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Carceral Logics and Social Justice: Women Prisoners in India

September 20, 2019
By 19827

Rimple Mehta, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University, and her project partner, Mahuya Bandyopadhyay, an associate professor at the School of Development Studies of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, implemented a year-long social action project with funding from the Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI). Their project is intended to build a network with practitioners, scholars, and activists to work as a pressure group to ensure the rights of women prisoners in India and raise awareness beyond the network to change the negative perceptions around the issues at hand. In this article, Mehta and Bandyopadhyay write about their SLI-funded project.

* * * 

Women Prisoners in India

Women prisoners in India constitute five percent of the prison population. They are often incarcerated in wards within larger prisons for men. Women prisoner wards then become “prisons within prisons.” There are only a few all-women prisons. Once in prison the women are ostracized by their families, as they are perceived as breaking not only legal codes but also social norms, therefore doubly deviant. Ostracization by families means that their access to justice is limited. Seclusion through imprisonment is not just a physical seclusion but also an alienation from their familial and kin networks. This indicates their marginalization both within the institution and outside it.

Institutions like the prison in India do not receive adequate media or public attention because of the perceptions around crime and criminality. Although the ideas of incarceration have shifted from punishment to reform, in reality prison administration and the public beyond prison walls continue to be dismissive of any efforts toward reform and rehabilitation and of any attempts to talk about the concerns of prisoners and prison administration.


Conceptualizing Social Justice

Social justice for women prisoners in India is a neglected area but has been the focus of our research for a decade now. This project, although in continuity with our efforts, marks a departure in two ways: First, it expands the boundaries of research and understanding of the lives and contexts of women’s imprisonment through the inclusion of activists, scholars, social work practitioners, and administrators. Second, we have consolidated our previous ethnographic fieldwork experiences to move beyond the specificities of site and initiate discussions on advocacy around issues of women prisoners. One of the first steps toward social change, we believe, is reflexivity. While evaluating our research on women prisoners, we felt compelled to reflect on our positions and our location within the academic and certain disciplinary contexts. With years of research on, learning about, and understanding of women’s imprisonment, we were able to see the need to move out of the confines of our locations to collaborate with those who are engaging with similar issues in different capacities. The SLI award enabled us to put this idea to action.


Activities and Approach

The main foci of the project were to find and engage with those committed to bringing about a change in the lives of women prisoners and to open up a space for discussions on their lives. We have realized this by organizing meetings—in Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi—and a workshop titled “Carceral Logics and Social Justice: A Dialogue between Practitioners, Scholars and Activists” that brought together scholars, activists, social work practitioners, and administrators.

Most of the participants in the workshop contributed papers detailing their work and experiences with women prisoners to our book, Women, Incarcerated: Narratives from India. Through this edited volume we will be able to reach out to the general reader interested in women offenders, concerned citizens, and organizations working for social justice. The narratives of women prisoners from different parts of the country featured in the book will enable readers to access their lives and conditions of imprisonment, which are otherwise invisible.

Further, the book, as it moves beyond the constrained domains of academic disciplines, is written in a manner and style that are easy to connect with and enable a wide readership. In including various perspectives outside of academic research, we have broadened the horizons of knowledge and understanding about women prisoners in India.

Professor Surinder Jaswal, deputy director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, speaks at the workshop in Mumbai titled “Carceral Logics and Social Justice: A Dialogue between Practitioners, Scholars and Activists.”



We were able to enter into multiple dialogues through this project. The process of organizing the meetings enabled us to understand the complexities and the challenges involved for those working on the ground to address concerns in women’s imprisonment. The meetings that we held in different cities brought forth diverse concerns from specific local contexts of women’s imprisonment. For instance, at the meeting in Kolkata, the absence of sanitary napkins and baby food for children in prison emerged as a major concern. When this issue was brought up in the Mumbai meeting, it was observed that this was being provided and was, therefore, not an issue of prime concern in that locality. At the meeting in Delhi, the need was emphasized for formalizing alliances to work on specific issues around women’s imprisonment.

The participants of the three meetings asserted the need for an online platform to share existing knowledge, brainstorm on emergent issues, and respond to crisis situations with regard to women prisoners. They felt that even though individuals and organizations were doing substantive work trying to push for reforms in the treatment of women prisoners, much of this work remained isolated efforts. Consolidation of this work through a larger and formalized network was suggested. The Indian Prisons Network (IPNet), for which these three meetings were held, was endorsed and has been initiated through this project.

The need for different people to speak at a common forum and the difficulties of doing so were highlighted in our workshop, which was organized with the contributors to our edited volume. The different ideological positions initially generated some discomfort among the participants. But the discussions stand testimony to the fact that the participants’ work was geared toward bringing out a change in the everyday lives of women prisoners. The papers in the volume lay bare women’s experiences of exclusion, marginalization, and violence and the ways in which incarceration intersects with different institutions in their everyday lives. The ongoing dialogues with our contributors as we edited the papers have added a qualitative edge to the way in which these issues of women prisoners have been represented.

In this entire process, we have also built stronger connections with some of our supporters and collaborators who have been actively working within the prison space. These connections have opened up the space to work toward making the prison more accessible to researchers and practitioners. The opening up of the prison through dialogue and writing disrupt the singular narrative of the woman prisoner as “mad woman,” “socially deviant,” and “morally bankrupt,” paving the way for empathy.

Uma Chakravarti speaks at “Carceral Logics and Social Justice: A Dialogue between Practitioners, Scholars and Activists.”


Looking Forward

The significance can never be overstated of the publication and dissemination of ideas in an area where information and knowledge are scarce and, even when available, are articulated only in terms of certain dominant and powerful narratives. Through this project we have attempted to communicate the lives, contexts, and treatment of women prisoners in India. By presenting multiple perspectives, we have countered the idea of a single narrative about a woman prisoner that rests on an assumption of breaking a moral code. We seek to continue this effort through more field engagement, research, and writing about prisons in India.

Moreover, this project has brought forth and strengthened the idea of experiments within governance and reform, such as the cultural therapy initiative in West Bengal. We would like to further explore and document these ideas, to see if there are other experiments in the country including documentation of the open prison. Advocacy initiatives through networking can further strengthen these activities, and we hope that through IPNet we will be able to harness the strength of a collective. Networking on an issue that has limited field accessibility increases the value of networking. We envisage that this may be possible because IPNet has adopted a multi-stakeholder approach, where individuals and organizations value empirical research and experiential participation in prison administration.

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Sylff: Making a Significant Difference to Early Childhood Development in South Africa

September 19, 2019
By 25517

Sylff fellow Louis Benjamin has been proactively engaged in early childhood development in his home country of South Africa through the Basic Concepts Program. Developed by Benjamin, who has incorporated the contexts of the South African educational system into education for preschool and early primary school students in disadvantaged communities, the Basic Concept Program undertakes “a structured metacognitive intervention approach for educators to address language, learning, information processing and socio-emotional barriers in young children, particularly from disadvantaged communities” (quoted from the Basic Concepts Unlimited website: http://www.basicconcepts.co.za/about/about). Benjamin believes in the immense potential of early educational intervention for children in disadvantaged communities, which generates lasting impact on their motivation for learning, thereby contributing to their higher educational achievement for better career opportunities. Benjamin has received a Sylff Project Grant (SPG) to disseminate the Basic Concepts Program in the Northern Cape, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. Over the three years of the SPG period and beyond, Benjamin is trying to achieve his vision to provide the program to all preschool and early primary school children through workshops and follow-ups for school teachers of the province.

* * *

I am most honored to have been awarded a Sylff Project Grant for the next three years. The funding will be used to implement an early years intervention program for children run by class teachers in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The program is called the Basic Concepts Program (BCP) and aims to improve both teaching and learning in the preschool years and first three years of formal schooling. The BCP was developed by me during my PhD degree at the University of the Western Cape, which was generously funded by Sylff.

I am a native of the Northern Cape. I grew up and was educated in the diamond town of Kimberley, a town well known for its Big Hole dating back to the Diamond Rush at the turn of the twentieth century. It is therefore no surprise that I was drawn back to the province that holds my earliest and most precious memories. The Northern Cape is the largest province in the country but is also the most sparsely populated. Although it is endowed with many mineral deposits, the Northern Cape is one of the poorest and least developed provinces. More than half the population in the province lives in abject poverty (Statistics South Africa [Stats SA], Poverty Trends in South Africa, 2017). Research has shown that children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to fare poorly at school and/or drop out and have poor educational and vocational opportunities (as cited in the OECD Report Equity and Quality in Education, 2012), and the Northern Cape is no exception. Although approximately 87% of children attend school, only 1.5% attain a tertiary qualification (Stats SA, 2016). The Northern Cape has the second highest (28%) illiteracy rate in South Africa (Stats SA, 2016).

A map of South Africa, with the Northern Cape in red.

The Big Hole, Kimberley.

There is a critical need to improve these educational outcomes if children in the province are to break out of the poverty cycle. The focus of the current project is to give children who are starting school a preparatory boost to ensure that they are able to learn successfully when they receive formal instruction and are taught how to read, write, and calculate. The research data we have gathered over the years (2008–2018) show that the majority of learners who start school are very poorly prepared for school learning. These children without exception come from moderately to severely deprived living circumstances and consequently have limited exposure to the kind of early childhood experiences that would have prepared them for formal, higher-order school learning.

What Is the Basic Concepts Program?

