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Archives for Democracy and Governance

Ordinary People Make Extraordinary Contributions to Combat Trafficking

About the author: Holly Burkhalter is Vice President of Government Relations for International Justice Mission

The sheer size of the State Department’s 11th Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released this week, is a reflection of the enormity and ubiquity of the crime of modern day slavery. Yet there is much to celebrate in the document as well. Courage, recovery, and heroic leadership by ordinary people are springing up in almost every one of the 184 countries in the report.

The ten heroes honored in this year’s report show what can be done when brave people—from government officials to survivors themselves—engage in the fight against slavery. Slavery and trafficking aren’t inevitable. As the TIP Report shows in countries around the world, serious government effort and partnership with essential NGO’s can bring slave traders to justice.

Take for example Darlene Pajarito, an assistant city prosecutor in Zamboanga City in the Philippines. Ms. Pajarito not only secured the first anti-trafficking conviction in the Philippines but has spread the effort by training, supporting and prodding other government officials. This kind of courage can be very dangerous; Ms. Pajarito put herself in harm’s way to make her country safer for the poorest, youngest, and most vulnerable. The Philippines is a country that has made significant progress in combatting trafficking over the years. Prosecutor Parajito is an important part of the reason why.

The power of redemption can be seen in the work of Leonel Dubon, one of this year’s extraordinary TIP heroes. Mr. Dubon provides shelter and services for adolescent girls who were victimized in Guatemala’s sex trade. When his NGO sponsor ran out of money, Leonel used his own retirement funds to support fifty children in his care.

Personally, my favorite story of redemption involves a group of ten Vietnamese girls who were sold into Cambodian brothels nine years ago. International Justice Mission (IJM) learned of the girls in 2002 and went to local authorities to demand their rescue. It wasn’t until the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Charles Ray, invoked the provisions of the newly-enacted Trafficking Victims Protection Act that the Cambodian authorities collaborated with my organization to rescue the children from brothels and apprehend the pimps, madams, and brothel owners who sold them.

At that time, there was very little aftercare capacity for such tiny children (the youngest was five; one was seven and had spent three years in the brothel), but NGO aftercare providers stepped in and the U.S. Government provided extensive assistance to create more facilities. Today, Cambodia has some of the best aftercare for young trafficking victims in the world. And while Cambodia has a ways to go to eliminate trafficking, the exploitation of very young children in prostitution has declined dramatically.

And the little girls? I am happy to tell you that they are well and happy and thriving. They live in small group homes with a house mother and have hopes and dreams of high school and college. Their future is now very, very bright.

Armenian Women Set Priorities for Increasing Political Participation

As featured from the National Democratic Institute

More than 300 Armenian women from different political parties, civic organizations, government agencies and geographic regions came together for a two-day conference in Yerevan last month to discuss policy solutions to the challenges they all face. Together, they called for increasing women’s political and economic participation, better access to health care and a reduction in domestic violence.

Armenian women at a two-day conference in Yerevan last month to discuss policy solutions to the challenges they all face. Photo Credit: NDI

While women make up more than half of Armenia’s population, they won just 12 of 131 seats in the last parliamentary elections in 2012. Men’s average monthly salary is more than one-and-a-half times that of women. The 2010 report by the World Economic Forum ranked Armenia 106 out of 131 countries for political representation and empowerment of women.

The “Women in Politics” conference, hosted by NDI with support from the United States Agency for International Development, produced a draft policy platform that women’s groups and political parties can use as a blueprint for change. In the political and economic areas, for example, the women proposed creation of a quota to increase women’s representation in national and local elected bodies and the passage of a gender equity law to improve business opportunities and working conditions for women.

In addition, all but a few conference participants signed a letter to the president of Armenia requesting a 30 percent quota for women on political party electoral lists. They also asked that women be placed on the lists at regular intervals, such as every other spot. Currently, 15 percent of a party list must be women, but their names are often placed near the bottom, where they are less likely to get elected. Under a list system, voters choose a party rather than an individual candidate. The number of seats the party wins is determined by its percentage of the vote, and the people who fill the seats are determined in the order they appear on the list.

