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Archives for Democracy and Governance

Strengthening Grassroots Democracy in Libya

Libya's Constitutional Drafting Assembly members and media professionals participate in a press conference to discuss the constitutional development process and key constitutional issues.

Libya’s Constitutional Drafting Assembly members and media professionals participate in a press conference to discuss the constitutional development process and key constitutional issues.

For 40 years in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi pitted community against community and tribe against tribe to prevent any organized revolt.

Since the fall of Gaddafi’s authoritarian regime five years ago, a bruising battle over Libya’s national governance continues to test national leaders. The country has experienced ongoing damaging political divisions — even as national surveys continue to show the vast majority of Libyans seek a unified Libya with democratic governance.

Only five years ago, there were no municipal governments in Libya at all. Now, newly elected municipal officials are working to fill the governance vacuum that existed at the national level.

What’s unfolding now in the dry, southern desert city of Sabha highlights how Libyans are developing institutions at the local level and how the fate of the more than 6 million Libyans is evolving.

USAID supports consensus building for the national dialogue, constitution drafting and governing process in Libya.

USAID supports consensus building for the national dialogue, constitution drafting and governing process in Libya.

A grassroots Libyan democracy emerges

In Sabha, the opening of a community center has enabled citizens to engage in the decision-making processes.

The city’s mayor, Hamed al-Khayalee, describes the center as a neutral and accessible space for honest conversations between residents and local government leaders, nurturing the legitimacy of the local institutions.

The community center has also been the site for training the municipal council on public relations to better enable councilors to inform the public, further increasing transparency and credibility.

This center is just one of the many ways that USAID is working to improve Libyan governance and build community cohesion.     

USAID has been in Libya since 2011 training newly elected leaders, facilitating input of Libyans into the constitutional drafting process, and strengthening elections.

Woven through each of these activities is a concerted effort to bring Libyans from all walks of life together — often for the first time — over issues of mutual interest.  In this way, stereotypes are broken down and Libyan cohesion can be forged.  

In another example, late last year we brought together 12 women municipal councilors representing the districts of Tripoli, Zawiya, Jabal al Gharbi, Benghazi and Wadi al Shati.

Our goals were to build the technical skills of these local government officials, get a sense of what needs exist for female councilors, and set a foundation for the establishment of a Women’s Municipal Councilor Association.

The women leaders discussed the principles of local governance, public service delivery, and the responsibilities of municipal councilors.  

A participant of a gender and elections workshop engages men and women in discussion.

A participant of a gender and elections workshop engages men and women in discussion.

An End to Authoritarianism

Libyans want a legitimate and effective democracy in which individuals can live with freedom, dignity and opportunity. This is easy to agree upon.

But real threats to unity exist from within Libya’s different factions, and especially in the form of extremist violence, foreign fighters and Da’esh.

After generations of central government authoritarianism, these municipal officials represent a bridge from the past to a unified future — even as they build bridges to the east, south and the west of Libya.

Five years after the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime, Libya continues to struggle over competing interests that have had a disastrous impact on its people.

USAID supports the brave Libyan men and women who agree that authoritarianism should not rise again, that the Government of National Accord and the Libyan-led, UN-facilitated Libyan Political Agreement is the only viable solution to the country’s political and security crisis.

Effective institutions encourage stability, and only through the genuine inclusion of all groups will there be Libyan prosperity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jed Meline is the USAID Senior Development Advisor for Libya.

Could Sri Lanka’s 2015 Elections Signal a New Era of Democracy?

Sri Lankans line up to cast their vote during the country’s presidential election in January 2015. / USAID

Sri Lankans line up to cast their vote during the country’s presidential election in January 2015. / USAID

Sri Lanka held two elections this year that were markedly different from those in the past. Why? Nobody could predict the outcome. It was a true victory for democracy.

In the election for president in January, Sri Lankan citizens succeeded in making their voices heard, voting for an unconventional choice—a candidate who did not belong to any established political party. In August, parliamentary elections led to a coalition government instead of a majority party holding power.

The news media framed the outcomes as a signal that citizens were voting against a history of nepotism, corruption and abuse of power. Turnout was high—at about 82 percent and 78 percent, respectively. International and domestic election monitors praised the elections as some of the most transparent and credible in the Asian region.

A changing political landscape

But it hasn’t always been like this. In past elections here, we’ve seen violence, vote rigging and mudslinging. This year, we were impressed with how well organized the Sri Lankan election officials were and the level of planning and professionalism that made these elections a success.