In the BCP, there is a focus on both the development of cognitive processes, such as accurate perception, matching, comparing, classifying, seriation, perspective taking, and conservation (Figure 1), and the expansion of understanding of conceptually structured content (Figure 2). The content of the BCP includes the following higher-order conceptual domains: color, shape, size, position, number, and letter and their associated subordinate concepts. These concepts are used to mediate the cognitive processes in the program and are particularly important for children who have not had adequate early childhood educational experiences or who start school with deficient language abilities. The BCP thus provides the classroom teacher with an extensive higher-order conceptual language for instruction that is easily transferrable and linked to the curriculum.

Figure 1

Figure 2

In addition, the Concept Teaching Model (Figure 3) provides a detailed, systematic scaffold for mediators of the program. While the program was developed as a cognitive intervention program, it can also be run in the mainstream classroom to improve teaching and learning. Teachers are trained and assisted to run the program with small groups of learners who need intervention, but in Grade R (Reception Year) the program is used as a curriculum and is run with all learners. While the teacher works with one group on the mat inside, the other learners work on related activities in rotation. The teacher works with each group for approximately 15 minutes and sets aside around 60 minutes per day to run the BCP sessions.

Figure 3

The Northern Cape Province was one of the first provinces to introduce the BCP. I in fact started my work in the province while I was still busy with my PhD. I conducted a trial of the program in the Namaqua Education District in collaboration with the Rural Namaqualand Education Trust (RNET), starting our work in a small cluster of schools before expanding to around 80 Grade R classes.

The results of the initial pilot projects were recognized by the Northern Cape Department of Education, which wanted to extend the program and make it available to all its Grade R teachers. (See an example of results in the chart below.) There are approximately 800 Grade R teachers in the province. A Memorandum of Understanding was subsequently signed between Basic Concepts Unlimited (the organization responsible for the Basic Concepts Program) and the Northern Cape government, and the Basic Concepts (BC) Advocacy Project was born. The BC Advocacy Project in the Northern Cape (2019–2023) aims to improve the school preparedness of Grade R learners by between 20% and 30%, thereby improving the overall literacy and numeracy outcomes of learners in the Foundation Phase (Grades 1–3). Baseline testing was done on a sample of Grade 1 learners drawn from the project schools. It showed that a majority (72%) of the learners were not prepared for school learning.

A total of 350 teachers from the districts of the province were selected to participate in the BC Advocacy Project. The district officials are responsible for supporting and monitoring the project teachers, and they will also be responsible for the continuation of the project and the training of the remaining teachers in the province once this project comes to an end.

Phase 1 of the project was initiated at the start of 2019 with approximately 85 teachers in two of the education districts. The teachers have thus far attended four days (out of the six days) of training and have implemented three of the six conceptual domains. Approximately 2,200 learners are receiving intervention. The project is supported and monitored by the local district officials who are ably assisted by teams of mainly retired teacher-volunteers who do regular classroom mentoring visits. 

Provincial and district officials and volunteers in the JTG District.

Teachers at a training session in the Pixley Kaseme District.

Teachers mediating the BCP to small groups of learners. (1)

Teachers mediating the BCP to small groups of learners. (2)

The teachers have already made wonderful progress as they learn to become mediators of the program. We have begun to hear increasingly more complex learner verbalizations while the teachers have become more confident in demonstrating the Concept Teaching Model. The change in the teaching style of teachers has in many cases been dramatic. For many teachers this has been the first time that they have used more interactive and questioning-based approaches in their teaching. The majority had previously used more recitation-based approaches, where the children merely copied what the teacher said. While it is very exciting to see these initial signs of change in these classes, we are aware that it takes time for these to become a permanent part of the teaching repertoire. Admittedly, there have also been some teachers who have required additional support and encouragement to implement the program and to run it on a regular basis. It is for this reason that each phase of the project is run over a period of two years. This allows the teacher time to become a mediator and to use the program with increasing frequency and confidence.

In conclusion, we have been very pleased with what we have observed over the first six months of the project. The teachers have responded positively, and we have also been most encouraged by the response of the local and provincial officials to the project. The enthusiasm for the project remains high, with high levels of participation. As our baseline data show, it is essential that we try to shift the preparedness of the learners in Grade R for school learning. The BC Advocacy Project offers teachers a tool to significantly improve the prospects of their learners. The BCP not only provides teachers with a way to better access their learners but also develops those nascent and often fragile cognitive functions needed for school learning. The core philosophy of the BCP emerges clearly in this project—that children, notwithstanding their circumstances, have the unlimited potential to learn and to continue learning, provided they are given regular classroom mediation by an involved and caring adult.

For more information about the project, please click here.

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Potters’ Locality: The Socioeconomics of Bankura’s Terracotta

August 26, 2019
By 21711

This report is based on the master’s research by Soumya Bhowmick, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University, India, in 201415. It originally appeared in FIRSTPOST. a web-based leading media in India. Bhowmick, currently research assistant at Observer Research Foundation’s Kolkata Chapter, continues  writing on the changing socioeconomics of the potters’ community known for the terracotta Bankura Horse, which  is historically valued in Indian society, especially West Bengal.

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The norwesters in the potters’ village of Panchmura is magnificent in ways more than one. The extremely dry atmosphere during the summer months of April–May make one compare the place to a hot desert with red dust smeared all over your clothes. This period is marked by the holy time of Baisakh, when the potter’s wheel is stopped as it is believed that during this time Lord Shiva appears from the wheel. Many justify it with a scientific reason: that the terrible heat easily exhausts the artisans and causes cracks to develop in the pottery items. After a heavy rainfall, the sweet petrichor is one of the strongest in this part of the town owing to the large amounts of terracotta clay all over the place. The potters are relatively free during these months and are very eager to have a chat with you over tea in their workshops.

An artisan uses the potter’s wheel in Panchmura village.

Mahadeb Kumbhakar, 56, proudly proclaims, “The trademark Bankura Horse [uniquely styled terracotta horse made in Bankura] came into existence because people would offer them as a mark of devotion to different deities and even on the tombs of Muslim saints. It is used as the official crest motif of the All India Handicrafts Board.” He woefully adds that a large number of youngsters in the area, including his own son, have moved to Kolkata not only because of the money but also because of their inability to commit to the labor required for this kind of artistry. Mahadeb justifies that there is no harm in working in an office while at the same time being a marginal potter. That way, the skill is never wiped out from the family.

Unfinished Bankura Horses at Panchmura village.

Panchmura village near Bishnupur, Bankura District, is one of the main hubs of terracotta in West Bengal. Historically, the politically stable Malla Kingdom indulged in a lot of cultural activity and invited high caste Brahmins, expert craftsmen, and masons to Bishnupur, and through the amalgamation of religion and culture, these people contributed largely to the trade and commerce of the region. The Bankura artisans gradually scattered to different parts of the country, but today only the few remaining in Panchmura are still striving to keep this art form alive.

A usual day in Bishnupur.

The origin of terracotta in India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Terracotta came into existence in Bengal due to the unavailability of stones and large endowments of alluvial soil left by the main rivers in the Bankura District: Damodar, Dwarakeshwar, and the Kangsabati. The soil thus gets a perfect blend and density for it to be crafted intricately and fired in order to produce the required terracotta products. A Panchmura artisan says that a Durga idol made in Bankura is at least three times as heavy as an idol of the same size made in Kolkata because the soil found in Bankura is much more dense and mineral rich, making the crafting process extremely laborious.

The cultural transformation in the community is well captured through the terracotta craft embossed on the walls of various temples, towers, and smaller objects in the region. Many scholars have interpreted this as a translation of the primitive Sanskrit literature into mainstream Bengali narratives that allowed the emergence of such popular cults in Hinduism as Durga, Krishna, and Kali. The terracotta temples in Bankura are mostly Radha-Krishna temples, which drew inspiration from Vaishnavism.

The Munshiganj District in Bangladesh, which is close to the confluence of the Padma and Brahmaputra rivers, is a storehouse of terracotta work on the other side of Bengal. Almost all the temples are dedicated to Shiva, and the temple roofs are distinctly different from the ones found in Bankura, as the ones in Munshiganj are more longitudinally conical.

A terracotta temple in Munshiganj District in Bangladesh.

Narratives on terracotta were sources of both information and entertainment for the people, depicting stories from the mythological texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hitopodesha, Jataka, and Panchatantra. There has been emphasis on scenes indicating rural life, farming techniques, male and female dancers, musicians, and village gardens. Bengal architecture is uniquely different from the architecture that coincided with the Muslim rule in India, and by the end of the sixteenth century a new Bengali style of temple art became prominent and established itself as an artistic Hindu expression.

The exquisite Rash Mancha in Bishnupur.

Unlike most of the other art forms that emerged with the purpose of aesthetic value in creativity, terracotta was made to serve practical purposes, such as food and water storage, weapons, and utensils. From being necessary commodities of daily use, these artifacts evolved into something more creative imbued with a high level of craft, making terracotta a cultural commodity with great marketing potential.

A shop in Bankura.

The Bankura District is known for its popular handicrafts in the form of terracotta, the Dokra handicrafts of Bigna, the stone craft of Susunia, and the Baluchari silk of Bishnupur. The global interest in Indian terracotta can also be found in a letter by Swami Vivekananda regarding the time when Okakura Kakuzo, the famous Japanese scholar, visited India in 1901–1902. Okakura was extremely impressed by the craftsmanship of a common terracotta vessel used by the servants and, owing to the fragility of these handicrafts, he requested Swami Vivekananda to replicate the piece in brass for him to carry it back to Japan.

