Our Perspective

democratic governance

What contributes to a successful election?

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Africa's most populous nation and biggest economy, Nigeria has surprised the world by conducting largely peaceful elections. Photo: UNDP Nigeria

On 28 March 2015, Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and biggest economy, surprised the world by organising largely ‘peaceful’ presidential and national assembly elections. At a time the National Human Rights Commission was reporting dozens of deaths from pre-election violence in more half the states in the country, and with analysts predicting more of the same, the country managed to conduct a credible poll, setting an example worth sharing. Without the commitment, goodwill and resources of power brokers across the country, Nigeria’s achievement would not have been possible, despite the overwhelming acceptance among Nigerians that it was time for change. Here are some take away lessons: Role of the National Peace Committee (NPC): National leaders on their own accord established a National Peace Committee that was instrumental in mediating differences between the political parties and building confidence. The Committee persuaded presidential candidates sign two peace pledges in the run-up to the elections— assuring that they would abhor violence and ethnic based campaigning, and promising that they would accept the results of the elections. Monitoring Mechanism: UNDP provided support to the National Peace Committee by providing monitoring assistance through civil society, promoting consensus, establishing mechanisms to track incidents of electoral performance and... Read more

How can cooperation between local authorities help to achieve universal access to water and sanitation?

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Internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bannu, Pakistan gain access to water through a UNDP-supported project. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Water is essential for local development, particularly for sectors such as health, agriculture, economic development, education and environment. However, 748 million people in the world lack access to an improved source of drinking water and 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation facilities. Water scarcity mostly affects less developed countries and rural areas, preventing their citizens from living a healthy and productive life while also resulting in huge annual economic losses. To provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, US$ 27 billion are needed annually. Official Development Assistance (ODA) covers approximately one third of the target but 17 billion are still missing. Local and regional authorities can contribute to filling the endemic resource gap that cripples water interventions. I believe local to local cooperation is an important part of the solution but to make it fully effective we need to improve its modus operandi. The benefits of an integrated approach Thousands of regional and local actors are willing to transfer financial resources and expertise to countries with scarce access to water. France and the Netherlands have passed a legislation that commands sub regional authorities to use 1% of their fiscal entries to water cooperation. Other countries such as Spain,... Read more

The need to boost youth participation and inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean

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The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but a closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented. Photo: UNDP/El Salvador

Democracy is widely supported in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). However, institutions and policymakers don’t always enjoy the same positive perception, according to recent Latinobarómetro surveys. Young people in the region have been playing a key role in recent peaceful demonstrations that demand more effective and transparent governments. And they do so not only by taking to the streets but also by playing a role in their own communities and — increasingly — on social networks. The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but has a great challenge ahead: curbing inequality in decision-making and public policy shaping. Institutionalized gaps must be closed if we want to achieve more equal societies: for women, men, lesbian, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersex, and people of African and indigenous descent. A closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented, especially women. Among members of parliament, only 2.7 percent of males and 1.3 percent of females are under 30 years old — despite the fact 1 in 4 Latin Americans is young. Today’s young people are also the best educated in the history of LAC, and we need to facilitate their participation in decision-making,... Read more

The political economy of illicit financial flows

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July. Tax evasion has often been the hallmark of the elites. In ancient Rome, the upper class viewed tax as ‘the mark of bondage.’  Two millennia later, Leona Helmsley, the wife of a real estate billionaire in New York, reportedly said: ‘Only little people pay taxes’. But the Roman Empire collapsed because the tax on land was largely passed on the poor, and later on the middle classes, while the elite carried less and less of the public financial burden. Today, both developed and developing countries alike face similar problems. Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) such as tax avoidance and evasion, embezzlement of national resources, trade misinvoicing, and smuggling of goods and capital across borders, are widespread phenomena and occur for a range of reasons, including theft, corruption, high political or economic instability in the originating country or higher returns on investment in the destination country. Although these problems can affect all countries, it can be particularly prevalent (and harmful) in natural resource-rich states with weak governance such as Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial... Read more

If it is not rights-based, it is not real human development

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In Mozambique, UNDP is putting an emphasis on human rights in its development work. Photo: UN/Mozambique

