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Challenges in Improving Utilization of Antenatal Care Services in Rural Bihar, India

June 25, 2021
By 27503

(Note: This article is an abridged summary of a chapter from the PhD dissertation of the author submitted to Oregon State University.)

Gautam Anand, a 2019 Sylff fellow, shares insights from his dissertation research, focusing on the poor utilization of antenatal care in India, a problem that is pronounced in rural areas. Based on interviews with health workers and group discussions with women in rural Bihar, he sheds light on the challenges and obstacles to improving access to antenatal care.

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In 2018, nearly 2.5 million neonatal deaths[1] were recorded globally, 22% (549,000) of which were from India alone (WHO 2019a). Similarly, out of a total of 295,000 maternal mortalities globally in 2017, more than 11% were recorded in India (WHO 2019b). Access to antenatal care (ANC) is crucial for reducing neonatal and maternal mortality as well as improving birth outcomes for both mothers and infants (Baqui et al. 2007; Coley and Aronson 2013). However, improving access to antenatal care in India remains a persistent challenge.

Antenatal Care Utilization Still Low in Rural Bihar

A primary health center building.

The 2015–16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-IV) of India reported very poor antenatal care utilization with significant rural-urban disparity (IIPS and ICF 2017). Only 17% of pregnant women in rural areas received full antenatal care, meaning four ANC visits, 100 days of iron and folic acid (IFA) intake, and two tetanus (TT) injections, compared to 31% in urban areas. Further, there are significant geographic disparities too. In Bihar, one of the poorest states with a population of more than 110 million, only 3% of pregnant women in rural areas received full antenatal care, and only 13% of women had four or more antenatal checkups (ibid.). The challenge of low antenatal care utilization in rural parts of Bihar persists despite a targeted policy focus under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), which introduced a community health worker (CHW) program under which an accredited social health activist (ASHA) is appointed for every 1,000 in the population. ASHAs have been incentivized to identify pregnant women in their community, register them with the local public health facility, and mobilize and accompany them to visit the facilities to receive antenatal care.

A focused group discussion being conducted with female community members.

It is thus important to understand the challenges faced by ASHAs in improving the utilization of antenatal care in rural parts of Bihar. My study was conducted in two blocks of Nawada district in Bihar utilizing a qualitative research design. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 22 ASHAs and 10 local health officials, auxiliary nurse midwives, and Anganwadi workers. Seven focused group discussions (FGDs) were also conducted with women community members to understand their concerns with health service delivery at the local level. Using thematic network analysis (Attride-Stirling 2001), findings could be categorized into four major themes that emerged from the study: the perceived importance of antenatal care, lack of economic development, institutional obstacles, and sociocultural challenges.

It is important to highlight that utilization of antenatal care has increased significantly thanks to the sustained policy focus on its improvement under the NRHM. ASHAs and community members have observed an overall increase in the level of awareness among women for the need of antenatal care as well as a reduction in incidences of neonatal and maternal mortality over during the last 15 years. However, they noted that ensuring utilization of full antenatal care, especially four checkups and 100 days of IFA intake, remained a big challenge and that they faced many barriers in their efforts to improve it. The ASHAs very well understood what constitutes full antenatal care, and they also emphasized the importance of utilizing the services.

 Challenges and Impediments

Persistent lack of economic opportunities and widespread poverty in Bihar have for long impelled mass internal migration of laborers from the state to other parts of the country (Keshri and Bhagat 2012; Rasul and Sharma 2014; Sharma 2005). This was reflected in the findings; most of the ASHAs identified seasonal migration as a major challenge to their efforts toward full antenatal care utilization. ASHAs reported that seasonal migration was common in their communities as families, mostly poor, migrated to northern and western states for five to six months every year to work as agricultural laborers or in seasonal industries such as brick kilns. This has two critical implications here. First, it severely restricts continuity in outreach and access to care. Second, it often causes delays in identification of pregnant women, resulting in late initiation of antenatal care. In some cases, pregnant women left the community while they were pregnant, disrupting continuity in access to care. In other cases, women returned to their communities and reported to be in the later months of pregnancy without having initiated antenatal care. Widespread poverty poses a barrier too, given that it is correlated with lack of education, resources, and awareness.

 

A maternity ward in one of the primary health centers in Bihar that was in use until 2019. A new maternity ward is being constructed.

It was also reported that the health infrastructure has improved over the years but was still not adequate to meet the needs of full antenatal care. Arrangements to provide antenatal care services were not efficient and lacked quality, which demotivated pregnant women from returning for frequent checkups. Pregnant women must stand for hours in a queue to receive care. Waiting rooms, proper clean toilets, and drinking water were not available in many cases.

Several cultural norms also restrict ASHAs’ ability to ensure utilization of full antenatal care. ASHAs often talked about the cultural norm of pregnant women moving to their mothers’ place, especially during their first pregnancy, which can be challenging. They pointed out that this disrupted the continuity in utilization of antenatal care. A generational gap also restricts their ability to convince women to initiate antenatal care early in the pregnancy and going for frequent checkups, given the traditional belief of reporting pregnancy only after the first trimester is over.

Implications for Policy Design

The findings discussed above have important implications for the design of health policies aimed at improving antenatal care utilization, especially in the context of economic underdevelopment and widespread poverty. The study indicates that there is a limited focus under the program to improve quantity of care utilization and inadequate attention to the quality of care. ASHAs repeatedly pointed out that the poor quality of antenatal care offered at the public health facilities combined with the poor service experience of pregnant women are severe barriers to their mobilization effort. Also, the program design seems to have taken cognizance of the context mentioned above, judging from the importance it has placed on mobilization efforts by ASHAs and its incentivization of these efforts. However, the current incentive structure of ASHAs is narrowly defined, as it places most of the weight on physical outputs achieved and not so much on their counseling and education efforts to improve overall understanding of the need for antenatal care in their communities. A focus on improving the quality of antenatal care and providing adequate institutional support and remuneration to ASHAs will lead to significant improvement in antenatal care utilization.

References

Attride-Stirling, J. 2001. “Thematic Networks: An Analytic Tool for Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Research 1 (3): 385–405.

Baqui, A. H., E. K. Williams, G. L. Darmstadt, V. Kumar, T. U. Kiran, D. Panwar, R. K. Sharma, S. Ahmed, V. Sreevasta, and R. Ahuja. 2007. “Newborn Care in Rural Uttar Pradesh.” The Indian Journal of Pediatrics 74 (3): 241–47.

Coley, S. L., and R. E. Aronson. 2013. “Exploring Birth Outcome Disparities and the Impact of Prenatal Care Utilization among North Carolina Teen Mothers.” Women’s Health Issues 23 (5), e287–94.

Girard, A. W., and O. Olude. 2012. “Nutrition Education and Counselling Provided during Pregnancy: Effects on Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Outcomes.” Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 26, Supplement 1: 191–204.

International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and ICF. 2017. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015–16: India. Mumbai: IIPS. http://rchiips.org/NFHS/NFHS-4Reports/India.pdf.

Keshri, K., and R. B. Bhagat. 2012. “Temporary and Seasonal Migration: Regional Pattern, Characteristics and Associated Factors.” Economic and Political Weekly 47 (4): 81–88. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41419769.

Rasul, G., and E. Sharma. 2014. “Understanding the Poor Economic Performance of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India: A Macro-Perspective.” Regional Studies, Regional Science 1 (1): 221–39.

Sharma, A. N. 2005. “Agrarian Relations and Socio-Economic Change in Bihar.” Economic and Political Weekly 40 (10): 960–72. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4416306.

Wehby, G. L., J. C. Murray, E. E. Castilla, J. S. Lopez-Camelo, and R. L. Ohsfeldt. 2009. “Prenatal Care Effectiveness and Utilization in Brazil.” Health Policy and Planning 24 (3): 175–88.

 

[1] Within 28 days of birth.

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Exploring Nuclear Transitions: In Quest of a Framework

July 14, 2020
By 26651

Shounak Set, a Sylff fellow from Jadavpur University, is currently pursuing his PhD at King’s College London. His SRA was conducted at Jadavpur University, which is home to the oldest and largest international relations program in India and is also distinguished by close institutional ties with the Indian defense research establishment. The field trip culminated in immeasurable value for his doctoral dissertation.

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In the second half of the twentieth century, the advent of nuclear science left an indelible imprint in the practice and study of international relations. Nuclear proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear technologies and energy for both civilian and military purposes. Given the political and technological ramifications of the nuclear sector, the nuclear policies of states are essentially a subset of their foreign policy, but they are driven by a variety of discrete considerations. With its apocalyptic potentials, nuclear energy can devastate humankind through atomic weapons, but they can also be a harbinger of prosperity if harnessed for generating electricity. That being the case, when do states use nuclear energy for cooperation, and when for confrontation?

The author meeting with Avtar Singh Bhasin, an eminent archivist of Indian diplomatic history. A one-man army, Mr. Bhasin, having retired from the Ministry of External Affairs, voluntarily collects and publishes relevant documents that are otherwise inaccessible for the benefit of researchers.

The urge to answer these questions resulted in a six-month field trip to India from mid-September 2019 to mid-March 2020, where Jadavpur University served as the host institute. India represents both a challenge and an opportunity for academic engagement on account of its scale and complexity; and it questions several prevailing tenets and assumptions of international relations. At once a rising power and an impoverished nation, both a young state and a legatee to an ancient civilization, it simultaneously confirms and contests prevailing tenets of social science and poses unique challenges of research design. The first country to call for nuclear disarmament on the global stage in 1955, India conducted a series of nuclear weapons tests in 1998 to herald a new epoch. Likewise, after decades of righteous indignation at the institutionalized arbitrariness of the global nuclear order, India was eventually accommodated there in an unprecedented manner through the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2008. In addition to the selection of India as a case, the specific focus on these historical events underscored that the area of focus was situated along several research paradigms including but not limited to international security, science and technology, global order, and political contestation.

Brass Tacks: The Exercise

The field trip—as part of a doctoral study at King’s College London that interrogates the conventional understanding on these two episodic events, namely the 1998 nuclear tests and the India-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement of 2008—was undertaken with the primary aim of data collection, which was to be supplemented by discussions with topical experts. The primary sources mostly comprised interviews and archival material, and the absence of declassified material on the thematic area of focus (nuclear decision-making and proliferation), along with the associated sensitivity of the subject area, impelled an exercise in triangulation research through an interdisciplinary prism. Accordingly, data was collected from multiple sources in tandem with elite interviews among a wide range of individuals comprising mostly retired diplomatic, security, and political functionaries who had been direct participants in the cases under study. The initial plan was to conduct 20 interviews, but 35 interviews were ultimately conducted across New Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore through snowball sampling; this to led to progressive uncovering of diverse aspects. In order to facilitate optimum utilization of resources, archival research in New Delhi and Kolkata was conducted concurrently with the interviews rather than following a sequential approach.

The author interviewed Dr. V. S. Arunachalam, the scientific advisor to successive Indian defense ministers from 1982 to 1992. Dr. Arunachalam has been intimately associated with the Indian missile and nuclear weapons development programs.

