brexit (Öniş and Kutlay 2019, 2–4). These events and processes have weakened the EU’s soft power, its main strength in the international arena. It is “a crisis of Western values, or defined more broadly, of the Western system” (Moreh 2016, 3).
  2. The rise of identity politics and populism as cultural resistance (Kriesi et al. 2008) and the global resistance against the neoliberal mainstream parties—in the form of both right- and left-wing parties. Chryssogelos (2018) argues that the content of populism is ideologically not cohesive. However, the different national populisms are unified in their practices of defining themselves in opposition to the conception of an “internationalized state” (heavily influenced by international actors), and they promote the so-called “new sovereign state.”
  3. The economic and political rise of Asian nations with large populations and historically significant independent cultures or civilizations (India and China) (Acharya 2020, 140). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, modernization and Westernization went hand in hand, which in practice meant that the Western “recipe” for economic and political development was adopted. The rise of alternative and successful economic and political systems beyond the West (especially in Asia) has disrupted the unity of modernization and Westernization and given rise to the idea that it is no longer necessary to adopt Western “values” in order for a nation, community, society, or civilization to be economically and politically successful.

The discourse of civilization makes it possible to thematize the constant confrontation and cultural conflicts of values that affect the everyday course of life. These sites of disputes are exploited by strong leaders who take the lead as the central character of the narrative, creating their story through their rhetoric (wordcraft) and their performative action (stagecraft) (Uhr 2014). Confrontational civilizational narratives build on a sense of in-group pride, exceptionalism, and an essentialist understanding of a particular civilization. The rich and complex cultural foundation of a given civilization can be selectively used for the intended political purpose.

The importance of antagonisms lies in the fact that it is along these lines that the political identity of a group can crystallize and separate itself from its environment. The creation of group cohesion is the goal of all political actors. The most significant part of political image-building is about highlighting differences and putting things in antagonistic terms: “in-group versus out-group, good versus evil, moral versus immoral, nation versus anti-nation, pure people versus corrupt elite, and patriots versus traitors” (Selçuk 2016, 5).

The civilizational discourse is usually centered on the idea of restoration, feeding on the image of greatness in the past, its moral and material success, and its predictability. (The historical time is divided into two sections: the first is the recent past that must be changed, and the second is the distant past, which provides the ideal for changing the recent past.) The civilizational state discourse places the past in a macro-historical perspective and thus seeks to “restore” the meaning of history (Coker 2018, 18). The attachment to the past also indicates future possibilities and directions for action in the present. Moreover, the past is not only a guiding line in the present but is often projected “as an aspirational vision for the future” (Akçalı and Korkut 2012, 611).

 

The Hagia Sophia Museum—originally a Christian church, converted into a mosque in 1453—was reconverted into a mosque in the summer of 2020. This step manifests the serious commitment of the Turkish government toward the Ottoman past. Photo taken by the author in Istanbul in 2015.

 

Use of Civilizational Discourse by Governments

In one of my recent works, supported by a 2022 SRA grant, I utilize the concept of civilizational state based on Coker (2018) to understand the domestic and foreign policy choices of the current Hungarian and Turkish governments. The civilizational discourse is the narrative that civilizational states employ, and it constitutes a political-ideological formation relying on the idea of distinctive identity traits and the representation of these identity constructions in the international arena. The civilizational discourse of the Hungarian and Turkish governments is connected to the global rise of identity politics and serves to strengthen the power of the states amid the constant challenges against state sovereignty. Both the Turkish and Hungarian political systems rely on a mixture of national and religious legitimacy (Islam and Christianity, respectively) and use these to extend the scope of foreign policy activism. Acharya (2020, 141) calls this self-aggrandizement and identifies it as one of the critical features of civilizational states. These states can enlarge their area of interest and influence through extensive identity politics.

To be effective, the discourse does not have to be valid or accurate; what matters is its plausibility. Civilizational states selectively draw on their respective civilizational “heritage” to create a thorough and coherent Weltanschauung, a worldview that can be projected onto everything, making political struggles more palpable for the audience. These narratives function as simple storytelling so that one can live, connect, and empathize with the story. A successful narrative explains past grievances and offers a tale of the future. Yuval Noah Harari argues that in the age of mass media, political communication needs to tell a story whose coherence, rather than its veracity, is essential (Harari and Kahneman 2021). The coherence must be both internal and emotional. The former implies that while having its own logic, the story has a specific explanatory power, while the latter principle requires that the story contain the clash between good and evil. In politics, therefore, the success of political organizations increasingly depends on effective communication rather than ideological and political coherence.

 

The Hungarian Parliament refurbished in “Eastern” style, referring to the growing interest of the Hungarian government in Eastern powers. Photo taken by the author during the ARC 2021 exhibition in Hungary.

 

The culture war, or the practice of securitization of culture, is based on resistance to the free flow of culture. Supporters of culture war aim to confront identity groups within and outside the country to change the mainstream and achieve cultural hegemony by taking identity politics to an imagined cultural battlefield. Culture war starts from the premise that the political opponent has a coherent cultural system, but its intellectual and philosophical foundations are inappropriate (disconnected from reality). These are means in the hands of ideational regimes to challenge their opponents over the meaning and principles of politics. For example, in the discourse of the current Hungarian government, the stakes of the liberal versus conservative debate have risen to the level of civilization, as the two opposing sides fight each other over the interpretation of the philosophical foundations and values of Western civilization.

The conflict between civilizations is far from inevitable, as many claim. Indeed, peaceful coexistence between civilizations has dominated daily life for most of history. However, invoking antagonism between civilizations in an age of uncertainty is undoubtedly simple. To strengthen the identity of political-cultural communities, the question “Who are we?” and “Who are we not?” must be answered. But efforts that deepen the differences between civilizations cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence.

 

References

Acharya, Amitav. 2020. “The Myth of the ‘Civilization State’: Rising Powers and the Cultural Challenge to World Order.” Ethics & International Affairs 34, no. 2 (Summer): 139–56.

Akcali, Emel, and Umut Korkut. 2012. “Geographical Metanarratives in East-Central Europe: Neo-Turanism in Hungary.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 53 (5): 596–614.

Chryssogelos, Angelos. 2018. “State Transformation and Populism: From the Internationalized to the Neo-Sovereign State?” Politics 40, no. 1 (February): 22–37.

Coker, Christopher. 2018. The Rise of the Civilizational State. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Harari, Noah Yuval, and Daniel Kahneman. 2021. “Daniel Kahneman & Yuval Noah Harari in Conversation.” YouTube, April 13, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yhg7NmTeVg.

Jacques, Martin. 2012. “China Is a Civilization State.” The Economic Times, July 19, 2012. http://www.martinjacques.com/when-china-rules-the-world/china-is-a-civilization-state/.

Kriesi, Hanspeter, Egar Grande, Romain Lachat, Martin Dolezal, Simon Bornschier, and Timotheos Frey. 2008. West European Politics in the Age of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moreh, Chris. 2016. “The Asianization of National Fantasies in Hungary: A Critical Analysis of Political Discourse.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 19, no. 3 (May): 341–53.

Öniş, Ziya, and Mustafa Kutlay. 2019. “Global Shifts and the Limits of the EU’s Transformative Power in the European Periphery: Comparative Perspectives from Hungary and Turkey.” Government and Opposition 54, no. 2 (April): 226–53.

Petito, Fabio. 2011. “In Defence of Dialogue of Civilisations: With a Brief Illustration of the Diverging Agreement between Edward Said and Louis Massignon.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 39, no. 3 (May): 759–79.

Petrequin, Samuel. 2021. “Macron: EU Needs to Fight ‘Illiberal Values’ inside Bloc.” Associated Press, June 25, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/europe-government-and-politics-5467b6be4d12a71764fa48788eb30740.

Selçuk, Orçun. 2016. “Strong Presidents and Weak Institutions: Populism in Turkey, Venezuela and Ecuador.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16 (4): 571–89.

Sherr, James. 2008. “A Dangerous Game.” The World Today 64, no. 10 (October): 8–10.

Tetik, Mustafa Onur. 2021. “Discursive Reconstruction of Civilisational-Self: Turkish National Identity and the European Union (2002–2017).” European Politics and Society 22 (3): 374–93.

