Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

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.

Treating immigrants as individuals enhances integration – Cepos

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 13th October 2009

Almost a third of the people in Denmark believe that the consequences of immigration are mainly negative, while nearly one-fifth believe the consequences are mainly positive, the Cepos think-tank says in a new note about immigration. The negative attitude is related more to societal problems arising from immigration than to the differences between immigrants and Danes. Immigrants say they must be treated as individuals to enhance integration.

While 47% of the people in Denmark believe that the positive and negative consequences of immigration are equally divided, 32% believe that the consequences of immigration are ‘more negative than positive’ or ‘exclusively negative’, and 18% believe the consequences are ‘more positive than negative’ or ‘exclusively positive’.

Cepos says that although the general attitude cannot be said to predominantly negative, the aggregate result does have a negative trendThe negative attitude is related more to societal problems arising from immigration than to the differences between immigrants and Danes, the think-tank adds.

To discover what actually drives the scepticism towards immigration, Cepos commissioned Statistics Denmark to conduct a questionnaire study focusing on a number of concrete problems that are related to immigration in the public debate.

The Cepos report shows that people living in Denmark believe there are real problems arising from immigration. For example, 70% of the people asked said they believe it to be a problem that women have other rights among ethnic minorities; 68% saw the different behaviour of male children of non-western immigrants in school compared with boys of ethnic Danish parents as a problem; that comparatively more non-western immigrants commit crimes that ethnic Danes is a problem according to 67% of those asked; and 65% said it is a problem that non-western immigrants are often more religious than ethnic Danes.

Coupling the assessments of the consequences of immigration held by the people asked to their assessment of problem areas, societal problems such as unemployment, crime, and problems at school are more important in the overall assessment than aspects related to adaptation in private life, such as degree of religious affiliation and attitude towards alcohol, Cepos says.

The think-tank added that social position has significant importance for the attitudes of the people asked: people with higher incomes are more concerned about social integration than people with low incomes, it says.

On the basis of this study, the conclusion must be that Danes are not as negative towards the consequences of immigration as the picture that is often painted,” Cepos said. “At the same time the report shows that negative attitude that does exist is related more to societal problems arising from immigration than to the differences between immigrants and Danes.

If you want a more positive attitude to immigration among Danes, the greatest positive effect will arise through policies that solve these problems – such as an effective judicial policy, greater motivation to join the labour market and greater consequences for disturbances at school,” the Cepos think-tank says.

Referring to the chapter on Denmark in a report entitled ‘Muslims in EU Cities’, published in 2007 by the EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP), sociologist Mustafa Hussain, an external lecturer at the Roskilde University Centre, told a meeting yesterday arranged by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) that 70% of Muslims living in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district – as well as 50% of the district’s inhabitants generally – say that, over the past five years, they have seen a rise in prejudice against people showing their religious affiliations.

Danes are the people in the European Union showing the greatest Islamophobia,” he added.

According to the EUMAP report, one of the most debated publications has been a nationwide survey of the attitude of Danes towards ethnic minorities. This found that 37% of Danes would not like a Muslim for a neighbour, but, interestingly, when the adjective ‘Muslim’ was replaced by ‘a person from another race’, the proportion fell to 18%.

The report adds that there are two main schools of thought on public perceptions of Muslims in Denmark.

The first finds that there has been no significant change in the public attitudes towards the immigrants, and that intolerance towards Muslims is rather a reflection of the fact that Danes are overwhelmingly secularised,” the report states. “By contrast, the other school finds that the situation has deteriorated since the late 1980s and that there has been a change of direction in perception, attitudes and institutional behaviour.”

In comparison with other EU countries, the EUMAP report notes, much of the research on perception and attitudes in Denmark remains at a rudimentary stage. Nonetheless, it can be concluded that the ways in which Muslims are talked about in the public sphere and the daily media reduces the complexity of the cultural variations among Muslims and reproduces the existing stereotypes of them.

Ethnic relations have become much more strained today, and intolerance and right-wing extremism has increased,” the report states. “Public opinion has become more critical towards Muslims, who, in the popular perception, are conceived as a culturally homogenous group of ‘foreigners’ and a binary opposition of all that is Danish. Domestic observers and social science researchers have noted lately that Denmark, with its Muslim population of barely 170,000, has become a staunchly anti-Muslim nation. After some of the most obnoxious xenophobic propaganda during the general elections in November 2001, Denmark attracted a great deal of international criticism.”

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid and other speakers told the meeting that Muslims are not a homogeneous group – they come from many countries and the religion they share is actually made up of several sets of belief and sects. 

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a social worker and politician, argued that immigrants – no matter what their background is – should be treated as individuals, as this would help the integration process, which is really something that occurs in people’s minds.

The tone of the public debate on integration is a burden on immigrants, who feel that it is more and more difficult to achieve ‘Danishness’ as the definition of Danish culture becomes increasingly narrow.