Sri Lanka has come a long way. USAID has supported this small island nation off the southern tip of India by investing in its economy, society and institutions since 1956. The cornerstone of our work this year has been supporting free and fair elections and a democratic transition.

Domestic election monitors at a polling booth during 2009 elections in Sri Lanka / USAID

Domestic election monitors at a polling booth during 2009 elections in Sri Lanka / USAID

Our work has included training and deploying 15,000 election observers to oversee polls, providing mail-in ballots, establishing counting centers, and conducting workshops on electoral laws, financial management, and how to take security precautions and report elections violence at polls.

During the parliamentary elections, we noticed how USAID-trained election monitors worked with polling officials and the police to immediately stop a political candidate from campaigning at a polling station on Election Day—a violation of electoral law. They took him away from the crowd of voters and brought the situation under control so well and amicably that no one seemed to notice.

The election monitors also paid close attention to the dynamics in each of the voting districts. For example, in a district close to Colombo, they noticed a tense atmosphere—small groups of people were whispering to each other as they watched vehicles and passersby suspiciously. Keeping close watch, the election monitors asked police to be on hand in case of trouble.

USAID has also supported the design and printing of an election observation handbook, a trilingual guidebook on the electoral process, and a braille pamphlet on the electoral process for the visually impaired. We’ve supported voter education, helping vulnerable families register to vote and obtain necessary identification documents.

New direction for elections

During the August elections, the law appeared to be enforced equitably, irrespective of the wealth and status of candidates and voters, and election violations were addressed quickly. Invalid votes were low compared to previous years.

Thanks to newly enforced election regulations, government institutions and the state media took a more neutral stance, showing less bias to the ruling party, a common practice in the past. Government institutions were mandated to remove political billboards and posters and reduce the number of rallies and people who canvassed homes.

And in the weeks leading up to the elections, more Sri Lankans stayed informed by hearing from political candidates directly on social media platforms instead of depending only on the traditional news media.

The nation and the region can learn from the practices of the 2015 elections. We fervently hope to see these practices in future elections.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Anil Liyanage and Angelina Hermon are Foreign Service Nationals working with USAID in Sri Lanka.

Passanna Gunasekera, a Program and Outreach Specialist working with USAID in Sri Lanka, contributed to this blog.

Beyond News and Numbers: Who are Refugees?

Children play in the streets of the Hittein Refugee Camp in Zarqa, Jordan. / USAID Jordan

Children play in the streets of the Hittein Refugee Camp in Zarqa, Jordan. / USAID Jordan

Today, in honor of World Refugee Day, USAID recognizes the strength and resilience of the more than 60 million people around the world who flee war, persecution, and human rights abuses in pursuit of safety and stability.

The world is facing an extraordinary time of conflict and crisis— the number of refugees and displaced persons globally is at its highest point since World War II. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 90,000 refugees seeking safer, more prosperous shores have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean by boat in 2015.

World Refugee Day marks an opportunity for the international community to recognize the plight of these uprooted families across the globe.

This year’s theme is ‘Get to Know a Refugee – Ordinary People Living through Extraordinary Times.’ The goal is to remind us that refugees are just like everyone else, that their borderless status is not the only thing that defines them.

As many advocates and international development professionals know, more than anything refugees seek normalcy – whether it is a traditional meal that reminds them of home or ensuring that their children continue their education.

The story behind the journey

A mission trip working with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic inspired my own personal identification and commitment to refugees.

After witnessing the social exclusion and instability that new refugees face, I knew that I wanted to help them re-establish their lives. With the resolve to protect the human rights of refugees, I became a resettlement caseworker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a USAID partner dedicated to serving refugees.

As a member of the reception team, I was the first point of contact for refugees arriving in the United States. I greeted refugees at the airport, helped them settle into their new homes, and connected them to vital social services.

I learned that refugees have two stories: one of their past and one of the future they dream of. Both are incredibly unique and complex. Understanding their background stories helped me bridge their worlds together.

I remember taking the bus with one of my clients to show him his travel route home. As a young refugee from the Near East, he told me his friends couldn’t believe he made it. His mom didn’t sleep for the two nights while he traveled to America.

