Our Perspective

democratic governance

Translation’s broader purpose

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In Kosovo, a law protects the rights of non-majority communities to get public services in any of the official languages. Photo: UNDP in Kosovo

On 30 September, the world honors translators by celebrating Saint Jerome, the 3rd century Christian priest and patron saint of translators who is credited with translating the Bible into Latin and ushering in a flowering in intellectual activity. This year Saint Jerome’s theme’s is Language Right – Essential to All human Right. The International day of Translation is the opportunity to reflect on the importance of multilingualism and the work of language professionals. Because theirs is a specialized profession which takes place behind the scenes, translators, interpreters, and terminologists are often taken for granted or not given enough credit. Yet they are essential to large international organizations as they make the circulation of ideas possible. As the cornerstone of transparency, multilingualism’s basic purpose is to provide the same information to all people so they can make informed decisions, and be understood in their native language. At UNDP, we offer expert knowledge on sustainable development,  poverty reduction, and crisis prevention that would not be accessible to the public without reliable translation into its official and working languages (English, French, Spanish) and a growing number of official UN languages (Arabic Chinese, Russian). Translation should therefore be treated and thought of as a basic... Read more

Want to measure peace, governance and the rule of law? Africa may have the answer

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Peace, governance and the rule of law can be and are already being measured in Africa. Photo: UNDP in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As leaders gather in New York to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, Africa’s priorities must be reflected in the outcome. As is the case everywhere, sustainable development in Africa requires peace, governance and the rule of law. Earlier this year, the African Union’s 54 Member States adopted the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda, which emphasises the importance of promoting good and inclusive governance, fighting corruption, increasing transparency and accountability, reinforcing rule of law frameworks, strengthening institutional capacity and addressing the root causes of conflict. Encouragingly, most of these priorities were reflected in the recently agreed Outcome Document of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs. However, if this call to action is to yield meaningful results in Africa we will need better and more reliable data to guide policies, track progress, and underpin transparency and accountability. Much of Africa still has a long way to go in developing such capacity, and gaping data gaps need to be filled in the areas of peace, governance and the rule of law. We will need considerable investment to improve the quality and quantity of statistical data. Such investment should build upon... 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

Beijing+20: Time to fulfil the promise

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UN Women launches the year-long campaign, "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!," to spark global dialogue and actions on women's right and gender equality. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

I was recently among a few thousand people at the public launch of a year-long UN Women campaign marking 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women leaders, celebrities, officials and activists of all ages came together with musicians and performers in New York’s iconic Apollo Theater on 26 June to celebrate the landmark summit which made the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” universal. In 1995, as a graduate student volunteering with the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organization, I went to Beijing, one of more than 30,000 women’s advocates in the NGO Forum in Huairou. ‘Beijing’ symbolized the moment when, as feminist leader Charlotte Bunch put it, “all issues came together. Crossing borders and boundaries, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, age, diversity was key to women’s success in Beijing.” Women’s work and tireless advocacy were in large part behind the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with its 12 critical areas of concern. To date, it is the most comprehensive bill of women’s rights that women have won by consensus. Much has since changed for the world’s women and girls – in health, education, work, rights and opportunities. But celebrations of Beijing are tempered... Read more

At UNDP, innovation for development

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The Council of Cattle Holders in Kazakhstan is using new technologies to revive traditional nomadic pasture management. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

On June 19, in a building of the US Senate, our UNDP Washington Representation Office participated in an Innovation Fair organized by the UN Foundation. The event was a timely success as development organizations must seek to innovate to meet stakeholders’ expectations in a fast-changing environment. Among our partners, for example, USAID runs a Global Development Lab, UNICEF works with Silicon Valley’s technology start-ups and the US Global Development Council recently proposed new social impact funds and cash-on-delivery models. UNDP has inherited a solid tradition of game-changing ideas such as the Human Development Index and continues to leverage technical, social and managerial innovation throughout its programs and operations. In Sierra Leone, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP employs pioneering biometric voter registration techniques like fingerprint and eye scan, unique and unchangeable traits of a person, to prevent fraud and build trust in fair elections. Using mobile phone messaging, Tanzanian voters check their electoral registration status and polling station location whilst in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, text messages provide tsunami and earthquake warning. On a global level, taking advantage of internet and mobile phone technologies, UNDP is polling people’s opinions (more than 2 million so far) to vote... Read more

Why troublemakers should work together: Ten thoughts on innovation and gender equality

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UNDP is fostering innovation to address complex problems in a new way. Photo: UNDP in Europe and CIS.

