Archive for the ‘conference reports’ Category

Empowering women in developing countries is “smart economics” but faces challenges

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 25th March 2010

Empowering women in developing countries is “smart economics” that gives them jobs, helps them contribute to economic growth, and promotes greater liberty and democracy. But there are challenges that must be overcome before success is achieved.

Empowering women in developing countries in a way that gives them employment is “smart economics”. Not only does this give them jobs and help them contribute to economic growth, it is a route to combat poverty and a movement towards greater liberty and democracy. But there are challenges that must be overcome before success is achieved.

Such was the message delivered at today’s conference on women’s empowerment and employment, arranged by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Part of the ministry’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) series, the meeting was a precursor for the United Nations’ MDG high-level meeting in New York in September, which will assess the extent to which the millennium goals are being implemented.

Across the developing world, far more women continue to be out of the labour market than men, according to the Millennium Development Goals report from 2009. Northern Africa and western Asia have exceptionally low female employment-to-population ratios, and only about 20% of working-age women are employed in the most important sectors here, industry and services.

Overall, almost two-thirds of all employed women have vulnerable jobs, either as contributing family workers or as own-account workers, yet MDG 1 has a target that aims at full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people, while MDG 3 aims at promoting gender equality and empowering women.

But there are many barriers to success in reaching these goals, and the world economic crisis has delayed progress – and even reversed developments by five or six years.

We must empower women for them to gain their rights and promote economic growth,” Søren Pind, Denmark’s recently appointed Minister for Development Cooperation, told the conference.

Pind added that a new draft for Denmark’s development cooperation has five focus areas, including gender equality and boosting the position and status of women.

Through economic growth we can try to help and empower women, and that helps combat poverty,” Pind said.

Empowering women is smart economics,” said Robert E Zoellick, the president of the World Bank group.

Various reports indicate that improving women’s situation can benefit society in ways that transcend the direct benefits to individual women. Women’s independent earnings improve the well-being of their families and communities, reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. Higher income for women and better access to and control over their resources lead to better health and nutrition for children. In Bangladesh, access to micro-finance increases household consumption when the borrower is a woman, and access to credit also improves children’s health and nutrition.

While noting that women “can be driving forces in economic growth”, Zoellick added, “Women and girls are hit first by economic downturns.”

The world economic crisis means that micro-finance institutions – many of which lend money on very favourable terms to entrepreneurial women in developing countries – are now seeing that their customers are having difficulties repaying their loans, and the institutions may also face problems raising the new capital needed for their work, Zoellick added.

Helen Clark, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), warned that there are very serious challenges to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. These challenges include classic areas of dispute such as rich versus poor, urban versus rural and men versus women.

But, Clark underlined, “Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect across the Millennium Development Goals and expands the economic possibilities and employment of women. Women’s legal skills and situation must be strengthened in terms of their rights and to enable them to take part in decision-making processes, including in national legislatures.” This would ensure greater equality.

Carsten Staur, Denmark’s ambassador to the United Nations, summed up the recommendations from the conference discussions in five themes:

  • Economic empowerment of women as a rights’ issue and as smart economics.
  • Expansion of women’s entrepreneurship opportunities.
  • Creation of opportunities to overcome social and cultural barriers.
  • Priority for women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Voice and political participation.

Staur will be presenting the recommendations at the MDG high-level meeting in September.

Muslim immigrants like living in Denmark, more freedom for their religion – are they a threat to society?

Friday, March 27th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 27th March 2009

Most people in Denmark from Muslim countries are satisfied with society in Denmark, and say that their life here is better than in their country of origin. But they find the rights of religious minorities dissatisfying. Few want Danish legislation to reflect Sharia laws, half want a ban on books and films attacking religion, and one in four wants a ban on homosexuality. Three out of four ethnic Danes want immigrants to adapt to Danish society to a greater degree, while only a tenth believe Danish society must change.

A survey conducted by Statistics Denmark for the liberal think-thank CEPOS in 2007 shows that 76% of people in Denmark who have come from Muslim countries, and 75% of their offspring, are satisfied with society in Denmark – equal to the degree of satisfaction expressed by ethnic Danes.

As many as 79% of the direct immigrants from Muslim countries and 91% of their offspring say that their life here is better than in their country of origin.

They find the economic conditions in Denmark far more satisfying than those in their home countries, but they also find the rights of religious minorities dissatisfying.