Uhr, John. 2014. “Rhetorical and Performative Analysis.” In The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, edited by R. A. W. Rhodes and Paul ‘t Hart, 253–66. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Weiwei, Zhang. 2012. The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State. Hackensack, NJ: World Century Publishing Corporation.

Yeşiltaş, Murat. 2014. “Turkey’s Quest for a ‘New International Order’: The Discourse of Civilization and the Politics of Restoration.” Perceptions 19, no. 4 (Winter): 43–76.

 

[1] Lately, the French president Emmanuel Macron attached importance to the “civilizational battle” for defending liberal values and democracies. “We must give content, perspectives and meaning to our liberal values, in the political sense of the term, in the philosophical sense of the term, and show the strength of our democracies. … It is the backsliding in the minds and mentalities. And as such it is a cultural, civilizational battle that we must fight.” (Petrequin 2021)

The Experiences of Indian Couples during the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 6, 2022
By 29781

Priyanshi Chauhan is a 2021 Sylff fellow conducting doctoral research at the Centre for South Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. In this article, which is based on a study first published in Gender Issues, Chauhan discusses how gender inequalities have become more prevalent in India under the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on to learn about the ways in which the adoption of work-from-home arrangements has affected men and women differently among dual-earner families in Indian cities.


* * *

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already existing gender inequalities, with substantial implications on how women navigate the work-from-home settings. One of the ways in which the pandemic has affected women differently than men is through the increased burden of unpaid work. Prior to the pandemic, women in India were already spending more time on unpaid work (351.9 minutes a day) as compared to men (51.8 min/day) (NSO 2019). In addition, women spent an average of 367 min/day on paid activities compared to 486 min/day by men (NSO 2019). Thus, not only do women already bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid work, but employed women work for much longer hours than men.

Adding to it, the pandemic has created new types of unpaid work including homeschooling, caring for more people who now stay indoors, and sanitization and hygiene needs, which have added to women’s work. Simultaneously, the pandemic has led to the collapse of spatial separation between the workplace and household due to the adoption of work from home. This is significant because the distinction between paid work and unpaid care work emanates from the site of their performance. As both paid and unpaid work are performed within the household during the pandemic, this is likely to have implications on how men and women navigate work from home. Accordingly, I conducted semistructured interviews with 30 dual-earning married couples in India in the months of April and May 2021 to understand how gender intersects with the experiences of work from home in the household (Chauhan 2022). All participants in the study are from tier-1 metropolitan cities in India: 12 from Delhi, 6 from Bangalore, 5 from Mumbai, 3 from Chennai, and 4 from Hyderabad. All are post-graduates and are working professionals in the corporate sector. Interviews were conducted virtually because of the pandemic-related restrictions. All participants were interviewed separately from their partners. The findings are discussed below.

 

Sharing of Unpaid Work

Both men and women reported that their time spent on unpaid work increased during the pandemic. However, it would be amateur to conclude that gender inequalities in unpaid work have vanished. It has been found that for men, unpaid work is in addition to activities like relaxation, leisure, and pursuing hobbies, as compared to women, for whom household chores and care work have replaced these activities.

The type of unpaid work that men and women perform can also be categorized as masculine type and feminine type. Men are found to be doing such unpaid work as grocery shopping and laundry, which need to be performed with less frequency and can be done based on their availability and convenience. On the other hand, women are responsible for such work as cooking and related work and cleaning the dishes, which have to be performed multiple times during the day and are time bound. In childcare as well, a distinction is evident where women are responsible for work that is essential to the everyday needs of the children, such as feeding and bathing, as compared to men, who are mostly their children’s playmates or watch over them when their mother is not available. Thus, women play a primary role as household managers and primary caregivers, while men contribute only in supportive roles.

Indian women struggle to maintain work-life segregation. (Source: Freepik)


Navigating the Gendered Space-Time Arrangements at Home

Men also have greater control over the use of household resources, such as a work desk or private workspace. Men’s productive work is prioritized over their responsibilities for unpaid work as well as women’s responsibilities for both unpaid and paid work. Since there is a higher value placed on men’s productive work, the household facilitates their professional commitments in the work-from-home arrangements. Men’s workspace requirements along with their need to maintain privacy and artificial segregation between work and life are prioritized over women’s requirements.

As per the findings, women have a private workspace with adequate infrastructure only in cases where there is enough space to have two separate rooms dedicated to work. The majority of women work from either their bedrooms or the living room. In both cases, women’s allocation of workspaces is contingent on men’s allocation of better workspaces for themselves. For instance, the women who are working from the bedroom have reported that their husbands have a separate private work room. Similarly, for women working from the living room, their husbands have used the limited space in the bedroom to make a workspace for themselves. As such, these women have involuntarily moved to the common spaces to continue working from home. Only two couples in the sample reported men working from the living room and women using separate private workspaces for themselves. This is because even if men continue to work from the living room, they are rarely interrupted by the family. On the other hand, moving to the living room for their wives would mean regular interruptions and expectations from the family members that they are available for them all the time.

Unpaid work is also an important factor in determining women’s schedule of paid work. This leads to the integration of work and nonwork domains not only in terms of physical boundaries but also at the level of behavioral and cognitive boundaries. For men, unpaid work does not determine their scheduling of paid work. Rather, it is the other way around, where their professional commitments determine their availability and participation in unpaid household chores and care work.

 

Return-to-Work Preferences

There is a preference for the hybrid work model among both men and women. However, there are gender differences in the factors that determine the preferences about returning to work. For women, continuation of work from home is contingent on the availability of domestic workers and other family members working from the office. Factors that are common to both men and women include spending more time with children, work-life balance, and social isolation, among others. Some women also expressed their preference to shift toward part-time jobs or quit the labor force permanently to better manage their household responsibilities. This is because of the increasing challenge of work-life balance that women faced during the lockdown and the lack of support by family members for women pursuing their career ambitions.

 

Critiquing the Assumption of Gender Neutrality in Work from Home

The experiences thus indicate that the assumption of gender neutrality in the mainstream work-from-home models is misleading. The mainstream models of work from home are popular for providing flexibility and greater control over work. However, when gender is integrated into work-from-home models, it constrains the autonomy of women in deciding when and where to work. The perceived control and autonomy of women in making choices regarding working from home is in itself a product of gender norms and gender roles. Unpaid work is also at the core of boundary management between the work and nonwork domains.

Men have managed to demarcate the two domains to a greater extent, especially for behavioral and cognitive boundaries due to their gender privilege. The relatively high value that is placed on men’s productive work has offered them options to create artificial segmentation in the work-from-home arrangements regarding physical boundaries as well. By contrast, women have experienced a complete merging of the two domains.

It is therefore necessary to mainstream gender considerations and unpaid work in the work-from-home frameworks. In the process, it needs to be underscored that women’s needs in the work-from-home arrangements are not addressed in isolation from the gender dynamics that unfold within the household. Gender equality is not only a woman’s issue but a power relation between the genders. As such, men must be equally engaged in conversations on gender equality both at the workplace and at home.

 

References

Chauhan, P. 2022. “‘I Have No Room of My Own’: COVID-19 Pandemic and Work-from-Home through a Gender Lens.” Gender Issues 39, no. 4 (December 2022): 507–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-022-09302-0.

NSO (National Statistical Office). 2020. Time Use in India—2019. New Delhi: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India.

Madness Not Allowed: A Review of Spiritual Travelers under Religious Conservatism in Indonesia

November 29, 2022
By 28871

Religious activists in Indonesia have taken to social media to harass spiritual travelers who do not belong to the Muslim majority. Jesada Buaban, a 2019–2022 Sylff fellow at Universitas Gadjah Mada, argues that the religious majority sees the spiritual travelers as morally sick persons who need to be cured. Jesada was a Theravada monk in Thailand for 18 years and now researches gender, violence, and religious legitimacy.

* * * 

Religious diversity in Indonesia is limited because religious organizations must express their nationalism. Minority religions are especially at risk when they are not in line with mainstream organizations like Majelis Ulama Indonesia.[1],[2] The state also forces its population to believe in God and identify as belonging to one (state-recognized) religion.

