Why is the Thai Middle Class Not Fond of Democracy?


Since the Thai political crisis that eventually led to a coup in 2006 overthrowing the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, it became evident that the Thai middle class and an army of civil society organisations were not performing as agents of change. Instead they became defenders of the old power to protect their political interests. In 2005, the Bangkok-based People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) launched protests Thaksin. Clad in yellow shirts, the protesters accused Thaksin of committing corruption and disrespecting the much-revered monarchy—a sacred institution in Thailand. Therefore, the mission of removing Thaksin became necessary and legitimate.

The middle class and civil society claimed to defend democracy, supposedly tainted by self-interested politicians like Thaksin. At a deeper level, the fear of Thaksin and his successful populist policy designed to empower the rural residents answered to why the middle class and civil society rejected his kind of democracy. The monarchy, long regarded as a symbol of prosperity of the Thai middle class, conveniently provided itself as an instrument for its supporters in rejecting democracy à la Thaksin through a binary explanation: moral and immoral politics, with the monarchy representing the moral force versus immoral and selfish politicians

But the era of King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ended. The anxiety has forced the middle class and civil society to rethink their political view. This explains why they decided to support the coup—with the latest one in 2014 removing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin, from power. This short essay explains the way in which the middle class and civil society organisations perceived democracy. This perception has been molded according the political change, which affected their political status. With the ongoing process of royal transition and uncertainties that come with it, the middle class and civil society organisations cast their suspicion over democracy because, without King Bhumibol, the monarchy may not be able to guarantee their political interests.

But first it is imperative to discuss two schools of thought on the nature of the Thai middle class. One is the well-known modernization school, which elaborates a connection between the level of the people’s income and the sustainability of democracy. It posits that when a nation reaches a high degree of economic development, leading to a better livelihood among citizens, what follows is the consolidation of democracy, supposedly promoted by the new middle class. As people become richer, they appear to entertain certain liberal attitudes. These liberal attitudes in turn represent a key ingredient behind the making of a more democratic society.

But critics sometime disagree with the modernization school by pointing to certain examples, as seen in Singapore and Malaysia where high economic growth has not always led to democracy. Given this shortcoming of the modernization school, this essay relies on the contingent democrats school. I argue that the Thai middle class’s affinity with democracy is mainly contingent. It does not hesitate to cooperate with the military to defend its political interests. Thus, it can be perceived as an unreliable partner of democracy. It only lends its support for democracy on its own conditional terms, earning the title of the “contingent class”.

Other characteristics of the Thai middle class include the wide array of backgrounds of its members but this prevents them to form a unified group. There are no consistent ideology or political preferences, ranging from endorsing the military coups, calling for the king to intervene in the political crisis, to giving consent to the appointment of unelected prime ministers. When the Thai middle class is able to firm up its political position through the democratic process, it is willing to discuss political inclusion or even support the lower class under types of alliances. However, when its interests come under threat from the lower rungs of society, the middle class switches to its preference of political exclusion; at the same time as it begins to undermine those posing threats.

As for the Thai civil society organisations, their development has been slow. The first Thai NGO, Thai Rural Reconstruction Movement, was established in 1969, but volunteer activism only started to proliferate after the students’ uprising in the 1970s and was consolidated as part of a more forceful civil society in the 1980s. In the political arena, civil society organisations worked closely with the middle class, as became evident during the anti-Suchinda in 1992. From this perspective, civil society organisations shared much of their political consciousness with the Thai middle class.

In the Thai case, while some work for a better livelihood for marginalized residents in remote regions, other forge their alliance with the middle class in safeguarding their political benefits at the expense of their support for democracy. This alliance fortified certain toward the lower class; they see themselves as philiang, or caretakers, which suggests that they occupy a superior position with a responsibility to care for and guide the villagers. Although admittedly, some are serious about protecting the wellbeing of the poor too.