Pushing innovation and working for gender equality are a natural fit. Both necessitate the combination of causing trouble, looking at internal mechanisms, and working with non-traditional partners. Moreover, both have transformational potential. Inspired by UNDP’s current innovation agenda, we formulated some principles on innovation and gender equality. Our aim is not just to marry gender equality and innovation but to further bolster UNDP’s Guiding Principles for the Innovation Community. These 10 thoughts can hopefully provide meaningful food for thought when designing innovation initiatives around the world. 1. Start with your partners It’s been our experience that those most affected by society’s problems are often the ones who have the innovative solutions at hand. It is our job to unearth, enable and scale them. However, innovations, like everything else, are not gender-neutral. Who designs the latest gadget, website, or citizen feedback mechanism also plays a role in who will use it. Ensuring equal numbers of men and women are with us at the design table will help ensure everyone’s voice is heard. 2. What’s the bottleneck? A key component of finding innovative solutions is figuring out the problem, and then trying to find out the root causes. To do this, we must get out of... Read more

Can there be sustainable development without gender equality?

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Young mothers get health care education at a UNDP-sponsored clinic in Hakha Township, Chin State, Myanmar. Photo: Tom Cheatham for UNDP

Whenever we analyze a development strategy, the inevitable question arises:  Should the approach to gender equality be comprehensive across all sectors or should it be a separate issue and agenda? Experience tells us that both approaches are desirable: A concrete goal for gender equality as well as fundamental indicators and targets that require creation of gender policies. These policies should contain specific measures to address half of the population's need for education, health care, access to land and energy, etc. To date, this has been the most common approach across various UN groups, reaffirming the idea that a comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed in order to address structural barriers to gender equality and to lay a solid foundation for the future. The key now is to draw lessons learned from the experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and strengthen the tools that advanced gender equality in the desired areas. But what has been achieved by the MDGs with regard to gender equality? The answer is mixed: Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, but only 2 of 130 countries have achieved this goal at all levels of education. Progress has been made in access to employment. Globally, 40... Read more

Square pegs, round holes, and the importance of asking the right questions

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A third of Bangladesh’s population is below the age of 25, and yet we know little about their expectations from elected representatives. Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh

Of course, I know what the word innovation means but, as a relatively new recruit to UNDP, I am curious about what it means for the organization. For the past year, I’ve been leading a project seeking to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh and  wondered: Which innovation could we possibly devise that would redefine how effective parliaments are in a country? Just a few hours into an innovation workshop in Bangladesh, I realized I had been coming at this all wrong. The innovation our work with the parliament needs isn’t about tweaking existing programmes or devising new ones -it is about how we are defining the problem! The way we have been designing solutions to problems we perceived the citizens of Bangladesh were experiencing was flawed because we weren’t really asking them what the problem was in the first place. Instead of doing what we’ve been doing last year and the year before that eg. counting the amount of people being trained, of male/female participants and of public hearings held, we need to go back to the drawing board. Sure, we’ll do all the counting needed,  but we will also organize ‘itch workshops’  to find out what matters to citizens including... Read more

Land and property governance – a matter of development and human rights

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Access to land for women is a key development issue. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

Although more than 115 nations recognize, in their legal frameworks, women’s equal rights to property and inheritance, in many countries women continue to face discrimination when it comes to land and property rights, Land plays a critical economic, environmental, social, cultural and political role in the development of states and people. Control of land and related natural resources is linked to power and identity, and can be a source of conflict and crisis. Land and natural resource management also lie at the core of ensuring environmental sustainability, including the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity. For indigenous and tribal communities, access to land and the protection of their traditional tenure practices are critical to their existence and identity. Failed land policies can also cause massive migration of workers from rural to urban areas. Having access to land and security of tenure provides a gateway to a range of economic, social, civil and political rights. Hence, when people, in particular indigenous communities, women, the rural poor or urban slum dwellers achieve secure access to land or property, they can start to enjoy a greater sense of economic security, improve their livelihoods, but importantly also, gain capacity, interest and influence in decision-making. We have... Read more