On a smaller scale, this Islamization paves the way for the rise of religious specialists who play a significant role in each province. Some activists are even popular on social media. These factors affect the lives of spiritual travelers who are seen as mad/insane persons who must be medicalized and convinced to change their behaviors. Ultimately, they become commercial objects of “moral restoration.”

Pilgrimage to the tomb of Muslim saints on Mt. Tidar, Central Java (photo by Jesada 2022)

In the Javanese tradition, visiting the tombs of saints (wali) is viewed as a pilgrimage. Some people also leave household life and become homeless, like an ascetic (petapa). These people tend not to cut their hair and wear old, dirty clothes. But since YouTube and Facebook became popular in Indonesia, such spiritual travelers began to be bothered by groups of social-media activists such as Sinau Hurip and Pratiwi Noviyanthi.

These two groups are non-profit foundations (yayasan). Sinau Hurip (Learning Life from Lives of Other People) has 1.01 million subscribers on YouTube (channel created in 2019). Meanwhile, Pratiwi Noviyanthi (Ripple) is followed by 3.4 million (channel created in 2020). The same names are used on Facebook. Videos are uploaded every day by the foundations’ teams, consisting of 5-10 members. The channels earn income via YouTube and Facebook advertisements.

These two groups look for the homeless or solo-traveling persons, sometimes acting on tips from their Facebook followers. They especially focus on people who travel on foot. Walking is the symbol of those who have no job, which means (in these YouTubers’ opinion) that they have mental problems and do not want to work, associate with friends, marry, or live a household life—all of which are contrary to Islamic practices. If someone wears a necklace or a rosary, they will be asked to remove it because it is considered heretical according to Islamic radicalism.

The YouTubers always begin by asking permission to talk with the spiritual travelers but turn to force if they deny it. Fights erupt in some cases. Even though the YouTubers start the disturbance, their compassion is emphasized—they are the ones who come to “help.”[3] The homeless are usually asked/convinced to cut their long hair, take a bath, wear new clothes (mostly clothes of the YouTubers’ foundations), and receive some food and drink, and then are allowed to leave.[4]

Talkative spiritual travelers seem to be disturbed less compared to the quiet ones: physical compulsion tends to occur less when the YouTubers can engage in a discussion with the traveler, even if they disagree on religious beliefs.[5]

Being non-talkative does not mean that the spiritual traveler must be mad or has a mental illness; they could simply be introverted, for example. But the foundations’ YouTube and Facebook followers seem not to understand the diversity of lifestyles. They perceive the two activist groups as heroes who help correct the distorted behaviors and beliefs of the spiritual travelers. Pratiwi always invokes the name of God, like saying “please go back, this is Allah’s word” when asking the spiritual traveler to stop their journey and return to their homeland.

If a commenter on YouTube or Facebook warns the groups to stop disturbing the spiritual travelers, writing “this person may be a saint (wali),” other followers will reply “there is no correct practice outside Islam. Muhammad is the last prophet and his teaching is complete.” Many commenters also suggest bringing the travelers to Islamic schools (pesantren) on the grounds that they would live as good Muslims.

Interestingly, there are no comments that directly mention human rights. In Indonesia, especially in the religious sphere, rights are not important. And few people consider photographing or recording a video of someone without consent as an ethical issue.

Michael Foucault said that medication is not pure science but a combination of medicine, economics, power, and society.[6] The “medical gaze” means the medical separation of a patient’s body and identity, in which people are dehumanized into an object of analysis based upon medical knowledge.[7]

The imagined “mad” persons in Indonesia are not judged by medical knowledge but by religious conservatism that does not understand nor respect those who are different from the Islamic mainstream.

 

[1]     Jesada Buaban, “Online Waisak: Celebrating Discrimination of Indonesian Buddhists,” Journal of Human Rights and Peace Studies 7, no. 2 (2021), https://so03.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/HRPS/article/view/249397.

[2]     Syafiq Hasyim, “Majelis Ulama Indonesia and Pluralism in Indonesia,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 41, no. 4-5 (2015).

[3]     Sinau Hurip, “BRIINGAAS BANGET!!! Jempol Mas Adi Harus Dijahit Karena Robek di Gigit” [So violent!!! Brother Adi’s thumb had to be stitched because it was bitten], posted on June 24, 2022, Facebook video, https://www.facebook.com/sinauhurip/videos/1723907224628113/.

[4]     Pratiwi Noviyanthi, “Lamongan!! Semua Warga Bilang ODGJ Ini Memakai Rambut Palsu Untuk Ngemis??” [LOL!! Everyone says this guy wears fake hairs to beg], April 21, 2021, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZKlwSgCY0k.

[5]     Sinau Hurip, “Macan Putih? Jalannya Emang Cepat Bangat, Apakah?” [White tiger? Travelling is really fast, is it not?], July 26, 2022, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OO6osk9IZs.

[6]     Michel Foucault, “The Crisis of Medicine or the Crisis of Antimedicine?,” Foucault Studies (2004): 9.

[7]     Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (New York: Random House, 1973): 165.

Pursuing an International Strategy to Promote and Protect Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights in Brazil

November 17, 2022
By 26115

Bruno Pegorari, a 2017 Sylff fellow, has been proactively involved in advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the Guarani Kaiowá in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. He has contributed a brief article providing an overview of the situation that the Guyraroká community of the Guarani Kaiowá faces in Brazil.

* * *

In 2019, I was very fortunate to be awarded a Sylff Leadership Initiative (SLI) grant to continue my legal work with members of the Guyraroká community of the Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous people and their allies in Brazil. This SLI project helped me to carry out specific legal actions oriented at strengthening the community engagement with international human rights institutions in the face of Brazilian institutions’ evasive responses to the community’s attempts to recover their traditional territory. As a matter of law, the Brazilian Constitution and international treaties protect the right of Indigenous peoples to their traditional lands, among them the Guarani Kaiowá. However, it is important to highlight that this SLI project touched upon only a fraction of the broader political and legal struggle of the Guarani Kaiowá from Guyraroká. In this short article, I introduce some aspects of the Guyraroká Guarani Kaiowá’s battle for their traditional territory and explain why this struggle is not only representative of similar experiences faced by other Indigenous communities but also central to the resolution of the legal problem concerning all Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

 

Dona Miguela Vilhalva, a Guarani Kaiowá, greets the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Antonia Urrejola during her 2019 Brazil visit. (Source: CIMI 2019)


Guyraroká is part of the Guarani Kaiowá territory located in today’s Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Although Guyraroká is not officially recognized as Guarani Kaiowá territory today, its occupation by the Guarani Kaiowá goes far back, to before the arrival of settler colonizers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Guarani Kaiowá call their territories Tekohá. Guyraroká is a Tekohá, which combines the notion of land and life in a holistic, symbiotic manner. Teko means “mode of living” while means “physical place.” So, according to Kaiowá cosmology, Tekohá is the land where the mode of living of Guarani Kaiowá takes place. One does not go without the other. The teko is profoundly affected if the há (the land) is taken from them.[1]

During most of the twentieth century, the Brazilian government incentivized settlers to occupy Indigenous lands in the Midwest. During this period, settlers seized Guyraroká and expelled their inhabitants from the land. For many decades, members were banned from their traditional land, which had been turned into monoculture farmlands aimed at export. This massive land expropriation created severe consequences for the Guarani Kaiowá people. For many, the only alternative to ensure survival was to “integrate” into settler society and detach from their former Indigenous identity and territory or to stay around and work for the settlers running their stolen traditional lands under precarious labor conditions.

In the 1990s, the Guarani Kaiowá initiated a movement to take back their stolen territory. In 1999, community members finally reoccupied Guyraroká and brought the Guarani Kaiowá mode of living back to the land. The movement sought inspiration and legitimacy in the Brazilian Constitution.[2] Although anchored in a solid legal foundation, the take-back movement clashed with the economic interests of settler occupants, who had developed a stable agriculture export economy out of Indigenous lands and labor. As a result, the Brazilian Indigenist Agency (FUNAI) initiated demarcation procedures to resolve the issue. If successfully demarcated, Guyraroká would finally return to the community. However, in the final stages of the demarcation, settler landowners filed a lawsuit against FUNAI, claiming that because community members were not physically occupying Guyraroká at the date the Brazilian constitution was enacted (1988), the Guyraroká community and others under similar circumstances were to be deprived of their right of land restitution. The Supreme Court accepted the settlers’ argument in a biased and controversial decision. It ruled that, in the case of Guyraroká, the right to private property should override Indigenous rights to traditional land. Because of this case’s success, many farm owners across the country started to bring legal claims against ongoing Indigenous land demarcation procedures, producing a cascade effect. This is why the Guyraroká case is so important. It represented a large-scale backlash against Indigenous territorial rights that affected the Guyraroká community and many others all over the country.