Terracotta is still of high interest in the global market, and Panchmura, Surul, Chaltaberia, and Shetpur-Palpara are the major villages in West Bengal that export terracotta to international markets. However, the artisans face a number of key problems that are crippling the market for this kind of artwork, including the issues of equipment, transportation, and other logistical problems; the lack of interaction between the artisans and the urban consumers in Kolkata; and the high dependence of terracotta artisans on local patronage. Moreover, the inadequate capital, sluggish marketing, and falling demand are causing these marginalized artisans to become extinct, and the lack of interest from the new generation along with insufficient government schemes further add to the woes.

Terracotta craftwork in progress at Bishnupur.

Toton Kumbhakar, 30, says, “We get some idea of consumer preferences in the handicrafts fair in Kolkata every year, where people mostly demand the Bankura Horse, since it has a certain traditional value as a regular showpiece in the Kolkata households.” The potters admit that they charge much more for the handicrafts in Kolkata and are also financially dependent on the various regional festivals, for which they make large idols for relatively hefty prices.

The terracotta temples in Bishnupur show a much better quality and precision than the artifacts being produced today. For example, the details on the terracotta tiles used in the temples are much more intricate and portray a more complex network of lines, curves, and dots. How is this possible despite improvements in technology and intruments? The extinction of skill-specific labor is the answer to this. According to the locals, the process of terracotta production in Bankura previously included three major classes of workers: the clay collectors and sievers, who would give a fine texture to the clay; the artisans, who would add the intricate details; and finally the market traders. There is no specific class of labor anymore for each of these three roles.

Ancient temple architecture in Bishnupur.

“Bankura is my native place, and so terracotta has a special place in the lives of my family members,” says an urban consumer in Kolkata. “Apart from items to decorate the house, we use terracotta items for daily use. For example, in summer we do not drink cold water from the refrigerator but instead use an earthen terracotta vessel. My mother makes it a point to do a certain fish preparation in spite of it being time consuming, so that she can use the particular terracotta utensil.”

In the urban milieu, the demand for terracotta goods in Kolkata households has reached a saturation point. As the central government actively pushes for the promotion of various handicrafts from different states, art forms of other regions, particularly Madhubani paintings and Rajasthani handicrafts, are certainly very popular. Bankura’s terracotta seems to be lagging behind in this regard.

Bankura’s terracotta is a classic case of a dying cultural heritage. Sustaining the art is a social responsibility. Unlike the rest of West Bengal, the parliamentary constituency of Bankura has voted against incumbent leaders and political parties twice in the last decade, which is a major indication of people’s awareness and urgency of development in the region.

Culture is a matter of recognition, and aesthetics is more about perception than materiality. Very recently, the West Bengal state government has reportedly nominated Bishnupur’s terracotta temples for the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This should be considered as a massive step toward drawing attention to this part of Bengal’s history and culture. However, only time will tell how efficiently such measures could facilitate the socioeconomic advancement of the potters’ community in Bankura.

(Note: All the pictures used in this article were taken by the author in Bankura District, India, and Munshiganj District in Bangladesh during the surveys.)

 Reprinted, with editing, from FIRSTPOST, https://www.firstpost.com/living/bankuras-terracotta-can-timely-measures-facilitate-socio-economic-revival-of-potters-community-7001001.html.


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Indigenous Technology and Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Report

October 23, 2017
By 19603

Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu is a Sylff fellow from Howard University in the United States. She was also awarded an SLI grant in 2016, with which she implemented a workshop on leadership training for future young leaders in Rwanda. Born and raised in Nigeria, Chika first visited Rwanda as a junior consultant for the World Bank during her PhD studies and was enchanted by the peaceful, welcoming, and hardworking nation. She joined the faculty of the University of Rwanda after completing her PhD at Howard and, since then, has been vigorously contributing to further economic and social improvement in the country. The following article is based on her recent research on indigenous technology and how it can empower rural women in Rwanda.



Need for Local Technology

Drinking banana wine.

Technology is more strategically positioned to trigger innovation and growth within a community when it is founded on the realities and lived experiences of a people; indigenous technology is that technology with roots in a community or group of people. Many industrially advanced societies commenced their journey with indigenous technology as the starting point, from where they have traveled to reach their present place. A dependence on imported technology often leads to stunted growth of the industrial system. As such, and because innovation and creative output arising from indigenous knowledge is a pertinent driver of economic growth, societies aiming toward unhindered industrial progression will need to seriously explore options available within the indigenous technological knowledge pool (Basu & Weil, 1998). Processes, products, services, and systems built in response to existing and projected challenges or even the realities of a particular environment are essentially sustainable and hold potential for further enlargement by community members.

Role of Rural Women in Local Technology

Rural women are increasingly becoming the major custodians of indigenous technology. There are several reasons, including the traditional role of women in homesteads and the migration of men to urban areas in search of employment. Rural women apply indigenous technology to agriculture and food processing, family healthcare, livelihood management, and community development; even where they have access to employment in rural areas, women do not always have access to modern technology for use in the production process and still turn to traditional methods and techniques. Although many governments concerned with rural women’s economic empowerment have made efforts to institute modern technology and make it more accessible, its adaptation and sustainability has been a major challenge. The high cost of importing modern technology pales in comparison to the needed investment of time and funds in continuous education, training, and maintenance of that technology.

In rural areas, women are often marginalized in the distribution of jobs, mostly due to traditional beliefs about men being breadwinners and women being homemakers. Women in rural areas often have to contend with social norms that limit their ability to combine work, family, and other social and personal responsibilities. When they are engaged in meaningful employment, women tend to be clustered in fewer sectors than their male counterparts. In the field of agriculture, for instance, women tend to dominate the subsistence production sphere, even in situations where other nontraditional and commercial farming opportunities exist.

Despite the noted challenges, available empirical evidence across the world indicates that with women being increasingly in control of household resources, either through their own earnings or by cash transfers, the chances of overall economic advancement are remarkably improved. Indeed, at the family level, research outcomes from countries as varied as Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom point to the fact that expenses on overall family well-being and children’s education increase when women have greater access to household income (World Bank, 2011).

Rwanda and Rural Women’s Advancement

Fifty-four percent of Rwanda’s population is female, while 30 percent of rural households are headed by women. Many rural households are not entirely food secure, because they cannot depend on farming due mainly to environmental factors and their utilization of technology that requires intensive labor (IFAD, 2012). In rural areas, women often cultivate smaller plots of less than one hectare and depend on rain to irrigate grain crops, rear traditional livestock, and grow vegetables. Few female farmers compete with men in the cash crops production sector, which occupies only about 4 percent of total arable land. In essence, female-headed households in rural Rwanda are susceptible to poverty and malnutrition.

The government of Rwanda has shown an unwavering commitment to advancing women on several fronts. Economically speaking, the percentage of Rwandan women who are in paid employment is higher than ever in the history of the nation. The government of Rwanda is one of the few countries in the world that have a dedicated Gender Monitoring Office tasked with ensuring the mainstreaming of gender issues in policy making. Still, as in many other parts of the developing world, unemployment and underemployment remain prevalent in Rwanda, especially among poor rural women, who are mostly subsistence farmers. This is despite several pro-poor policies by the Rwandan government that attempt to accommodate the needs of rural women. Several factors account for this, including low financial literacy, poor information access, and weak bargaining power (Pozarny, 2016).

Rwanda: An Empirical Study

The need to find homegrown and grassroots approaches to the economic empowerment of rural women in Rwanda informed research on the role that indigenous technology can play in achieving this aim. The research was conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Rwanda led by the author and supported by the International Development Research Center of Canada. Studies were conducted on the possibility that products based on indigenous technology, such as indigenous beverages (banana wine and juice, sorghum beer and drink), indigenous vegetables, and traditional fermented beer, could contribute to the economic empowerment of rural women.

Indigenous Beverage Production

The results indicate that indigenous-technology-based beverages and fermented milk hold great potential for improving the livelihoods of rural women. We interviewed 100 rural women who produce or sell indigenous beverages and 100 rural producers of fermented milk, who said that they make profits of between 40 US cents and 1 dollar per 20-liter plastic container. Sales can range from a few jerry cans to as much as 40 per week. Female producers also employ a number of casual workers, sometimes as many as five. Many female producers of indigenous beverages note that they were unable to afford meals for their families prior to beginning the business but can now pay school fees, purchase health insurance, and secure decent living spaces. Although these women do not receive government support—as they have said themselves and government officials have confirmed—they do pay taxes. However, many of them note that tax preparation takes up a lot of time, and many have to shut down business during tax preparation. Women producers also find it difficult to obtain loans from financial institutions due to their inability to provide collateral. Women say that although they would like to package their drinks, the cost of packaging is prohibitive and the packaged product would be outside the reach of their current customers.

The study established that rural women can benefit much more economically when diverse beverage products are on offer, especially when basic hygienic and aesthetic standards are met. Rural tourism is receiving a boost in many countries around the world. In France, for instance, tourists travel from all over the world to rural France in order to have a taste of locally made French cheese, crafted using centuries-old indigenous technological know-how. Rwanda can tap into the rural tourism market by identifying local champions in various rural areas and supporting them with branding and marketing.