Along with the above, discussions and consultations with 16 topical experts were also undertaken, which contributed toward refining the project by clarifying several aspects. Requisite steps such as anonymization of certain interviewees and data security protocols were followed for storage of confidential data and protecting the identities of key personnel as per considerations of security and research ethics.

Research Redux

Essentially probing the intersection between nuclear policymaking and domestic factors in India, the study adopts process tracing to analyze policy transformations through a foreign policy change framework. In conducting in-depth case studies of major foreign policy changes in the recent past, it hypothesizes that domestic politics gain salience during points of significant transformation and leverages the findings in a theory-building exercise through Bayesian reasoning. This approach accounts for the diversity of ideational and institutional forces at play in these policy transitions of historic magnitude; these forces remain inadequately addressed by extant studies, which are circumscribed by linear approaches characteristically prioritizing global-level variables at the cost of the domestic and vice versa.
While the nuclear tests in 1998 heralded a “Second Nuclear Age” in tandem with the realities of the global shift of power from the West to the East, the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2008 epitomized a metamorphosis of the global order through an irreversible transformation of the international nonproliferation regime. These events portended global ramifications, marked a drastic reorientation of India’s external behavior, and were accompanied by salient domestic political realignments.
Cognizant of these manifested confluences of global, regional, and domestic factors, this study eschews singular explanatory frameworks and attempts to construct an integrative model that explains major policy transformations. The research identifies political parties as the salient vector of domestic politics and probes the interface between political parties and major foreign policy outcomes of the recent past. Political parties form the government, which conducts foreign policy. However, scholars of comparative politics deal with political parties but leave the study of foreign policy to their counterparts in international relations and vice versa. In the process, the interlinkage between political parties and foreign policy remains in the shadows. While studies on political parties in international relations are scarce in general, in the case of India, there is a conspicuous absence.

Relevance and Outcome
The quality and quantity of the accumulated data has contributed substantially to the structural robustness of the key argument and has convinced me to add another chapter to my dissertation. The number of chapters based on my field trip data stands at three, in contrast to my initial plan of two for the same. With the progression of the field trip, the unpacking of historical cases and their attendant complexities corroborated the initial formulations of the study, which had problematized the conventional narratives.

The author after an interview with Mr. Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra, the Indian foreign secretary from 1982 to 1985. Having joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1949, Mr. Rasgotra has been involved in several historic moments in Indian diplomacy, and his counsel has been sought by successive prime ministers of India.

While the bulk of the literature is premised on the insularity of domestic politics in the conduct of Indian diplomacy, this study finds that major foreign policy changes are not generated by exogenous factors alone; and despite its limited salience in regular times, domestic politics gain a critical dimension during these moments of transition. This is crucial, since it reflects foreign policy making in a rising power and builds on a growing body of research on rising powers in international relations. The major findings indicate a gap between existing conventional postulates and the empirical specificities, as the timing of the 1998 nuclear tests and the unprecedented reorientation of the international nuclear order through the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement contest existing theories of international relations. These include a global-domestic dichotomy in the process of salient junctures and a limitation of path-dependency models.
Previously unexamined primary sources highlighting the need for alternate explanations of historical cases were uncovered and pose significance for potential revision of extant conceptions and assumptions. The collected data facilitates the broadening and widening of the empirical and conceptual templates of foreign policy analysis, which remains anchored in a Western setting. While the process has affirmed the major observations of the study prior to this field trip, it has also led to a reappraisal and update of some earlier formulations of this study.

Concluding Remarks

Professor Shibashis Chatterjee, the director of the Sylff Program at Jadavpur University, acted as the local supervisor and added considerable value to the project. Professor Chatterjee happens to be the director of the School of International Relations and Strategic Studies and an acknowledged expert in the specific topic as well, with acclaimed publications to his name. While our interactions in themselves proved to be intellectually enriching to the project, Professor Chatterjee also made efforts to help me access relevant institutions and provided consistent administrative support. The latter proved to be crucial as, toward the end of 2019, India was witnessing severe political upheaval, which generated grave law and order issues and adversely affected my schedule. Since the completion of the project, he has also emerged as a benevolent mentor concerned about my professional and social well-being in the true spirit of the Sylff family.
The extended Sylff community at Jadavpur University provided a friendly and welcoming milieu that made my stay in India pleasant and memorable. In retrospect, the field trip facilitated by the Sylff Research Abroad program has not only been of immeasurable value to the doctoral dissertation, but it has also been instrumental for my professional growth. In the vortex of the twenty-first century, radical trends typically overwhelm extant arrangements and generate new challenges without resolving older ones. Against this backdrop, this journey has been immensely fulfilling at both the emotional and intellectual levels and shall enable me to embark on my career as a scholar engaged in the study and promotion of international peace and human understanding.

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Altered Disturbance Regimes and Novel Ecosystems: Understanding and Managing Ecosystem State Change in the Forest-Peatland Ecotone of Southwest Patagonia

January 24, 2020
By 25980

Using an SRA award, Kyla Zaret, a 2018 Sylff fellow from Portland State University, visited Southwest Patagonia in Chile to conduct fieldwork from March to May 2019. She has been continuously visiting this area since 2003, when she was enchanted by the natural beauty of the region. After learning approaches to conservation and development during her master’s program, she began building networks with local people and stakeholders. Her Sylff SRA fieldwork was based on her long-term commitment and experiences.

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Patagonia looms large in the imaginations of individuals across the world, though many people are surprised to learn that the region encompasses more than one million square kilometers and extends from Chile’s fjords in the west to Argentina’s cliff-lined coast to the east, thus traversing both the Andes Mountains and national borders. While the global mythos of Patagonia as a pristine landscape of rivers flowing freely from glaciated peaks through primeval rainforest or across windblown steppe is not entirely false, it does belie the region’s historic and current patterns of land use and landscape change, which are becoming increasingly influenced by climate change and globalization. My academic research and goals as a Sylff fellow are responses to my first-hand experiences of how the above factors affect Patagonia’s ecosystems and people and my desire to lead conservation efforts that transcend socio-political boundaries to engage a diversity of stakeholders in fostering the resilience of this critical, yet vulnerable, region of the world.

Mosaic of burned wetlands and forests along the Vargas River, which parallels the “Southern Highway” and flows into the Baker River (also shown) in the Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia. Photo by Adam Spencer, 2017.

I first arrived in Patagonia in 2003 as a backpacker, eager to explore the region’s remote and rugged beauty; however, my perspective of people and place has since deepened, as has my commitment to generating positive social change. I began conducting scientific fieldwork in southwest Patagonia in January 2010 while completing an independent research project as part of the International Conservation and Development option of the master’s program in which I was enrolled at the University of Montana (UM). I chose to undertake my practicum in Patagonia because observations that I had made during my initial travels (e.g., the conversion of native forest to nonnative tree plantations, evidence of landscape-scale fires, and a controversial hydroelectric project that would displace families from their homesteads) inspired numerous questions about natural resource management and environmental justice—questions that catalyzed my pursuit of graduate study.

Through the interdisciplinary program at UM, I learned approaches to conservation and development that prioritize local peoples’ knowledges, needs, and perceptions while striving to promote the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem function. Within the doctoral program at Portland State University (PSU), I have been applying those teachings and building upon my master’s research to investigate how patterns of social interaction influence whose information and knowledge about altered ecosystems becomes integrated into decision-making processes, thus determining the next trajectories of ecological and social change. This research is needed because land use practices such as burning, logging, and, more recently, peat moss harvest, continue to dramatically alter the mosaic of temperate rainforests and wetlands (i.e., the “forest-peatland ecotone”) that characterize the landscape of southwest Patagonia, calling into question the continued resilience of sensitive ecosystems and the human communities who depend upon them.

A burned forest site that was once dominated by the cedar tree Pilgerodendron uviferum (Ciprés de las Guaitecas) but is now being harvested for the peat moss Sphagnum magellanicum (pon pon or pompoñ).


Historically, poorly drained sites along river valley bottoms in southwest Patagonia were dominated by a slow-growing, rot-resistant cedar tree (Pilgerodendron uviferum), whose harvest and sale formed the cornerstone of local people’s livelihoods and cultural identities, as I learned through my master’s research (Zaret 2011). Currently, however, almost all of these sites are characterized by fire-charred snags and stumps that rise from a saturated carpet of red-orange peat moss (Sphagnum magellanicum), and the cedar tree is listed as a globally threatened species (IUCN 2010). The change in dominance from cedar tree to peat moss is reflected in a transition in the resource use of these sites: in some parts of southwest Patagonia, people have shifted from harvesting cedar to harvesting peat moss. Thus, trade-offs must be made in the socio-political-economic realm regarding which potential ecosystem services of these now nonforested sites should be encouraged through management decisions. For example, should the keystone species and culturally iconic cedar tree be restored to burned sites, or is there greater perceived value in maintaining such sites in their current state of enhanced peat moss growth (e.g., so as to allow for continued harvest and sale of the moss to the horticulture market)? Conflicts are starting to arise between managers and landowners and other resource users given the passage of a new national law (Decreto 25, August 2019) that regulates the harvest of peat moss on public and private lands. Deciding how best to manage these cedar–peat moss (or “forest-peatland”) sites is further complicated by a dearth of information: none of Chile’s state agencies have been dedicated to wetland management, and very little knowledge is held by agency personnel regarding these altered ecosystems (Fernán Silva, Agricultural Service, pers. comm.).

In response to this situation, my dissertation has two overarching goals, which pertain more to the ecological or social domain of forest-peatland resource use and management of southwest Patagonia. My first goal incorporates ideas of ecosystem resilience (e.g., Holling 1973) and ecological tipping points (e.g., Scheffer and Carpenter 2003) to investigate patterns and mechanisms of ecosystem change across waterlogged sites in southwest Patagonia due to altered climate and fire regimes. I am working on this goal using forest reconstructions, paleoecological data, and vegetation surveys at control and burned sites to compare historical and contemporary relationships between climate, fire, and vegetation. My second goal is to evaluate whether the network of stakeholders engaged in natural resource use and management is structured so as to foster “social learning” (e.g., Muro and Jeffrey 2008), which may be a prerequisite for managing the complex (and novel) multiscalar dynamics of ecosystems comprising this ecotone (Folke et al. 2005). This goal has been made possible by the Sylff Graduate Fellowship and Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) award, which have allowed me to complete the qualitative and quantitative data collection needed to apply the technique of social network analysis (e.g., Bodin and Crona 2009).

Old-growth cedar trees (Pilgerodendron uviferum) rise in the distance beyond tall bulrushes in an unburned area of the Exploradores Valley of the Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia.

The social dimension of my dissertation research is driven by my interest in whether actors who differ in their capacities (or power) to make decisions that strongly affect their occupations or livelihoods (e.g., governmental land managers vs. resource-dependent landowners or resource harvesters) communicate their knowledge and observations of the natural world with one another. This exchange is needed not only in order to best understand rapidly changing ecological dynamics but also to assure that the perspectives and needs of all stakeholders are taken into account in the management process. Thus, my SRA project was designed to help me answer the research question: Can patterns of information and knowledge exchange within the egocentric networks of distinct socio-political actors be explained by (a) the distribution of relational ties that are constrained, voluntary, or imposed by a third party (i.e., “terms of connection”; Rocheleau and Roth 2007: 434), and/or (b) scale-related differences in perspectives regarding the value(s) of forest-peatland sites?