Because the highest instance of the Brazilian judiciary had failed to protect the inherent land rights of Indigenous peoples, the Guyraroká community, under the guidance of the Guarani Kaiowá Great Assembly (Aty Guasu) and their allies, decided to appeal to international human rights institutions that have a legal mandate to oversee states under its jurisdiction, including Brazil. This is where this SLI project comes into play. The project helped to advance the international action plan to pursue reparations for the harms committed by the Brazilian judiciary against the community (that is, not protecting their land rights). So far, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Washington, DC) has granted a Precautionary Measure to the community based on the rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which the Brazilian government is a party.[3] Among other things, the commission requested that Brazil take measures to stop surrounding farmers from dumping aerial pesticides over the community.

While the case does not reach the Inter-American Court of Human Rights—the institution that holds the legitimate authority to order final, binding reparations to Brazil—the community and its allies continue to advance their international strategy to expose Brazil’s violation of the fundamental land rights of Guyraroká community members.

 

[1] Tonico Benites, “Recuperação dos territórios tradicionais Guarani-Kaiowá. Crónica das táticas e estratégias,” (2014) 100 Journal de la Société des américanistes 100, no. 2 (2014): 229–40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24606548.

[2] The 1988 Brazilian Constitution switched from the paradigm of assimilation to one of protection and respect of Indigenous distinctiveness through the recognition of their rights. Article 231 recognizes Indigenous peoples’ “social organization, customs, languages, creeds and traditions, . . . as well as their original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy.” The same article also established that “The Federal Union has the responsibility to demarcate [their] lands and to protect and ensure respect for all their property.”

[3] A press release on the commission’s decision is vailable here:  https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2019/244.asp.

Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution in Employment Relations at a Multinational Company in Nigeria and South Africa

November 14, 2022
By 29628

Western and Southern Africa is a hub for multinational companies to operate their business. Olaniyi Joshua Olabiyi, a Sylff fellow in 2019 and SRA awardee in 2021, conducted his PhD fieldwork in Lagos and Cape Town. This led to research on the mechanisms available for multinational enterprises to avert industrial conflict in their host community.

* * *

Introduction and Background

The existence of labor disputes is inherent in all labor relations systems (ILO 2001). Collective bargaining breakdowns usually occur when the process of collective bargaining reaches its breaking point and then results in industrial actions, such as strikes or lockouts. Sound labor relations policy, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO 2001), is based on a system for preventing and settling labor disputes. Employee-employer relationships are characterized by divergent interests and deferred objectives from each party that frequently lead to conflict (Venter 2003). 

Photo by rawpixel.com from PxHere.


Methodology of the Study

The study focused on the assessment and effectiveness of conflict resolution mechanisms in Nigeria and South Africa, two host countries of the multinational company Huawei. It focused primarily on collective bargaining mechanism processes. A portion of this work was devoted to applying and interpreting mechanisms that can be used when disputes arise between employers and unionized workers.

In addition, the study conducted a comparative analysis of conflict resolution mechanisms used in South Africa and Nigeria to improve our knowledge of how conflict resolution works in South Africa’s labor relations environment compared to the conflict resolution mechanism in Nigeria. In this study, we investigated the tools and frameworks of legislation that facilitate reconciliation and peace in employment relationships and result in fewer disputes in South Africa and Nigeria.

The study employed a nonexperimental descriptive research design based on a survey approach. For data collection, a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods was applied. In both Nigeria and South Africa, a questionnaire was distributed to 200 employees of the group in that country. After compiling the aggregate data generated from the responses of employees across Huawei group companies in both countries, 363 responses were obtained for data. The data collection activity took place over the course of three-plus months.

 

Data Analysis Procedure

The methods of data collection and analysis used in this study include both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Interviews and questionnaire surveys were conducted to determine the process followed in addressing industrial conflict. 

For qualitative data analysis, 20 senior managers from Huawei multinational were interviewed face-to-face. We asked each manager to describe two or three specific incidents that have mandated the implementation of conflict resolution processes, procedures, and mechanisms within the organization. We then followed how the conflict was resolved by learning what measures were taken to that end. The interviewer asked participants a follow-up question, and they answered according to their knowledge, thus generating sufficient data to meet the research objective. The responses were analyzed using software program called NVivo and ATLAS.ti. 

For the quantitative arm, a closed-ended structure questionnaire was used to select a total of 400 employees from the Huawei multinational enterprise group in Nigeria and South Africa as the optimal sample for the quantitative arm. Of the 200 employees who were given the survey at the Nigerian site, 177 completed the survey, 14 did not respond, and 9 were excluded due to undisclosed information. Thus, 177 employees were part of the data collection in Nigeria.

A questionnaire was likewise provided to 200 employees of the company by the South African counterpart of the study. A total of 186 employees responded and 14 refused to respond, so 186 responses were taken as the final sample. In all, 363 responses were gathered from Huawei group employees in Nigeria and South Africa for the study’s data analysis.

To analyze the quantitative data collected using descriptive and inferential statistics, we used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 19.0 for Windows, as it offers a variety of parametric as well as nonparametric statistical tests. A demographic analysis was conducted to determine the demographic composition of the sample. The data was presented in graphs, charts, and tables.

Data Coding and Cleaning

The data collected from Huawei group companies in South Africa and Nigeria needed to be coded and cleaned. Babbie and Mouton (2015) describe how social science data can be manipulated and read by computers and similar machines based on quantitative and qualitative data analysis. By using closed-ended questions with limited answers, data could be analyzed unpretentiously and directly, along with graphs.

There were two sections for demographics and research questions. For the researcher to perform a credible analysis, demographics and research questions were collected independently. Data analysis was performed on the quantitative data to analyze the theme and subject of the research. To ensure that the cleaning and coding processes are free of error, they were systematically observed several times at random.

Findings and Results

The mechanism for resolving conflict was more successful in South Africa than in Nigeria. Moreover, the study showed that industrial conflicts in Nigeria were not well managed. The reason for this was the Nigerian government’s spineless approach to labor legislation and resolution of labor disputes. The lack of intent to improve employment relations was due to the volatile labor relations environment in Nigeria. Within the South African space of labor relations, meanwhile, the labor policy was highly regulated, and the procedures were properly followed and implemented.

A total of 4.0% of respondents agreed that Nigeria’s organization had an appropriate and efficient conflict resolution mechanism. The majority of 44.1% disagreed that there was an effective and efficient mechanism for resolving conflict. In the South African organization, 58.6% of respondents agreed that an effective and practical conflict prevention device exists in their organization, while 2.2% disagreed. The Nigerian organization demonstrated through the low percentage of positive responses to both statements that it did not have a functioning dispute resolution mechanism.

In the survey of South African employees, 58.6% of respondents believed that formal mechanisms are necessary to explain how conflict should be handled within an organization. Another 21.0% strongly agreed that a conflict resolution device is present within the organization, adding up to 79.6%. Conflict resolution mechanisms were perceived as prevalent by approximately 2.2% of respondents and strongly so by 0.5%. The positive responses from 79.6% of employees indicate that a just conflict resolution mechanism is present in South Africa’s organization. This conclusion comes from the fact that if unbiased conflict resolution mechanisms exist between management and labor, it automatically enhances harmony in the workplace.

Of the Nigerian respondents, 44.1% disagreed with the assertion that the organization enforces or ratifies international labor standards. Since the largest percentage of employees disagreed with the statement, it appears that the Nigerian organization disallowed internationally accepted standards of work practice regarding conflict management. In total, 79.7% of respondents agreed with organizations upholding and promoting the international labor framework for conflict resolution, while 4.5% disapproved, 0.6% strongly agreed, and 15.3% said they were neutral about it.