Regarding health care and domestic violence, the platform proposed that the government fund preventive testing and health services for all women over 18, and that it pass legislation establishing a legal definition of domestic violence consistent with international norms. It is hard to combat domestic abuse effectively in Armenia — both legally and with public education campaigns — because people’s ideas vary on what domestic abuse is.

The women leaders plan to use the document to encourage political parties to address the issues as they create campaign platforms for next year’s parliamentary elections. It also offers potential platform planks for women who are considering running for office. Civil society groups can advocate for and monitor progress in how the recommendations are carried out.

The recommendations will be refined over the next several months by working groups focusing on the individual issues. The groups will include conference representatives, including women from both the capital of Yerevan and the regions, and political party and civil society members. Experts from academia, international organizations and government bodies also will be invited to lend their expertise.

The momentum and publicity surrounding the event had an immediate effect. In a speech the day after the conference, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan called for increasing the number of women in the executive and legislative branches to 30 percent. There is currently no quota for women serving in the executive branch and the few who do serve mostly as support staff.

A week after the conference, the National Assembly voted on a new election code, which included a requirement that women constitute 20 percent of party lists and, for the first time, that every fifth candidate after the second spot be a woman. These quotas would be some of the most progressive in the region. But there are two ways that parliamentarians are elected: by party list or by single member district. In the latter arrangement, a candidate runs to represent the district and its residents rather than the political party. The Armenian parliament is comprised of 56 single member district representatives and 75 members from party lists.

The draft election code also helps women seek single member seats by reducing the fee to run from 2.5 million to one million Armenian dram ($6,602 to $2,641). This provision will encourage less-established candidates with fewer resources, which women often are. In the last parliamentary elections, only five women competed for this type of seat and none was elected. The draft election code has passed the parliament and is awaiting the president’s signature.

Home Coming

I’m normally not an anxious traveler but I’m experiencing some deep unresolved, existential anxiety.  As I write this, I’m headed to Vilnius, Lithuania, for the first time in my life.  Today, June 29, is the 70th anniversary of the massacre of all the remaining Jews in a village in Lithuania where my father was born. A strange and ironic day to choose for a return to “der heim” (Yiddish for “the homeland”.) Or, maybe, it’s exactly the right day.

For the next few days, Vilnius is hosting the Community of Democracies (CD). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and front line human rights and democratic activists from around the globe will be coming together to help new and fragile democracies. I will be representing USAID at this gathering and focusing my participation on  CD’s newest initiative, the Democracy Partnership Challenge. This new initiative aims to encourage and support transparency and democratic reforms  in countries that have had recent democratic breakthroughs.  For me, my years of work culminating in this trip to Vilnius is a bridge to my family’s history back in Lithuania—what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as ” the arch of history bending toward justice.”

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Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge

Sarah Mendelson, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

When was the last time you used your mobile phone to look up an address, stream a video clip, or play a game? Now think about the last time you used your mobile phone to support human rights, raise awareness for a cause, or contribute to sustainable development. What would the world look like if we spent as much time using our cell phones to contribute to development as we do watching YouTube or sending email? What new tools could be developed—or new uses for existing technology found—to solve some of the world’s most pressing development challenges?

Our new Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance—launching later this summer—will devote expertise and resources to tackle these very questions, paying particular attention to marrying innovation and the challenge of protecting against and preventing human rights abuse.

With USAID Forward, an ambitious and transformative reform agenda that changes the way the Agency does business, USAID is leveraging the capabilities of our partners and challenging development professionals, countries, and communities to create new relationships that leverage technology and development to deliver real results.  “Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge” is just one of the ways USAID is fostering creativity in technology and development.