To begin answering the above question, I conducted fieldwork in the Aysén Region of southern Chile from March to May 2019. (Aysén is where I completed my master’s research and where I have been building my own social network since 2010.) There, I traveled from the capital city of Coyhaique to rural towns and homesteads, engaging in participant observation, meeting with key informants, identifying stakeholders and potential research participants, and conducting semistructured interviews. To find and recruit interview participants, I used purposive snowball sampling to locate individuals representing opposite ends of the socio-political scale ranging from high-interest, low-power individuals to high-interest, high-power individuals. Ultimately, I conducted participant observation with 26 individuals from the land management, commercial, natural resource harvest, and nonprofit science, education, and conservation sectors, and I conducted 12 semistructured interviews (8 with individuals on the high-interest, high-power side of the socio-political scale and 4 with individuals of high interest but low power). This small sample size, especially of low-power individuals, reflects (1) the limited numbers of individuals who are currently regularly engaged in forest-peatland resource use in Aysén[1] and (2) the degree of distrust characterizing landowners’ and resource users’ relations with land managers. That is, a recent campaign by land managers to inform stakeholders of the new rules to be instituted under Decreto 25 resulted in feelings of frustration, and even persecution, on the part of landowners and resource users. Thus, when I arrived at people’s homesteads to discuss the subject of peat moss harvest, many individuals and families were still aggravated over their interactions with land managers. While some people were still open to talking with me—perhaps given my perceived neutral role as a foreign researcher—I felt it inappropriate to request a formal, recorded interview unless I had some prior history and establishment of trust with the research participant.

A view from within a stand of old-growth cedar (Pilgerodendron uviferum) in the Exploradores Valley of the Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia.


My SRA fieldwork was most productive in terms of connecting me with land managers from the Agricultural Service who will be responsible for implementing the new regulations under Decreto 25. They are actively engaged in building their capacity to understand and monitor the dynamics of forest-peatland sites and to conduct effective education and outreach campaigns. Given my prior work with Round River Conservation Studies (RRCS), a conservation organization that leads study abroad programs for undergraduates and that has been partnering with land management agencies in Aysén since 2012, I was able to participate in several meetings with the Agricultural Service in which I advocated for the recognition of landowners’ and resource harvesters’ knowledge and perspectives. During one of those meetings, a commitment was formed between RRCS and land managers to jointly host a series of workshops for landowners and resource harvesters in which a primary objective would be creating an opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge of forest-peatland sites and to offer feedback on land managers’ activities and regulatory tools.

Back in the United States, I am currently in the process of coding interview data in preparation for conducting the social network analysis (SNA). Following the methods of Knoke and Yang (2008) and Prell (2012), I will map, analyze, and compare the egocentric networks of my research participants in terms of the proportion and quality of information- and knowledge-exchange ties that occur between individuals of the same versus different socio-political scales. These egocentric network maps will display social actors as nodes of different shapes (depending on their socio-political scale) that are connected by arrows, whose direction will indicate whether the exchanges are unidirectional or mutual and whose thickness will represent the quality of the exchange (e.g., whether voluntary or imposed; Rocheleau and Roth 2007). I will use content analysis of the interviews to qualitatively interpret patterns of information and knowledge exchange in the maps in light of people’s own perceptions of their socio-political scales and the value/importance they attribute to forest-peatland sites and their own observations of the natural world.

My preliminary findings, from participant observation and informal conversations, suggest that despite land managers’ new imperatives to identify and communicate with stakeholders, the flow of knowledge and information within and across socio-political scales is currently impaired due to the following: (1) landowners’ frustrations with past interactions with land managers; (2) landowners’ and resource harvesters’ lack of awareness of or appreciation for their own knowledge of the natural history of forest-peatland sites; (3) land managers’ lack of recognition of landowners and resource users as legitimate knowledge holders; and (4) structural aspects of regional institutions that limit communication between land managers, even within a single agency. Ultimately, I hope that the network maps—the visual products emerging from this research—can be used to pinpoint and convey where efforts to enhance communication and collaboration between stakeholders have the best chance to ensure that all perspectives and insights are brought into play to guide the wise use and continuing availability of natural resources in southwest Patagonia. I also intend to use the outcomes of my research to draw attention to other understudied nonboreal forest-peatland ecotones of the world. These areas have received scant attention from the global scientific community despite their vulnerability to climate change and their potential to contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions if burned (Davies et al. 2013), thus threatening the resilience of local and nonlocal ecosystems and actors.

The Sylff fellow, so excited to have finally located an old-growth stand of cedar trees (Pilgerodendron uviferum) in the Exploradores Valley of the Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia.

As a Sylff fellow and SRA awardee, I am thankful to have been able to expand my dissertation to include a social line of inquiry that (1) will generate new conceptual and methodological links between governance, scale, and social network theory that pertain to knowledge and information exchange regarding the use and management of altered ecosystems and (2) has an applied goal of active “network weaving” (Vance-Borland and Holley 2011). In this way, I feel that I am becoming a conservation scientist and practitioner who works to transform environmental governance into a process that is equitable and inclusive for all natural resource stakeholders.

References

Bodin, Ö., and B.I. Crona. 2009. The role of social networks in natural resource governance: What relational patterns make a difference? Global Environmental Change 19 (3): 366–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.05.002.

Davies, G.M., A. Gray, G. Rein, and C.J. Legg. 2013. Peat consumption and carbon loss due to smouldering wildfire in a temperate peatland. Forest Ecology and Management 308 (November): 169–77.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2013.07.051.

Folke, C., T. Hahn, P. Olsson, and J. Norberg. 2005. Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, 30: 441–73. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.energy.30.050504.144511

Holling, C.S. 1973. Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4: 1–23.

Knoke, D., and S. Yang. 2008. Social Network Analysis. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc. http://methods.sagepub.com/book/social-network-analysis.

Muro, M., and P. Jeffrey. 2008. A critical review of the theory and application of social learning in participatory natural resource management processes. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 51 (3): 325–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/09640560801977190.

Prell, C. 2012. Social Network Analysis: History, Theory and Methodology. Los Angeles: SAGE Publishing.

Rocheleau, D., and R. Roth. 2007. Rooted networks, relational webs and powers of connection: Rethinking human and political ecologies. Geoforum 38 (3): 433–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.10.003.

Scheffer, M. and S.R. Carpenter. 2003. Catastrophic regime shifts in ecosystems: Linking theory to observation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18 (12): 648–656.

Vance-Borland, K. and J. Holley. 2011. Conservation stakeholder network mapping, analysis, and weaving: Conservation stakeholder networks. Conservation Letters 4 (4): 278–88. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00176.x.

Zaret., K. 2011. Distribution, use and cultural meanings of ciprés de las Guaitecas in the vicinity of Caleta Tortel, Chile. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Montana.

 

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Insights into the Economic and Legal Dimensions of Public Contractual Relationships in Europe

December 5, 2019
By 27004

The aim of my doctoral dissertation research—carried out with the support of a Sylff fellowship—is the examination of contracts concluded by the state and other public bodies in Europe. Particular attention is given to concessions and the interplay between various national legal traditions and the law of the European Union. My work focuses on the legal specificities of these contracts and seeks to understand important socioeconomic connections of this field of law, such as the different modes of the state’s involvement in the economy and the different ways public services are organized, and where the boundaries between the state and market are set. In the following, I would like to give a brief introduction to this topic.

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In the evolution of the law of public contracts at the national and European level, the organization of public services has always played an important part.

Many services that are now considered public services first appeared as private initiatives. As capitalism developed, urbanization and population growth resulted in an ever-increasing number of tasks that public administrations needed to organize for the smooth functioning of society. The state’s involvement in the economy became more active in the first half of the twentieth century owing to two world wars, economic crises, the growing need for public services, and the bankruptcy of private-sector service providers. As welfare states flourished in Europe in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, the provision of public services came to be carried out mainly in the public sphere, either by state bodies, local authorities, or by organizations closely related to them.[1]

The Chain Bridge, one of the iconic monuments of Budapest, Hungary, is an example of a private initiative taking the lead in building public infrastructure in the nineteenth century. Its construction was funded and carried out by the Chain Bridge Joint Stock Company, owned by private shareholders. (Photo by Gyurika, CC-BY-SA-2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lanchid-budaipiller.jpg)

Challenges to the concept of the European welfare state emerged in the 1970s, as the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 triggered a new way of thinking about economic policy. The organization of public services according to market principles, outsourcing, and the involvement of the private sector became widespread, accompanied, in certain cases, by the privatization of assets serving as the basis of a public service. An important factor encouraging these processes was the law of the European Union. The most intensive period of regulation in the European Union to build up an internal market of undistorted competition started in the early the 1990s. An important part of this was the liberalization of network-based public services and the regulation of public procurement, which became more detailed and effective through the adoption of new directives.[2]

The reform of public services and the growing importance of contracting out became a general trend in Europe, but they unfolded differently in the individual member states of the EU, influenced by the respective traditional approaches to delivering public services.

In Germany, public services of an economic nature are traditionally provided by so-called Stadtwerke. These are companies of local authorities (earlier organized also by public law) that provide the population of a geographical area with different utilities. In the field of social services, cooperations of charitable organizations were a traditional form of service provision. The trend of privatization has affected these long-established structures, and private operators now play an important role in the delivery of public services. As a result of EU-led liberalization, these markets also had to be opened up to competition—or at least adjusted to a competition-driven legal system. However, certain sensitive areas, such as water supply and ambulance services, were protected by public policy from the encroachment of market forces by the EU.

Unlike Germany, France did not develop a strong utilities’ sector at the local level. The system of French local authorities was very fragmented, and their scarce resources encouraged the delegation of public services—mainly in the form of concessions—to private providers from as early as the middle of the nineteenth century.[3] The French state’s interference in the economy was particularly strong after World War II; extensive nationalization took place ,which largely affected the utilities, but state involvement was significant even in the competitive parts of industry and in the banking and insurance sectors.[4] Due to this composition of public property and the historic guiding theory of service public in public administration, the privatization of the 1980s and 1990s affected primarily the competitive sectors of the economy, not the utilities. The French constitution of 1946 expressly stated that monopolies and companies providing national public services and the assets necessary to run these services must remain state property.[5] A characteristic of the French model is that the utilities market is dominated by a few large companies, which are also important participants in the EU-wide market of service concessions.

The Channel Tunnel links Great Britain with continental Europe. The infrastructure project, negotiated in the middle of the 1980s, was a pioneer of large-scale, concession-type contracts using the project finance technique relying on the proceeds of the project. (Photo by Florian Févre from Mobilys, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TGV_TMST_3011-2_-_Sortie_Tunnel_sous_la_Manche_%C3%A0_Coquelles.jpg)

In Britain, the common law legal system (which follows a different concept than the legal systems of continental Europe) evolved in parallel with another type of economic development. From the outset, capitalism developed with much less state involvement than in Germany or France. Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister in 1979, was a pioneer of a neoliberal economic policy. She implemented reforms to achieve a more economic and effective public sector, encouraging contracting-out, private-sector involvement in public projects, privatization, and the liberalization of monopolies in utilities. The British administration also developed innovative legal concepts like unbundling and public-private partnerships (PPPs) that later spread to the rest of Europe and beyond.