In the South African survey, 82.3% of respondents approved of and accepted international labor standards for managing conflicts in employment relations; 3.2% said they did not, and 14% said maybe or unsure. There was a significantly higher percentage of employees who answered “yes” than those who answered “no.” This is because the organization consented to the worldwide framework for adjudicating workplace conflicts. In view of the foregoing, it is clear that organizations within South Africa use the mechanisms of international labor standards for conflict resolution. This is because they resolve conflict whenever it arises within the organization. Consequently, that organization would practice labor relations in a way that is fair, equitable, and equal in terms of conflict resolution mechanisms.

Concluding Remarks

The study concludes by recommending that host countries of multinational corporations in Africa constantly review their conflict resolution frameworks. This is so that the frameworks serve as a guide for multinational companies operating within their borders. As part of such mechanisms, the study points out that there needs to be a process of sincere dialogue between employers and employees. This must be accompanied by effective channels of communication between them. The study suggests that a nonviolent workplace environment can be facilitated by encouraging accommodating and congruent conflict resolution strategies among employees.

The report from the study revealed a case in which a multinational company that originally intended to infuse the international standard of employment relations into its host country’s conflict mechanisms abandoned and neglected the prevailing international practices of employment relations. In such a circumstance, the host country may have regressed from its labor relations legislation standard regarding conflict resolution. The multinational company has been able to sidestep the normal dispute resolution process by following the easiest route, disregarding normal protocol. Consequently the development of the host country, such as Nigeria, has been adversely affected. If a foreign corporation fails to observe the labor laws of the host country, how will the government sanction this behavior? Is there a procedure or regulation for dealing with such transgressions in the host country’s legal framework? It is common for governments to lack mechanisms to keep them in check.

As is evident from the findings presented in the study, multinational companies believe that they have influenced the host country’s environment by using the appropriate international standard for labor relations practice. This has resulted in the development of mechanisms that limit conflict among members of the workforce. Employees of the company in Nigeria, as well as reports of operations and actions of a multinational company in Nigeria, provide some support for this assertion. Even though multinational enterprises reap a tremendous number of economic and financial benefits, they have served as contrarian vehicles for capital flight from their host nations, exclusively in Africa (Allen-Ile and Olabiyi 2021).

 

References

Allen-ILE, C. O. K., and J. O. Olabiyi. 2021. “A Preliminary Comparative Perspective on the Role of Multinational Enterprises in Influencing Labour Relations of Their Host Nation.” Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal 6, no. 12 (December 2019): 298–318. https://doi.org/10.14738/assrj.612.6980.

Babbie, E., and  J. Mouton. 2015. The Practice of Social Research. South Africa ed. Oxford University Press Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd.

ILO (Internationa Labour Organization). 2001. “Substantive Provisions of Labour Legislation: Settlement of Collective Labour Disputes.” Chap. 4 in Labour Legislation Guidelines. International Labour Organization. Available online at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/ifpdial/llg/index.htm (accessed November 20, 2019).

Venter, R. 2003. Labour Relations in South Africa. 2nd ed (revised). Cape Town: Oxford University Press Southern Africa.

Creating a Collaborative Perinatal Care System in Puerto Rico

November 10, 2022
By 19739

In Puerto Rico, midwives used to be the primary care providers for expecting individuals and families. But the community-based model has been displaced by hospital-based care—an unsustainable model with less-than-optimal birth outcomes. Holly Horan, 2015–2016 Sylff fellow and doula, used a Sylff Leadership Initiative grant to work with community partners and convene leaders and practitioners to improve integrated perinatal care in Puerto Rico.

 * * *

“My midwife saved me from a cesarean”, my doula client shared with me when reflecting on her first birth. “She saved me from being cut in half because the doctors don’t have faith in the process [of physiologic birth].”

It was a comfortable, late winter evening at my client’s home in the suburban sprawl of San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was conducting my dissertation research on maternal stress and timing of birth and undergoing pre-midwifery training at the community center Centro MAM (MAM) in Carolina. My pre-midwifery training required that I provide doula services for homebirth clients working with MAM’s midwife team. This was our first prenatal visit, where I met the mother at her home to begin to discuss her goals and plans for birth and postpartum. At our visits, I would also share information, resources, and provide additional supports to the family as needed to achieve these goals.

I looked down and touched the cool tile floor, common to homes in this tropical environment, and thought for a moment. Then I said: “I’m so glad she was there with you. How did you feel about transferring to a doctor to when your birth wasn’t going as planned?”

My client sat in silence for a moment, embracing her 8-month pregnant belly that was home to her second child. She looked at me intently and said, “I thank God we have access to doctors when we need them. But they don’t like midwives, they don’t like people who use midwives. Holly, the whole process is so violent.” 

 

Maternal stress and birth outcomes

I am a clinical, biocultural, medical anthropologist who specializes in applied and community-engaged research. I am the daughter of a Puerto Rican woman who had three spontaneous preterm births that clinicians could not predict nor explain. When I began to explore the intersections of maternal stress and birth outcomes (such as timing of birth), I asked my mom why she thought she had preterm births. Her response was brief but complex: “I don’t know, but life was hard.”

Many sets of hands with different skin tones resting on a pregnant belly. Conference title “Integrando la ciencia y el arte del nacimiento” and dates “22-24 de Febrero, San Juan, Puerto Rico”.

Conference magazine cover.

Robust research has found associations between racism, chronic stress, and poor perinatal health outcomes. As I read the literature, I started to think about how my mom was the only person of color in our Midwest neighborhood. And I remember public instances of blatant discrimination that occurred in front of us, her children. This led me to a professional pursuit exploring experiences of maternal stress – to better understand from social and biological perspectives how such experiences manifest and to think about reducing stress through mechanisms that focus on respecting the lived experiences of the pregnant person.

At the same time I started my doctoral program in 2012, I trained as a birth and postpartum doula. I became familiar with models such as the JJ Way,[i] which has shown that a supportive, midwifery-led, person-centered model of care can nearly ameliorate preterm birth rates. When I told my mom I was becoming a doula, she responded: “A what?!” —a common reaction still despite rising awareness about doulas, globally.

Doulas are non-clinical providers who offer customized education, resources, and support during the perinatal period to meet the expecting family’s needs.[ii] When I explained to my mother what doulas do, she commented: “I can’t imagine what that could have done for me.” I also told her about the midwifery model of care, to which she said, “Why don’t women have more access to these wonderful things? Even if you need a doctor, they can work together.”

 

The coopting of community birth knowledge in Puerto Rico

My mother’s personal experience inspired me to better understand the lived experience of stress, the embodiment of stress, and preterm birth among pregnant people living in Puerto Rico. I came to intimately understand our perinatal healthcare system in the United States, as Puerto Rico is currently colonized as a US territory. I learned about the role of midwives in Puerto Rico in the early era of US colonization, where midwives served as community-based, public health professionals, primary care providers, and healers known as comodronas.[iii]

I learned about their integration into the public health and biomedical system and, ultimately, their near extinction that coincided with the growth of the biomedical industrial complex—a complex that co-opted the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum-care knowledge and procedures that midwives and others founded and openly shared with physicians to collaborate to better serve pregnant people across the United States and US territories. By the 1970s, comodronas in Puerto Rico, like midwives elsewhere in the United States, went underground because of the due to the elimination of regulation and licensure for their profession and as the healthcare system began to decentralize and privatize.[iv],[v],[vi],[vii]

Fast-forward to the 2000s and see the landscape of maternity care in the United States and US territories dramatically changed, and not entirely to the betterment for birthers and their families. Over four decades (1960s to 2000s), birth in Puerto Rico transitioned predominately to the hospital setting, where obstetricians practice care that is “technocratic, interventionist, and hierarchical.” Within this setting, obstetricians have increasingly conducted episiotomies cesareans, and restricted access to partners and family members.[viii] Today, obstetrician-attended birth is the norm on the island, and other providers, such as midwives, are still not recognized or regulated despite evidence-based research demonstrating the profound efficacy of the midwifery model of care across birth settings and geographic contexts.