In partnership with the Demi and Ashton Foundation (DNA) and NetHope Inc. (a consortium of international humanitarian organizations and major technology companies), USAID announced the Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge in Russia on June 14, 2011. The aim of the challenge is to develop the most effective mobile technology application to combat trafficking in persons in Russia. Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking.  A 2008 benchmark survey supported by the Ford Foundation suggests that 8 out of 10 young Russian women think that human trafficking is a very serious issue, and that tens of thousands of Russian women who were trafficked at one point in their lives are living today in Russia.  It is time we all did more to address their needs. The contest aims to raise awareness of sex and labor trafficking and help civil society organizations mobilize to provide services to survivors.

Contestants from Russia and across the region, including diaspora communities, have until August 8, 2011 to submit entries. The technology application that wins the Grand Prize will be implemented in Russia through a pilot project with a domestic anti-trafficking organization. The Grand Prize winner will also receive $15,000 and travel expenses to the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York. The First Prize winner will receive $10,000 and travel expenses to CGI.

Stakeholders from Russia and the wider region—including Russian anti-trafficking organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, technology companies, and the public—will have the opportunity to judge the submissions based on their usefulness in preventing trafficking, raising awareness, providing services to survivors, innovation, ease of use, and potential for large-scale application.

Check out USAID’s IMPACT blog this week for more stories about USAID TIP programs around in the world in support of the Department of State’s eleventh annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report release.

For further information, or to enter the contest, please visit the Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge. This site is also available in a Russian version.

For further information on USAID’s work on Trafficking in Persons, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/cross-cutting_programs/wid/trafficking/

Interpreting the Arab Spring at DRG: 2.0

The events of the Arab Spring have had tectonic effects on Middle Eastern civil society from Tahrir Square to Benghazi. Today at 11:30am, USAID is hosting a panel of policy experts, moderated by our own Deputy Administrator, discussing how the international community can best respond to this historic opportunity to support freedom and opportunity in a region that has had neither. We’d like you to join us for that conversation. Streaming live as part of our upcoming conference: DRG 2.0: Promoting Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in 2011, the panel will take questions via social media, and you’re invited to participate.

You can follow along and participate on Twitter @USAID #DRG2011.

On December 17th, 2010, a young Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire. This desperate act by a man with no hope for a better life resonated with millions of Arabs and propelled the region into a period of dramatic, disruptive change that continues to evolve on a daily basis. The actions of protesters across the region have been spurred by well-documented grievances, such as the lack of jobs and housing, petty and grand corruption, human rights abuses that robbed people of their sense of justice and dignity, and an overwhelming sense of disconnect between the state and society.

Prior to December 17th, citizens in Arab states across the region lacked any formal political or constitutional process to meaningfully engage with governments that would have allowed them to play an active role in solving these fundamental problems. Therefore, when people demanded change after decades of political, social and economic stagnation, these demands were inherently revolutionary.

The events that began in Tunisia are now being compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the revolutions that spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe in the months that followed. However, while the events in the Middle East are of similar historical significance, they are playing out in a far different manner. Rather than a uniform “model” for transition, the region is simultaneously seeing relatively peaceful transitions of great promise in Tunisia and Egypt, nascent and uncertain attempts at regime-led reform in Morocco and Jordan, protests being met by the full weight of the state’s security forces in Syria, foreign intervention in Bahrain, and civil war and international military and humanitarian action in Libya. The one commonality among these revolutions is that while national leadership has been radically changed, the bureaucratic infrastructure of autocratic and authoritarian states remains relatively unchanged and a major challenge for reorienting these governments.

Join us today as we discuss these issues in-depth during our panel “Interpreting the Arab Spring” 11:30 AM on Monday. Presenters include:

  • Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Adminstrator, Bureau for the Middle East, USAID
  • Lorne Craner, President, of International Republican Institute
  • Michele Dunne, Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and
  • Robin Wright, Senior Fellow at U.S. Institute of Peace

The session will be moderated by Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg

Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance 2.0

Next week, USAID is excited to be hosting DRG 2.0: Promoting Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in 2011, and we’d like you to participate. What is DRG 2.0? Our own David Yang, Director of our Office of Democracy & Governance, says it best.