Naruemon Thabchumpon defines the philiang civil society as “elite-urban”, which consists of, for example, progressive civil servants and the business community. Because of the national economic development policy, the elite-urban civil society has increased and gained more political clout vis-à-vis its counterpart in the grassroots community, represented by the “rural popular”. The term “elite-urban” indicates its Bangkok-based roots and its concentration mostly in the urban centres. Its members forge close ties with the mass media (and today social media). And its obligation toward promoting democracy is occasionally conditional. They can be highly politicized in order to fulfill the objectives of its members. The politicization and class-consciousness of the civil society represents its weakest point and in part obstructs democratization process.

How are all these related to the rise and fall of Thai democracy? The middle class and civil society organisations rejected the Thaksin regime because it strove to empower the marginalized population and strengthen the electoral system to allow better access to political and economic resources for the poor. This situation led to a fierce competition for resources between the middle class and the rural population. The middle class moved to protect what was seen as the intrusion into its political territory.

It is undeniable that the network monarchy had long dominated Thai politics for decades, from controlling the organisational reshuffles of key institutions such as the military and the judiciary, co0pting with big businesses, to propaganda works at the national level. In this process, the middle class and urban-elite civil society became enthusiastic supporters of the network monarchy, exploiting the revered status of the royal institution to reap benefits from the system. Gradually, the alliance between the network monarchy and the middle class members and civil society began to isolate the rural-popular residents.

The royal intervention during the political crisis is just one aspect of today’s struggles that pitch the traditional military and royal networks, supported by the urban middle class, against Thaksin and his inner circle, whose modern bourgeois interests, backed by decisive popular electoral support, directly challenged the old power arrangements.

While the network monarchy was able to redefine the political landscape by placing the monarchy at the top of the political structure, rural population was allowed to participate in the electoral politics on certain conditions—that their chosen governments must be subservient to the dominant network monarchy, otherwise they would be overthrown in coups. But King Bhumibol already passed away. Anxiety reigned high among his supporters, particularly in the face of the rising Thaksin phenomenon at the dawn of the new reign under King Vajiralongkorn. This could further drive the middle class away from democratic principles.


Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. He is currently a visiting fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.


By            :              Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Date         :              January 201, 2017

Source     :               Frontera


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Road to Revolution


The word “revolution” is being thrown around a lot these days, in reference to the massive street demonstrations (“candlelight revolution”), to the unprecedented reach of investigative journalism concerning the President, or to what might happen if the Constitutional Court overturns the impeachment. Indeed the label of “revolution” has been applied to many moments in the country’s history, but one could argue that South Korea actually has not undergone a genuine revolution.

A revolution brings about an abrupt overturning of the social order, an upending of the manner by which privilege (political, economic, or otherwise) is exercised, and the overthrow of the ruling group(s) that long enjoyed such advantages. In this sense, the modern world has witnessed many definitive revolutions, including the French Revolution of 1789, anti-colonial revolutions that established nation states in the Americas, and the communist revolutions of the 20th century beginning with Russia in 1917. The latter group also includes North Korea’s revolution in the 1940s and 1950s and two revolutions in China: the communist victory over the nationalists in 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

As the Chinese and North Korean examples suggest, such revolutions have had a mostly dismal record. Often, the popular rage that fueled the revolution led to excesses on the other side, including mass murder, starvation or totalitarian dictatorship. This is also why wars and brutal violence have usually accompanied revolutions.

In this regard, claims of “revolution” in Korea put forth by historical actors or history books seem exaggerated, including references to the March First Movement against Japanese rule in 1919, the “April Student Revolution” of 1960, or the “Military Revolution” of 1961. And neither the democratization of 1987 nor the industrial and digital revolutions in the economy appear to have produced a firmly equitable social order.

These transitions, however, did contribute to the gradual progression in modern Korea toward greater social equality and mobility, a process that was nevertheless marked by setbacks as well as advances. Urgent domestic reforms in response to rebellions in the late 19th century, a reflection of accumulating social injustices, proved insufficient to save the Joseon Kingdom from the forces of imperialism. The ensuing period of Japanese occupation, beginning in 1910, accelerated some of the earlier liberalizing trends but also instituted a military dictatorship that cultivated social privileges dependent on colonial rule.