Nowadays, EU law has a decisive impact on how member states can organize public services. Although there is undoubtedly a push toward more competition and privatization, there are also elements of EU law that try to seek a balance between the principle of undistorted competition and the will of member states to preserve their ability to decide on the most appropriate way to provide public services with different degrees of state involvement and to protect certain traditional elements of their systems.

The Law of Public Contracts

The law governing the contracts of public bodies is also shaped by changing economic circumstances, the increasing recourse to contracting-out, and the impact of EU law. There is a general trend towards unification, mainly deriving from EU public procurement law, whose focus is to sustain undistorted competition in public purchases through transparent procedural rules. But this process also accommodates different legal traditions in national laws.

PPP contracts were widely used from the 1990s to develop different types of public infrastructure, such as motorways. However, there were always concerns whether PPPs could deliver value for money for the public sector. (Photo by Kroock74, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toll_booths_in_the_UK.jpg)

The most developed legal tradition relating to public contracts can be found in the French legal system in the concept of administrative contracts. What sets this legal regime apart is that contract rules of public authorities must also reflect the public interest and guarantee the proper functioning of public services. Administrative contracts form a distinct category apart from private law contracts, and legal disputes relating to them fall within the jurisdiction of administrative courts. Special rules are applicable to these contracts besides the underlying law of the French Civil Code. The main feature of administrative contracts is that the parties to the contract are not in an equal position and that the law acknowledges certain prerogatives for public authorities (e.g., a unilateral power of modification in case it is so required in the light of the public interest). However, the rules of administrative contracts must also fairly protect the interests of the contracting party by sustaining the economic balance in case of unforeseen circumstances and by compensating the private party in case the administration exercises its special rights.

The German legal system has traditionally been based on a strict distinction between private and public law. Its main approach to the contracts of public authorities is that public administration is also subject to private law when it takes part in economic relationships. This way of thinking has not impeded the acknowledgement of certain specificities of public contracts in connection with the public interest. The emphasis in German law is on the requirement that public authorities give due consideration to human rights even if they are acting under contract. In order to apply public law requirements to private law contracts, German courts incorporated these public law principles into general private law clauses. This solution of taking into account public principles in the interpretation of private law is called Verwaltungsprivatrecht in legal literature.[6]

One difference we can observe in English law is that its evolution is much more based on the needs arising from private economic activity than in continental contract laws. In the system of common law, it follows from the principle of the rule of law that the same law applies to both the state and private parties when they take part in economic relationships. As a result, even the existence of administrative law was recognized much later in England than in Germany or France. The specificities of public contracts appear in the principles elaborated by the courts and in codified laws, but there is no general legal concept or theory on how the public interest is considered in relation to public contracts.  

In spite of the conceptual divergences, common features can also be observed in the main European legal systems.[7] These elements all relate to the public interest and represent two main aspects of public contracts. On the one hand, public bodies need more freedom to act in order to decide on public matters and keep their competence to act as the public interest requires. However, when public interest warrants a derogation from contractual obligations, the private party must be compensated fairly. On the other hand, the administration cannot circumvent its public law obligations—such as respect for human rights—even if it acts in accordance with contractual provisions.

EU law also affects significantly how the traditional principles of public contracts can be applied in the member states. It is possible to maintain different approaches to public contracts in individual legal systems, but their special points of view can only apply within the boundaries set by EU law.

 

[1] Hellmut Wollmann and Gérard Marcou, “Introduction,” in Wollmann and Marcou (eds), The Provision of Public Services in Europe: Between State, Local Government and Market, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 2010, p. 5.

[2] Council Directive 89/440/EEC of July 18, 1989, amending Directive 71/305/EEC concerning the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts; Council Directive 88/295/EEC of March 22, 1988, amending Directive 77/62/EEC relating to the coordination of procedures on the award of public supply contracts and repealing certain provisions of Directive 80/767/EEC; Council Directive 92/50/EEC of June 18, 1992, relating to the coordination of procedures for the award of public service contracts; Council Directive 93/36/EEC of June 14, 1993, coordinating procedures for the award of public supply contracts; Council Directive 93/37/EEC of June 14, 1993, concerning the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts; Council Directive 93/38/EEC of June 14, 1993, coordinating the procurement procedures of entities operating in the water, energy, transport, and telecommunications sectors.

[3] Attila Harmathy, Szerződés, közigazgatás, gazdaságirányítás, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1983, p. 29.

[4] For a detailed account of the different approaches to public ownership in the economy after 1945, see Leigh Hancher, “The Public Sector as Object and Instrument of Economic Policy,” in Terence Daintith (ed), Law as an Instrument of Economic Policy: Comparative and Critical Approaches, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1987, pp. 165–236. 

[5] Ninth paragraph in the preamble of the Constitution of 1946: “Tout bien, toute entreprise, dont l’exploitation a ou acquiert les caractères d’un service public national ou d’un monopole de fait, doit devenir la propriété de la collectivité.”

[6] For a comprehensive analysis of Verwaltungsprivatrecht, see Ulrich Stelkens, Verwaltungsprivatrecht—Zur Privatrechtsbindung der Verwaltung, deren Reichweite und Konsequenzen, Duncker & Humblot, 2005.

[7] See also Rozen Noguellou and Ulrich Stelkens (eds), Droit Comparé des Contrats Publics / Comparative Law on Public Contracts, Bruylant, 2010.

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REDD+ and the Forest Commons in Nepal

November 22, 2019
By 21457

Sylff fellow Shangrila Joshi, a researcher on environmental studies and climate justice, held workshops and a forum on REDD+, one of the climate mitigation initiatives, for forest community users in Nepal, with funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI). Although REDD+ is widely promoted as a global effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, Joshi argues that the implementation of associated projects often lacks informed consent by all stakeholders, and it is often the case that community forest users are left out from the discussion. Joshi conducted the SLI project to raise proper understanding of REDD+ among forest users with the ultimate goal in mind of realizing climate justice.

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As climate change moves from being an impending crisis to an ongoing planetary emergency, it is important to critically evaluate the many so-called climate solutions that have arisen in response. REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is one of the mitigation options that have emerged out of the United Nations deliberation process. It is a market-based mechanism to address climate mitigation by promoting the sequestration of carbon dioxide in forests while facilitating a global trade in certified emission reductions of sequestered carbon. This arrangement allows high emitters to meet their emission reduction targets by financing emission reduction programs in forest-rich developing countries.

Internationally, REDD+ has been heavily criticized and opposed by affected communities, scholars, and activists due to concerns about land grabs and human rights abuses and for not addressing the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, namely fossil-fuel-based industries. Nepal has been an attractive prospect for those seeking to pursue these mitigation attempts while minimizing their worst side effects, because REDD+ has been proposed for community forests with a proven record of governance that empowers local communities while enhancing forest cover.

Shangrila Joshi with members of Chaturmukhi Community Forest in Gaduwa, Chitwan.

SLI Project Highlights

The perceptions of REDD+ among Nepal’s community forest users have been the focus of my research investigations for the past few years. Specifically, I interviewed forest users and conducted participant observation in the three sites in Nepal where the REDD+ pilot project was implemented—Gorkha, Dolakha, and Chitwan—during the monsoon of 2017. I conducted follow-up meetings and site visits in Chitwan in 2018. During August 2019, with SLI support, I facilitated a series of workshops in Chitwan and a three-day forum in Pokhara bringing together 24 members of the Community Forest User Group (CFUG) and Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) from 12 districts of the Terai, where Nepal’s first World Bank program for REDD+ is slated for implementation.

 

Participants hearing a presentation by Dr. Joshi at the three-day forum in Pokhara.

Conversations in the workshops and forum revealed that while the desire of forest users to benefit from REDD+ is strong, their knowledge of how REDD+ specifically and carbon trading more generally operates in the local, national, and international contexts is weak. There is high demand for such knowledge to be widely disseminated in areas where REDD+ programs are to be ushered in. Participants were highly enthusiastic about welcoming REDD+ to their communities in ways that maximize economic and ecological benefits while avoiding harm to local communities. There was strong consensus among all participants that knowledge regarding REDD+ is highly inadequate in the local communities to be affected by REDD+, that access to such knowledge is desirable and necessary, and that any policies and benefit sharing should be equitable and just and involve meaningful participation of all stakeholders from the start. Community forest users at the forum and workshops overall expressed a strong desire to be active participants, not passive recipients in Nepal’s REDD+ programming.

Without a proper understanding among those who would be most affected by REDD+ of how REDD+ operates, how it strives to mitigate climate change, and how local forests and forest users are implicated, I argue that its proponents risk ignoring the principle of free, prior, and informed consent. The deliberations of the forum and workshops have been summarized in a white paper that has been shared with concerned officials in the Ministry of Forests and Environment, the World Bank, and FECOFUN, as well as media outlets in Nepal, so that the voices of community forest users may reach concerned authorities. In the white paper, I argued that meaningful participation and fully informed consent were not facilitated in all community forests in the Terai before the agreement on REDD+ was made between Nepal and the World Bank. If REDD+ is to move forward in Nepal, it is urgent that these gaps and oversight be rectified with a coordinated drive to involve local forest stakeholders in all REDD+ districts, through educational programs and discussion about the complex connections between climate change and forests, how REDD+ operates, what the rights of local forest users are, and how they can best advocate for their rights, if REDD+ is to move forward in Nepal.

 

 

Neoliberal Climate Solutions and the Commons

Although Nepal does not present blatant cases of disenfranchisement such as land grabs in areas where REDD+ projects are being introduced, concern is warranted for possible erosion of progressive structures. REDD+ is often characterized as a neoliberal solution, meaning it is predicated on the problematic assumption that free trade is the best way to maximize well-being and that the market is the best place through which to resolve social and environmental problems by virtue of the enlightened behavior of consumers buying and selling commodities. This is a decidedly different approach to resolving problems from that of members of a community deciding to impose rules and regulations to change behavior and address identified problems. Those interested in learning further about these two distinct ways to conceptualize and resolve problems may wish to look into the work of Elinor Ostrom, who tirelessly sought to correct the misconceptions introduced into the realm of environmental problem solving by Garrett Hardin through his highly influential yet problematic article “The Tragedy of the Commons.”

Is the tragedy of the atmospheric commons best solved through collective action—such as through a concerted global effort to scale back the burning of fossil fuels, addressing the problem at the source—or by commodifying the atmosphere, buying and selling carbon credits in the global marketplace? Carbon trading commodifies the atmospheric commons by assigning a price for a unit of reduced emissions: a carbon credit that can be bought and sold in the global carbon market. As a commodity, the price of carbon is determined not by its actual worth but rather by the vagaries of the market, and hence it is greatly underpriced. Ironically, the buyers of carbon credit—the ones creating emissions—determine the price of emissions reduction, while those who are already relatively blameless have little to no say. The latter are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, hence the importance of a climate justice lens to evaluate these neoliberal climate solutions.