Further, despite there being more than 500 trained obstetricians on the island, only one-fifth of them practice obstetrics, with the remainder offering only gynecological services. Unlike many obstetric and midwifery practices in the United States, where labor and delivery units and birth centers rotate on-call shifts for providers, many providers in Puerto Rico work in high-volume, single-provider practices.[ix]

This model of care is unsustainable and negatively impacts perinatal health outcomes. Currently, the island has significantly higher rates of primary (first birth) cesarean birth (42.2% in Puerto Rico versus 25.6% in the United States),[x] perinatal mortality (infant deaths between 28 weeks of pregnancy to 28 days after birth; 7.9/1000 in Puerto Rico versus 6/1000 in the United States),[xi] and preterm birth (an infant born <37 weeks of pregnancy; 11.6% in Puerto Rico versus 10.1% in the United States).[xii]

 

Bringing together leaders to promote integrated perinatal care in Puerto Rico

Smiling speakers (a politician, midwives, and a lawyer) standing in front of projector screen and behind podium.

Panel session discussion economic and political perspectives of integrated perinatal care.

In ethnographic research that I conducted with my Puerto Rican colleagues, the participants identified two critical steps to ameliorate outcomes and improve healthcare service delivery, namely:[xiii]

  • legally recognizing and supporting additional maternity care options, including midwives and doulas
  • increasing patient and provider educational initiatives to convey the benefits of preventative medicine and “right-sized” maternity care

Based on the research, midwife instructor and Co-founder and Director of MAM Vanessa Caldari Melendez and I decided to develop a proposal for the Sylff Leadership Initiative. As a first step to work toward these potential solutions, we wanted to bring together perinatal care providers and professionals to re-imagine how we can encourage and implement collaborative perinatal care and perinatal health systems integration in Puerto Rico.

Collaborative perinatal care is when clinical and social support professionals work together to provide trauma-informed, patient-centered care to the expecting person and their family.

Perinatal health systems integration focuses on improving the healthcare infrastructure, such as by establishing standard operating procedures, allowing clinicians in the community setting to practice at the top of their scope, creating reasonable licensure policies for community providers, and expanding health insurance coverage and billing practices, to encourage collaborative perinatal care.

Community partners suggested hosting a conference to bring influential people within and Puerto Rico and from outside together to create a plan to improve perinatal healthcare on the island.

We submitted our proposal to Sylff in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. After months of delays, we hosted a hybrid, international conference at the Senate in the Capitol in Old San Juan on February 22 to 24, 2022: Integrando La Ciencia Y El Arte Del Nacimiento (Integrating the Science and Art of Birth).[xiv] The goal of the conference was to move forward on implementing integrated perinatal care in Puerto Rico.

More than 300 people registered. Speakers included influential politicians, physicians, birth workers, researchers, lawyers, educators, and advocates. The conference spanned three days. Each day included a welcome address , two morning panels, a networking lunch, two afternoon sessions, and time for community dialogue and planning for next steps. MAM hosted a cultural event on the first evening that included local music and a birthing enactment ceremony. Birth workers, physicians, legislators, students, and public health professionals attended and received continuing education credits.

 

On the path to better perinatal healthcare

Community partners said the conference was transformative for the birth workers of Puerto Rico. Outcomes included a meeting with lead researchers and politicians to develop a plan to legislatively move forward with integrated care. We are also developing a conference brief that can be used for legislative purposes across the island.

Vanessa Caldari Melendez and I are now planning to create a holistic, collaborative women’s health center in Puerto Rico. The center will focus on clinical service, teaching, and research—so people like my client and my mother can have access to perinatal healthcare that is person-centered, evidence-based, and transformative for pregnant people, their families, and their care teams.

 

 Arbona, Guillermo, and Annette B Ramirez De Arellano. Regionalization of Health Services. The Puerto Rican Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Association of Maternal and Child Health (AMCHP). 2018 Puerto Rico: State Profile. (2018).

"The Jj Way®." n.d., accessed 31 October, 2022, https://commonsensechildbirth.org/the-jj-way/.

Córdova, Isabel M. "Transitioning: The History of Childbirth in Puerto Rico, 1948–1990s." University of Michigan, 2008.

"What Is a Doula." n.d., accessed 31 October, 2022, https://www.dona.org/what-is-a-doula/.

Hamilton, Brady E., Joyce A. Martin, and Michelle J. K. Osterman. Births: Provisional Data for 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Washington, DC: 2020). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/vsrr-8-508.pdf.

Horan, Holly, Melissa Cheyney, Yvette Piovanetti, and Vanessa Caldari. "La Crisis De La Atención De Maternidad: Experts’ Perspectives on the Syndemic of Poor Perinatal Health Outcomes in Puerto Rico." Human Organization 80, no. 1 (2021): 2-16.

March of Dimes. 2021 March of Dimes Report Card. (2022). https://www.marchofdimes.org/2021-march-dimes-report-card.

Pagan-Berlucchi, Eileen, and Donald N. Muse. "The Medicaid Program in Puerto Rico: Description, Context, and Trends." Health Care Financing Review 4, no. 4 (1983). https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Research/HealthCareFinancingReview/List-of-Past-Articles-Items/CMS1191838.

Perreira, Krista, Rebecca Peters, Nicole Lallemand, and Stephen Zuckerman. Puerto Rico Health Care Infrastructure Assessment. Urban Institute (Washington, DC: 2017).

Revista Integrando La Ciencia Y El Arte Del Nacimiento. 2020.

  

[i] "The JJ Way®," n.d., accessed 31 October, 2022, https://commonsensechildbirth.org/the-jj-way/.

[ii] "What is a Doula," n.d., accessed 31 October, 2022, https://www.dona.org/what-is-a-doula/.

[iii] Isabel M Córdova, "Transitioning: The history of childbirth in Puerto Rico, 1948–1990s" (University of Michigan, 2008).

[iv] Córdova, "Transitioning: The history of childbirth in Puerto Rico, 1948–1990s."

[v] Guillermo Arbona and Annette B Ramirez De Arellano, Regionalization of health services. The Puerto Rican experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

[vi] Eileen Pagan-Berlucchi and Donald N. Muse, "The Medicaid program in Puerto Rico: Description, context, and trends," Health Care Financing Review 4, no. 4 (1983), https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Research/HealthCareFinancingReview/List-of-Past-Articles-Items/CMS1191838.

[vii] Krista Perreira et al., Puerto Rico health care infrastructure assessment, Urban Institute (Washington, DC, 2017).

[viii] Córdova, "Transitioning: The history of childbirth in Puerto Rico, 1948–1990s."

[ix] Holly Horan et al., "La Crisis de la Atención de Maternidad: Experts’ Perspectives on the Syndemic of Poor Perinatal Health Outcomes in Puerto Rico," Human Organization 80, no. 1 (2021), https://doi.org/10.17730/1938-3525-80.1.2, https://doi.org/10.17730/1938-3525-80.1.2.

[x] Brady E. Hamilton, Joyce A. Martin, and Michelle J. K. Osterman, Births: Provisional Data for 2019, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Washington, DC, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/vsrr-8-508.pdf.

[xi] Association of Maternal and Child Health (AMCHP), 2018 Puerto Rico: State Profile (2018).

[xii] March of Dimes, 2021 March of Dimes Report Card (2022), https://www.marchofdimes.org/2021-march-dimes-report-card.

[xiii] Horan et al., "La Crisis de la Atención de Maternidad: Experts’ Perspectives on the Syndemic of Poor Perinatal Health Outcomes in Puerto Rico."

[xiv] Revista Integrando La Ciencia Y El Arte Del Nacimiento, (2020), https://issuu.com/cvegacrea/docs/issu_revista_2daconferencia_mam_parto_ciencia.

Online Mindfulness Training for South African Teachers: Reflections on a Shared Journey

October 21, 2022
By 27087

Liza Hamman, a 2012 Sylff fellow, became a qualified mindfulness facilitator after finding a personal need for mindfulness as a means of ensuring her mental health. With the help of an SLI award, in 2021 Hamman developed an online course on mindfulness for South African teachers, who could then share what they learned with their students. Here she recounts the journey, from her initial encounter with mindfulness to some of the feedback she has received from teachers who have participated in the course.

