Post 224.

Sixty-two people own as much wealth as three billion people in our world today.

This is a figure so difficult to comprehend, it’s like the fact that 1 300 000 earths can fit in the sun or that 1000 of our suns can fit in the star Betelgeuse. The vastness is as difficult to wrap your head around as statistics indicating that poor nutrition causes approximately 3 million child deaths each year. Or, that between 250,000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within a year of losing their sight.

Unlike the universe’s big numbers, our own world’s big numbers have direct impact on us, and we should be paying them the most attention.

We are currently experiencing two intersecting crises: an economic crisis and an ecological crisis. Their nexus suggests that even if we are to eventually get out of this bust moment and back into the boom part of the cycle, our growth model will only inevitably bring declining returns, precisely because of its unsustainability. We know this already from irreversible impacts of this model on our ozone, climate and environment.

We can wait for the petrodollars to rise again, and to resort to decades-old, energy-czar logic of downstream industries, and import dependence, but we will nonetheless be burdening our children with ecological costs which we do not currently measure or properly value. And, we will likely to be worse off in relation to drinkable public water, agriculture and affordable food, marine ecologies and waste management the next time around.

Look at Venezuela where the public service has shut down, and where they have had the country shift its clocks forward in a surreal move to create more daytime hours because of, among other reasons, the havoc wrecked by drought on their hydroelectric power. Venezuela’s economy, its government, malls and schools are waiting on rain.

Part of our problem is our measurements and our model. And, if there was ever a time for us to set a new course, these two current crises suggest it is now. First, we have to establish a different, less obsolete conception of what ‘development’ means, and go on to use and develop different measures that instead focus on well-being, equality and happiness across areas ranging from jobs to health, housing, civic engagement and the environment.

If you think this is idealistic or irrelevant, put yourself in the position of the thousands of workers that will lose their jobs this year and ask yourself whether marking our economic recovery by investment, debt and GDP alone will account for the unfair distribution of that recovery and its rewards when they finally trickle down across the country. Indeed, post-GDP economic analyses, which are premised on the idea of a more human economy, are part of a global conversation long happening, with which we in Trinidad and Tobago should be more engaged. But, which state economist or planner is having that conversation here?

Like any citizen looking at the state’s corruption and wastage of money as documented in the latest Auditor General’s report or any mother who finds it hard to be able to take her child anywhere that is garbage-free, ecologically protected and safe from crime, or any worker with a job watching others around me lose theirs, it’s not hard to observe a toxic global economy that is exacerbating suffering, inequalities and biodiversity destruction. And, such suffering counts, if we count it.

Our problem is not just the price of oil. It’s not this one ‘guava season’ in which the poorest are going to bear the biggest burden while we avoid the dignity of even looking them in the eye.

It’s that waste, corruption, tax avoidance, ineffective regulation, and exploitative human and natural resource use are secure in the model on which we rely. It’s that people will rob and riot to express their bewilderment, anger and desperation when informal, low waged, nonunionised, insecure, irregular and illegal work is no longer enough to survive.

The challenge seems astronomical, but sixty-two as wealthy as three billion is not right. These current crises make an alternative world a necessity for which we must fight, or pay with our lives.

See Oxfam

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-03/are-62-people-as-wealthy-as-bottom-50-per-cent-oxfam/7114666

 

Post 206.

Is the sudden loss of the word ‘gender’, in any Ministry title under the Rowley government, a sign of gender equality’s oncoming policy demise?

This new invisibility, which reverses decades of state practice and Caribbean advocacy, isn’t a matter of letterhead. It shows lack of familiarity with Caribbean history, misunderstanding of why ‘gender’ was made independently visible, and a step out of time with the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2015 to 2030, to be adopted at the General Assembly meeting in New York in just two weeks.

Some have argued that, under the last administration, ‘gender’ was in a Ministry title, but “nothing” effective was tried or achieved, so why keep it in? But, “nothing” achieved, or more to achieve, is more, not less, reason for gender equality’s visibility while following through on the budgetary allocations, and cross-ministerial policies and programmes that its inclusion signals.

Others have argued that disappearance of a Ministry, with visible leadership for integrating women’s empowerment and gender equality across all planning, is a message that the government is serving all. But this “serving all” defense assumes that women and gender represent special interests. Not true.

Everyone’s entire lives, including how we access power, are shaped by ideals of masculinity and femininity, across everything from the economy to schooling. And women are not a special interest group, for what happens to women similarly affects everything from the economy to schooling. To fix the problem of boy’s educational underachievement, end women’s subordination and the low status of femininity. Same for sex inequality in the labour market which affects the health and wealth also of men and families.

Except where efforts are well integrated, a single Ministry still needs to push technical recommendations and expertise across other parts of government, which might be adopting agendas based on inaccurate analyses, personal biases or unfamiliarity with global conventions.

There are also major problems with subordinating gender equality to ‘social development’ or ‘family services’; a move that regresses to pre-1975. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are their own goals, whether or not they advance a state’s ‘development’ or ‘family’ agenda. What if the development plan includes an ‘Export Processing Zone’ where goods are made, but unions are forbidden, and what if the majority of workers are women? Here their right to organize as women workers, for everything from day care to decent conditions, will be at odds with a development plan.

Gender equality may also be at odds with ‘family services’, particularly where women’s resistance to all forms of male domination in religion or violence in the family, or the right of LGBT citizens to equally choose who they love, or the justice of providing safe and legal access to pregnancy termination as a public health policy, is cast as a threat to the ideal of ‘family’. Women’s rights are human rights to be pursued regardless. They are not reducible to service provision, nor justified by women being “half our resources”, nor legitimate only for heterosexuals, wives or mothers.

Caribbean feminists fought since at least the 1970s to get gender visible at a ministerial level. Jamaica led the world with a Women’s Desk in 1973 and decade after decade of regional struggle and advocacy won a Bureau, then a Division and finally a Ministry. There was data and logic backing this, for Caribbean states are historically patriarchal and the Ministry of Gender was to be the radically transformative site for internal reform that had inched past the glass ceiling right to the top, to struggle there for change.

How will a Ministry of Social Development and Family Services fill the mandate of a Ministry of Gender Affairs to challenge patriarchal beliefs, values and organization of power, as they create sexism and homophobia, in and out of the state? Can we expect the ministry to stop ungendered priorities flinging wrong resources in wrong directions, costing the treasury? Will the Minister lobby within Cabinet for gender equality, as if that is a headline mission of her Ministry, not simply a division under the manners of social welfare and family?

What’s in a name? At minimum, a public commitment to women’s rights and gender equality. What has been lost? Disappointingly, Cabinet-level representation, leadership and accountability.