Following the 1945 liberation, which significantly did not result from the Koreans’ own efforts, however noble they may have been, in South Korea the elites who arose under foreign occupation mostly stayed in their dominant positions. The circumstances of the Cold War made this possible, but the Korean War, another byproduct of the Cold War, also loosened the firm grip of landed wealth in the countryside, an enormous change.

Thereafter, urbanization and universal access to education further hastened social renovation, enough to help drive the overthrow of Syngman Rhee’s dictatorship in 1960. This student-led effort was branded a “revolution” at the time, and it very well could have generated revolutionary developments, particularly in democratization.

But we will never know, because the new democratic system was quickly ousted by a military coup in 1961. As with strongmen who took power around the modern world, this coup’s leaders branded their deed “revolutionary.” But it changed neither the basically autocratic nature of the political system nor the means, reliant heavily on favoritism and corruption, by which certain groups of people traditionally gained and protected their favored standing.

Indeed, family-run conglomerates that grew enormously through state patronage came to dominate the economy and extended the cultures of exploitation and polarization. On the other hand, urbanization, growth in compulsory education, and increasing exposure to the outside world continued apace, and in combination with the material outcomes of industrialization, they inspired a popular determination to achieve democracy.

The democratization of 1987, the near-revolutionary result of unprecedented street protests, could have been the signal moment of South Korean history. It represented a more substantial, second attempt at democracy, after the brief chance in 1960-61, but perhaps it could not have been the final one.

This is because, as subsequent developments made clear, political democratization did not necessarily produce economic democratization. Even the financial crisis of 1997, which resulted in the breakup of many big conglomerates and the restructuring of others, failed to fundamentally weaken the hold of big business or even its close integration with the state.

These structural factors, along with deeply ingrained mentalities and habits that attend them, are difficult to overcome. Such is the somber reality now facing societies that overthrew communist dictatorships in the 1990s and Arab dictatorships most recently.

This is why the current “revolutionary” efforts are striving toward a third attempt, or the third stage, of South Korean democratization, one that establishes a more comprehensively fair and open society by rooting out, for good, the stubborn, shadowy remnants of unjust privilege. Success along these lines will allow South Koreans to finally realize a true revolution, one gained not as quickly as ideally desired, but one that still can endure over the long term.

Kyung Moon Hwang is a professor in the Departments of History and East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California. He is the author of “A History of Korea ― An Episodic Narrative” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). This and Prof. Hwang’s other columns can be found on http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/category/subsection―633.html


By:           Kyung Moon Hwang

Date:        December 22, 2016

Source:    The Korea Times (Opinion)


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Democracy and social movements in Mexico


Mexico has a proud tradition of mobilization, yet it has largely failed to ensure that demands are properly met or that the country’s politics, institutions and legal system are transformed.

Mexico has a long uninterrupted history of social protest and mobilization. These mobilizations have however failed to overlap and join forces with other forms of struggle and protest; they have also failed to build up a large social and political movement capable of initiating a veritable transformation of general awareness, let alone of the legal and institutional framework that regulates — in an authoritarian, uneven and inequitable way— the coexistence of the Mexican people.

From 2000 to 2015, in Mexico’s so-called ‘post-transitional’ period, after the National Action Party (pan) defeated the formerly hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri) that had ruled the country for over 70 years, robust social movements emerged, showing skill and inventiveness in their strategies for mobilizing support in their fight for social causes. Despite the groundswell of popular unrest and dissent, these movements locked in a struggle with the de facto powers have failed to move a State apparatus resistant to any deepening in the country’s democratization towards the acknowledgement and exercise of citizens’ political, social, economic, cultural, sexual rights. On more than one occasion this has triggered social protests.

Why does social mobilization in Mexico happen?