Today, as we witness widening inequalities within countries, intensifying competition around scarce natural resources, and the continued exclusion of marginalized groups, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) are more relevant than ever.  They are the cornerstones of our national systems for the promotion and protection of human rights, essential to sustaining development and successful implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In the past year alone, UNDP partnered with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to support the establishment of NHRIs in Botswana, Samoa and Sao Tome and Principe. We continue to provide capacity-building support to foster human rights protection, by establishing the mechanisms for handling of complaints in several member states or by supporting the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process in others. In Mozambique, for example, UNDP is assisting the National Human Rights Commission in monitoring places of detention. These practices emphasize what states should do to prevent and address negative impacts from infringements of human rights, and to ensure protection for people whose rights have been adversely affected. The importance of the role of National Human Rights Institutions is heightened by the recent rise in social tensions and violent extremism around the world.  Human rights... Read more

Maintaining HIV health services in the wake of disaster

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Commemorating World AIDS Day in Petionville, Haiti. Photo: UNDP/Haiti

In 2010, Haiti suffered an earthquake with devastating consequences.  225,000 people died and 1.5 million people were displaced. There was 10 million cubic meters of debris, 30 of the 49 hospitals in the country were ruined, and 80 percent of schools and 60 percent of the government structures were destroyed.  With very little infrastructure left, the internally displaced people were settled in 1500 camps in the metropolitan areas. What happened to us in Haiti has been referred to as the largest urban disaster in modern history. The humanitarian effort following the earthquake was extraordinary, with much global attention and donor support. However, there was little funding and planning for the HIV response and to address gender-based violence.  These needs had not been integrated into the larger humanitarian work, despite the fact that Haiti has the highest burden of HIV in the Caribbean region. Incidences of rape in the internally displaced camps were high, young people were turning to sex work for economic reasons, and the rates of HIV and TB transmission increased. Haiti had been receiving Global Fund grants since 2003, but the weakened systems and capacities after the earthquake challenged their implementation. UNDP was invited to be the interim Principal... Read more

Fighting corruption: Adapting ‘best practices’ or ensuring a ‘best fit’ to local contexts

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Korea’s case is particularly interesting because of its rapid economic and social development despite governance challenges such as corruption.

At UNDP’s Seoul Policy Centre for Global Development Partnerships, we often get to hear: “Korea developed so fast. I want to know how this happened, so that I can help my country too”. Policy makers and practitioners in developing countries find Korea’s case particularly interesting because of its rapid economic and social development despite governance challenges such as corruption. At the 2015 Seoul Debates, participants honestly wanted to take practical and immediate solutions home, and found Korea’s innovative tools particularly attractive. Besides the integrity assessment of Korea’s anti-corruption body - conducted by over 600 public organizations in Korea, and now applied in several countries including Bhutan - there was also the electronic subcontract payment system for transparent public infrastructure projects of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Other countries also shared their experiences, among them Uganda and Columbia. Uganda’s Inspector General of Government shared how her country had exceeded its target of prosecuting 50 cases of corruption per year, and stressed the importance of working with all stakeholders both within and beyond the country. Our colleagues from UNDP Colombia shared a transparency assessment tool that helps political parties manage the integrity of political processes. Yet we deliberately avoided the ‘best practices approach,’ or... Read more

The Human Development Index – what it is and what it is not

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A UNDP project helped construct a girls’ primary school in Panjpai, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

A concept is always broader than any of its proposed measures. Any suggested measure cannot fully capture the richness, the breadth and the depth of the concept itself. This is true of the notion of human development as well. There are two types of measures for human development: The breadth measure, termed Human Development Accounting, encompass all indicators related to human development assessments. The focus measures, or composite indices, concentrates on some basic dimensions of human development. Human Development Accounting is required to make a comprehensive assessment of human development conditions in any society, but it does not provide a single number to synthesize the state of affairs. Composite indicesprovide a single number, but cannot provide a comprehensive picture of the state of human development. Focus measures are extremely good for advocacy, for initiating healthy competition among societies and for raising awareness, but not in providing a comprehensive picture. It is in these perspectives that the Human Development Index (HDI) was constructed. Three things prompted to come up with such a measure: First, The HDI captures these basic dimensions of human development: lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent... Read more

Whatever you call it, violence against women is never acceptable

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Although local activists continue their efforts to stop the tradition of bride kidnapping, more work is needed to make a difference. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Along with the beauty of its mountainous landscapes, one of the first things associated with Kyrgyzstan is the cruel phenomenon of bride kidnapping. This ritual involves ambushing a young woman and detaining her until she agrees to marry her kidnapper. I read a lot of sad stories about this practice coming from different countries in Central Asia and Africa, as well as trite justifications based on culture and poor economic conditions. But perhaps the most striking story I’ve heard is the personal account of a young woman I will call Roza. Roza has been kidnapped twice, first at the age of 19, then at 23. In both cases she clearly remembers the applause welcoming the kidnapper when he brought her home. It was as though they were heroes coming back from a victorious battle. She was the spoils. The first time, Roza was taken to a nicely set room and offered tea and plov while her potential mother-in-law praised the virtues of her son – “a hard worker and mild person”. Roza stubbornly refused the marriage. Many other female relatives joined the effort, the discussions eventually becoming very tense with shouting and threats. After a long night, she was eventually allowed... Read more

