Our Perspective

arab states

A rural community calls for an end to FGM

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Communities in Qena are joining forces with international organizations and civil society to end FGM in Egypt. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP Egypt

I recently visited the village of Beir Anbar in the district of Koft, Qena governorate, and listened to the powerful statement this community is conveying to the rest of the country to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The whole village, from young schoolchildren to village elders came together to denounce FGM as "violent", "wrong" and "harmful". Even today, many girls and young women are subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91 percent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation. The people of Beir Anbar made it clear that Egyptian girls and women deserve a new tradition – a tradition of protecting and safeguarding their rights. The joint efforts of families, community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out this traditional harmful practice. Let us be clear: there is no justification – moral, religious, cultural, medical or otherwise for this practice. ‘Cutting’ demeans, dehumanizes and injures. It is a human rights violation that must be actively opposed until it is ended. As we gathered inside the community centre, a group of... Read more

The lessons from the ground on Gender-based Violence

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Girls from Qena where the whole community has joined forces to end FGM. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP

To commemorate this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, our innovation lab in Egypt will work with young people to develop an IT application that helps victims report cases of gender-based violence (GBV). The space offered to these young champions of the GBV cause is just one of many examples of how social innovation is providing solutions to tackle and prevent violence.   Across the world, similar bottom-up initiatives pick new angles to address GBV. In Uganda, the organization Raising Voices has developed an ambitious project called SASA! It explains to social activists  what power means, both its positive and negative uses, and has successfully reduced community tolerance of GBV. In Azerbaijan, an  organization for gender equality explores different cultural values –what they call “national values”- that can help raise awareness about the need to reduce GBV. Many of these initiatives focus on making the voices of the people heard. Also in Uganda, the Manya Human Rights International Film Festival is providing film training for marginalized women so that they can tell their own stories through documentaries. As the UN-led consultations on the Post-2015 agenda have shown, people who participated in the discussions care and are willing... Read more

Bridging the language gap: A new lexicon for electoral terminology

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Radhya Bourawi is elated to have voted after a three-hour wait in the Libyan elections. Photo credit: Samia Mahgoub/UNDP Libya

What happens when there are no words in a language to refer to a new situation or process? People naturally make up new ones, either using their own language, borrowing from others, or a combination of both. This is what makes language so fascinating because it is alive and constantly changing. But talking about things that are both very technical and politically sensitive is a challenge. This is what happened in the Arabic speaking world when winds of democracy started to blow across the region, regimes fell and people aspired to hold real elections as the key to a new future.   When people in the countries of the Arab Spring - Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – began work on organizing their first democratic elections, they used their own local understanding and expressions to refer to what are often complex processes and concepts. Just like others in the region who had had earlier electoral experiences, for example in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, people delved into the rich vocabulary of the Arabic language. As an Arabic speaking international electoral assistance consultant for UNDP, I worked in a number of Middle Eastern countries. In Tunisia in 2011, I saw the potential for misunderstanding... Read more

Development of, by, and for the people

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The UN joint programme on Youth Empowerment in Montenegro is trying to apply user-led design so that young people come up with solutions to problems they are facing. Photo: Christian Schwier/UN in Montenegro

Recently, I got a pretty awesome offer: Visit our country offices in Montenegro and Kosovo and see how they’d been doing development differently. Four weeks later I was in Pristina, then in Podgorica, and here is what I took away from my colleagues: 1. Keep momentum even in the face of disappointments and failures. New ideas require adjustments and refining. You probably heard how failure is just another stepping stone to success and how Walt Disney, Sidney Poitier, Albert Einstein all failed miserably at the start of their careers. Yet at the first sign of failure, most of us run and erase all tracks. Never be afraid to fail. 2. Don’t innovate for the sake of innovation. We have an edge over private sector companies that need to invest large sums in innovation: We have access. Access to a pool of technical expertise, good relationships with the governments hosting us, and the ability to convene people from all over the world, by virtue of our neutrality and impartiality. Innovation should only serve to complement this edge. 3. Dare to push the limits and do things differently: Innovation is not just about creating a Facebook page for our projects. In a recent campaign for social inclusion in Montenegro, the... Read more

Female genital mutilation: When a harmful traditional practice becomes a crime

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An artistic representation of FGM in Egypt. Photo: UNDP Egypt

Recently I visited Fayoum and Aswan, Egypt, and met with women, men and girls who are actively advocating against female genital mutilation (FGM). A father told me that when he understood that FGM had no religious basis, and was an inherited traditional habit, he actively started advocating against it. A female community activist I spoke to explained that until recently she had to meet families in secret to share her message against FGM, whereas now she is invited to speak openly. As evidenced by these testimonies, once people change their perceptions on FGM, they become staunch advocates against this harmful practice. The National Anti-FGM Day, on June 14th, was established in honor of 12-year-old Bodour Shaker, who died on the same date in 2007. In June 2013, 13-year-old Soheir El Batea suffered the same fate. As heartbreaking as these two tragedies are, their untimely deaths were not in vain. As a result of public mobilization, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalized in 2008 and the first case is currently under prosecution. Data from the Demographic and Health Survey suggests that some improvements occurred over the last two decades. In 2008, among women aged 15-17, the FGM/Cutting prevalence rate... Read more

Development at the crossroads: reflections from the Arab Region

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Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp in the village of Zaatari, Jordan. photo: UNDP

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the Arab region and two aspects in particular are important for the region’s relationship with issues of development finance.  First, the expanding role of the region itself as a provider of official development assistance (ODA), with the Arab Gulf countries providing more than $3 billion to countries around the world each year - Saudi Arabia alone provided over $100 billion to almost 90 countries since the 1970s. While the volume of Arab ODA has attracted attention, important issues for the future will be a growing focus by Arab partners on development effectiveness, alignment with post-2015 priorities like sustainable access to energy and water, and applying social and environmental quality standards to manage risks in recipient countries.  Furthermore, while most Arab ODA has operated through bilateral cooperation channels and Arab multilateral platforms in the past, there are benefits to connectivity with other Southern donors. The centre of gravity in the global economy is shifting East at speed, and this means shifting lines of development cooperation as well.  Strategic alliances between Asian and Arab donors could be a powerful force for the common goal of supporting new development solutions in Africa, with both Arab and Asian... Read more

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