Increasing indigenous political representation: an urgent debt for our democracies

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Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. Photo: UNDP in Peru

In recent times, indigenous peoples have questioned current development models and democracies in Latin America and beyond. The main tool for measuring progress remains Gross Domestic Product, which distorts the true meaning of progress and wellbeing. The damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity, have all been excluded from this general assessment. What’s more, the low representation of indigenous peoples in politics and as part of our human development -- below national averages -- is a clear indication that Latin American democracies and the development model have not fully served their purpose. However, many indigenous peoples have taken steps to become more involved in current political affairs and question our societies, accusing the latter of being exclusive, racist, and unaware of their history (for example, they often deny the existence of indigenous genocide) while stifling the diversity and existence of social issues based on a different culture and world view. Paying close attention to such issues and implementing initiatives to enact real change is the challenge faced by democracies. I would like to urge the adoption of a new and rejuvenating approach to issues related to indigenous peoples and their values.... Read more

Rule of Law and quality public services are key enablers of development

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A worker tallies the trucks at the Santo Nino dump site in Tacloban, Philippines. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines)

It is no longer enough for individuals to just receive services. It is equally, if not more important, to pay attention to service quality, as well as the quality of communication between public service providers and the people they serve. To bridge the knowledge gap on how to situate, understand and act on Rule of Law challenges in public administration, we developed a self-assessment tool for governments, in cooperation with the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy  . This measurement tool uses six clearly defined Rule of Law principles: legality, accessibility, transparency, the right to be heard, the right to appeal, and accountability. The tool assesses ‘the governance of service delivery’, using a rights-based perspective to analyze gaps between the offer– which services people should be entitled to and under which conditions – and the delivery – what people receive in reality and how these services are delivered. Piloted in three countries – the Philippines, Ukraine and Sierra Leone – the tool focuses on selected administrative processes and services affecting the rights, liberties or interests of private persons, including the private sector. The ultimate aim of the assessment is to ensure that action is initiated at the appropriate level to address the weaknesses... Read more

Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses as agents of change

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Meeting of a female community organization in the district of Haripur, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP in Pakistan

Nation-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s Parliament introduced in 2002 a 17 percent gender quota in all legislative houses. But despite accounting for 22 percent of the federal parliament, from 2002 to 2007, women could not achieve much in terms of lawmaking except the Women’s Protection Act. In the subsequent mandate of 2008-2013, however, women made more progress, overseeing policy implementation and raising important issues in all Houses. Gender quotas alone, as global experience has shown, cannot transform the quality of women’s representation. They won’t work unless they are adapted into women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats. Compared to around 13 women in 2002, 16 women won general seats in 2008, while only 8 won National Assembly seats in 2013.  This downward trend reflects the shrinking space for women in the electoral process, despite a numerically larger parliamentary presence. Urgent measures are needed to create a level playing field for women in the electoral process. In 2002, women parliamentarians mostly worked in isolation, without enough sharing of inter- and intra-party experiences. But by 2008 they had... Read more

Fighting corruption and urban inequality

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Medellín, Colombia. (Photo: UN Habitat)

Today, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities. This poses great challenges but also brings big opportunities. With good management, cities can work as engines of growth and incubators for innovation. They can also serve as job providers, build sustainability and fight inequality. On the other hand, corrupt cities could also transfer resources from the public to the elites, and generally from the poor to the rich, worsening urban inequity. How can we thus ensure that urban governance delivers resources and services in a transparent, accountable way? To answer this question and others, two weeks ago UNDP’s Global Anti-corruption Initiative, UNDP Colombia and the Bogota Chamber of Commerce organized a policy dialogue at the 7th World Urban Forum (WUF7) in the city of Medellín, Colombia. The event, which took place in a traditional Maloca (a long house used by the natives of the Amazon as the centre of the village government) brought together government representatives, mayors, academics, the private sector, and UN officials to discuss how cities can fight corruption more efficiently to contribute to urban equity. One takeaway from the dialogue was that “the end cannot justify the means.” As long as corruption prevails, sustainable development of cities... Read more

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