Gender equality: A human right critical for development progress

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In Sonsonate, El Salvador, UNDP promotes women’s economic empowerment as a way of reducing violence. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

This week, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women. The review of this visionary roadmap, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, is an opportunity to celebrate the world’s progress toward ensuring the rights and opportunities of women and girls, and also to renew and reinvigorate commitments to achieve gender equality. One of the great achievements of the Beijing Platform for Action was the clear recognition that women’s rights are human rights. Since that historic gathering in Beijing, when 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists gathered to voice and demonstrate their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment, there has been increasing recognition that gender equality, in addition to being a human right, is also critical to making development progress. If women and girls are not able to fully realize their rights and aspirations in all spheres of life, development will be impeded. Twenty years on, we can see both progress and challenges in the twelve areas of critical concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. Gender parity in... Read more

Inside UNDP: Jennifer Topping

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UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mozambique Jennifer Topping with kids in Zambezia Camp. Photo: UNICEF in Mozambique

1. Who are you? My name is Jennifer Topping.   I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada.  My father died when I was young and my mother raised our family of 5 children on her own – with unrelenting grace, humour, resilience and commitment to our education.  I know that’s where my strength as a woman and as a leader comes from. 2. What do you do for work? I am the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mozambique. I have the daily privilege and challenge of leading a coordinated effort of 22 UN Agencies delivering a $700 million multi-year programme in one of the poorest and most rapidly developing countries in the world. 3. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP? Where were you before? I joined UNDP in 1988 as a Junior Professional Officer funded by Canada.   I was completing my graduate studies when I learned of the JPO programme, supported by the government of Canada for young Canadians to get experience in international development and the UN.  Within a year of applying, I found myself in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen as a P1 programme officer, with a... Read more

Peaceful Societies Need Security Reforms

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In Haiti, UNDP has contributed to the professionalisation of 2,700 people in areas critical for recovery and development, including vocational training for all judicial actors (judges, registrars, police officers).

For societies to be inclusive, they need to be peaceful and safe for all. They need to be safe for those who most need protection. They need to be safe for women. Last week, the Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform (SSR), and its Slovakia and South Africa co-chairs, convened a meeting to discuss how national governments can enable reform, with the United Nations supporting them in their efforts.   In April 2014, with support from more than 40 Member States, the Security Council unanimously passed the first-ever stand-alone resolution (2151) on security sector reform.  This highlights the broad political support for such reform and its links to crisis management, post-conflict stabilization and sustainable development. The latest report of the Secretary-General on SSR emphasizes community and citizen security.  This is where we see strong linkages to the post-2015 Development Agenda and where Member States, within the context of the Open Working Group, have placed rightful emphasis on violence reduction and accountable, responsive governance. 2015 marks the 10 year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  Security for women is part of our quest for gender equality.  We continue to see unacceptably high levels of sexual violence... Read more

Climate change and inequalities: How will this impact women?

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Women are key drivers of sustainable development. (Photo: UNDP)

Of all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, one does not get the attention it deserves: exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women. In poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment. Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life. But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful. Just look to Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development. With our support, the association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate. In the process, women... Read more

Breaking the corruption chain is our collective responsibility

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In India, UNDP and the Ministry of Law and Justice reach more than two million people and informed them of their rights in an effort to enable equitable access to justice for all. Photo credit: Shubhangi Singh/UNDP India

When corruption is rampant, some of us might think that the magnitude and complexity of the situation is hopeless. At the same time, making governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens is not a choice, but a responsibility which lies with each and every one of us. To “break the corruption chain” and encourage turning this fight into a global movement, we, at UNDP and at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have launched a global campaign  to commemorate the 2014 International Anti-corruption Day.   The message is simple: “Taking back what was lost to corrupt practices is everyone’s responsibility”. It is the responsibility of our governments and civil society organizations, of the private sector and the media, the general public, and of the youth, who must play a pivotal role in seeing this agenda through so that their future is built on solid and honest foundations. There are compelling reasons why everyone should have a stake in fighting corruption. Corruption is impeding the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  When public money is stolen for private use, fewer resources are allocated to building schools, hospitals, roads and water treatment facilities. Corruption also enables fake or... Read more