Indigenous Vegetables

Female rural producers say that indigenous vegetables like urudega, ibidodoki, inyabutongo, and isogo have healing properties and have been used to effectively treat such conditions as anemia, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, oral candidiasis, abdominal pain, and more. They testify that demand for these vegetables in rural areas far outweigh supply, whereas in the urban areas only a few traditional vegetables, such as dodoki, are in high demand and are quite expensive, as demand far outweighs supply. Female rural indigenous vegetable farmers note the penchant of urban dwellers for imported vegetables, such as cucumber, cabbage, and tomatoes. They say they are unable to produce sufficient quantities of indigenous vegetables due to limited land, lack of manure, limited knowledge, diseases and pests, the damaging effects of climate change leading to droughts and heavy rains, and the perception that the youth and urban dwellers hold of certain traditional vegetables as being food reserved for poor rural dwellers.


The Rwandan government and development partners can play a key role in improving the production of indigenous products by rural women using indigenous technology. Rather than the previous emphasis on imported technology, which is expensive, difficult to maintain, and does not foster local technology, emphasis can be placed on supporting rural women through a variety of means, including training on processing, hygiene, aesthetics, customer service, financial literacy, branding and marketing, business management, and simple production methods. There is also a need to provide these women producers of indigenous beverages with expanded access to finances, as well as ensure that they have improved market access, infrastructure, and facilities. Moreover, the public needs to be enlightened on the nutritious content and health benefits of indigenous products. The government of Rwanda will then be more likely to achieve its vision of turning the country into a self-sustaining economy, not dependent on external funds or resources for advancement and growth, in record time.

(NB: The full article will be published in 2018 as a special issue of the journal Indigenous Knowledge: Other Ways of Knowing.)


Basu, S., & D. Weil (1998). “Appropriate Technology and Growth.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 113, 1025–54.

IFAD (2012). Enabling Poor Rural People to Overcome Poverty in Rwanda. Rome: International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Pozarny, P. (2016). “The Rwanda Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) Public Works and Women's Empowerment.” GSDRC at the University of Birmingham/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

World Bank (2011). World Development Report. Washington D.C.: World Bank.


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Finding a Lasting Solution: Insights From the Forum on Violent Extremism and Radicalization in East Africa

May 31, 2017
By null

Dr. Jacinta Mwende, Majune Socrates, Steve Muthusi, and Alexina Marucha, four Sylff fellows from the University of Nairobi, initiated and implemented a forum titled “Understanding the ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ Factors Underlying Violent Extremism and Radicalization among the Youth in East Africa” on December 8 and 9, 2016, at the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus. The forum gathered 35 young leaders from African countries including 10 former and current Sylff fellows from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The participants identified the fundamental causes of the grave problem of violent extremism and youth radicalization and suggested the importance of small but meaningful steps taken by individuals that will bring a major change in their community, country, and region.

 * * *

The twenty-first century has experienced more rapid changes and crises than the previous ones. While the past centuries saw more interstate conflicts, recent crises have centered on intrastate dynamics. The challenge of violent extremism did not emerge yesterday; in earlier times, though, minimal attention was given to violent extremism and radicalization. The horrors of 9/11 set off a spate of violent extremism in various countries and led to the emergence of terror groups pursuing various agendas with political and social motives. Civilians have been the main victims, but members of security forces have also lost their lives in the struggle to protect their beloved countries.

Extremism in East Africa

With the recent development and growing pull of violent extremism and radicalization, a significant number of youths in East Africa have joined extremist groups. Kenya, for instance, has witnessed a sharp increase in individuals joining extremist groups since 2011, when attacks were launched on Kenyan soil. The government responded by “putting the boots” in Somalia. Since then, more troops have been added while extremist activities have escalated, resulting in the loss of lives and destruction of property. Furthermore, the government’s move to target Muslims of Somali origin has led more youths, the majority of them being Muslims, to join these extremist groups in revolt against marginalization. Religious and tribal identity, which are most prevalent in Kenya, have highly accelerated the rate at which radicalization is spreading.

The states are therefore faced with a major problem that, if not curbed in good time, will claim their youths to violent extremism. The Sylff Peace Forum held on December 8 and 9, 2016, brought together 35 citizens of the African continent to not only better understand the problem but provide solutions and a way forward to countering radicalization and violent extremism. Ten of the participants were former and current Sylff fellows (from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), while the rest comprised nationals of Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland, Tanzania, Sudan, and Burundi. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they included members of civil society, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and government, as well as students.

During the two-day forum, various speakers—among them were Professor Bruno Kaimwa, Barbra Natifu, Dr. Hassan Kinyua, Dr. Patrick Maluki, and Debarl Inea—gave various insights, prompting heated discussions that delved into experiences of the individuals present and literature that they had read.

Photo session of all attendees on day two. Photo session of all attendees on day two.


To start off the discussions, Dr. Patrick Maluki gave a presentation on the “Political and Economic Perspectives of Radicalization” in which the definition of radicalization was deeply explored. According to Maluki, a radicalized person is one who is tricked, swayed, and seduced into taking radical beliefs. Hence, radicalization is a process whereby individuals adopt extreme political and religious beliefs once they join a certain group with radical ideologies. The group believes that change is necessary and that violence is the means by which this can be achieved.

Professor Bruno Kaimwa, a former Sylff fellow from the DRC, extended the discussion to the state of violence and radicalization in eastern DRC. Barbra Natifu outlined the role of historical injustice in perpetuating violent extremism, while Dr. Hassan Kinyua outlined the link between religion and radicalization. Lastly, the role of media in radicalization and extremism was reviewed by Debarl Inea.

Based on the discussions by current and former Sylff fellows and others, the following factors were identified as drivers of radicalization and extremism among youth: social networks, which are useful in the recruitment of new members; poverty and unemployment; corruption and favors in the public sector; and marginalization due to religious and ethnic affiliations, a big contributor where some communities have been sidelined not only by the government but also by parts of the private sector. Denial of political and civil rights by the government and lack of opportunities to be heard by the government or leaders in power have also fed radicalization. Selective application of the law to citizens, which is harsher on youth, is another one of the major reasons why radicalization has become rampant.


What can be done to solve the crisis at hand? That is the major question facing states. Although efforts are being made to curb extremism, the real challenge on the ground is complex and difficult. Fleeing of countries to places where the ideology is more profound is what is being experienced. One speaker noted that the marginalization of Muslims by governments is real. A refugee from the DRC shared an experience where, while crossing the border using the same pass as that of other refugees, his Muslim comrade faced tougher scrutiny than him.

The exploitation of religion and tribalism has led to the spread of violent extremism and radicalization. Remedies include holding peace forums, promoting education, addressing the challenge of youth unemployment, strengthening governance, and bringing the leaders on board as well as getting them to understand that ideological wars need to be fought using the mind and not physical force. Only when we have achieved this will we eventually see violent extremism and radicalization eradicated from society.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.

Facebook page of the University of Nairobi Chapter: https://www.facebook.com/Sasakawa-Fellows-University-of-Nairobi-397988557219449/


Dr. Jacinta Mwende Maweu received Sylff fellowship in 2004–2006 to pursue an MA in Communication Studies at the University of Nairobi. She is currently a lecturer in philosophy and media studies at the university, having obtained a PhD from Rhodes University. Her areas of interest include critical thinking, socio-political philosophy, leadership and governance, media ethics, political economy of the media, mass media and human rights, peace journalism, and media and society.

Majune Kraido Socrates received Sylff fellowship in 2013–2015 to pursue an MA in Economics at the University of Nairobi, where he is currently a PhD student in economics. His areas of interest include international economics, public economics, institutional economics, and econometrics. Socrates is also a sprinter who specializes in the 100 meters, 400 meters, and 4 x 100-meter relay.

Alexina Marucha received Sylff fellowship in 2014–2016 to pursue an MA in Communication Studies at the University of Nairobi. Her areas of specialization are event organizing and coordination, media and public relations, and development communication.

Stephen Muthusi Katembu received Sylff fellowship in 2014–2016 to pursue a Master of Psychology degree at the University of Nairobi. He is passionate about helping to uplift the lives of all by working together with individuals, institutions, corporations, and communities. He furnishes them with information through training and education for personal, professional, and community development with the aim of leading to improved livelihoods and a better-informed, healthy, and peaceful society.

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Living with Wildfire: Voices from the Local Community

May 9, 2017
By null

Three Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, organized a volunteer initiative between April and August 2016 in response to smog pollution in Northern Thailand. They led a group of local residents and students in the construction of a check dam to function as a wet firebreak minimizing fire danger and to help slow down the fast flow of the stream during the storm season. They also conducted a focus group discussion with community leaders to learn how to deal with wildfire and haze.

 * * *

Target site for check dam construction

Target site for check dam construction


For more than 10 years, the residents of Chiang Mai and other provinces in Northern Thailand have been experiencing smog that regularly blankets the region during the dry season from February to April. The haze crisis not only reduces visibility but also causes negative health impacts and obstructs tourism activities. The sources of haze are varied, ranging from geographic features, wind direction, and wildfires to burning of agricultural waste and industrial emissions.

As smog pollution has come to affect larger communities, the government has pointed to the burning of fields and brush by local people in rural areas as a major cause. It launched an official “60-day no-burning” rule, banning burning from March to April in the hope of controlling the “serious smog situation.” Enforcing the rule is difficult, however, because people consider burning to be a “way of life.”

Brainstorming and Project Planning

In response to the smog problem, three Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, initiated a community service project aimed at reducing smog pollution and developing an understanding of the ways of life of local people as it relates to myths and facts about forest fire. The project took place in Ban Huy Jo village, Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai, an area where hotspots have been occurring repeatedly. The three authors chose to work on building the ability to reduce hotspots, which is key to mitigating smog. We exchanged ideas and discussion within our working team, and we also asked for suggestions from an experienced researcher who has previously studied the problem of wildfire in this area.