Mexico’s social mobilizations and protests over this period are attributable to various causes: recognition for the cultural identity of the country’s indigenous population and for their rights and autonomy; political-electoral problems; demonstrations against the system; protests against violence or else to demand respect for the rights of sexual diversity; the demands of dissatisfied students.

Social movements in Mexico as around the world are increasingly showing themselves adept at mobilizing resources and implementing various measures and types of mobilization to openly question the powers that be, within a neoliberal economic context where the divide between the haves and have-nots is growing ever wider. This is creating highly unequal societies scarred by poverty and extreme poverty affecting millions of human beings. Infant malnutrition, for example, is blocking any prospect of a brighter future for societies suffering from this terrible problem. Unemployment is spiralling due to the implementation of inhumane neoliberal policies, and often-curable diseases are allowed to kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of children, women, indigenous people and the elderly.

At the same time, the social movements born in Mexico at the dawn of the new millennium question the establishment and operation of a political model based on a liberal representative democracy that is revealing a growing failure and lack of interest in resolving today’s social problems and demands (employment, education, protection of human rights, diverse identities, the autonomy of social groups within state contexts, environment, transparency, legality, the fight against corruption and violence on several levels, including that of the emotions, etc.). They are up against a representative democracy intricately linked to neoliberal interests, a political model seeking to rule in a void, without a broad base of popular support and generating a profound indifference toward politics and democracy.

The democracy put in place not so long ago throughout most of Latin America is now facing a major crisis. Just as its arrival was once heralded with great fanfare, wrapped up in promises that created outsized expectations among large sectors of the region’s populations, it is now greeted with skepticism at best, and more often with open mistrust and a rejection of politicians, institutions and governments.

This has created a sense of detachment, disenchantment and crippling indifference. Politicians defending liberal democracies, self-styled representatives, are increasingly disengaged from the challenges facing citizens while continuing their political activities amid corruption, lies and deceit. This has led to the frustration of citizens and an erosion of institutional and social trust.

The solution is not to discard representative democracy, even though an increasing sector of society is in favor of abandoning the field by refusing to participate in institutional forums built around this democratic model. This ignores the fact that such a move would be to squander the very significant and hard-fought accomplishments of social struggle. The true problem lies elsewhere, and relates to the deep crisis of representation in recent times within contemporary societies. Therefore, we should consider the benefit of citizens resuming a participative and deliberative role in the political realm, of involving social actors in the public space, in citizens’ normative appropriation of institutions, as Jürgen Habermas says, whereby they may actively exercise their democratic rights, specifically in regard to participation and communication. Charles Taylor, for his part, proposes not always having to act as subjects but also as rulers, not always being below but also on top; in other words, that at least for a period it is “us” who might be in charge, instead of it always being “them.”

These ideas do not run counter to representative democracy, but instead call for an enriching improvement of it through participation. They avoid the false dichotomy of representation versus participation.

However, another important and particularly vexing aspect of representative democracies’ poor state of health relates to the distance between political parties and their social basis. This is compounded by the disregard, not to say total abandonment, of political parties’ traditional role as institutions able to articulate social demands and interests and act as a bridge between civil society and government; to serve as channels of communication or promoters of social action, political formation and party political activism built on a particular ideology and practice, on the construction and proposal of a political project that differentiates them and that seeks to boost social and political transformations.

Today’s political parties, including those on the left – in Mexico’s case, the Movement of National Regeneration (Morena) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (prd) – are electoralist and pragmatic, with blurred ideological positions and flimsy discourses in terms of their proposed programs.

They are catch-all or cartel political parties that act under the aegis of state institutions and wish to stake out their position simply in order to safeguard their precious interests and multiple privileges. They are often part of the problem rather than the solution, with links to drug trafficking, organized crime; riddled with anti-democratic practices, they are absolutely corrupt and all-corrupting. This combines to demobilize, whereas a political party should in fact have the opposite effect of mobilising citizens as a political and social force and raising their awareness.

