Posts tagged ‘gender equality’

Pakistan: Women’s Empowerment and the Women’s Vote

By , 22 March, 2013, No Comment

Political stalemate continues in Islamabad, where government and opposition leaders have failed to reach a deal on an interim government. While a parliamentary committee meets to resolve the issue, the outgoing Prime Minister is governing the country without a cabinet or parliamentary oversight. Lucky him.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at issues that will color the upcoming election and I’m particularly intrigued by the government’s record on women’s issues.

Pakistan is a patriarchal society and that is reflected in its politics. Although women have had the right to vote since independence, female voter turnout has historically been low. That may be about to change.

The Express Tribune reports that the government has, over its five-year run, increased female voter registration by 88%, and the nearly 40 million female voters account for 44% of voter registration over all.

That’s due in large part to a popular cash-transfer program for poor women, the Benazir Income Support Program or BISP, introduced in 2008. The program has been immensely popular, and compared to other areas of Pakistani bureaucracy, relatively corruption-free. Indeed, the Asian Development Bank recently announced  a $200 million loan to help BISP to expand its work.

Its economic impact, however, is far less certain. A project manager for BISP tells me most of the recipients are spending their cash on food and other necessities. It’s not enough money for women to save and invest in education, health care or ventures that might actually lift them out of poverty for good. And with high inflation (Pakistan’s CPI is up 80% since 2008), the cash is of limited value.

A more important benefit of the program is political. In order to receive cash payments, women were required to register for national ID cards, and thereby for the electoral rolls. If those 40 million women exercise their new voting power in May, they may break heavily for the government that has been transferring them cash, a possibility not fully taken into account by polls that focus on registered voters from the previous cycle.

Women are likely to thank the government also for its legislative record. In its five year term, the National Assembly passed acts against acid attacksworkplace harassment and sexual harassment in public placesbanned forced marriages and the withholding of women’s property rightscreated a government commission on girls’ and women’s rights; and elected its first female speaker.

And yet, as the security situation in the country has worsened, women’s rights have been eroded on the ground. From the shooting of Malala Yousafzai last fall to the murder of a Karachi social worker earlier this month, militant groups have disproportionately targeted women and girls. Meanwhile, seeking to pacify these extremists, local government agencies have outsourced critical public services to religious charities with anti-woman views.

The People’s Party’s inability to curtail the violence is a huge failure in its own right, but it has also served to undermine the effects of some of the government’s best policies.

Thoughts on the 3rd Presidential Debate: Foreign Policy

By , 23 October, 2012, No Comment

I watched last night’s presidential debate with a group of wonks and journalists at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was interesting to be among people who care deeply about international affairs, given that most voters don’t.

Indeed, knowing that foreign policy won’t win them this election, both candidates took every opportunity to pivot the discussion to the economy. Moreover, the candidates agreed with one another on almost all the issues they touched on. Together, the tactics of agreement and evasion made for an uninformative 90 minutes.

But, a few things that jumped out at me:

1. As expected, the candidates used the question on ‘America’s role in the world’ to spar over the defense budget. Most viewers will remember this segment for President Obama’s quip equating Romney’s push for greater naval spending to a demand for ‘horses and bayonets.’

But what I found notable was the contrast between Romney’s planned cuts to government social spending and his desire to double down on military spending that even the Pentagon doesn’t recommend. The important thing to understand about this debate over defense spending is that it has very little to do with foreign policy and everything to do with economic stimulus. As Daniel Drezner put it in his comments at CFR yesterday, defense expenditures are about the only form of Keynesianism the contemporary GOP supports.

2. I tweeted on Sunday that it would be a big surprise to see either candidate talk seriously about the centrality of women – their empowerment, their role in public life and in civil society – to American foreign policy. Last night, I was pleasantly surprised to see the topic come up, and even more astonished to find that it was brought up by Mitt Romney. Most likely, that’s because Romney has a wide gap to close with women voters, but I welcomed the comments nonetheless.

3. I was pleased that Bob Schieffer raised the topic of drone warfare. At CFR, Rachel Kleinfeld of the Truman Security Project noted that her organization’s polling of its audience indicates that drone warfare is among President Obama’s most unpopular policies, rivaled only by his failure to close Guantanamo Bay. Given that, it’s a shame that Mitt Romney didn’t use the opportunity to push back against the policy: the American public deserves to hear the issue debated in full.

It’s not just a humanitarian issue – though the civilian casualties from drone warfare are an outrage. It’s also a strategic issue, in that the use of a deeply unpopular policy hurts American soft power around the world.

Most concerning to me is the fact that this kind of high-tech war often takes place away from the public eye. We focus heavily on the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of a broader debate about the ground war there. But how many Americans know that the U.S. is also using drones to intervene in Yemen, or Somalia? Because drone warfare can be pursued without putting any boots on the ground, those interventions have happened with little to no public scrutiny. To my mind, a military technology that can be deployed without public debate is a technology that makes wars more likely, and that’s dangerous.

I talked about this, and the rest of the Afghanistan portion of the debate, on Huffington Post Live this morning. You can watch my segment here.