Not only do those members of the global community who are making a carbon trade possible due to their labor and everyday choices have little power to influence the price of the carbon commodity they are selling; they are in many cases enabling this trade without their fully informed consent. Intermediaries such as the World Bank and government agencies often mediate the transactions between the buyers and sellers of carbon credits in ways that diminish the agency of the seller. Even if blatant instances of disenfranchisement may not occur in Nepal, these subtle ways of what geographer David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession” are concerning. In addition to these issues that are generic in the world, the stakes are high for Nepal also because of credible threats to common pool resource governance structures such as community forestry.

Community forestry users and leaders are generally highly welcoming and desirous of REDD+ projects due to the resources they promise, even if and perhaps precisely because the complex connections between forests, community forestry institutions, and global climate change are not well understood. The integration of local forests into a regime of global carbon trade requires quantification and measurement of carbon sequestered in forests in such a manner that privileges reductionist ways of managing forests. A related concern then is whether a move to embrace REDD+ might disenfranchise forest users from their ability to use their local and/or traditional ecological knowledge for forest management in ways that disproportionately privilege outsiders with technological skills and training in “scientific forestry.”

Power dynamics in the local context are important to understand as well. Specifically, programs such as REDD+ operate within an established culture of patriarchal domination, caste privilege, and disproportionate power of the urban educated elite. Attempts at gender sensitization and gender mainstreaming are laudable if insufficient, but there are indications that efforts to encourage equity for Dalit and Janjati groups are occurring in problematic ways that appear to further exacerbate animosity between social groups. If these instruments of carbon trading are to continue and do so in socially just ways, the question of what constitutes a “fair trade” in carbon as commodity at multiple scales begs serious attention.

The climate crisis can be seen as creating opportunities to reevaluate power dynamics at multiple scales, as well as to re-envision how the earth’s resources are used. Even as climate change offers new frontiers for the decades-long project of commodifying nature, thus enhancing the power of corporations, it has strengthened the resolve of activists who are striving to keep remaining fossil fuels in the ground and to hold companies and countries accountable for the climate crisis. In Nepal, there are opportunities to strengthen existing institutional arrangements designed to empower ordinary people to engage in ecologically sustainable behavior. The challenge is to do so equitably and in meaningful, not tokenizing, ways. The current moment in Nepal—and the world—serves as a reminder that the stakes for a battle between these competing forces have never been higher.

Shangrila Joshi, author of the article, visiting Baghdevi Community Forest in Parsa, Chitwan.

(All photos by Addison Joshi Felizola)

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Gender-Based Violence: Rethinking Social, Legal, and Healthcare Services in Jordan

November 1, 2019
By 25271

In Jordan, legal reforms have been promoted to achieve gender equality, which have led to improvements in female participation in education. However, there is still a big gap to achieving women’s empowerment in a practical sense, as cultural and religious norms encouraging gender inequality prevail in the society. The norms prevent women from social and political participation and even justify gender-based violence toward women. Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh, a 2007 Sylff fellow at the University of Jordan, held a conference on July 16, 2019, at the University of Jordan to tackle the social issue by rethinking social, legal, and healthcare services. The conference was funded by Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI).

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Background and Objectives

It is my great pleasure to say that this conference was the first one organized in the Middle East by Sylff Leadership Initiatives, as one of the substantial and key conferences that seek to point to future directions in the field of gender studies and gender-based violence in Jordan. The conference is intended to address and examine the very implications of the term gender-based violence, which is defined in Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Actions (Inter Agency Standing Committee, 2015) as follows: “any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. These acts occur in public and in private.” With that in mind, this conference aims at addressing gender-based violence by assessing and rethinking social, legal, and healthcare services in Jordan.

The conference was held on July 16, 2019, at the University of Jordan.


According to a study conducted in 2015 and published in 2016 by United Nations Women titled “Strengthening the Jordanian Justice Sector’s Response to Cases of Violence against Women,” only 3% of victims of gender-based violence in Jordan seek official support from the police after being traumatized by any act of violence. Similarly, National Council for Family Affairs conducted an important report titled “Status of Violence against Women in Jordan” in 2008. It indicates that National Forensic Medicine Center in Jordan “deals with an average of 700 cases of sexual assault against women annually” and that “the number of murdered women recorded was 120 in 2006, including 18 cases classified as crimes of honor.” Ironically, the actual cases of physical and emotional abuse outnumber these statistics for many sociopolitical and cultural reasons. As a tribal and conservative society, many Jordanian families do not report these cases to protect their superego and collective image at the expense of the victim’s individual trauma.

 

The audience consisted of people from all walks of life.


Opening Remarks

Dr. Abeer Dababneh, director of the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of Jordan, opened the conference by stressing the significance of the event in raising the bar of social and gender consciousness in Jordan in terms of the available services offered by the three major sectors in Jordan: law, justice, and social development.

The president of the University of Jordan, Dr. Abdul-Karim Al Qudah, delivered a speech on how the University of Jordan plays a crucial role in empowering women and giving them a space for sociopolitical representation. He argued that the university is meant to be a feminist and intellectual hub for women’s equality, justice, and creativity, where many female students and teachers have a local and global reach and outshine their counterparts in every field of knowledge.

Moreover, Justice Minister Bassam Talhouni placed an emphasis on the significant role being played by the Ministry of Justice to fight a number of structural obstacles that confine and hinder gender equality. Although Jordan has witnessed some degree of local progress on gender issues, gender-based violence in Jordan is still a serious issue that should be resisted by national institutions at all levels.

Opening remarks.


Conference

The conference held on July 16, 2019, at the University of Jordan sought to develop and implement a more dynamic and practical strategy and method to protect Jordanian survivors who have been repeatedly traumatized by gender-based violence. Accordingly, the conference consisted of four panels:
Panel 1. Legal and Justice Services in Jordan
Panel 2. The Role of National, International, and Civil Society in Jordan
Panel 3. Gender-Based Violence in the Healthcare Sector
Panel 4. Gender-Based Violence in the Social Development Sector

In the first panel, all panelists stressed the way in which the sociocultural and legal contexts impact the whole process of gender-based prosecution in Jordan. The panelists also addressed how the Family Protection Program and other government institutions facilitate legal services for gender-based violence survivors. Meanwhile, they also underscored the limitations of these institutions and how such limitations should be treated locally.

The second panel was premised on the role of national, international, and civil society in Jordan. The panelists highlighted the significant role played by the National Council for Family Affairs and other government and nongovernment institutions vis-à-vis the multiple family protection projects in Jordan. They also emphasized the urgent need to revise the legal system and the alternative ways that this could be carried out to strengthen cooperation between these institutions toward fighting gender-based-violence in Jordan. In a similar vein, the third panel examined the multiple healthcare services offered by the Ministry of Health for victimized women in Jordan. Furthermore, the panelists concretely addressed the cultural and institutional flaws that hinder the process of fighting violence against women in Jordan. The panelists of the last session attempted to explore the way in which the social development sector engages in several rehabilitative counseling programs by training legal employees who are in charge of gender-based violence cases in Jordan. The panelists shed light on the psychological and professional competence of public employees.

 

The second panel, “The Role of National, International, and Civil Society in Jordan Legal and Justice Services in Jordan.”


Open Discussion

Each panel had an open discussion, in which many members of the audience gave compelling and engaging questions and remarks on gender-based violence in Jordan. For instance, an Egyptian activist attempted to challenge the dominant cultural paradigms of gender duties and roles that have been dogmatized and maintained by religion, government, and culture in Jordan. Another graduate student of gender studies was curious to understand the cultural and institutional circumstances that have shaped gender trouble in Jordan. Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh, the organizer of the conference, responded to this question by arguing that gender trouble emanates from the cultural and social dogma of stereotypes and some religious misinterpretations that deem gender roles as being fixed and unchangeable. Thus, these dogmatic gender roles should be dismantled and challenged by reforming educational pedagogy, incorporating the most up-to-date research findings on gender studies into educational curricula in terms of the cultural and political context of gender-based violence in Jordan, gender equality, and statistical cases.


Final Recommendations Suggested by Participants

The participants agreed on a set of feasible and compelling recommendations that meet the most pressing issues of gender-based violence in Jordan. The media, for instance, should play a crucial role in sustaining and disseminating a profound discourse that offers a counternarrative to gender-based violence that should include updated statistics on all acts of gender-based violence in Jordan, hosting influential feminists to discuss major issues of gender-based violence, and evaluating the kinds of services offered by the three sectors of healthcare, justice and police, and social development. Similarly, the Ministry of Higher Education should be obliged to incorporate a new course on gender-based violence through which university students will be exposed to a wealth of legal, cultural, and epistemological knowledge on gender-based violence in Jordan regarding the discursive quantitative and qualitative circumstances that motivate any act of violence against women in Jordan. Moreover, the panelists stressed the significance of creating a professional national monitoring system through which the risk of gender-based violence in Jordan could be identified and assessed. Several panelists suggested a vibrant institutional and legal collaboration among all government and nongovernmental organizations that are in charge of survivors and victimizers of gender-based violence.

Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh also stressed the importance of establishing a research database that would function as a professional research platform encompassing all reports, documents, and stories that address and document gender-based violence and assess national services in Jordan. A number of panelists argued that founding a national counseling office for gender-based violence at all universities should be a national priority. Drawing on the agenda of this conference, some of the scholars recommended outlining and endorsing a national manifesto agreed upon by all governmental and nongovernmental institutions that are in charge of fighting gender-based violence in Jordan. It would be a national and academic manifesto that legislates and outlines the national and humanitarian roles, duties, authorities, and agendas among various national partners that are concerned with gender-based violence.


Conclusion

It has been noticed that the vision of gender-based violence held by the government and bureaucracy in Jordan is somewhat limited and dogmatic. Several participants standing for government institutions were obsessed with a discourse of denial in which their findings seemed to underestimate the serious risk of gender-based violence in Jordan. Conversely, independent scholars and gender activists and leaders expressed an opposing view that challenges the one suggested by government representatives. With that in mind, a number of panelists suggested putting forward and organizing another forum in the near future that would reexamine gender-based violence in Jordan from a radical sociopolitical perspective. Drawing on Lila Abu-Lughod’s feminist paradigm, our anticipated conference would be mainly premised on the intersections between globalism, gender politics, and the political economy.

The conference caught the attention of many international and national feminists, scholars, lawyers, activists, senators, officials, policy makers, and academics. It also drew considerable interest from the media in Jordan. The conference was covered by the most influential and popular Jordanian media outlets that include, but are not limited to, the Jordan Times, Petra News Agency, Alrai, Addustour, Alghad, and the University of Jordan’s website. All media reports released on the conference noted the significance of the conference in fighting all forms of gender-based violence in Jordan.

Taking the major proceedings and recommendations of the conference into account, I would argue that gender-based violence in Jordan is still a serious sociopolitical and cultural problem that should be faced and resisted by all levels of the private and public sectors. In a nutshell, there should be a substantial strategic collaboration between all government and nongovernmental institutions. With that in mind, in my capacity as a Jordanian writer, activist, and intellectual, I am determined to keep fighting this crisis in every possible way and exert tremendous efforts to raise cultural and social consciousness about gender-based violence in Jordan. 

 

Dr. Tayseer Abu Odeh, an organizer of the conference.


References

“Strengthening the Jordanian Justice Sector’s Response to Cases of Violence against Women,” United Nations Women, 2016.


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Detailed arguments made in the panels are summarized below.