The volunteers were divided into many groups. Some helped collect rocks from the ground, while others helped pass the rocks into the check dam.

The volunteers were divided into many groups. Some helped collect rocks from the ground, while others helped pass the rocks into the check dam.

The project was started in April 2016. We agreed to focus on activities that would help reduce the chances of wildfire hotspots forming. The first step was conducting a field survey in Ban Huy Jo village, the results of which suggested that check dams to serve as wet firebreaks should help in minimizing fire danger and help slow down the fast flow of streams during storm season. Check dams give the water time to soak into the dry soil and bring humidity to forests throughout the year, thereby functioning as natural firebreaks. After consulting with the community’s leaders, we decided to raise funds and solicit volunteers with the goal of building a permanent concrete check dam, as well as to conduct a focus meeting with community leaders to learn how local people cope with wildfire issues. The event was set to be held in the middle of August 2016.

Fundraising and Dam Construction

While temporary check dams made of such materials as sandbags, logs, and rocks may require lower budgets, their life spans are limited. We therefore chose to build a permanent concrete check dam that would last longer, which called for the need to raise decent funds to budget the construction. Fundraising activities included planning and preparing to ask for support (including money and in-kind donations), as well as related activities such as campaigning through social networks and personal connections. Generous supporters made donations worth a total of 16,000 baht (USD 500). All of the money has been used in the interests of the local community.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Early in the morning on Saturday, August 20, 2016, 25 villagers and students gathered at the foothills of Doi Inthanon National Park, located next to Ban Huy Jo village. After a brief introduction, everyone was assigned a duty; this helped us finish the construction within a day. The construction method used was simple: suitably sized rocks were collected near the stream to fill in the check dam structure, and sand was dug from a dry creek to mix with cement. These were then passed along in buckets toward the dam. The volunteers kept hard at work, undeterred by the hot weather.

After half a day, we had a quick lunch together with the support of The Opium Serviced Apartment and Hotel, Drill Drop, and Lactasoy. The students and local volunteers had a chance to get to know one another over lunch. Construction was done at 3 pm.

The authors would like to thank all the donors and supporters who funded the project, and, above all, we wish to thank all the volunteers who contributed their labor to constructing the dam. The check dam was functioning in time three weeks later.

Voices from the Community

After construction, the three Sylff fellows and community leaders held a focus group meeting to exchange insights on how the local community lives with wildfires and how they manage this issue in response to the haze crisis.

Changing life of people neighboring the forest

We asked Po Long Plern, the community leader, to share with us the history and local life of people in Ban Huy Jo village. “We have lived here for eighty or ninety years, and the forest was already there,” Po Long Plern said. “Our ways of life have relied on the forest.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

“This village used to be an elephant camp catering to logging concessions. The majority of our men worked in activities related to the forest industry. When the Thai government banned logging concessions, the villagers lost their jobs. Above all, logging activities adversely impacted the natural environment, leaving only small trees. The villagers cut those small trees to make charcoal for family income, further aggravating the situation and making recovery even harder. Most of the villagers then changed their careers to become rice farmers and longan gardeners. When the rainy season comes, though, flash floods damage the paddy fields and longan gardens every year.”

Fires are set to protect local safety

Next, we moved to the topic of how the community engages in forest conservation. In the past, the community leaders told us, the villagers did not know how to care for the forest. But the Thai authorities came 10–15 years ago and instructed them on what they should do. The leaders had the chance to visit the King’s project at Huy Hong Krai and learned how local people can manage natural resources on their own, such as by making firebreaks and check dams.

“Wildfire is a part of village life, and some fires naturally occur in the deciduous dipterocarp forest,” Po Laung Plern added. “We want people in the city to understand this truth. Since the smog problem became a serious issue about ten years ago, we have been blamed for setting fires on purpose for our personal benefit. But that is only a small part of the whole story. Our local people need to maintain and use traditional fire knowledge so that they can preemptively burn forest landscapes for our personal safety. Otherwise, the fires will damage our houses and farms.”

We did it at last!

We did it at last!

Conservation must begin with mindset adjustments for both authorities and villagers

“None of the villagers want to see a dry forest; the forest is our food security.” The local community explained to the Sylff fellows that they already had fire management knowledge but lacked a management system. Three years ago a researcher came to the village and helped them deal with wildfire problems by using management procedures. “Since then, we have learned about setting planned fires to reduce leaves and waste in the forest in a proper manner. We make plans together about when to set a fire and who will be involved.”

The check dam after rainfall.

The check dam after rainfall.

Although the villagers may be willing to participate in fire control activities, these activities would not be sustainable if the villagers have nothing to gain from protecting the forest. Making profits from national conservation forests is illegal under Thai law, but local authorities have pragmatically asked the villagers to make a commitment that they will collect only enough vegetables and wild foods for family meals and not for business purposes. This is why the local community agrees to protect the forest. In some cases the authorities may allow poor villagers to cut trees for house construction, but only with restrictions. Thanks to this agreement, the villagers are happy to be forest guards and working together with the authorities.

Don’t blame us, please help us: Reflections from the local community

When talking about smog pollution, the community accepted that some of its members used to set fires for the purpose of vegetation regeneration but noted that they have since changed their beliefs. But this image still endures in people’s minds, especially among those who live in the city. “We would like the general public to hear our voices and to understand that the forests belong to every single person. Why don’t they come and help instead of blaming and leave all the problem solving on our shoulders?”

In Closing

Through the meeting, the authors learned that the enforcement of legal measures alone may be insufficient in alleviating the haze crisis. Successful efforts to control smog from forest burning requires that we understand the context surrounding this issue, how it happens, and why it has not been under control for years. We also learned that blaming does not help in dealing with wildfire and smog problems. On the contrary, it could destroy the will of local communities to protect the forest. In summary, we suggest that outsiders who have expressed their desire to see an end to this problem offer their helping hands to local communities to let them know that they are not fighting alone.

Apirada Cha-emjan received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Health Social Science at Chiang Mai University. Her research examines the effects of everyday violence toward the decision-making process on abortion among Burmese migrants. She is conducting her study in Mae Sot District along the Thai-Myanmar border and identifying protective factors that enhance the physical and psychological well-being of the mother who decided to abort her child.

Rapipun Maoyot received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Geoinformatics at Chiang Mai University. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of using market-based strategies for achieving conservation goals. Her question concerns what the advantages and disadvantages are of using Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Upper Watershed areas in Chiang Mai.

Kedsirin Thammachai received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Public Administration at Chiang Mai University. Her research aims to study the causal model and influential factors that can help to objectively analyze the effectiveness and results of training programs that the State Railway of Thailand have provided to traffic operation officers.

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Nubian Women’s Arts and Cultural Continuity:The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Nubian Women Art

April 25, 2017
By 19646

Naglaa Fathi Mahmoud-Hussein, a 2015 Sylff fellow at Howard University in the United States, implemented a social project for women handcraft artists in Nubia, Egypt, under the Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) program from mid-June to September 2016. The three-month project, comprising field interviews, workshops, and a training program, helped these women get educated on financial knowledge and skills. More importantly, the women are now aware of the value of their artistic pieces and how they should be fairly evaluated.

 * * *

Motivation behind the Project

Women in the Middle East and Africa share a common history and cause. In both regions, women played active roles in resisting and recovering from the colonial trauma. In postcolonial times, however, the perceptions of African and Middle Eastern women and their role in development have often been underrepresented. Women handcrafters, for example, are considered merely producers of unsubstantial commodities—goods that add little to the economic empowerment of nations. The artistic production of those women is seldom acknowledged as art that should be nurtured and included in the art scene, which defines the scopes of cultural identities of these societies. As a case in point, Egyptian Nubian women handcrafters do not enjoy the ranking status of artists whose work is based in Cairo workshops, studios, and exhibitions. Hence, it is important to reach out to those women.

Nubian women handcrafters are now navigating different facets of their identity complexes. Already placed on the periphery and being darker skinned, residing mainly in the villages on the border between Egypt and Sudan, Nubian women are negotiating their blackness, their gender dynamics, and state policies toward their artistic productions.

During the time of Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011), Nubian women handcrafters depended heavily on the trading of their artistic productions during seasons of high tourist influx in Egypt. However, the political unrest in recent years has greatly impacted the influx of tourists to Nubian villages. Moreover, new state legislations restricting civil society work have resulted in a shortage and even lack of funding to these women.

For example, on November 28, 2016, the Egyptian parliament approved a new restrictive draft law to govern civil society organizations. The draft includes provisions that require permission from the government before civil society organizations (CSOs) can accept foreign funding; require government permission before foreign CSOs can operate in Egypt; require government permission before CSOs can in any way work with foreign organizations or foreign experts; limit CSOs’ activities by requiring government permission to conduct surveys or publish reports; raise the fee for CSO registration and give the government broad discretion to refuse to register a CSO; and heighten the penalties for violations of the law to include prison sentences and steep fines.

The main objective of my project was to contribute to the empowerment of rural Nubian women artists by helping women to run small businesses and providing them with the necessary skills needed to establish and effectively run their businesses. Secondly, I hoped to create a sustainable instrument that provides Nubian women with economic consultations and support. Finally, my project’s overall endeavor was, and still is, to preserve and promote Nubian artistic handicrafts.

The Project

Field Interviews

In my field interviews, I focused on underscoring key challenges that face women running small businesses as articulated by the interviewees. Thirty women were interviewed.