He had watched a lot of American movies and he said that he felt like he was living in one. Although he had been in the United States only four days, he already visited a friend several hours away to prove that he could get lost and find his way back. Like myself, he left home at 17 to pursue his education and career, and had an insatiable sense of wanderlust.

As we shared our hopes for the future, we were colleagues, compatriots, and comrades. I encouraged him to not give up, because even with an education, achieving success in the U.S. takes patience and perseverance.

Although it has been many years since I personally greeted refugees with the IRC, their stories continue to influence my work in international development.

Former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah travelled to Kenya in July 2011, to assess the drought situation and the humanitarian response. Here he speaks with the chairwoman of a community effort to distribute food and clothes to new arrivals at Dadaab refugee camp. / Anna Gohmann, USAID

Former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah travelled to Kenya in July 2011, to assess the drought situation and the humanitarian response. Here he speaks with the chairwoman of a community effort to distribute food and clothes to new arrivals at Dadaab refugee camp. / Anna Gohmann, USAID

A commitment to the human rights of refugees

USAID is working around the world to support refugees by giving them dignity and opportunity as they regain normalcy in their new lives.

From Syrian refugees in Jordan to Rohingha refugees in Bangladesh, USAID equips families with the resources and support they need to meet their basic needs despite the extraordinary struggles they face every day.

The civil war in Syria has resulted in the world’s largest refugee population. Since 2011, more than four million Syrians have been displaced to neighboring countries. Through innovative food assistance programs USAID is providing electronic vouchers and regionally purchased food to refugees. With access to local ingredients, refugees can cook traditional meals—a small comfort that helps them feel more at home in an unfamiliar environment.

In Thailand, USAID is working with the IRC and other partners to provide long-term health programs for as more than 100,000 Burmese refugees. More than two million people from Burma have been displaced due to political instability and human rights violations. The USAID Support to Health, Institution Building, Education, and Leadership in Policy Dialogue (SHIELD) project provides access to essential health services and education for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons living on the Thailand-Burma border.

As we work to end extreme poverty, our Agency is committed to ensuring that every person, everywhere, feels safe, protected, and has the opportunity to thrive.  Helping refugees and ensuring they are able to regain quality lives across the world is critical to this mission.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer S. Kim, Program Support Specialist in USAID’s Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG Center).

Election Access for Voters with Disabilities: The Good, the Bad and the Totally Bizarre

A voter casts her ballot in Aceh during the 2009 Indonesian legislative elections. / Suparta, IFES

A voter casts her ballot in Aceh during the 2009 Indonesian legislative elections. / Suparta, IFES

It should be self-evident that election access for voters with disabilities cannot be reduced to the installation of a ramp or the addition of a Braille ballot. Nor can effective participation in the political life of one’s country be reduced to election-day ballot casting. Persons with disabilities must be accommodated in all facets of political and public life. This requires attention to the entire election cycle and the multiple elements within that cycle that hinder or enhance accessibility.

Assessing gaps between international legal standards, and domestic law and practice is critical and affects developed and developing democracies alike. Across the world, constitutions mandate universal suffrage and some prohibit disability discrimination. And yet, in countless countries, electoral codes exclude certain categories of persons with disabilities from voting or holding office. Or, they institute unorthodox procedures at the ballot box. Here are just three recent—and bizarre—examples:

  • In the United States during the 2000 elections, voters with disabilities who required an accessible voting machine were able to position their wheelchairs comfortably under the machine and easily reach it. The problem? The ballot provided in the machine in one polling location was a sample—proffering George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as candidates.
  • In Armenia during 2007 elections, the head of a leading non-governmental election observer group welcomed the proposal to include observers with disabilities on observer teams. The problem? He advised that they could participate in morning observation only, suggesting they would be too tired to work into the evening.
  • In Jordan, voters with disabilities requiring assistance of any kind had to declare their need for assistance at the polling center. The problem? In order to receive any kind of assistance, they had to declare themselves illiterate and sign a declaration to that effect prior to receiving disability accommodations. And then, they could “whisper” their candidate choice into the ear of an election official who would mark their ballot.

In each of these examples, disability rights organizations engaged in legal advocacy to effect changes in law, policy and practice. U.S. Government support played an important role in these efforts, as did, of course, the expertise of persons with disabilities.