With the exciting emergence of the Arab Spring, USAID experts in Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance are taking stock of the challenges and opportunities presented by current events.  DRG 1.0 can best describe USAID’s history of efforts in response to the great wave of democracy preceded and accelerated by the fall of the Berlin Wall.  We’ve been working in support of democratic and human rights activists around the world for a good two decades.  But with the transformative events of the Arab Spring, we’re thinking about what we need to do differently in 2011 and beyond.

To do so we’re meeting with experts from around the world, including you, next Monday and Tuesday.  You’re invited to watch and participate at www.livestream.com/usaidlive (available 6/20, 8:30am) and via Twitter @USAID #drg2011. We’ll be covering everything from interpreting the Arab Spring, to promoting the rights of women, the disabled, and the LGBT community, and our panelists will be taking your questions. So tune in next week!

See below for a full schedule of events:

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U.S. State Department and USAID Support Journalism Training in Southern Sudan

In southern Sudan, Voice of America (VOA) journalist Shaka Ssali hosted training sessions from May 13 to 16 for journalism students and practicing journalists through the U.S. Department of State International Information Program (IIP) speaker program. More than 60 participants attended the training sessions coordinated by the U.S. Consulate in Juba and USAID.

In southern Sudan, journalists, students, and staff from USAID and the U.S. Department of State attended a journalism training workshop in May, 2011 as part of the Dialogue with Young African Leaders. Photo credit: USAID

Shaka Ssali, an American journalist born in Uganda and host of VOA’s “Straight Talk Africa,” was the first IIP speaker to visit southern Sudan. His visit was part of the Dialogue with Young African Leaders—a series of events held throughout Africa during the month of May to showcase the efforts of young African leaders, to engage with them in discussions about current challenges on the continent, and to help them discover ways to bring about positive change.

During the trainings, Ssali stressed the importance of accurate reporting, professionalism in journalism, and the critical role of free media in southern Sudan, which will become an independent nation July 9.

Responding to Urgent and Long-Term Needs in Sudan

Earlier this month, I visited Sudan, a nation poised to separate in July into two independent states following a peaceful referendum in January that USAID helped carry out. Since my visit, violence has erupted in Abyei, a disputed area on the north-south border, and threatened the fragile peace in the region.

Resolving the status of Abyei has long presented a difficult challenge. During my visit—together with UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and Norway Minister of Environment and International Development Erik Solheim—we stressed to the Government of Sudan and Government of Southern Sudan our concern about the destabilizing impact of uncertainty over the Abyei Area’s future.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah at a press conference in Juba on May 7th. Photo Credit: Government of Southern Sudan.

In response to the violence, we quickly activated our contingency plans. USAID partners are on the ground in areas where thousands of Sudanese have been displaced by fighting.  And we are working with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide emergency food aid, medicine, water, shelter, hygiene kits, and other assistance.

As we continue to address the emergency needs of people in and around Abyei—as well as in areas across the south affected by violence—we remain focused on helping bring stability and effective development to Sudan over the long term. During my visit, I met with Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit and announced that the United States would host an international engagement conference for southern Sudan after its independence.  The conference will enable the new nation to collaborate with other governments and the private sector on development priorities, especially in agriculture.

Nearly 87 percent of southern Sudanese rely on agriculture, livestock, or forestry to make a living.  Ninety percent of southern Sudan’s land is arable, but less than 10 percent is currently cultivated.

I met men and women farmers, who described to me how they struggle to expand their farms, buy quality seeds and fertilizer, and move their products to market.  Because of the challenges they face, the agricultural yield in southern Sudan is only 0.3 metric tons per hectare, despite good conditions and available land.  But the average yield worldwide for sorghum, for example, was 1.46 metric tons per hectare in 2009-10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  It’s easy to see how much potential is being lost.