Panel 1: Legal and Justice Services in Jordan

The first panel of the conference was titled “Legal and Justice Services in Jordan.” Asma Khader, a leading human rights lawyer and former minister of culture, addressed the way in which gender-based prosecution is carried out in Jordan. Khader shed light on the social, cultural, and legal contexts of juridical prosecution in Jordan. Khader argued that many prosecutors who are in charge of gender-based violence cases and the implementation of the legal system lack sufficient legal, sociopolitical, and cultural literacy and professional training.

The second speaker, Reem Abu Hassan, a leading human rights lawyer and former minister of social development, discussed gender violence from a legal perspective. Drawing on her perspective, Abu Hassan also contended that cultural and social stereotypes are considered to be one of the most pressing issues that have shaped the various structures of gender trouble in Jordan.

The third speaker of this panel was Fakhri al Qatarneh, director of the Family Protection Program. Qatarneh examined the role of the program in facilitating the multiple services that are offered for gender-based violence survivors in Jordan. Unlike Khader and Abu Hassan, Qatarneh argued that the increasing number of complaints that have been recently reported to the Family Protection Program is an indicator of people’s awareness of gender-based violence in Jordan. Qatarneh’s argument sounded somewhat contradictory, as it confirmed an ideological discourse of denial that has been sustained by government officials whenever they address gender-based violence in Jordan.

Panel 2: The Role of National, International, and Civil Society in Jordan

The second panel addressed the role of national, international, and civil society in reinforcing sufficient and effective services that have to do with gender-based violence in Jordan. The first speaker was Yara Al Deer, a researcher at the Arab State Regional Office of the United Nations Population Fund. Al Deer pointed out that national and local institutions of healthcare, justice, and social development sectors should collaborate and cooperate more effectively to implement a range of feasible procedures of social, psychological, and legal support for survivors.

The second speaker, Dr. Mohammad Fakhri Meqdady, secretary general of the National Council for Family Affairs in Amman, highlighted the role of the NCFA in fighting gender-based violence in Jordan in light of various social and political transformations. Meqdady noted that a family protection project was initiated to protect a large number of survivors in Jordan. He also stressed the importance of collaboration among government and nongovernmental institutions that fight gender-based violence in Jordan from statistical, procedural, and legal perspectives.

Dr. Salma Nims was the third speaker of this panel. She is secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women in Jordan. She addressed the dynamic and vital way in which the political and social roles of the Jordanian National Commission for Women are played. According to Al Nims, the commission is in charge of the following responsibilities: ensuring a convenient and applicable environment, revising the legal system, opening up a powerful and face-to-face dialogue with the government, building up an effective dialogue with the civil society in order to agree on specific legal amendments and revisions, and enforcing an active form of cooperation among all government and nongovernmental institutions to fight gender violence in Jordan. Such a dynamic role, however, is diminishing due to lack of institutionalism and bureaucracy.  

Dr. Ibrhim Aqil, director of the Noor Al Hussein Center for Family Health Care, was the last speaker of this panel. Aqil explored how civil society can imagine and offer alternative and feasible services for survivors of gender-based violence in Jordan. Aqil juxtaposed the interplay between data of gender-based violence, getting access to these data, and the right to get adequate and efficient services. He also placed an emphasis on the indispensable nature of multiple services that should be offered for survivors. These services include protective, educational, legal, administrative, social, and psychological procedures.

Panel 3: Gender-Based Violence in the Healthcare Sector

The third panel was titled “Gender-Based Violence in the Healthcare Sector.” Dr. Malak Al Ouri, director of Women’s Healthcare in the Ministry of Health, examined the role of the Ministry of Health in the reinforcement of health services for traumatized women in Jordan. Al Ouri discussed how the family violence department plays a vital role in handling gender-based violence issues in Jordan. In addition, a number of professional committees have been initiated by the ministry to follow up on all cases of gender violence in Jordan and make sure that each case is reported and documented immediately and rigorously. However, there is a built-in flaw in the institutionalized and scholarly documentation of such kind of cases arising from governmental bureaucracy, cultural stigmatization, and lack of cooperation between government and nongovernmental institutions regarding gender-based violence.

Dr. Maha Darwish, an expert on gender-based violence with the United States Agency for International Development, also addressed alternative and feasible services to rehabilitate gender-based victimizers from a psychosocial perspective. Darwish suggested psychological procedures to rehabilitate victimizers and ensure a professional training program designated by the Ministry of Health and other local institutions. 

Panel 4: Gender-Based Violence in the Social Development Sector

Panel four was concerned with gender-based violence in the social development sector. Amer Hiasat, director of the Social Development Program in Amman, discussed the multiple ways in which social protection for gender-based victims is maintained and carried out by the Ministry of Social Development. Hiasat asserted that the ministry has a crucial role in offering beneficial services for survivors of gender-based violence in Jordan. Nevertheless, this role is still flawed due to multiple bureaucratic and institutional inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, Eva Abu Halawa, director of Mizan Organization for Women’s Rights, put forward a number of suggested methods that civil society should use to protect survivors of gender-based violence. She contended that raising gender consciousness among people is a national priority that should be taken into account in fighting gender-based violence in Jordan. She also suggested creating more specialized counseling departments for training legal prosecutors and employees who handle cases of gender-based violence.

The last speaker of this panel was Dr. Amal Al Awawdeh, a professor of gender studies at the Center for Women’s Studies, University of Jordan. She interrogated the professional and technical competence of government social specialists who are in charge of handling gender-based violence in Jordan. Her findings are premised on the lack of effective professionalism among government social specialists and how such a flaw impacts social and counseling intervention and protective programs that have been employed by the Ministry of Social Development.

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Toward an International Academic Career

April 23, 2019
By 19642

Mihoko Sakurai, Sylff fellow at Keio University’s Shonan Fujisawa Campus in 2013, is currently a senior research fellow and associate professor at the Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM) of the International University of Japan. She is dedicated to helping build a more sustainable society through her research on resilient information systems. While receiving a Sylff fellowship at Keio University, she applied for and received an SRA award to study abroad at the University of Georgia in the United States. This experience strengthened her desire to pursue a research career from an international perspective. This is the story about her international academic career started from the SRA award. 

                                                                  *  *  *

My Journey from the United States to Norway

Several months after living in Athens, Georgia (United States), for around six months in total, during which my living expenses were partially covered by the Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) program, I finished writing my doctoral dissertation. I received a PhD in 2015 from the Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University.

Mihoko, left, and Rick.

My experience in the United States eventually took me on a wonderful journey. In summer 2014, I was at the University of Georgia (UGA) having a chat with my supervisor, Professor Richard T. Watson (Rick), on the way back to the office from his lecture. In the morning of the same day, he told me about a job opening at the University of Agder (UiA) in Norway. The university was offering a postdoctoral research fellow position in the area of information systems and disaster management. The description of the position fit well with my background, and Rick knew people well in that university.

The journey to the United States had already been something big to me, since it was my first time staying abroad for an extended period. I had not thought about working abroad after my stay at UGA. At the same time, however, my eyes had gradually opened during those months. I found that a university is a very international place, something that I did not feel much when I was at Keio. My curiosity was expanding. I started dreaming of having more international experiences at the beginning of my academic career. I decided to apply for the position.

City of Kristiansand, Norway.

One year later, in summer 2015, I flew to Kristiansand, a beautiful town in southern Norway. I was given a two-year position at UiA, where I ultimately worked for three years. It was indeed a wonderful and exceptional journey.

There are only a few so-called universities in Norway. On the other hand, there are many institutions called university colleges. The merger of university colleges was advanced as a national policy over the past decade plus, and UiA was founded by merging several regional university colleges in 2007. UiA has about 10,000 students and about 1,000 people working as academic and administrative staff. There are six faculties, and I belonged to the Department of Information Systems of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The department employed around 20 people, including PhD students; a PhD student is a paid job in Norway, which is an extremely good environment compared to the Japanese context.

 

The Research Environment in Norway

Universities in Norway are differentiated from university colleges in that they have PhD courses and focus on international-level research. The Research Council of Norway releases annual rankings of academic conferences and journals. Each publication is scored in these rankings, and each department reports the points earned by its academic staff to the university every year. These results indirectly affect budget allocations within the university. Individual research funding can be obtained according to the points. I was surprised to learn that Norwegian universities organize research activities in such a systematic way. Each department has research groups and collaborates not only with internal researchers but also quite actively with external researchers.

Members of the EU project and staff of the Kristiansand city office.

In my case, my research activities were based on a large-scale research project funded by the European Commission, a multinational version of Japan’s Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI). The project was called Smart Mature Resilience, or SMR for short. It received a total of 4.6 million euros in funding over three years. The participants comprised four universities, seven local governments, and two nonprofit organizations from eight countries in the European Union. The competition was intense, as only 10 percent of proposals were accepted. I was fortunate to join the project.

The project was very ambitious, having as its main aim the creation of universal knowledge by people from different countries based on research activities. Collaboration with practitioners was strongly encouraged. Even within Europe, there are diverse historical and cultural backgrounds, and different customs mean different languages. I found that it was not easy to have a common awareness. While meetings were regularly held by web conference, there were opportunities for project members to gather once every few months in consortium member countries: Spain, Norway, Britain, Sween, Germany, Latvia, Italy, and Denmark. The budget for travel expenses was huge, which I understand is one of the project’s uniqueness, enhancing collaboration between people of different backgrounds. From an efficiency point of view, it may be better to focus only on domestic projects, as this would make it easier to create a common understanding of the subject. But international projects have special benefits not found in domestic projects, and all things were priceless experiences for me.

There is another collaboration network called the European Research Center for Information Systems (ERCIS). Twenty-two countries from all continents, including Australia and the United States, participate in the inter-university network on information systems research. Only one university can participate from each country, and UiA represents Norway. A workshop is held once a year, and this network provides a platform to generate proposals for research funding including EU projects.

Resilience Research in Europe

After moving to Norway, I continued writing papers with Rick. Our aim is to elaborate the notion of resilience under the context of disaster and information systems. We used the concept of capital, which Rick has been studying for many years, as an analysis lens in revealing how information systems and their surroundings (including people) recovered after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. For my dissertation, I proposed a framework for “Frugal Information Systems” as a means of achieving a resilient society. In the capital paper, we submitted practical insights on how to make information systems more frugal and resilient. We used different types of capital in this context: economic, human, social, organizational, and symbolic. Our initial idea was presented in the International Hawaii Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) in 2016 and awarded as the best paper under the digital government research track. The paper reports three cases from the field survey on the earthquake and shows how each capital interacted with the others and formed a recovery process after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. We are currently elaborating this paper and trying to submit it to the top-tier journal in the information systems research domain.

While working on the earthquake, I had been involved in a large-scale EU research project called SMR, as discussed above. The overall purpose was to develop, test, and demonstrate a pilot version of the European Resilience[1] Management Guideline. The guideline comprises five tools to promote city resilience: the Resilience Maturity Model, Risk Systemicity Questionnaire, Resilience Building Policies, City Resilience Dynamics Model, and Resilience Information Portal. Each tool can guide cities to achieve high-level resilience maturity in different ways. I was mainly involved in the development of the Resilience Information Portal. The portal aims to create a collaborative environment among key partners (first responders and citizens) in resilience building activities. We developed the prototype of the portal and a standardization document that can be used by non-project members in creating such a portal. After a three-year project period, three series of standardization documents were developed. Five tools are available online.