Election Day in Libya July 2012. / IFES

Election Day in Libya July 2012. / IFES

The legal landscape is complex, and the expertise of disability rights organizations to engage in law and policy advocacy in the sphere of electoral law, policy and procedure is limited. To address this knowledge gap, USAID is supporting development of a new module, entitled “Elections and Disability Rights” designed to train election stakeholders. This program—“Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections” (BRIDGE)—is a global curriculum developed by the Australian Electoral Commission, International IDEA, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division.

Earlier this fall in Cairo a customized pilot of the module was tested in a three-day workshopsponsored by USAID and implemented by IFES Egypt, Helwan University and NAS, a disabled people’s organization in Cairo. IFES Egypt organized this workshop as the culminating activity of its development of the new generic BRIDGE module “Elections and Disability Rights.”

Practices from around the world show that it is possible to break down barriers and include persons with disabilities in all stages of the electoral cycle. Beyond voting, persons with disabilities can be positioned as voter educators, election commissioners, poll workers, observers, monitors and candidates. The USAID-funded Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes manual aims to provide local and national governments, international organizations, civil society groups, development professionals and donors with the tools and knowledge to strengthen the political participation of persons with disabilities in elections and political process programs so they have a greater voice in decisions that impact their welfare and communities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Lord, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University

Announcing USAID’s Open Data Policy

I am pleased today to announce the release of USAID’s policy on Development Data, known as Automated Directives System 579 (ADS 579).  In an era of unprecedented openness in government, ADS 579 is USAID’s first ever open data policy, providing a framework for systematically collecting Agency-funded data in a central repository, structuring the data to ensure usability and making the data public, while ensuring rigorous protections for privacy and security.

USAID has long been a data-driven and evidence-based Agency, but never has the need been greater to share our data with a diverse set of partners—including the general public—to improve development outcomes. For the first time in history, we have the tools, technologies and approaches to end extreme poverty within two decades. And while many of these new innovations were featured at our recent Frontiers in Development Forum, we also recognize that they largely rely on an ongoing stream of data (and new insights generated by that data) to ensure their appropriate application.

Pakistani stockbrokers are reflected in a share prices board during a trading session at the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) in Karachi on April 24, 2009.  AFP/Rizwan Tabassum

Pakistani stockbrokers are reflected in a share prices board during a trading session at the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) in Karachi on April 24, 2009. / AFP/Rizwan Tabassum

One of the reasons this policy is so important is that it paves the way for USAID and its partners to draw from an increasingly robust, data-rich environment to create these breakthrough insights and solutions in support of our mission well into the future. Specifically, the policy:

  • Establishes the Development Data Library (DDL) as the Agency’s repository of USAID-funded, machine readable data created or collected by the Agency and its implementing partners;
  • Requires USAID staff and implementing partners (via associated changes to procurement instruments) to submit datasets generated with USAID funding to the DDL in machine-readable, non-proprietary formats;
  • Implements a data tagging protocol in keeping with the President’s Executive Order and Office of Management and Budget policy on Open Data; and
  • Defines a data clearance process to ensure that USAID makes as much data publicly available as possible, while still affording all protections for individual privacy, operational and national security, and other considerations allowable by law.

USAID is committed to treating its data not simply as an output of Agency efforts, but as precious “development capital” that can best serve the global good when widely shared.

Afghan nurses and midwives walk past a board showing statistics of the maternity ward at the Mailala Maternity hospital in Kabul on September 20, 2011.  / AFP/Adek Berry

Afghan nurses and midwives walk past a board showing statistics of the maternity ward at the Mailala Maternity hospital in Kabul on September 20, 2011. / AFP/Adek Berry

In fact, based on the results of our recent survey, we know that stakeholders from around the globe are already using USAID’s open data to improve development outcomes. One organization in Kenya is using this data to target needy areas for enhanced agricultural training; an international organization is creating visualizations of aid flows to specific countries—down to the street corner level—to better understand the scope of our efforts; another is promoting additional research by linking health and livelihood outcome data to environmental variables.

As President Barack Obama noted in his remarks at the third anniversary of the Open Government Partnership, the United States is accelerating efforts to enhance transparency, including the development of digital services in the open. USAID is committed to remaining at the forefront of these efforts, and we look forward to engaging you in the process.

Have questions about the policy?  Please post your question on StackExchange where we can provide a response for public benefit.  Also please feel free to download our fact sheet [PDF, 139kB] or to contact us at opendata@usaid.gov.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Angelique M. Crumbly is the Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Management. Brandon Pustejovsky is Chief Data Officer at USAID. Follow him @bpushed.