Collective action in modern societies today is the demand of social actors who feel displaced by the deficient decision-making of remote ‘professional politicians’. Nowadays many social mobilizations around the world (the Indignados or the 15-M anti-austerity movement in Spain, Occupy Wall Street, and #YoSoy132 in Mexico, to name just a few) are the result of citizens eager to participate within the political sphere, to monitor, rate and denounce the performance of decision-makers, becoming directly involved in taking decisions if only to break from the vicious circle that has long stifled the activities of the common citizen in terms of representation. This is a democracy in which citizens must take the driving seat.

Citizen participation in public matters must be accepted as essential, not to replace representative democracy, but to complement it, improve it, and help find solutions for the enormous and complex problems afflicting societies around the world today. Mexico needs a robust and participative citizenship, one capable of influencing the development of the political community and society, for the construction of the public good. Participation and representation are mutually necessary to make our nascent democracy viable and to give it meaning.

What effects have social movements had?

We should recall that in Mexico, despite important mobilizations in recent years (ezln, appo, mpjd, #YoSoy132, Ayotzinapa), most of the population does not mobilize and organize itself: movements are in fact confined to relatively limited and minority sectors. These have lacked the strength to enable the confluence of a wider range of social and political organizations in order to assemble broad alliances between diverse social sectors. Furthermore, for various reasons, none of these activist sectors has lasted long, or at least long enough to make a defining impact on the issues in question and in the transformation of society.

However, some of these movements have succeeded in making a forceful and influential presence felt. They have not resigned themselves to simply questioning the status quo. On the contrary they have sought to translate their work, resources, experience and imagination into concrete proposals for the construction of alternative solutions to the various vicissitudes and issues affecting Mexican society – despite the relative lack of ultimate success in achieving their aims.

They have opened up vital debates around the processes of solidarity both within Mexico and abroad, attracting considerable sympathy and creating great expectations. Nevertheless, they have also suffered major setbacks and made serious slip-ups, disheartening activists and the population at large.

Sometimes these problems have been caused by internal mistakes within the movements.  In most cases they have resulted from an authoritarian and abusive intervention by Mexico’s federal, state and local government authorities. The repression and criminalization of protest in Mexico has grown at an alarming rate in recent years.

The democratic and egalitarian hopes underpinning these struggles have left in their wake political failures, broken dreams and unfulfilled promises. Examples include the emergence in 1994 of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (ezln), and in later years  – particularly in 2001 – when this largely indigenous collective mobilized itself to demand recognition for indigenous rights and culture; in 2005, the broad-based popular protest when the head of the Federal District government was threatened with impeachment. In 2006, the movement headed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador during the post-electoral dispute over the recounting of votes from every voting booth amid accusations of electoral fraud; also in 2006, the major uprising of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (appo); the extensive and innovative presence from 2011 to 2013 of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (mpjd); in 2012, the #Yosoy132 movement mainly comprised of students from both public and private universities; and from 2014 to today the protests, marches, demonstrations and numerous popular mobilizations led by the family members of the 43 missing students from the teachers’ school “Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos”, in Ayotzinapa.

All of these are clear examples of social unrest and mobilizations that nevertheless did not accomplish their aims (with the exception of the mobilization to prevent López Obrador’s impeachment). Mexico has a proud tradition of mobilization, yet it has largely failed to ensure that demands are properly met or that the country’s political, institutional and legal situations have been improved.

These popular mobilizations have not led to a destabilization of the neoliberal economic system that has held sway in Mexico since the 1980s, a system that has wreaked so much damage by aggravating poverty and increasing inequality. Neither have they constituted an inflection point to alter the hegemony of the seemingly dysfunctional representative political model. These mobilizations have not introduced changes of government and public policies, or had an impact on improving laws and the proper running of institutions; furthermore, they have not made a substantive impact on the construction of a fairer, more prosperous, equitable society with lower levels of poverty, and where violence is no longer a major part of people’s daily lives in almost every part of the country, a situation with a negative impact on the social stability, peace of mind, and security of the population and one which creates conflicts, fragmentations and social chaos. In other words, they have not prevented deep and enormous damage being done to the social fabric.