I’m proud that this is an area in which the United States and our partners can help.

During my visit, I signed a communiqué with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the International Fertilizer Development Center to work with the Government of Southern Sudan to develop the commercial agriculture sector. By increasing productivity, supporting agribusinesses, and improving research and technology, we can begin the process of an agricultural transformation in southern Sudan.

We are working in many other areas to help bring basic services and opportunities to the people of Sudan. In Juba, I especially enjoyed visiting a USAID-supported radio station that not only provides news and information, but also offers lessons in English and mathematics that schools use as part of their regular instruction.  It was a powerful and effective way to extend the reach of education.

As the independence of southern Sudan approaches, we will continue to help build a peaceful, stable region and a better future for all the people of Sudan.

How Free is Your Media? A USAID-Funded Tool Provides Insight

On May 3, the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day. Reflecting on the day’s events, a few important questions arise about what role the media plays in a community and in a democracy.

First, how does freedom of the press compare to freedom of speech? Not only do journalists need freedom to speak and write without fear of censorship, retribution, or violence, but also they need professional training and access to information in order to produce high-quality work. Furthermore, journalists need to work within an organization that is effectively managed, which preserves editorial independence. People need multiple news sources that offer reliable and objective news, and societies need legal and social norms that promote access to public information.

Second, why is the media important? We care about the media because it is a powerful and critical tool for ensuring that citizens understand the state of their community, country, and world. In this way, citizens are equipped to participate in the democratic process. Media gives a voice to the people and helps to hold governments and institutions accountable for their actions. Media is also the way to spread critical community messages, such as how to prevent HIV infection, where to vote in the next election, and how to address difficult issues with balanced, well-informed analysis so as to promote peace and tolerance.

Lastly, how do we measure how well (or poorly) the media sector is functioning, and how do we gauge progress? With great interest in this subject, USAID has supported comprehensive, multi-year assessments carried out by IREX, which are reported in the Media Sustainability Index (MSI). This tool analyzes challenges in the media sector by country and allows for tracking of progress from year-to-year.  In this way, it helps USAID to better identify media development gaps and possible areas for technical assistance. The 2009 edition of the MSI for Africa is now available, and editions are also available for the Europe & Eurasia and Middle East regions. With multiple years of surveys now completed, the tool spurs discussion and understanding of both the current status of the media in a given country and region as well as the trends over time.

The MSI is both a quantitative and qualitative tool. It draws on a set of panels composed of local media and civil society experts from each country, and the resulting index assesses five objectives important to a successful media system, which include the quality and professionalism of journalism as well as the management and independence of media businesses. The results also capture the rapidly changing new media landscape on the continent.

MSI’s data is used by a variety of advocacy and human rights groups, as well as USAID, other donors, and academics who are interested in tracking the role of the media in larger development processes. Findings from the MSI can inform how we channel our resources; for example, the latest edition of the MSI reveals that weak business management and professional journalism skills are some of the key factors challenging the media sector in African countries today.  In response, USAID programming in countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and the DRC are better cultivating local skills and building the professional capacity of media.

From the Field: Our Ongoing Efforts in Egypt

Submitted by: David Yang, USAID Office of Democracy & Governance

Photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

For the past two months, USAID has responded rapidly to the historic events in Egypt. We are pivoting our existing portfolio of 36 democracy programs implemented by Egyptian, U.S. and international organizations to support the new opportunity.

During the protests, our partners deployed observers throughout the country to report on the democratic movement, provided legal and humanitarian aid to protesters and detainees, and disseminated information to local communities so that those not directly involved in the demonstrations could participate in the debate on political reform.

In support of the referendum on constitutional amendments, USAID’s partners trained domestic election observers and conducted media campaigns to encourage voter participation, especially among youth and women. Looking to the future, USAID grantees are advising at least 30 new political parties that aspire to contest the parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.

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