Standing with Civil Society

In an effort to advance the Stand for Civil Society call to action, launched in September 2013, the President reminded us at this year’s United Nations General Assembly that “it is our obligation as free peoples, as free nations, to stand with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups who are working for equality and opportunity and justice and human dignity all over the world.”

He referenced a newly issued Presidential Memorandum that directs U.S. agencies abroad to support civil society in several ways and announced a groundbreaking USAID initiative, in collaboration with the Sweden International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Aga Khan Foundation, to establish Regional Civil Society Innovation Centers that build connections among civil society organizations by providing resources, tools, and knowledge.

Civil society plays an important role in building stable, robust democracies and in protecting the rights of marginalized populations. At the same time, it remains an easy target for governments resistant to change. USAID has become increasingly concerned in recent years as governments adopt more laws that restrict activities of civil society and continue to harass, detain and imprison civil society activists. Tom Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment describes this closing space phenomenon as the “new normal,” which is why the President’s call to action is both timely and necessary.

Photo of woman with ink on finger

By engaging youth in the process of governance, we build a solid foundation for future leaders and contribute to establishing a stable and prosperous future for their countries. / Global Communities

Last month in Jakarta, Indonesia, I attended the Asia Civil Society Experience Summit (CSES), co-hosted by USAID, where the role of civil society and the backlash from numerous governments was the subject of much discussion. At the end of the Asia CSES, the participating activists issued a statement, which called upon Asian civil society, Asian governments and the international community to:

  • Build an enabling environment for civil society;
  • Promote innovative partnerships with diverse actors and change agents:
  • Leverage information and communication technologies to build and strengthen local and regional networks;
  • Explore innovative means to provide technical, institutional and financial support to civil society; and
  • Build and strengthen civil society transparency, accountability and effective governance.

The statement closed with a plea for “donors, governments, and international community to ensure continued financial and political commitment to civil society, particularly in closing and closed environments.”

Having travelled to Jakarta from Sri Lanka, I understood well the tensions and challenges that USAID faces in these environments. Sri Lanka was once a robust democracy but then suffered 25 years of brutal civil war. In the aftermath of the conflict, the government has sought to restrict NGOs they view as “political” by intimidating activists and imposing arduous legal regulations.

USAID’s response applies our three-pronged “prevention, adaptation, and support” approach in closing spaces: prevent the introduction of restrictive legislation; adapt to government efforts that make our existing operations difficult; and commit to continued support, financial or otherwise, for organizations that work in development, reconciliation and human rights.

In Sri Lanka today, many of the organizations that USAID supports are leading the effort to counter government plans to adopt a restrictive NGO law and to highlight concerns about security force intimidation that is affecting their operations. We are also funding programs that work with CSOs to ensure that they can continue serving their communities and advocating for human rights, even as government intimidation increases. And, we intend on continuing to support civil society, even after we transition in 2017 from a full mission to a limited presence country status program.

In Cambodia, USAID’s Development Innovations lab is connecting civil society, technology and social enterprises to provide physical space, expertise and catalytic programming to a number of groups and initiatives. The lab is involved in several activities, including teaching girls to utilize computer code in preparation for an international competition and assisting agriculture organizations to develop better monitoring apps. Via another project in Cambodia, USAID is funding the creation of mobile phone apps that allow Cambodians to read, text and chat in Khmer, their national language, as well as in Cham, the minority language.

The U.S. is the largest supporter of civil society in the world, having invested more than $2.7 billion to strengthen civil society since 2010.

As we continue to face grave challenges around the world, USAID will ensure that, when it comes to civil society, our financial investments are matched by our political commitments, and that we utilize both our presence in the field and technological innovations to support inclusive and accountable democracies that advance freedom, dignity and development.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Larry Garber is a Senior Advisor in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning

International Day of Democracy: Engaging Young People on Democracy

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy – Engaging Young People on Democracy – is an opportunity to reflect on our Agency’s efforts to protect, support and empower young people across the globe, especially as they engage in democratic processes. Youth play a critical role in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts, and are often at the forefront of people’s movements, such as the “Arab Spring.”

Despite being the majority of the population of many of the countries in which USAID operates, youth are frequently excluded from the political process, due to members of older generations who expect subservience and offer no respect to youth voices. Studies have shown that not effectively engaging disaffected youth can result in instability in communities and nations in the long term, and foment unrest that may ultimately hinder – not assist – the advancement of peace and democracy. If not engaged in efforts to advance positive change, youth can easily lose faith in the democratic process, become disillusioned or apathetic, vulnerable to extremist groups or gangs, and, in the worst case,  become perpetrators of violence.