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

Inspiring innovation to meet development challenges

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Trash dump on Kaafu Atoll Huraa, Maldives, 2014. Photo: UNDP Maldives

It is not unusual to hear citizens across the world complain about their government. How little things, such as fixing broken street lights or clearing garbage, can get neglected. So how do you create a more responsive government? One small island in the Maldives is testing an idea to generate dialogue between residents and their municipality. The concept is called Make-My-Island. It draws inspiration from two ideas. The first is the UK-based site Fix-My-Street, which connects communities to their council through mobile technology and the web. The second comes from the fact that there are over 600,000 mobile phone subscriptions in the Maldives, twice the national population. Our goal was to capitalise on this to connect islanders to their municipal authorities. A mobile application and website allows residents to flag municipal issues directly to the island council. For instance, if a local fisherman notices someone illegally dumping garbage, he can immediately send a text message from his mobile phone to the council, identifying the location of the problem. The complaint is recorded on the website and mapped digitally. The number of complaints recorded about an issue allows the council to quickly ascertain which concerns should be designated as a priority, and... Read more

The way to stop violence against women and girls

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Everyone has a role to play in ending GBV, but with so many actors involved, we need better coordination and communications. Photo credit: UNDP/Pakistan

An average of 1 in 3 women across the world suffer from violence at the hands of a partner, in their lifetime.  Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects lower and middle income countries, poorer regions within these countries, and in particular vulnerable groups that include migrants, sex workers, and people living with HIV or disabilities. Earlier this year, I took up the role of UNDP Regional Advisor on GBV in Asia and the Pacific.  Since then, I have had numerous conversations that more or less follow the same pattern: “I cannot believe we still have such high rates of violence around the world, but it all seems so complicated and deep rooted in our societies.  What can we actually do to reduce this violence?”    Recently, I contributed to the Lancet Series on Violence against Women and Girls. This project gave me the opportunity to discuss challenges in the field and exchange ideas for ways forward with some of the world’s most renowned experts on violence against women.  It also gave me time to think about an answer to this question: What can we do to reduce gender-based violence? The resulting five papers in the series present the evidence of which methods... 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

Shared commitment and collective action are key in fighting corruption

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UNDP in Sudan Organized a Drawing Contest with the Faculty of Fine and Applied Art, University of Sudan as part of an Anti-corruption campaign. Photo credit: UNDP/Sudan

This is a call to action, a call against a cancer, a call for health and a call for integrity. In the fight against corruption, everyone has a stake. Businesses, large and small, require an enabling environment to support growth, jobs, trade, and innovation. Only bad business thrives in an atmosphere of traffic of influence, access to privileged information and widespread bribery. That’s the businesses afraid to compete because they can’t win fair and square against the competition. All other businesses, the medium enterprises, the startups, the big ones, the innovators, those who play by the rules need a state to enforce such rules. So the question is: are you afraid to compete or are you happy to play the integrity game? In the midst of increasing pressures on public budgets striving to meet growing demand for more and better public services, the private sector presents models that are tremendously helpful to the public administration. The corporate world brings not only investment finance and capital but also normative frameworks, expertise and knowledge to the fight against corruption. Yet, despite progress, corruption continues to be a major challenge for companies operating both in developed and developing countries. According to the Institute of... Read more

The Data Revolution for human development

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A delegation of election management bodies from seven countries in South Asia visited Pune in October to learn more about how India manages elections. Photo credit: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

A World That Counts, the report by the UN Secretary General’s Data Revolution Group, was released recently. The report contains much that is important to global development. But what, I have been pondering, might the data revolution mean for human development and human development reporting in particular? Three ideas occur immediately. First, the importance of data for both decision-making and analytical debate needs no demonstration. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a remarkable example of the power a simple measure can wield to reframe debate towards genuine development outcomes. Now, in a data-rich world one could argue for the index also to include much more that is important to people: measures of voice, equality, sustainability, security, freedom and dignity. All of these would help paint a richer picture of human development. But such data – at least not yet - are not available in most countries. I hope the data revolution will change that. Second, our 700 national human development reports always are built on data, often with disaggregation and innovative analysis. Of course such evidence-based analysis is vital to ensuring the reports’ robustness and usefulness. But I believe that the conversations about what data to use, that are a key... Read more

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