 

Looking Back on My Output in the Past Three Years

During my three years in Norway, I produced two journal publications and eleven conference papers. It was indeed a very productive period. I may have worked too much. I also had the opportunity to co-teach three courses and offer several guest lectures to Norwegian students, which gave me great teaching experiences. I met wonderful people from all over the world through international conferences, the SMR project, and a researchers’ network centered around UiA. I am grateful for the environment and know this is not something that is available to everyone who wants it.

I hope that my story about this journey that began in the United States can give insights to those who aspire to develop an international career. I felt strong anxiety in my first year in Norway, but a colleague of mine encouraged me by saying, “Take it easy, have fun!” I always remember this comment when I feel any fear.

As a concluding remark, I would like to thank the Sylff Association for supporting me in my journey toward a wonderful academic career.

University of Agder

 

 

[1] The ability of a system, community, or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to, and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions. (2009 UNISDR Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction)

 

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Rural Restructuring in the Visegrad Group after the Political and Economic Transition

March 30, 2018
By 24143

Specializing in rural geography and socioeconomic modeling, József Lennert, a 2017 Sylff fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, shares highlights of his doctoral dissertation concerning the process and trends of counterurbanization after the fall of socialism in the Visegrad countries: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Lennert made a comparison with the experiences of Western countries as well as among those of the four Visegrad countries, which pose both similar and distinctive aspects.

***

Introduction

Thanks to the long-lasting influence of the romanticized Anglo-Saxon narrative of rural idyll, rural areas are still often perceived as stagnant, untouched by modernity, and resistant to any change. However, this is far from the truth: change never avoided rural areas, its rate simply varied during the course of history. From the 1970s a fast-paced rural transformation process started in the first world, bringing about fundamental changes in many aspects of rurality. These intertwining change processes are often summarized with the umbrella term “rural restructuring.”

Some of these changes included shifts in migration processes. Before rural restructuring, rural areas had been suffering for a long time from rural out-migration (with the exception of some settlements in the vicinity of an urban center, which were affected by suburbanization). Around the 1970s, a new migration trend called counterurbanization appeared in many first-world countries. Counterurbanization meant the (partial) reverse of previous trends, and migration surpluses appeared even in some previously depopulating remote rural areas. One of the driving forces of these new migratory movements was the increasing appreciation of natural and cultural amenities of rural areas—amenity migration. Rural restructuring also had an impact on land use. Instead of a landscape dominated by monocultural, productivist agriculture, a more diverse, multifunctional countryside is now preferred. These changes also opened up new future prospects and development possibilities for many previously neglected rural areas.

While the first world underwent rural restructuring, political and economic transition brought different changes and challenges to rural areas of the former socialist bloc. Realizing this, I set the main goals of my research as follows:

  • to analyze the transformation of rural areas of the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition;
  • to distinguish those processes similar to Western rural restructuring from those processes derived from the political and economic transition;
  • to identify the similarities and differences between the four countries and explore the role of historical backgrounds;
  • to map the spatial structure of rural areas in the light of the aforementioned processes; and
  • to determine whether the development policies in place are capable of addressing the ongoing transformation processes and territorial differences.

To achieve these aims, I conducted my research in the following manner:

  • I analyzed trends in migration processes and changes in land cover in the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition;
  • I created a typology of the rural areas of the Visegrad Group; and
  • through a case study, I examined how the allocation of European Union funds varied between different types of settlements.

In the following sections, I would like to share some of the most important findings of this research.

Material and Methods

Figure 1. Urban areas, commutable rural areas, and remote rural areas of the Visegrad Group. Own elaboration.

To examine the processes at the lowest possible level, I conducted my analysis in the spatial level of local administrative units (LAU 2). While my units of analysis are not completely analogous with the municipalities and settlements of the four countries, I will refer to them as such for the sake of a more straightforward discussion.

To achieve the goals stated above, I used a two-step delimitation method. I considered all units of analysis with less than 5,000 inhabitants, as well as those municipalities that have higher populations but do not possess city rights, to be rural (regardless of administrative status). Based on the Western experiences of rural restructuring, I made a further distinction between commutable rural and remote rural areas. I defined remote rural areas as rural areas that require 45 minutes or more of driving to reach the nearest city with at least 50,000 inhabitants; the remaining rural settlements are considered commutable rural (Figure 1).

According to this definition, even though most units of analysis can be considered rural, only 28.9%  of the population of the Visegrad Group lives in commutable rural areas and another 11.5% in remote rural areas. Among the Visegrad countries, Slovakia was characterized with the highest and Hungary with the lowest share of rural residents.

For the purposes of analyzing migration trends, I used data from the statistical offices of the four countries: Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (KSH) in Hungary, Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) in Poland, Český Statistický Úřad (ČSÚ) in the Czech Republic, and Štatistický úrad (ŠÚ) in Slovakia.

Figure 2. The typology of the selected rural settlements. Own elaboration.

The Corine Land Cover database was used to analyze land cover changes of the Visegrad Group. From the original 44 land cover categories, I created 8 aggregated categories: artificial surfaces, arable land, vineyards and fruit cultivations, grasslands, heterogeneous agricultural areas, forests, wetlands and other natural areas, and water bodies.

To analyze the allocation of funds from the European Union, I used Hungary as a case study. I randomly selected 50 commutable rural and 50 remote rural municipalities. Based on the results of the previous analysis, I classified them into groups with distinguishable migration and land use characteristics. I also took into account the state of the built environment, which is a good indicator of ongoing social changes (Figure 2). Finally, I analyzed EU-supported projects from the 2007–2013 programming period for the selected 100 municipalities.

Results

Figure 3. Rural migration trends in the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition. Own elaboration based on data from KSH, GUS, ČSÚ, and ŠÚ.

 

The results indicate that the transition brought about drastic changes in the rural migration trends of the Visegrad Group. While rural out-migration dominated in the decades of state socialism, after 1990 the rural areas can be characterized with an increasingly positive balance (Figure 3). However, this surplus was mostly limited to the commutable rural areas. These results indicate the widespread emergence of suburbanization: the concentration of the population in suburban settlements around the central city of an urban agglomeration (Figure 4). Whereas in Western Europe and North America this process had already begun to take wings in the early twentieth century, it was restrained to a great extent in the centrally planned economies until the transition. After the fall of socialism, however, the former constraints lifted, and a rapid urban sprawl took place. This partially controlled process also had an impact on land cover change.

Figure 4. Rural migration trends in the Visegrad Group at the municipality level. Own elaboration based on data from KSH, GUS, ČSÚ, and ŠÚ.

 

Counterurbanization had a central role in the rural turnaround of the first world, but the appearance of this process in the research region is limited to a few destinations. Rural depopulation still persists in a large part of the remote rural areas of the Visegrad Group. Also, some remote rural locations became migration destinations for the socioeconomically disadvantaged. This unfavorable process is driven by economic necessities: those who are excluded from the work market are sometimes left with only one solution—to sell their former residence for a less valuable location and use up the difference for day-to-day expenses. Ultimately, this movement reduces their chances of reintegration into the labor market and leads to their further deprivation.

Figure 5. Land cover change trends in the Visegrad Group between 1990 and 2012. Own elaboration based on Corine Land Cover data.

 

The increase of artificial surfaces and forests and the decrease of arable land were already present during the decades of state socialism, and the results of the analysis show that the political and economic transition did not alter these long-term trends in land cover change (Figure 5). After the political and economic transition, however, the loosely controlled urban sprawl led to more chaotic expansion of artificial surfaces than in previous decades.

While some general trends are common for each country, we can still observe significant differences in the rate of change and in the spatial patterns. For example, despite the general shrinkage in the acreage of arable land, we can still identify areas of increase in the eastern regions of Poland (Figure 6). In these areas small-scale family farming persisted during the socialist era. The relatively low unemployment of these regions indicates that many former industrial workers returned to subsistence farming. This safety net function explains why market-controlled land abandonment did not reach the region.

Figure 6. Changes in the area of arable land between 1990 and 2012. Own elaboration based on Corine Land Cover data.

 

The significant transformation from arable land to grassland in the Czech peripheries stands in stark contrast to the trends in Eastern Poland. Behind this, we can once again find region-specific reasons. This area was inhabited by Sudeten Germans since the Middle Ages, but after World War II the Czechoslovak government expelled the vast majority of them. This event was shortly followed by the reorganization of agricultural land into state farms and cooperatives, thus preventing the new residents from forming emotional ties with their land before the socialist transformation of agriculture. After the restitution, this lack of attachment led to land abandonment in the changing market environment, where farming was no longer profitable.

These two examples reveal that in regions with divergent socioeconomic and historical backgrounds, even similar challenges can induce radically different changes, leading to further differences in the socioeconomic circumstances of the localities.

The results discussed above pose the question of whether the allocation of EU funds takes into account the differences between rural communities. In order to close the development gap, disadvantaged settlements should be favored, and the implemented projects should reflect the unique needs of these settlements. Fund allocation in the 100 municipalities selected for the case study shows us a mixed picture. Generally, the per capita fund allocation favors the disadvantaged (e.g., remote rural) municipalities. However, the combination of several socioeconomic challenges (e.g., small population coupled with rural out-migration) can lead to insufficient human capital and completely prevent the absorption of the EU funds.

Moreover, disadvantaged settlements that receive a sufficient amount of resources may nonetheless not use them in the most efficient way. In socially and economically balanced settlements, a significant percentage of the resources are spent on increasing the competitiveness of local business. But this is not true for the disadvantaged settlements; there the emphasis is shifted to investments in settlement infrastructure and local services. While these are important aims, without a more dynamic local economy, there is little to stop the decline and decay of these settlements.

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Internet Policymaking and the Case of Brazil’s Marco Civil

March 7, 2016
By 19622

Guy Hoskins, a Sylff fellow at York University, traveled to Brazil to study the implications of a new civil law on Internet freedoms with huge implications for privacy, freedom of expression, and network neutrality for Internet users around the world.

* * *

When the revelations made by former US government contractor Edward Snowden emerged regarding his country’s practice of dragnet surveillance of global digital communications, the repercussions were manifold. Some of the consequences, such as diplomatic tensions and a heightened public awareness of data privacy issues, could have been foreseen. Others, however, were much less predictable. One such outlier was the passing into law in Brazil of a bill called the Marco Civil da Internet (the Civil Framework for the Internet) enshrining a substantive set of civil rights for the country’s more than 100 million Internet users, built upon the three pillars of privacy, freedom of expression, and network neutrality. Having been subject to abandoned votes on 29 separate occasions in the country’s lower chamber, the success of this partially crowdsourced, multi-stakeholder policy document was far from assured. The public and executive outrage generated by news of the National Security Agency’s practice of intercepting sensitive Brazilian communications proved to be the tipping point. President Dilma Rousseff signed the bill into law on April 24, 2014.1

Within a global media environment marked by almost daily stories of government infiltration of digital communications, threats against the neutrality of the Internet by telecommunications companies seeking to impose a tiered system, and state and corporate suffocation of freedom of expression online, it is little wonder that a bill of online civil rights in one of the most populous countries on earth should attract the interest of the world. That story, at least for English-speaking audiences, has yet to be fully told. It is the purpose of my doctoral dissertation to address that shortfall. By undertaking a detailed analysis of the development of this world-first bill of rights for Internet users, my hope is that a viable framework can be developed for other countries to follow and to safeguard an Internet legislated according to civic logic. It is not enough to hold aloft the bill itself and point only to the provisions contained therein. In isolation they cannot provide a cogent and replicable model for the rest of the world if the means of their resolution are not properly chronicled and understood.