Alumni of the 4th edition of the Certificate in Leadership and Political Management course, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Corina Fuentes

Alumni of the 4th edition of the Certificate in Leadership and Political Management course, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Corina Fuentes

However, strengthening youth capacity will enhance their resilience and their communities. Investing in young people will also pay sustainable returns; youth may indeed be the primary hope for a reform-minded leadership. This was noted by President Barack Obama, who launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 to support young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.

USAID is working to incorporate youth through strengthening youth programming, participation and partnership in support of Agency development objectives, as well as integrating youth issues and engaging young people across Agency initiatives and operations.

 Opening ceremony of the District youth Forum in Oecusse in Timor Leste on April 23, 2013. A total of 40 youth representatives from across the country participated.  / SFCG Timor Leste

Opening ceremony of the District youth Forum in Oecusse in Timor Leste on April 23, 2013. A total of 40 youth representatives from across the country participated.  / SFCG Timor Leste

In Nicaragua, USAID’s Young Civic and Political Leaders Initiative, implemented by National Democracy Institute (NDI), supports a Certificate on Leadership and Political Management program which equips young Nicaraguans with skills and knowledge to govern effectively and become community leaders.  The program specifically aims to create a space where youth representing different political ideologies and from different backgrounds can come together to learn about democratic leadership.

In East Timor, USAID’s Youth Radio for Peace Building (YR4PB) project, implemented by Search for Common Ground, is aiming to transform the way in which youth engage with government and community leaders  to promote peace and reconciliation, and prevent election-related violence through civic education, leadership training and media programming.

In Kenya, USAID’s Inter-Party Youth Forum, implemented by NDI, is promoting inter-party youth leadership and engagement through working with political parties, and nominated party youth to establish the Inter-Party Youth Forum (IPYF).  The Youth Forum focuses on clean elections, implementation of youth provisions in the constitution, and campaigning against negative ethnicity.

To date, the IPYF has expanded to the country level, engaged more than 1,500 youth through outreach sessions, held a national youth peace conference attended by 950 young people, and conducted a peace campaign around the 2013 election.

In Egypt, USAID’s LEAD-Women and Youth Program, implemented by Creative Associates, is a $1.3 million project with the objective to encourage and support the active participation of women and youth in political dialogue and debate. This includes during key transitional democratic processes through voter education, civic outreach and the establishment and expansion of civil society advocacy networks.

As USAID continues to adapt our democracy, human rights and governance programs to the changing global context, we remain committed to continuing to empower and support young people to become active, engaged and passionate leaders and democracy supporters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for the USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance in the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Moving Forward with USAID’s LGBT Vision for Action

A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag during a Rainbow Pride rally in Kolkata on July 15, 2012.

India: A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag during a Rainbow Pride rally in Kolkata on July 15, 2012. More than 500 people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and supporters participated in the annual event to show solidarity and to create awareness about their basic rights. AFP PHOTO/Dibyangshu SARKAR

 

With June’s Pride month celebrations behind us, I reflect on the reasons I celebrated.

Reverberations continue from President Obama’s ground-breaking Memorandum of December 2011, which outlined the U.S. Government’s commitment to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks around the world. USAID continues to take a lead among foreign affairs agencies in fulfilling the tenets of the Presidential Memorandum, recently issuing its own document: USAID LGBT Vision for Action.

USAID’s vision is a world in which the basic and universal human rights of LGBT persons are respected and they are able to live with dignity, free from discrimination, persecution and violence. In this world, LGBT persons are able to participate fully in democratic decision-making in their households, communities and countries; have equal access to sustainable livelihoods, economic assets and resources; are not barred from accessing the basic education, health and other services that are enjoyed by their fellow citizens and that are essential for personal well-being and growth.

In Colombia, for example, USAID has worked hard to build the skills of LGBT leaders so they can participate fully and effectively in democratic processes. We are supporting a project designed to extend democratic governance and respect for human rights to all Colombians, as well as mainstream LGBT and other vulnerable populations’ rights (e.g. through improving relations with law enforcement and pursuing legal cases to enforce human rights). Our Colombian civil society partners are developing advocacy and policy strategies, improving relations with law enforcement, pursuing legal cases to enforce human rights abuses, and raising awareness to institutionalize a culture of respect for LGBT rights.