Based on the field interviews, which were also documented on video, I found that women owning small businesses in Aswan suffered from several problems including the lack of marketing and promotion skills, inability to perform simple accounting tasks, and lack of knowledge on loans institutions, on how to carry out feasibility studies for their projects, and on the registration and taxation process. Most of the women whom I interviewed had never participated in art exhibitions, lacking the means to reach out to the exhibition organizers. Most interviewees welcomed the idea of establishing economic consultation centers (ECU) that provide economic consultation to women owning small businesses.

Training of Trainers Program

Ms. Mahmoud-Hussein with TOT trainers and participants

Ms. Mahmoud-Hussein with TOT trainers and participants

I then organized a Training of Trainers (TOT) program from July 26 to 28, 2016, in the Aswan governorate. The training brought together 15 young educated women with relevant university degrees to become economic consultants who can provide capacity building for women running small business. The target trainees were selected based on their education, their willingness to volunteer and continue to provide business consultation for women, and their geographic location. Participating women cadres gained TOT skills, consultation providing skills, small business accounting skills, and various outlets for obtaining small business loans. The training included practical exercises, such as simulations in which the trainees played the roles of a consultant and a woman seeking a specific business consultation. The trainees worked to design and produce a blueprint of the proposed training lessons, which they will be using to train women who run small businesses.

Women Training Workshops

There is no question that the above-mentioned legislations will hinder efforts to reach out to women handcrafters through systematic work with grassroots or civil society. In an attempt to open up a way forward for these women artists, I traveled during the summer of 2016 with the support of a Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) grant to conduct two workshops to help Nubian women handcrafters find a platform for economic support. The two workshops saw the participation of 30 women running small businesses and provided these women with small business skills such as identifying business opportunities, business development, administrative skills, basic accounting, managing credits, and loans skills. The women received training on how to develop and refine their products for better marketing and on how to identify wholesalers and develop a commercial network. They also learned about how to outreach and participate in art exhibitions in and outside the governorate of Aswan.

Economic Consultation Units

Trainees who underwent the TOT program and those who have been trained in economic consultation skills work in coordination with partner NGOs in Aswan to provide free consultation. The contact information for the consultants were disseminated among women running small businesses during the training. The women regularly contact the consultants by phone, and in many instances they request a meeting, which then usually takes place either at the premises of a partner NGO or at the consultant’s place.


Trainees participating in the workshops acquired new skills including project management and marketing skills. They learned about the role of the Ministry of Social Solidarity in supporting the small business sector, the various forms of technical and financial assistance provided by the ministry, and means of approaching the ministry. The Nubian women gained information about various financial and lending institutions and the necessary procedures to apply for loans with such institutions as Nasser Bank, the Social Fund for Development, and NGOs working in the field of small projects. In addition, they learned how to carry out bookkeeping and use simple accounting methods to manage the financial side of their projects.

In conclusion, the three-month project helped raise the aspirations of these women to develop, promote, and market their small businesses. The impact that workshops like these have on women handcrafters’ businesses makes it essential to hold such trainings frequently.

Despite any difficulties that researchers and members of civil society may be stumbling across, they are looking at the future of social activism through artistic work with enthusiasm, devotion, and commitment.

Details can be found at http://tamkeen.webs.com.

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Report on the University of Nairobi Peace Forum

April 10, 2017
By 19670

Xena Cupido, a 2012 Sylff fellow from the University of the Western Cape, reports and reflects on the University of Nairobi Peace Forum held on December 8–9, 2016, which she was invited to attend.

 * * *

Socrates Majune

Socrates Majune

Violent extremism and the radicalization of youth are phenomena that have captured the attention of the world. To deliberate on issues relating to violent extremism and youth radicalization, a peace forum was initiated by Socrates Majune (2013–15 Sylff fellow) and conducted with the help of an organizing committee consisting of Dr. Jacinta Mwende (2004–06 Sylff fellow), Alexian Marucha, and Steve Muthusi. The committee received the support of the University of Nairobi’s Board of Postgraduate Studies, represented by Gachunga Joseph Kamau. The purpose of the forum was to provide high-level insights and solutions to violent extremism, drawing on the perspectives of various countries. The forum took place at the University of Nairobi on December 8 and 9, 2016. Sylff fellows from various countries in Africa were invited to participate in the peace forum. “If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that I know nothing for sure.” This article reflects on the learning that took place at the peace forum.


It is clear that no country is immune from the effects of violent extremism and youth radicalization. The global phenomenon has no doubt affected a vast number of countries, Kenya being one of the countries most impacted by violent extremism in its recent past. At the start of the peace forum Professor Henry Mutoro, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, delivered an emotional tribute in honor of the 140 students who lost their lives at Garissa University.

Professor Henry Mutoro, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi

Professor Henry Mutoro, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi

The opening address by Professor Mutoro detailed the University of Nairobi’s involvement in the post-extremism events at Garissa University. The story of the tragedy and the University of Nairobi’s gracious response in dealing with bereaved parents, visitors, sponsors, and bereaved students sketched a vivid picture of the destruction and mayhem that occurred. The deputy vice chancellor highlighted that many people do not treat seriously the issue of youth extremism. The University of Nairobi dealt with parents in an ethical and responsible manner and has since been recognized as a Center of Excellence.

It was the events at Garissa that partly contributed to the peace forum initiative—hosting a conference that would make a difference in the county. The organizers noted that East Africa has witnessed a surge of violent extremism, characterized by an increased incidence of acts of terrorism, organized crime, trans-border crime, illicit trade, and trafficking (USAID, 2012). At the center of extremist activities are youth who have been recruited to perpetrate these crimes. The objective of the peace forum was to discuss the causes of violent extremism among young people and to propose nonviolent measures to overcome this trend.

Push-and-Pull Factors in Youth Violence and Extremism

The young generation represents hope. However, young people are increasingly turning to violent extremism due to social and economic factors. It should be noted that the choice to support violent extremism is driven by multiple factors. To understand and explore the reasons behind the sense of disengagement and marginalization that makes young people vulnerable to recruitment, we need to view it from a country perspective. It has become clear that young people join violent extremist groups for a variety of reasons, making generalization problematic. The peace forum provided the opportunity for scholars from various countries to reflect on the importance of networking and harness their knowledge, skills, and competencies to bring about solutions to violent extremism. It also served as a platform to gain new insights.

Dr. Patrick Maluki, Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University Nairobi

Dr. Patrick Maluki, Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University Nairobi

Dr. Patrick Maluki of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University Nairobi gave a presentation titled “Understanding the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors underlying violent extremism and radicalization among the youth in East Africa,” in which he reflected on the political and economic perspectives of radicalization. He started by focusing on who a radicalized person is, a controversial and emotional topic. Maluki suggested that “radicalized” indicates a kind of passivity, whereby the subjects are presented as victims. The driving forces are normally seen as external. The radicalized are often presented as being alienated from choice, tricked, swayed, lost, or stolen. They are objects of pity and fear, which shifts the focus of attention from the personal or political motivations of radical actors to the methods and processes of conversion or seduction through radicalization.

Radicalization, never clearly defined according to Maluki, implies the violation of essentially passive individuals who are influenced by outside forces; it is an ordered, planned, and structured assault on those individuals. Underpinned by subjective and objective motivations, the phenomenon may be defined by exploring the common notions thereof. It is a process wherein people move away from dialogue and resort to confrontational tactics, such as violent acts of terror. Violence is often used to induce change, which is a fundamental belief of radical extremism.

Dr. Maluki presented a checklist for the radicalization of individuals. He identified five paths to radicalization, all of which are easy for radical groups to exploit: 1) young people from conservative societies and a closed, religious awakening, 2) feelings of marginalization and alienation, 3) grievances, 4) indignation, and 5) a sense of adventure.

Social contact and social networks play integral roles in extremist networks. Close friends and family have been known to be a powerful influencing factor. Radicalization, Dr. Maluki suggests, is an individual or collective social process by which people are brought to condone, legitimize, support, or carry out violence for political or religious objectives. Social bonds and group dynamics, as well as deeply held convictions or perceptions of unfair and unjust international systems, are recognized as strong drivers of radicalization.

Professor Kaimwa Maneno Bruno, Institut National du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics

Professor Kaimwa Maneno Bruno, Institut National du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics

Professor Kaimwa Maneno Bruno of the Institut National du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics reflected on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s experience of violence and radicalization. He highlighted the push-and-pull factors as follows:
• More perpetrators of crime and violence are implicated in armed groups. The complexity and context of the conflict offer opportunities of linkages to criminals and organizations, e.g., local armed groups and trans-border armed groups.
• Child soldier phenomenon (pull factor)
• Governance of natural resources, arms trafficking, and poverty (push factors)

The forum discussed ways to overcome the problem of children being used in armed forces. Children who are left destitute are “given ammunition and told this is your mother and father.” Participants of the forum agreed that these children need to be exposed to peace programs instead of violence programs. We need to build a sense of community and a supportive environment in which to care for children. The participants shared information about projects that they were involved in that target violent extremism: programs leading to the empowerment of youth through workshops and forums that allow for dialogue to take place. There are challenges, often related to stakeholder engagement, partnerships, and funding. Nonetheless, the passion and dedication helps to address some of these challenges.