Only 11% want Danish legislation to reflect Sharia laws, while 50% want a ban on books and films attacking religion, and 28% want to prohibit homosexuals from practising their sexuality. In comparison, only 15% of ethnic Danes would ban attacks on religion in books and films, and only 3% would introduce legislation against homosexuality.

According to CEPOS, the perception is that Muslim immigrants and their offspring are very dissatisfied with their life in Denmark – but few surveys have actually asked the Muslim immigrants themselves.

Immigrants’ attitudes to Danish society are of interest because their well-being is a societal goal in itself, the think-tank says.

In addition, CEPOS says, “It must be expected that economic, political and cultural integration can occur to a greater extent when the immigrants have a positive attitude to Danish society. If immigrants and their offspring regard society’s institutions as legitimate, then this can help counter political radicalisation.

On the other hand, one must also be aware that the risk of political radicalisation is greater in those groups whose attitude to Danish society and its institutions tends to be negative.”

In another survey, conducted this year for CEPOS by Catinét, 74% of ethnic Danes say they want immigrants to adapt to Danish society to a greater degree, while only a tenth believe Danish society must change. The greatest desire for more assimilation by the Muslim immigrants is found among people who vote for right-wing parties.

The parties on the left wing are far more divided, with the two small parties, the Social Liberals and the Red/Greens, in particular standing out,” CEPOS says. Only among their voters is there no absolute majority requiring immigrants to adapt to Danish conditions. But, CEPOS warns, the number of people surveyed voting for these parties is so small that there may be greater errors in processing the statistics than for the survey as a whole.

The think-tank adds that, theoretically, the results are not surprising, as neither integration nor assimilation is taking place without friction, and are a burden on the people who must change their cultural and linguistic habits in adapting to Danish demands. And this applies no matter whether they are a part of the minority or the majority, an immigrant or an ethnic Dane.

On the assumption that individuals act in a way that minimises the burden on them, the question in this connection is whether Danish society today gives immigrants an incentive and an opportunity to adapt in the way that Danes desire,” says CEPOS.

The survey shows that Danes want immigrants to adapt to Danish society more than society should adapt to them: 74% of ethnic Danes believe that greater demands should be made on immigrants to adapt to Danish society, while only 10% believe that society should adapt to immigrants’ culture, religion and way of life.

According to CEPOS, the temptation is to interpret this as a result of Denmark’s homogeneity and the limited immigration previously. Denmark has not had a tradition of large waves of immigration, and cannot be called an immigrant country such as the US, Canada or Israel.

The question is, what is meant by ‘adapting to Danish society’?” the think-tank asks, “how much latitude should there be in terms of behaviour, language, etc?”

CEPOS has published a series of notes based on these polls in a connection with a conference yesterday on immigration, culture and the liberal society.

Available in Danish on the CEPOS website, they are Indvandrere og efterkommere fra muslimske lande er glade for Danmark (Immigrants and offspring from Muslim countries are pleased to be in Denmark)‘, ‘Muslimske indvandrere og efterkommeres holdning til frihedsrettigheder (The attitude of Muslim immigrants and offspring to rights of freedom)’ and ‘Danskernes holdning til integration og assimilation (Danes’ attitudes to integration and assimilation)’.

Among the speakers was Karen Jespersen, Minister of Social Welfare, who noted that Denmark is a well-functioning society with a strong economy. Surveys show that Danes “are the happiest people in the world”.

There is a higher degree of confidence in other people and greater equality than in many countries, and the population agrees on a number of common values such as personal freedom and the way in which society should develop.

Danes also have a strong feeling of belonging, of being ‘Danish’, she said.

But Danish society faces challenges from individualisation (where responsibility and freedom start to become opposites, as do duties and rights) and globalisation.

Another challenge is posed by immigration, which threatens to change shared common values into parallel societies, Jespersen said.

Danish must not considered as a second language, as this indicates a lack of integration,” the minister said. “The lack of a feeling of being integrated leads to parallel societies.”

Jespersen believes that Denmark must continue with a tight policy towards foreigners, with limited immigration and integration of immigrants, supported by a wide range of initiatives such as mentors and language teaching.

The country must retain fundamental societal values such as religious freedom and freedom of expression, and more weight should be placed on social behaviour and upbringing. Religious or group demands for special treatment or for wearing special apparel such as headscarves should be rejected.

People must be mixed more, so immigrants and different social groups live in the same housing areas.

But, Karen Jespersen noted, “There are large gains for society with people coming from other cultures, although this means Denmark is no longer as homogenous as it once was.”