A demonstrator holds a rainbow flag in Bratislava on June 9, 2012

Slovakia: A demonstrator holds a rainbow flag in Bratislava on June 9, 2012, during the Rainbow Pride Parade, a march for the human rights of non-heterosexual people and the celebration of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) pride in Slovakia. AFP PHOTO/SAMUEL KUBANI

When I first engaged in the struggle for human rights of LGBT folks numerous Administrations ago, my government was a determined adversary. Look where we are today.

The first Pride celebration I attended, decades ago, was small, apologetic and attended by only a furtive few. My calendar this past June couldn’t possibly have accommodated all the events hosted by the White House and federal agencies across Washington, D.C., let alone the numerous events hosted by USAID missions across the more than 80 countries in which we work. Near the end of June, I co-moderated a session at the first ever White House Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights.

When I first engaged as an American in the struggle for the human rights of LGBT folks around the world, it was often difficult to identify local LGBT representatives with whom to interface. Today they have bravely and proudly organized in most countries. They guide us, and trust us to join forces with them, shoulder to shoulder, as they live and breathe and move their cultures and countries toward realization of the Martin Luther King Jr. teaching: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

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Vietnam: A participant dances during a flashmob organised by the local LGBT community in Hanoi on September 23, 2012. Two first ever flashmobs by LGBT communities were held at the same time in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two largest cities. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam

Soon after arriving at USAID, four months ago, I travelled to Uganda to meet with some of these brave, proud individuals. I came away not only bowed by the enormity of their challenges and the urgency and critical importance of supporting them, but also – by virtue, above all, of their brilliance and tenacity – convinced of the inevitability of their success.

While many of us celebrated this June openly and joyously, others of us were forced to do so behind closed doors, shielding ourselves from hostile environments. In some 80 countries around the world, same-gender consensual relations are criminalized; in a half dozen countries, same-gender consensual relations are punishable by death. In countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, this past year saw backsliding of enormous and tragic proportions.

To say that there is a lot of work ahead is to state the obvious. At the same time, more than ever before in my lifetime, I understood and joined in the celebrations of Pride month 2014.  I look forward to Pride month 2015, and celebrating the further achievements of our global community.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Todd Larson is the Senior LGBT Coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

An Everyday Movement

Every four years, the world celebrates one of the most monumental sporting events in history – the FIFA World Cup. In so many ways, it is a sporting event like no other given its mobilization and marketing power and its ability to tap into core emotions of all people – irrespective of ethnicity, disability, economy or history.

As has been seen over the last few weeks, the World Cup also draws up within us the firm recognition of the power of sport, our global common denominator. For millions of people across the world, sport is the ultimate form of expression, a classroom of teaching and learning, and the most potent dissemination tool for key messages on behalf of communities and governments alike every day of the year.

Special Olympics Malawi athlete practices football drill during government sponsored demonstration event in Salima, Malawi May 2013. Photo Credit: Special Olympics

Special Olympics Malawi athlete practices football drill during government sponsored demonstration event in Salima, Malawi May 2013. / Special Olympics

From the football pitch in rural Malawi to the recreational cricket game in the parks of India, sport brings people together in a way that few other social mechanisms can. It unites a sense of connectivity in all of us, and it speaks a universal language that brings out excitement, togetherness and anticipation.

Harnessing this convening power of sport, Special Olympics serves as a global, grassroots movement dedicated to empowering the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Serving as an important Development-through-Sport movement, Special Olympics works to create global communities of support, holding over 70,000 competitions a year – about 190 each day.

Team Haiti and Team Italia battle it out at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Photo Credit: Special Olympics

Team Haiti and Team Italia battle it out at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. / Special Olympics

Special Olympics also brings critical services to one of the most marginalized populations on the planet through a wide range of trainings, health screenings, youth programs and public awareness campaigns. We create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.

Our goal is to reach the 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world as well as their families. Football (or soccer in the United States) is the world’s most popular sport. We know football transforms athletes, and we believe it has the popularity and power to help transform attitudes about intellectual disability as well. One of our most important sports programs is the Special Olympics Global Football Initiative, where thousands of Special Olympics athletes are able to train and compete with the support of the professional football clubs Inter-Milan, Italy; Manchester United, Glasgow Celtic and Tottenham Hotspur, United Kingdom; Sports Club Corinthians Paulista, Brazil; Monarcas de Morelia, Mexico; and Sounders FC, USA.