Starting Meaningful Conversations in the Media

On day two a media representative, Debarl Inea, addressed the forum. According to Inea, who hosts a morning TV news show, there are no conversations happening about radicalization or violent extremism despite all the acts of violent extremism. The media remains reactive toward such events, and no continued conversation is occurring around these events. He reiterated that there were systemic failures in seeing to the needs of young people and urged the forum to start conversations that would guide individuals who work in the area of radicalization and youth extremism, which is one of his own objectives.

Forum participants

Forum participants

Inea shared the story of Mohammed Imwasi, a former IT student who came to be known as “Jihadi John.” Why did ISIL select him? Inea also shared stories of other young people who were radicalized, whose profiles suggested that they came from “well-to-do” families. This implies that the selection of young people stemmed from a strategic intent to recruit from the West, and it may further suggest that ISIL has the ability to infiltrate areas least expected using highly educated young people to spread radical ideologies over all kinds of media. Inea played a video in which Jihadi John spoke about his ideology and why they were taking the lives of the victims.

A discussion ensued around the meaning of jihad and the misconceptions around its meaning. The debate centered on the distortion of religion to serve a particular purpose. Religion is used to spread a particular narrative, but there are no counter-narratives to challenge the current narratives. Mainstream media is being used to spread the narratives as news. Hassan Kinyua Omar, a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi, stated that violent extremism remains a global threat. As long as there is low political participation, feelings of detachment and misrepresentation, and governments that continue to ignore diversity, this threat will persist. He further warned that unchecked corruption can be referred to as a radicalizer.

Final Reflections

The peace forum, organized by the University Nairobi chapter with the support of Sylff Leadership Initiatives, provided the perfect opportunity for a meaningful conversation on the push-and-pull factors underlying violent extremism and the radicalization of youth in East Africa. Forum participants agreed that violent extremism needs to be countered intellectually. Acts of violence and terrorism stem from historical injustices. The question remains: Is the world being taken captive because of a lack of intellectual capacity?

At the Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism held in 2015, it was suggested that military force is often the response to extremist violence. But this approach only seems to heighten tensions and trigger more support for violent ideologies; it fails to deal with the factors driving participation in violent extremism. This approach often adds to feelings of exclusion and fails to engage youth as key partners in building resilience against violent extremism.

To move beyond dealing with the symptoms of the problem, young people must be regarded as part of the solution. As young people around the world are working to build peace and prevent violent extremism, more than ever before, the response to violent extremism needs meaningful youth participation at all levels. Working collaboratively with young people to promote peace and to effectively address the drivers of violent extremism requires youth engagement as partners in the design and implementation of relevant programs and policies. Hopefully, by applying our intellectual capacity in this way, we can we start to deal with the challenge of violent extremism.

Group photo with all attendees


United States Agency for International Development. Conflict Assessment Framework, 2012, available at http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnady739.pdf

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Supporting Two Families: Remittance-Sending and the Integration of Immigrants in the United States

March 14, 2017
By 19606

David D. Sussman, a 2003 Sylff fellow of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, reengages the findings from his master’s thesis, which analyzed how remittance-sending affected the integration (self-sufficiency) of immigrants in Boston, and interprets them given the current political environment in the United States. This article was written in early January 2017.

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During the recent presidential election in the United States, the topic of immigration was once again brought to the forefront of political discussions. One candidate, Donald Trump—now president-elect—called for building an impregnable wall on the country’s southern border, limitations on refugee admissions, the deportation of millions of immigrants, and a registry of all Muslims. Putting aside debates over the sensibility (not to mention the legality) of these propositions, we might focus on the lives of refugees and immigrants who already reside in the United States and thereby test the critique that they are not integrating into society quickly enough.

Do we fully appreciate the difficult financial situation of immigrants in the United States? How might our perspectives shift if we better understand the double bind that some of them face, to improve their local situation while also caring for family members overseas? Despite ideological differences between liberals and conservatives on the positives and negatives of migration, each side can agree in hoping that new arrivals improve professionally and educationally. Notwithstanding the passage of time, the research presented here, from my Sylff-supported master’s degree, remains relevant. This article provides relevant background explanation, an overview of my approach, and a summary of findings and briefly reflects on the implications, given present-day political and economic circumstances.

An investigation of this topic was inspired by previous work as a resettlement case manager with the International Rescue Committee in Boston. During my time working with refugees from Africa and Latin America, I was moved by their ongoing struggles. Beyond needing to learn about a new city and culture, and often burdened by traumatic past experiences, US government protocol required them to quickly find any possible job, often at the minimum wage. They worked long hours in such positions as grocery baggers, hotel bellhops, or, if fortunate, as nursing assistants. Their expenses for rent, food, and other basic necessities stretched them to their limits, as Boston was and remains to this day one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. At the same time, nearly all of the refugees sent weekly or monthly remittances to loved ones they had left behind. Often, they received phone calls at all hours of the day and night, from friends and family pleading for further support. The financial challenges faced by these resilient and hard-working refugees was readily apparent, and I knew that, if given the chance one day, I wanted to further study and better understand their circumstances.


For millions of persons who cross borders to seek a new and better life, the memories of and commitment to friends and family back home lead them to maintain connections with their place of origin. In many situations, remittances (financial resources that migrants wire back to their country) serve as the primary purpose of migration, while for those coming from conflict-affected countries, it is primarily safety and freedom that they seek, with remittances as a significant secondary objective. My research examined the potential impact of sending money on immigrants’ integration, as measured through financial and educational “self-sufficiency.”

Immigration remains part and parcel of the United States. As a nation founded by immigrants (at the expense of indigenous populations), new waves of arrivals to the United States over the past two centuries led to continual processes of adjustment and varied degrees of inclusion in the country’s social and economic fabric. As of 2010, more than one in eight persons in the country had been born abroad.1 The foreign-born population remains quite diverse today (53.6% from Latin America, 28.2% from Asia, 12.1% from Europe, and 6.5% from elsewhere),2 though among new entrants, Asians now outnumber Latin Americans.3 The historic role of Massachusetts and the Greater Boston region as host to immigrant populations continues to the present day. The state’s number of immigrants nearly doubled to 1,046,155 between 1990 and 2013,4,5 such that it now has the eighth highest percentage of foreign-born residents, rising from 9.5% in 1990 to 15.6% in 2013.6 In the state’s urban areas, such as Boston (Suffolk County), 27.4% of persons were foreign born as of 2013.7

Globally, remittance amounts have risen dramatically over recent decades—from less than $2 billion in 1970 to $70 billion in 1995,8 and despite a brief slowdown during the global financial crisis, to more than $430 billion in 2015.9 Sending remittances is a high priority among the financial decisions that immigrants face. The 2003 National Survey of Latinos in the United States found that many respondents remitted before taking care of their bills, others paid for their household expenses first, and only a few did not consider sending funds to be important.10 According to one Mexican interviewed, “Before anything, I send them the money because they count on it. Then afterwards I pay my bills, my rent, but the first thing I do is send it.”11

Economic self-sufficiency is often defined simply, as when immigrants’ wages attain levels similar to those of native populations.12 In reality, it can also be measured in various other ways, particularly education and social achievement. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development’s assessment form to determine self-sufficiency demonstrates the complexity of factors influencing the measure; areas of focus include employment, education, health, childcare, family development, housing, income management, transportation, resident participation, and nutrition.13


Centro Presente

Centro Presente

For my research I focused on studying Somali refugees and Salvadoran economic migrants (among a broader range of Latin Americans) living in Boston due to their significance as immigrant groups and, with preliminary evidence showing that they remitted at high levels, the potential for differential findings between them. To connect with potential respondents, I volunteered in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at two community organizations supporting immigrants, Centro Presente and the Somali Development Center. In this way, it was possible to meet clients who felt comfortable agreeing to qualitative interviews (16 Somalis and 19 Central Americans, 6 of them Salvadoran). Notably, those who visited the agencies were probably both a) poorer and more in need of support than more wealthy families and yet b) better connected and more successful than other persons in that community who did not have knowledge of or the ability to attend a social service agency.

Somali Development Center

Somali Development Center

The thesis research was unique because it 1) conducted extensive one-on-one interviews, using qualitative as opposed to quantitative analysis, 2) focused on the economic and educational self-sufficiency of the immigrants, which was a narrower approach than the multiple factors that other authors had investigated, and 3) considered the impact of remittance sending by both refugees and economic migrants.


Overall, the study found that sending remittances could be correlated with a difference in the self-sufficiency of migrants. In short, sending money abroad reduced immigrants’ available resources for advancing their careers and pursuing education, thereby making them less likely to become self-sufficient. In a number of cases, interviewees directly noted that they saw how their lives were impacted by remitting, potentially reducing opportunities.

The interaction between individual household characteristics and remitting is depicted in the figure I created below, which I refer to as the “Remittance/Self-Sufficiency Cycle.” A combination of financial, educational, and social factors lead to the attainment of household self-sufficiency and influence the amount of money that immigrants have available to remit if they wish to do so (see no. 1 in the figure). The sending of money to friends and family overseas can affect the ability of a family to achieve self-sufficiency; the monies that would have otherwise been invested in such areas as education, housing, and job skills are instead remitted (see no. 2).

Interestingly, there also appeared to be an important distinction in the approach to self-sufficiency. While Somali refugees hoped to get jobs and thought about the long-term, a significant number of the Central Americans wanted to remain in the United States long enough to earn money and then return to their country of origin. The Latin Americans pursued education to improve their job prospects but seemed less focused on aspects of permanent relocation. It is possible that differences in the economic situation of the two groups existed because, as refugees, Somalis qualified for a period of government assistance, whereas many Latinos (particularly those who entered illegally), as economic migrants, did not.