* * *

When the Sylff Leadership Initiative (SLI) award was granted to me in 2020, it enabled me to put an idea into action—an idea that has been at the back of my mind for many years but I was unable to execute. It was an idea that was formulated based on my own journey with mindfulness, which stared in 2008.

At the time, I was working full-time as a lecturer and studying toward my master’s degree in adult education. It was a particularly challenging period for me, as I constantly felt overwhelmed and exhausted, struggling to cope with my workload and other responsibilities.

I had to find a way to balance work, studies, and my family responsibilities or face burnout. As I started exploring the practice of mindfulness by enrolling in courses and reading extensively on the subject, the benefits and healing qualities of mindfulness were revealed to me. It became apparent to me that to survive the fast pace and demands of modern-day life, I had to integrate a mindfulness practice into my routine—a mindfulness practice to promote mental health, very similar to an exercise regime to ensure physical health.

 

The website that was developed for online mindfulness training for educators in South Africa.

 

As I continued my journey with mindfulness, later becoming a qualified mindfulness facilitator, I realized that sharing the practice of mindfulness with others can contribute to relieving some of the suffering in our frantic society. As an educator, and as a mindfulness facilitator, it seemed vital to me that I find innovative ways to introduce as many teachers and their students as possible to the practice. That is when I started formulating the idea of offering a free online mindfulness course for South African teachers. The goal was to introduce them to mindfulness and hopefully initiate their own personal journey with mindfulness. Furthermore, I wanted to empower them to lead their students in simple mindfulness practices in the classroom.

 

Sharing the Journey with Others Online

In 2021, as a result of receiving the SLI award, I was finally able to offer the first online mindfulness training course developed especially for South African teachers. In the past I had facilitated mindfulness courses for educators in face-to-face settings, and it was always a humbling experience. I was constantly amazed when people shared how the practice influenced their lives for the better or they revealed their own insights during course discussions. It reminded me that a mindfulness practice has the potential to unlock a deep-seated wisdom within all of us. All we needed to do to access this wisdom was engage with ourselves in the present moment, through mindfulness. New knowledge is available to us, if we are willing to simply pay attention to our own experience, whether physically or emotionally, in a kind and mindful manner.

 

A screenshot from a video included in the online mindfulness training course for educators.

 

This new knowledge and wisdom were apparent in the feedback from the participants, related below in their own words. Sharon, one of the first participants, remarked on a journey of “healing and self-discovery,” stating that it enabled her to focus on the positive aspects of her life. She said the following about her journey of personal growth:

“Before doing this course, I often felt uncomfortable, like I was being lazy, realizing that I seem to have my own idea of what doing enough is and what being enough is, which isn’t even true. I know that I am doing this course for me, my growth, and to find healing and self-discovery. Perhaps love me more, flaws, disappointments, guilt and all, and thus contribute in a more positive way to people and things around me. Previously, I could not see the value in spending time with myself, but during the course I realized the value of spending time with me. It also opened my eyes to the positive aspects in my life; I could find at least one thing a day that left me feeling good, no matter how small. I discovered that I can be quite judgmental and negative, especially when it comes to me, because I tend to skirt over the positives. Now I focus more on the positive aspects.”

George also related his journey of personal growth and noticed how his ability to listen and connect with others had improved.

“It became very apparent to me that we need to listen more often. We need to take the time to listen to each other, the people we love: children, students, colleagues. So often I am too busy to really listen, to take the time to give my full attention to that person, thinking about tasks that I still need to complete today instead of listening. I often feel the pull of my cell phone. The course reminded me that true wisdom and insight comes when we listen, not when we are the ones speaking. And creating a pause before responding—so often in my life I have been burnt because I am too quick to respond, I go with my first instinct, and this is often not the correct response. Listening, taking time to consider and contemplate, that is what stood out for me.

“The practice of mindfulness forced me into stillness; it forced me to do ‘nothing,’ for a while. At first it seemed very strange to me, almost impossible. And then I convinced my mind that it is not doing nothing, I am still doing something. And that seemed to make it easier to create the moments of stillness and reflection. The calm of these moments supported me throughout my day, and I hope that I will have the discipline to continue including the formal practices in my life.

“The way forward with mindfulness for me means that I would like to continue with the formal practices, and I have invited my wife to join me. Somehow, it is a special time for us, even though we are not speaking to each other, just sitting together—both focusing on our own practice, but it brought a certain connection to each other, a closeness. And in my opinion, we were more in harmony with each other on the days that we did practice together. It is an interesting combination: you are spending time focusing on yourself and working on your own thoughts, yet you are also together. You can feel the presence of the other person.”

Like George, Thandeka and Maposa related the need to share their experience with others. This, as stated previously, was one of the goals of the course. Thandeka, in particular, remarked that she had found a sense of “stillness and peace” that she would like to share with others.

“During the last eight weeks, I have found a sense of peace that I was not able to connect to previously. When I sat down to meditate, I found moments of peace. Not all—of course my mind is still busy, and it drifts and wanders, but one of the greatest gifts for me during the past eight weeks was this sense of stillness and peace. I want to hang on to this. I want to continue experiencing these moments of rest, peace, and stillness, and I would like to share it with others.”

Maposa commented that he learned how precious his health is, that his sleep patterns have improved, and that he finds it easier to manage his anxiety and emotions.

“I have learned how to focus on my health instead of on the pain. This is a huge change from how I used to treat pain. It has made me realize how precious my health is. Through this journey, I have learned about the benefits of meditation, and I am beginning to make it happen for myself, and I do breathing with my students. My sleep has also improved after a session. I have also experienced a reduction in my anxiety and have learned how to manage my emotions better. I am starting to find a way to stay in that rhythm, so that I can keep myself motivated to continue doing it. This is a journey that I will never forget.”

These are just four examples of the type of feedback that I receive after the conclusion of the courses. It is these words, the insights and new knowledge shared by course participants, that motivate me. It underlines that this type of work, although not often prioritized in educational settings, is important and worthwhile. It highlights that if we can allow ourselves to discover our own wisdom, and be willing to share it with others, we have the potential to create meaningful and lasting change.

 

Final Reflections

As I reflect on my time offering the mindfulness training for South African teachers online, and I read the feedback received from participants, I realize that not everybody had the same experience. For some participants, the experience of mindfulness was more profound than for others. Some participants were willing to commit to the practice and do the hard work, while others wanted a quick fix and was disappointed when they realized that it takes time and effort. For some, just being able to share their experience was already healing, while others remained unwilling to explore too deeply. I accept that some will continue with the journey, while others may decide that the practice of mindfulness is not for them. That is their choice, and I know that each individual must choose the path that is right for them.

Participation of Communities, Groups, and Individuals in the International Safeguarding Mechanism for the Intangible Cultural Heritage

October 17, 2022
By 28626

Aliki Gkana, a 2018 Sylff fellow, took advantage of an SRA award in 2021 to conduct research on a question related to the field of intangible cultural heritage protection under international law. As well as sharing her findings, she goes on to make suggestions for ways to improve on the framework of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

* * *

The safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) appears to be a very interesting and, in my opinion, one of the most challenging areas of contemporary international cultural heritage law, as well as being new and constantly evolving. Following the adoption of the 2003 UNESCO Convention (Convention),[1] which was endorsed by the international community rather quickly in terms of public international law procedures (with already 180 States Parties as of July 27, 2020), important related progressive developments increasingly attract the attention of all stakeholders involved: UNESCO, states, academics, and ICH bearers (interested communities, groups, and individuals).

Photo accompanying the inscription of the Polyphonic Caravan on UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, 2020. (© Alexandros Lampridis, 2007)

 

The field of ICH attracted my attention very early on during my studies in international law, and my theoretical engagement with it developed in parallel with a previous and manifold engagement in the practice of living heritage—through years of active participation in the Polyphonic Caravan, an institution of Panhellenic and cross-border action dedicated to safeguarding the Epirus Polyphonic Song.[2] These two aspects of my involvement were ideally correlated to deepen my contact with the subject matter of my doctoral research, which is intended to reflect in its theoretical legal analyses a dialectic relationship with the actual circumstances and concerns on the ground.