With an undergraduate degree in Latin American studies, fluency in Portuguese, and experience living and working in the region, I had always attempted to integrate developments in Latin America into my graduate research in communication studies. So when I first read reports about the Marco Civil at the outset of my doctoral studies, it was immediately clear that this would make an excellent object of study. I first traveled to Brazil in March 2014 on a preliminary fact-finding mission while the Marco Civil was still in development. I had the immense good fortune not only to establish a network of contacts among civil society organizations that were promoting the bill but also to be granted access to the Brazilian Congress on the evening of March 25, 2014, to bear witness to the historic successful vote.

Buoyed by these experiences, and with financial assistance from SRA, I planned a period of formal field research in Brazil to coincide with the one-year anniversary of that first vote in March 2015. My primary objective was to interview some of the main protagonists who had participated in the open contribution phase of the bill’s development initiated by the Ministry of Justice. These people represented some of the major stakeholders in the Brazilian Internet, including telecommunications corporations, government bureaucrats, members of Congress, civil society leaders, traditional media companies, and web service companies. In gathering firsthand testimony from these individuals, I sought to discover how different groups of social actors were guided by particular logics with regard to the future direction of the Internet—profit, state security, surveillance, civic engagement, innovation, etc.—and how these were tied to the social values of privacy, freedom of expression, and economic freedom that ultimately form the technical and legal operating environment of a national Internet.

Network neutrality has received much media and public attention in recent months as the subject of major regulatory decisions in the United States, India, and the European Union, as well as of course in Brazil. It was fascinating to observe how what might appear at first glance to be a rather arcane technical premise—that all the data that flows on the Internet must be treated equally without any attempt by network administrators to allow data from certain sources to travel faster than any other—was articulated and interpreted by the different stakeholders in the Marco Civil case.

Traditional media companies, dominated in Brazil by the ubiquitous Globo Group, saw net neutrality as a means to ensure mass access to their commercial content. Web companies interpreted it as a safeguard for innovative new online services. Telecommunications companies opposed it on the grounds that it would stifle the potential for new business models. Civil society organizations generally viewed the legislation as essential to both consumers’ rights to digital services and citizens’ rights to freedom of knowledge. Identifying and charting these diverse interpretations of one element of the technical architecture of the Internet can allow us to better understand why these details are so fiercely contested and to appreciate the deeply social process that underpins these apparently neutral technological considerations.

Another essential facet of the Marco Civil process that I was able to appreciate much better after speaking with my interviewees was the way in which the object of the policymaking process—the Internet itself—had influenced how the various groups were able to “operationalize” their agendas or logics. The Brazilian government’s use of an online consultation forum opened the bill to large-scale public scrutiny and input. This made the legislative project much more democratically legitimate—a fact that helped considerably to overcome partisan opposition in Congress. Civil society groups took advantage of the same mechanism to raise public awareness of the substantive issues under discussion while the telecommunications companies, with no little irony, were the group most disadvantaged by the transparency and ready coalition-building facilitated by the Internet and continued to pursue their traditional tactics of backroom lobbying rather than exposing rational arguments to the oxygen of (online) publicity.

I am now in the early phases of data analysis as I translate, transcribe, and codify the hours of interview footage I gathered during my fieldwork in Brazil. As I work, I seek the insights that will allow me to portray as accurately as possible how, in spite of a concentration of forces applying logics of profit and control online, “another Internet is possible” (Franklin, 20132)—one premised on safeguarding freedom of expression, data privacy, and network neutrality.


1http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25467-brazils-internet-gets-groundbreaking-bill-of-rights.html
2Franklin, M.I. (2013) Digital Dilemmas: Power, Resistance and the Internet, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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A Disaster-Resilient, “Frugal” Information System

September 26, 2014
By 19642

In March 2011, the Tohoku region of Japan suffered the worst earthquake and tsunami disaster to ever hit the country. Hampering rescue and relief activities in the immediate aftermath of the quake was the serious damage to the communications infrastructure. How can an information system be built that is more resilient to major disasters? Mihoko Sakurai, a Sylff fellow at Keio University, believes that the key to such a system is “frugality.”

* * *

The Arch, the university’s academic symbol.

The Arch, the university’s academic symbol.

My current research on disaster-resilient information systems (IS) was prompted by the March 11, 2011, earthquake in northern Japan—the largest quake the country ever experienced. The Great East Japan Earthquake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, making it one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history. The tsunami caused by the quake reached 40 meters in height and hit Tohoku’s eastern coastline, severely damaging a very wide area and triggering great confusion. Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency reports that 18,958 people died, 6,219 were injured, and 2,655 are missing as of March 2014; 127,291 houses were totally lost, and more than 1,000,000 were partially destroyed.

Field Survey in Japan

The earthquake and tsunami exposed the vulnerability of Japan’s information communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, as the loss of communication greatly hampered rescue and relief efforts and more than likely increased the death toll.

From November 2011 to February 2012, eight months after the earthquake, I and other members of our research team conducted structured interviews with 13 municipal governments in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake. The objective of the survey was to ascertain how ICT systems inside municipal offices were affected by the earthquake. We visited Miyako, Otsuchi, Kamaishi, Rikuzentakata, Kesennuma, Minamisanriku, Ishinomaki, Higashimatsushima, Sendai, Minamisoma, and Iwaki, as well as evacuation centers in Namie and Futaba.

These municipalities are located in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Under the administrative structure of the Japanese government, municipalities occupy the third rung. At the top of the ladder is the national government; this is followed by the 47 prefectural governments and 1,742 municipal governments (as of May 1, 2013) at the local level. The size of municipal governments varies enormously; while big cities like Osaka and Yokohama have a few million residents, some small villages have a population of less than 1,000.

There are several types of municipalities in Japan, namely, shi (cities with a population of over 50,000), cho or machi (towns variously defined by each prefecture), son or mura (villages), and tokubetu-ku (the 23 special wards of Tokyo). The populations of the municipalities we visited varied from 2,000 to 70,000. Almost all of them were small cities. Legally speaking, the role of municipal governments is to provide public services to citizens and, perhaps most importantly, to maintain a registry of all residents—the data that serves as the foundation of government. Prefectures are defined more loosely as wide-area governments.

Our survey included questions on preparedness, the level of damage, and the recovery process of ICT equipment, including power supply, network connectivity, information systems, and related facilities.

Need for Disaster-Resilient Systems

Analyses of these cases led us to conclude that building a robust system that never fails is impossible and to recognize that creative field responses are of crucial importance. The immediate problem after the March 2011 earthquake was the failure of the supporting infrastructure needed to run the information systems. The physical destruction of servers also meant that residential records were lost in some areas. The survey also revealed that a uniform plan across all municipalities would not have been appropriate, since the situation in various towns and cities—and the necessary responses—were continually changing. Government buildings were generally sturdy, and most survived the tsunami. But this did not mean that the ICT system survived intact. Some municipal offices did not recover their information systems for four months.

This should prompt a rethinking of ICT system design to ensure that communication can be maintained, especially in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster. Resilient systems are needed that can maintain or recover their core functions flexibly and quickly. Flexibility is required to enable creative responses in a disaster situation using minimal resources. Such systems are particularly important for municipal governments, which need to embark on rescue and life-saving activities immediately after a disaster.

This is a totally different approach from that required during normal times. The national government has tried to create robust and special systems for disaster situations, but they have not always had the required resilience in the face of actual severe situations. Once they are destroyed, moreover, they cannot be restored quickly.

“Frugality” as an Essential Concept

The “frugal information system” concept can be useful in building such a resilient system. This is an information system that is “developed and deployed with minimal resources to meet the preeminent goal of the client.” Such a system would be important under disaster situations, when people have limited access to resources. A frugal system is characterized by the four U’s: “universality,” the drive to overcome the friction of information systems’ incompatibilities; “ubiquity,” the drive to access information unconstrained by time and space; “uniqueness,” the drive to know precisely the characteristics and location of a person or entity; and “unison,” the drive for information consistency.

Mobile devices can serve as a standard platform to meet these “4U” requirements.

They were indeed the most widely used means of communication by individuals in the wake of the 3.11 disaster. The mobile infrastructure was restored with greater ease than other systems (ubiquitous network). They have open interfaces (universality). The phone number or SIM ID can be used for the identification of individuals (uniqueness). And as soon as the networks are restored, data can be backed up on cloud data storage (unison). There is the additional benefit that power can be easily supplied to the handsets.

Smartphones can be particularly useful devices in a disaster situation. People are gaining familiarity with these phones through daily use, which is very important under panic situations. Following a disaster, people are unlikely to use tools with which they are unfamiliar.

Future Research

I am currently working on a project to build a prototype smartphone application that employs the principles of resilient design. A test will be conducted in October 2014 at Tome, Miyagi, which was one of the cities heavily affected by the disaster. The initial test will involve the use of smartphones as part of an evacuation center’s operations during the first week. Three key functions will be tested, namely, (1) the identification and registration of people at the center using their phone numbers or SIM IDs, (2) recording people’s arrival and departure, and (3) creating an evacuee database. Using the smartphone’s number, the application can enable the transmission of information on such required items as medicine and milk for infants.

Smartphone applications designed to support disaster victims already exist. But none are suitable for municipal disaster relief operations. If municipal officials use the same applications as residents, the sharing of information can be greatly facilitated, enabling a smoother delivery of relief supplies. What we need to do is to make sure such applications are operational and widely used before they are needed and are quickly made available after a disaster.

The Great East Japan Earthquake posed what might have been the biggest possible challenge to an information society, making us acutely aware that our daily life—as well as government operations to help people in need—rely heavily on the ICT infrastructure. The performance of nearly all activities in advanced economies has become dependent on ICT, and disasters illustrate the fragility of this dependence. The earthquake shook our confidence in technology, and a study of its effects indicates the importance of designing systems with a recovery model in mind.

The University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

The University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

Massive disasters are likely to become more common around the world in the years to come 1, as suggested by the fact that there were three times as many natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 as between 1980 and 19892. I believe that a correct understanding of resilience and the development of information systems designed to withstand severe conditions can make the world a safer plain which to live. This research is certainly not over.

In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to the Tokyo Foundation for supporting my research abroad. Thanks to an SRA award, I was able to conduct research at the University of Georgia, where my ideas were greatly enhanced under the supervision Dr. Richard Watson—regents professor and J. Rex Fuqua distinguished chair for Internet strategy in the Department of Management Information Systems at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business—who advocates the notion of a frugal information system.


1http://www.emdat.be/natural-disasters-trends, last accessed June 8 2014.
2http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-blogs/climatechange/steady-increase-in-climate-rel/19974069, last accessed June 8 2014.