Working with FIFA and Soccerex, the leading provider of business events for the global football community, the World Cup has provided an opportunity for Special Olympics to highlight this initiative, giving it greater visibility to a large global football audience and raising awareness of the impact that sports like football can have on the lives of those with intellectual disabilities both on and off the field.

So as the World Cup comes to an end, sport for development programs will continue to create a lasting impact around the world. For Special Olympics, the love of the game isn’t a once-every-four-year event but an everyday movement – inching the world ever closer to full inclusion and the realization of human potential, unity and dignity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Evangelista is Vice President, Global Development and Government Relations for Special Olympics. Follow Special Olympics @SpecialOlympics.

For Jordan, U.S. Support ‘Guaranteed’

As I have traveled to Jordan over the past few years, I have witnessed up close the impact of regional instability and the influx of refugees from the Syrian crisis. At the community level, resources and services are stretched thin. At the national level, the impact is being felt on budget priorities. A recent USAID study estimates the fiscal cost for Jordan of hosting Syrian refugees is staggering—equivalent to 2.4 percent of Jordan’s GDP.

In a neighborhood of growing instability, time and time again Jordan has been a steadfast partner in the years. It is vitally important the United States assist Jordan to stand firm and maintain a strong economy in the face of regional uncertainty.

Thats why yesterday, the bond sale for a second United States-backed loan guarantee for Jordan, is especially relevant.

This second loan guarantee — for $1 billion – will help Jordan shoulder some of the enormous burden it is currently managing. It fulfills the commitment made by President Obama during his meeting in California this year with Jordan’s King Abdullah. President Obama noted at that meeting that, “we have very few friends, partners and allies around the world that have been as steadfast and reliable as His Majesty King Abdullah, as well as the people of Jordan.”

The loan guarantee will allow Jordan to access affordable financing from international capital markets—ensuring that it can continue to provide critical services to its citizens, even as it hosts over 600,000 Syrian refugees in this small country of 6 million people.

The future of Jordan

The future of Jordan / USAID

USAID is supporting the Government and host communities of Jordan as they cope with the Syrian crisis. We have re-oriented existing programs to account for the flow of refugees and added funds to focus directly on stresses caused by the crisis. With 85 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan living outside of refugee camps in local communities, the United States is helping expand school room and hospital capacity and increase trash collection.

Just last week, as part of Let Girls Learn, we announced a $12 million grant to help Jordanian schools provide education to Syrian refugees, including 180,000 children.

Our partnership did not start with the current crisis. For over 60 years, USAID and Jordan have worked together as partners in development. Together we are creating modern learning environments for Jordan’s young population, providing them with the education and skills to compete in a global market. To spur Jordan’s economic growth, USAID programs are promoting workforce development, job creation, and supporting regulatory and fiscal policy reforms.

Building on the success of last year’s loan guarantee agreement with Jordan, the current loan guarantee will enable the United States to continue to work alongside other donors—including the IMF—to support Jordan’s ongoing economic reforms. It will spur broad-based growth—helping Jordan to develop a more competitive workforce, reduce the strain on public services, and create good jobs.

Finally, Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and has one of the highest population growth rates in the region. Demand for water far exceeds Jordan’s renewable freshwater sources, particularly with the continuing influx of refugees. Here, too, USAID is helping communities improve water resource management and rebuild aging water and wastewater infrastructure. USAID is also helping Jordanian families obtain low cost cisterns to collect water for households and gardens especially as families and communities expand with new arrivals from Syria.

USAID is helping families in Jordan, such as this one, improve water resource management. / Alyssa Mueller

USAID is helping families in Jordan, such as this one, improve water resource management. / Alyssa Mueller

Rapid population growth has reduced the amount of fresh water available to the average Jordanian to less than 158 cubic meters per year—10 times less than the average U.S. citizen consumes. The renewable water supply, replenished each year by rainfall, only meets about half of total water consumption.

Helping Jordan’s government continue to provide essential services, like access to potable water, is critical as the country manages its own development with an increased burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees in an unstable neighborhood. The loan guarantee is an important demonstration that today and tomorrow we stand by our strong partnership with the people of Jordan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alina Romanowski is Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Middle East Bureau

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