As such, the impact of remittances can be studied at two points: at “basic self-sufficiency” and at “long-term self-sufficiency.” The majority of the immigrants interviewed made sure that they addressed some but not all basic needs before sending remittances. Considering the elements of basic self-sufficiency, food and housing were priorities. Education and language abilities, however, often came second to sending monies overseas. Looking at long-term self-sufficiency, few immigrants were able to consider these needs. For most of them, if not all, the purchase of a house was beyond the realm of possibility, as was buying items like cars and computers. While a number improved their education level and advanced in their employment, they remained at relatively low wages. Nevertheless, when immigrants reflected on their life in the United States, they often made a comparison to their country of origin and so, despite their present difficulties, considered themselves fortunate to be in the United States.


We live in a mobile world, and the long-term prognosis is that migration pressures will continue. The significance of this study’s findings is that they show how, given economic obligation to family members, migrants are doubly responsible for both their relatives’ livelihood and their own well-being.

In light of the recent transfer of power from a Democratic to a Republican administration, this deeper understanding of immigrants and their self-sufficiency remains particularly important. On the one hand, liberals can look at the struggles of immigrants as evidence that more (e.g., legal protection and social services) is needed to support their successful adjustment to life in the United States. There are challenges, however, and with deepening inequality as a broader societal concern, one question is whether some immigrants, burdened by caring for families across borders, may become trapped as an underclass.

On the other hand, conservatives may point to difficulties in achieving self-sufficiency as evidence of the need to restrict certain types of immigration to the United States. They may believe that when many immigrants have a hard time attaining a middle-class lifestyle, it exemplifies their failure to work hard and succeed in the US economy. This misconception may lead to anti-migrant policies under the Trump administration, but even if there are limitations on immigrant entry, millions of foreign-born residents will still possess a legal right to remain in the United States.

Under these circumstances, what is in citizens’ control—regardless of government policy—is their support and welcoming attitudes toward newcomers, and a steady pressure placed on policymakers. In this way, their individual or collectively organized actions can make a positive difference in the lives of new arrivals, and society at large.

1U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. “The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2010,” p. 4.
3Pew Research Center. 2015. “Asians Projected to Become the Largest Immigrant Group, Surpassing Hispanics,” accessed at: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/modern-immigration-wave-brings-59-million-to-u-s-driving-population-growth-and-change-through-2065/ph_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-05/.
4Uriarte, http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/modern-immigration-wave-brings-59-million-to-u-s-driving-population-growth-and-change-through-2065/ph_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-05/Miren et al. 2003. “Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Colombians: A Scan of Needs of Recent Latin American Immigrants to the Boston Area,” edited draft, May 12, 2003, final report of the 2003 Practicum in Applied Research of the PhD Program in Public Policy at the John W. McCormack School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, p. 3.
5 American Immigration Council. 2015. “New Americans in Massachusetts: The Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Bay State,” accessed at: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/new-americans-massachusetts.
6 Index Mundi. N.D. “United States—Foreign-Born Population Percentage by State,” accessed at: http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/all-states/foreign-born-population-percent#chart. American Immigration Council. 2015.
7Index Mundi. N.D. “Massachusetts Foreign-Born Population Percentage by County,” accessed at: http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/massachusetts/foreign-born-population-percent#chart.
8Taylor, J. Edward. 2000. “Do Government Programs ‘Crowd In’ Remittances?” Inter-American Dialogue and Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

9World Bank. 2016. “Remittances to Developing Countries Edge Up Slightly in 2015,” accessed at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/04/13/remittances-to-developing-countries-edge-up-slightly-in-2015.

10Suro, Roberto et al. 2002. “Billions in Motion: Latino Immigrants, Remittances, and Banking,” Pew Hispanic Center and Multilateral Investment Fund, p. 7.
12Borjas, George. 1999. “The Economic Analysis of Immigration,” accessed at: http://www.ppge.ufrgs.br/giacomo/arquivos/eco02268/borjas-1999.pdf, p. 22.
13Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. “Massachusetts Family Self-Sufficiency Scales and Ladders Assessment Form.”

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Tackling Humanitarian Challenges—A Global Responsibility

February 10, 2017
By 19619

Dr. Gosia Pearson, who received a 2004 Sylff fellowship at Jagiellonian University to study at Oxford University, currently works in the European Commission’s department for humanitarian aid and civil protection (ECHO). She reports on the challenges of the humanitarian sector and outlines solutions to overcome them.

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Working for the leading humanitarian donor—the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO)—is an exceptional privilege. Each year, ECHO provides over 1 billion euros to help around 120 million victims of natural and man-made disasters in over 80 countries worldwide; these include not only major crises that are high on the international agenda but also those that escape media attention. But the job also carries an enormous responsibility to exert all efforts possible to save lives and give hope to disaster-affected populations. This is particularly difficult in current times, which witness challenges not seen in recent history.

The Changing Humanitarian Reality

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, ®EU/ECHO.

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, ®EU/ECHO.

Current humanitarian catastrophes are more devastating than ever before due to political, socio-economic, and environmental factors. There are numerous endemic internal conflicts, many of which are ideologically highly charged, involving elements of conventional war and terrorism, and resulting in dramatic regional consequences. Last year alone, there were over 400 political conflicts, including tens of wars, which affected lives of 50 million people. These crises often last for years because of lengthy negotiations and lack of political solutions and happen more frequently in poor and fragile states, adding up to the vulnerabilities of the local populations.

Climate change, environmental degradation, urbanization, and population growth increase possible hazards and lead to a global rise in disasters. The number of climate-related events worldwide has doubled in the last 25 years. Every year natural disasters impact the lives of nearly 100 million people, and in the last 15 years they have led to direct economic losses of an estimated 2 trillion euros. There is a growing interdependence among these factors, making crises more complex and unpredictable.

These drivers have led to unprecedented human suffering and record-high humanitarian needs. In the last decade the UN humanitarian appeals grew by 640%. At the beginning of 2016, 87.6 million people in 37 countries around the world were in need of humanitarian assistance, and about 60 million people were displaced. These numbers represent nearly a doubling of people affected by humanitarian crises in the last decade. This year the UN requested over 20 billion US dollars to meet the needs of the affected populations, which is the highest appeal in history.

The ongoing pressure on humanitarians to provide assistance that goes far beyond saving lives and alleviating suffering makes humanitarian work ever more challenging. The financial and operational capacities are stretched to the limits, hindering adequate response. Last year, donors provided over 10 billion US dollars to help victims of conflict and disaster. This was the highest contribution in history; still, it covered only half of the estimated needed help. Funds are most constrained in protracted crises, which absorb nearly 80% of humanitarian funding. In addition, the operating environment has become increasingly complex, politicized, and insecure. The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence are often challenged, and international humanitarian law is bluntly violated, resulting in arbitrary denial of access and lack of protection. Civilians are directly attacked, sexual based violence is used as a weapon of war, and children are recruited as child soldiers. Humanitarian personnel are also victims of direct attacks and kidnappings.

Partnerships as a Basis for Principled and Effective Humanitarian Action

EU delegation to the World Humanitarian Summit Global Consultation, ®EU/ECHO.

EU delegation to the World Humanitarian Summit Global Consultation, ®EU/ECHO.

The response to these challenges should be based, first and foremost, on genuine partnerships between the various actors engaged in humanitarian action. No single actor has the capacity and resources to face these challenges alone. It is only through linked and coordinated action that the global community can respond to the escalating and multifaceted crises and disasters that demand humanitarian assistance. Such partnerships should be fostered for two purposes in particular. The first is to reaffirm the very basic humanitarian values: the values of dignity, integrity, and solidarity; humanitarian principles; the respect of obligations under international law; and the commitment to keep humanitarian work distinct from political agendas. This will help ensure access to assistance, protection, and security. The second objective is to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian action. This should include risk-informed response based on needs; closer cooperation with local actors, where possible; efficient and sufficient funding; and closer cooperation with the development community.

To build a more inclusive and diverse humanitarian system committed to humanitarian principles, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the convening of a World Humanitarian Summit, which took place for the first time in May 2016 in Istanbul. This multi-stakeholder event aimed to set a forward-looking and collective agenda for humanitarian action. At the event, 50 world leaders and 9,000 humanitarian, development, and political stakeholders from around the world made altogether 3,000 commitments to support a new shared Agenda for Humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering.

EU solutions to humanitarian challenges, ®EU/ECHO.

EU solutions to humanitarian challenges, ®EU/ECHO.

My most recent task was to prepare and coordinate the EU’s position for the Summit, where the EU pledged over

100 commitments on its own policies, programs, and funds. Some examples of its commitments include adopting new guidelines on protection of civilians, signing the Grand Bargain on Humanitarian Financing, funding for the Education Cannot Wait initiative, adopting a new policy on forced displacement, signing up to the Charter on Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, and signing the Urban Crises Charter. The EU also signed the Political Communique, which was supported by over 70 countries. Like the EU, other countries and organizations made commitments for a better functioning humanitarian system.

What Next?

While the World Humanitarian Summit was an important milestone, the work toward a new global partnership linking political action to prevent crises, development assistance, and more effective and principled humanitarian aid has only just begun. The challenges we are facing are complex, and there is no simple solution. The European Union confirmed that it would play its full part in reshaping aid to better serve people in need and called on all world leaders to do the same.

Session with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Humanitarian Summit.

Session with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Humanitarian Summit.