 

Research Focus and Objectives

Under this prism, my doctoral thesis researches the position of ICH in international law in whole by examining the existing protection framework that governs, defines, and potentially restricts it, as well as the conditions for its evolution at a moment when it is already dynamically developing. It aspires to contribute to ICH protection in relation to “unresolved” legal issues by investigating the limits and “inaccessible” areas of the existent legal framework and to the progress of scientific research in the field by making innovative suggestions for reformation, creative enlargement, and specialization, dealing with existing constraints towards a more functional safeguarding. In this context, its approach uses ICH as a basis for giving prominence to the interactive relationship between international cultural heritage law and other areas of international law, such as human rights, intellectual property, and environmental law, as well as highlighting the field of ICH as an ideal case study for the detection and examination of fundamental public international law issues.

In particular, the issue of participation of communities, groups, and, where applicable, individuals[3] is crucial for the function of the safeguarding system in its whole and is pointed out as one of the prominent topics gaining ground in international discussions[4] at expert and intergovernmental levels. In fact, it constitutes a rather challenging aspect of the Convention’s application, since it directly involves civil society in a mechanism that is functionally addressed to states, trying to compromise the interests of states and peoples over their living heritage expressions.[5] As a result, the said participatory approach to cultural heritage safeguarding initiated by the 2003 UNESCO Convention,[6] which positions the ICH bearers at its heart, could be questioned insofar as relevant state practice disrespects or undermines this role at a national or international level, especially given that the existing protection framework does not contain the necessary legal guarantees.

Photo accompanying the inscription of the Polyphonic Caravan on UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, 2020. (© Alexandros Lampridis, 2012)

As such, the objectives of my SRA project consisted of the following axes: detection of the legal gaps and deficiencies related to the participation of communities, groups and persons, examination of relevant state practice and possible consequences to communities’ and people’s relationship to their ICH, analysis of the consequent legal as well as social and anthropological questions, study of the emerging contemporary tendencies and perspectives, sharing and exchange of views with active and experienced experts involved in such discussions, and formulation of proposals for alternatives in view of a more effective protection framework for communities, groups and, where applicable, individuals in light of the above.

 

Observations and Proposals

The research led me to collect a series of interesting remarks, positions, and experiences, shared directly by experts and representatives of NGOs and communities involved in various ways in the UNESCO’s safeguarding mechanism for ICH. Interestingly, their positions were often divergent with regards to the central question, depending mainly on the level and nature of their involvement (for example, as “administrators” or “addressees” of the safeguarding mechanism), their background, informed knowledge, and approach to issues of ICH “management” in general. At the same time, the bibliographic research allowed me to collect valuable resources and find contemporary tendencies, practices, and progressive developments, as well as systematize information around the examination of the main subject matter, including in the context of UNESCO’s statutory procedures and relevant scholarly writings.[7]

As a result, the project led to the correlation of practice and theory in detecting the legal gaps of the ICH safeguarding mechanism and formulating relevant proposals as a response. On the one hand, the mechanism could be characterized by the following major deficiencies: absence of specific legal guarantees in favor of communities’, groups’, and individuals’ widest possible participation in the Convention’s implementation and active involvement in the management of their ICH,[8] inclusion of “weak” and “loose” legal obligations promoting only a best-effort approach, and absence of an enforcement tool ensuring states’ compliance with even these loose obligations apart from the periodic reporting process.[9] By extension, some of the major questions that were highlighted in the course of the research project and would need further examination are whether communities are at all invited or encouraged to participate in state actions for their ICH’s safeguarding, if they or their ICH are misrepresented or marginalized, if their involvement is full and direct or limited and canalized, and how their participation and consent in the nomination process are measured.[10]

Photo accompanying the inscription of the Polyphonic Caravan on UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, 2020. (© Alexandros Lampridis, 2019)

On the other hand, the association of the personal views of the people involved with the more theoretical analyses permitted an overview of not only the legal but also the social and anthropological consequences related to the possibly improper function of the UNESCO’s system in question. It is notable that, in some cases, the identification of ICH elements and their communities is considered fundamental when it comes to which and whose ICH can “reach” protected status under the UNESCO mechanism, something that is left completely at the states’ discretion and may inevitably raise political or other social issues. And this becomes especially apparent during the procedure of nomination for inscription of elements on the ICH National Inventories or the Convention’s Lists,[11] when problematic policies of States Parties can often instrumentalize ICH or favor conflicts over ICH’s “ownership” and “misappropriation,” even within the same communities and groups of people.

The following could be some proposals for ameliorating the system’s function in favor of a more meaningful participation of communities, groups, and, where applicable, individuals in it, aimed at filling the systemic gaps and deficiencies and responding to the concerns raised: the positive use of the international human rights protection mechanism for more effectively protecting ICH bearers and their relationship with their ICH, and the reinforcement of a human rights-based approach within the existing UNESCO system that could ensure the respect of the Ethical Principles for Safeguarding ICH and that could be translated into concrete measures, such as the recognition of an enhanced role of civil society actors, including but not limited to the ICH NGO Forum, to act in an advisory capacity to the ICH Intergovernmental Committee, the provision of possibilities for communities and persons to directly address the Committee, as well as the possible adoption of other new rules and procedures in this direction.

Photo accompanying the inscription of the Polyphonic Caravan on UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, 2020. (© Alexandros Lampridis, 2018)

In conclusion, the research that I conducted with an SRA award offered the opportunity to focus in particular on the critical questions mentioned above, highlighting the role that the progressive development of international law could play in favor of respect for an enhanced active role of communities and their members in the evolution of the 2003 UNESCO Convention’s protection framework and in view of its future implementation.

 

[1] See the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which was adopted in Paris on October 17, 2003, and entered into force on April 20, 2006: https://ich.unesco.org/en/convention (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[2] For more information on the Polyphonic Caravan, which was the first-ever proposal from Greece for UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices in the field of ICH—one of the three international lists of the 2003 UNESCO Convention—and was inscribed on the Register in 2020, see: https://ich.unesco.org/en/BSP/polyphonic-caravan-researching-safeguarding-and-promoting-the-epirus-polyphonic-song-01611 (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[3] See the reference by UNESCO on the involvement of communities, groups, and individuals: https://ich.unesco.org/en/involvement-of-communities-00033 (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[4] Read about the interesting topics discussed at an expert meeting dedicated to community involvement in safeguarding ICH that took place in Tokyo, Japan, a while before the Convention’s entry into force, as well as its conclusions, here: https://ich.unesco.org/en/events?meeting_id=00015 (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[5] For a more thorough analysis, read my article, “Peoples’ Heritage or States’ Heritage? Sovereignty in the UNESCO Mechanism for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage,” ESIL Papers Series, 2020, available at SSRN.

[6] The Convention recognizes the bearers’ important role as well as inherent connection to their ICH. See for example the Convention’s preamble, paragraph 6, article 2, paragraph 1, article 11(b), and article 15.

[7] An updated list of 116 research references related to the theme of “community participation” can be found in the 2003 Convention Research Bibliography: https://ich.unesco.org/en/2003-convention-and-research-00945 (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[8] See the States Parties’ commitments as reflected in a series of provisions within and beyond the conventional text: “UNESCO Operational Directives for the Implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage,” as amended (2020), paragraphs 24, 79–99, 157(e), 160, 171, 176, 185, 186, and 189, https://ich.unesco.org/doc/src/2003_Convention_Basic_Texts-_2020_version-EN.pdf; and “Ethical Principles for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage,” adopted by the ICH Intergovernmental Committee in 2015, https://ich.unesco.org/en/ethics-and-ich-00866 (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[9] See more at https://ich.unesco.org/en/periodic-reporting-00460 (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[10] The “free, prior and informed consent” of the communities, groups, and individuals is one of the most discussed prerequisites for every inscription on the Convention’s Lists and should in principle be ensured by the state at every stage of policy or measures’ implementation. See more on the inscription criteria at https://ich.unesco.org/en/forms; see more on the Lists and the inscribed elements by each State Party at https://ich.unesco.org/en/lists (last accessed May 31, 2022).

[11] Read about the very interesting discussions held in the context of the ongoing global reflection on the Convention’s listing mechanisms, which may in the near future lead to revision of the Convention’s Operational Directives, here: https://ich.unesco.org/en/global-reflection-on-the-listing-mechanisms-01164 (last accessed May 31, 2022).