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Business and Finance Development Economy Conflict

Business, Conflict – and Peace?

Participants at the workshop. Photo: Jennifer Giroux

On November 14, 2011 a workshop on the role of business in conflict zones took place at the Europainstitut in Basel. Jointly organized by the ETH’s Center for Security Studies (CSS), swisspeace and Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF/HSFK), various invited speakers examined the business-peacebuilding nexus from differing angles: Some discussed service industries, others legal concerns, conflict resolution, or human rights. The conference showcased the diversity of research being undertaken in the field of ‘business in conflict zones’ – and also highlighted that this is a relatively new, exciting and understudied subject with practical relevance to development and growth.

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Development Economy

Political Economy and Development

Cars with megaphones to educate the public: the best fit for Timor-Leste, photo Valerie Sticher/ISN

Next Tuesday, October 25th, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is hosting a free evening event examining the interplay of politics and development aid from a political economy perspective. Called “Putting Politics into Practice? Political Economy Analysis and the Practice of Development”, the event is being held at ODI’s London headquarters. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

What is political economy analysis? According to the DfID, it is the bridging of the traditional concerns of politics and economics, focusing “on how power and resources are distributed and contested in different contexts, and the implications for development outcomes. It gets beneath the formal structures to reveal the underlying interests, incentives and institutions that enable or frustrate change.”

“Putting Politics into Practice?” builds upon a previous dialogue convened by ODI in 2010 on how development actors might go about incorporating political insights into their work. While there has been growing recognition that aid effectiveness is intertwined with political context and culture, translating these insights into real changes in development practice has not been easy. This would mean, for example, that instead of working to rigid guidelines of ‘best practice’, development programs and projects should instead be based on models of ‘best fit’.

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Environment Development

Beauty and Dehydration

Beautiful - yes. Drinkable - no. Photo courtesy mrlins/flickr

While it is by no means on the same scale as the crisis affecting the Horn of Africa, drought is also leading to disaster on the tiny South Pacific atolls of Tokelau. Home to around 1,500 people, the New Zealand-administered territory is entirely reliant on rainwater; with less than a week’s supply of potable water left on the atolls, 136,000 more liters are being shipped in via the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the US Coastguard.

At the end of September, neighboring Tuvalu went as far as declaring a state of emergency due to drought. Imposing a strict system of rationing, families are receiving two to four buckets of water a day on the main island of Funafuti, according to Olioliga Iosua, Permanent Secretary in Tuvalu’s Ministry of Public Utilities. Desalination units are being airlifted in from Australia and New Zealand, but disease is already spreading among the population.

Is this a message that the end is near for the residents of Tuvalu and Tokelau – that they will soon have to depart for other Pacific islands? Perhaps. Could it be taken as a sign that these atolls were not suitable for inhabitation in the first place? Maybe.

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Culture

Passport-Shaped Boxes

Male/Female Sign
Gender: depends which way you look at it, photo courtesy Brian Suda/flickr

Humans like to categorize and classify things – it helps make life easier. Well, at least some people’s lives. For others, trying to squeeze themselves into these boxes is nearly impossible.

So the news that Australia has decided to allow people to select “X” as a gender on their passports – as opposed to M(ale) or F(emale) – comes as welcome relief to the transgender and intersex communities. Back in 2009, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission undertook a study into the issues surrounding the legal recognition of sex and gender in official documents.  The participants’ comments were enlightening.

It surprised me to find that Australia is not the first state to (officially) acknowledge gender possibilities beyond the simple male/female dichotomy. Other groups have already successfully petitioned for an alternative choice: in India, the hijra can use “E” for ‘eunuch’, and in Bangladesh they can choose “Other”.

However, being able to choose this third option in Australia is currently restricted to those able to support their claim with a doctor’s statement. Why should this be the case? The Yogyakarta Principles state that it should be an individual’s self-defined identity which matters. Indeed, it got me wondering why on earth gender needs to be listed in a passport at all.

In the Australian Human Rights Report mentioned above, the main concern was apparently “national security”. Australian senator Louise Pratt stated that this reform “was a major improvement for travelers facing questioning and detention at airports because their appearance does not match their gender status.” But why does that matter? Surely it is more critical that their face matches the photo. So once more, why does gender need to be listed in a passport?

But, since we’re playing the categorization game, which box would you put internationally renowned model Andrej Pejic in — so as to no longer pose a threat to national security?

Update (20 Sep): It seems that the UK government is now asking itself the same question on whether gender needs to be listed in a passport, in a move spearheaded by the Liberal Democrat party. The Home Office’s Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said in a statement: “IPS is considering the gender options available to customers in the British passport. We are exploring with international partners and relevant stakeholders the security implications of gender not being displayed in the passport.”

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Social Media

Think Tanks: Useful or Useless?

The Thinker Statue
Thinking: Worth the Effort? Photo: marttj/flickr

Next Tuesday, September 20th, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is hosting a one-day conference under the provocative title, “Can Think Tanks Make a Difference?”, as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations.

When institutions celebrate such occasions, the tone can sometimes become overpoweringly self-congratulatory; CIGI – a think tank – instead decided to put itself in the ‘line of fire’. Active in the innovative thinking business, they are utilizing this opportunity to reflect on how think tanks operate, and how they achieve influence.