Questioning modernity

Many participants in these movements have come from new generations of social activists, and the presence of these new participants has been made possible thanks to the permanence and perseverance of Mexico’s social movement. In addition, we are currently at a watershed when many sectors of society are openly questioning the traditional values of modernity, and the political and economic structures that it has engendered or which have been updated and become more deeply rooted in the past forty years.

Similarly, in recent years, collective action has risen again, as the collective awakening of one or more social groups (fragmented in Mexico) that have dared to question the current regime and economic model, as well as the dominant political culture. These activists have had the guts and imagination to demand rights, freedoms and democracy, better conditions in which citizens can demand respect for their increasing number and range of rights, the end to violence, poverty and inequality.

As students, laborers, nurses, doctors and women did previously, today’s activists in Mexico seek to contribute to the transformation of the Mexican political system. They seek to open it up and bring about a “true democratization”, not only in terms of representation but also in regard to citizen participation, deliberation and involvement in major decision making processes. These historic mobilizations, have sought to bring an end to authoritarianism, questioning as never before the legitimacy of the political regime, fighting to democratize it and establish citizens’ freedoms and rights that are absent and often merely simulated or limited.

These movements represent the first steps in the struggle to found a properly democratic political system; they are the result of social groups, the young, indigenous people, students, peasants, education workers, professionals, and women who have all attempted to imagine a non-simulated Mexico, and who have tried to reveal the authoritarian system hiding beneath the veil of democracy. These mobilizations seek to construct a non-authoritarian system where there is no repression or violence. At the same time, they are attempting to open up democratic and far more horizontal channels of communication and dialogue between rulers and those who are governed, and to broaden the spectrum of citizen participation and deliberation that has so far been circumscribed. These are movements that constitute an about-turn in political culture.

But it is also true that most recent social movements in Mexico have been notably reactive and defensive in relation to certain state actions or omissions. They have started out vigorously and then lost steam quite rapidly. They grow, attracting a wide range of followers, producing large mobilizations, gaining visibility with regard to certain negative circumstances and situations, prompted either by a public policy or program that the government wishes to impose without any public consultation, an act of repression, authoritarianism or following a disproportionate and abusive reaction from the police and army against a sector of society. This may be triggered by the murder of one or more people, a change in legislation, etc. But this is then followed by a counter flow, a significant loss of momentum; the movements dissipate, most of the time without achieving the objectives that motivated them in the first place.

Concluding remarks

Some social movements in Mexico (such as the Zapatista movement or MPJD) have attempted to change or improve not only the country’s laws and institutions, but also the moral rules on which human relationships are grounded. These mobilizations maintain that it is worth fighting for new values and that movements can produce social and cultural shifts, to be reflected in new social and political institutions.

Some of these movements have made small steps forward, but they have not achieved this aim so far. Overall the Mexican state and its institutions have managed to prevent structural change together with the transformations needed to deepen and improve Mexico’s nascent democracy and its population’s quality of life.


René Torres-Ruiz, with a PhD in political science from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, s a full-time research professor at the Iberoamericana University’s Department of Social and Political Sciences. His main areas of research are:democracy and citizenship; political change, participation, social movements; political parties and electoral systems. Recent publications include Surcando la democracia: México y sus realidades (2015) Mexico City: Colección Argumentos, número 275.


By            :               René Torres-Ruiz

Date:        :               December 1, 2016

Source     :               Open Democracy


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World’s jobless to rise amid economic uncertainty, growing inequality – UN labour report


The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) released its 2017 World Employment and Social Outlook report today, which finds economic growth trends lagging behind employment needs and predicts both rising unemployment and worsening social inequality throughout 2017.

“We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

According to the report, global growth domestic product (GDP) growth reached a six-year low last year, well below the rate that was projected in 2015. Forecasters continue to revise their 2017 predictions downwards and uncertainty about the global economy persists, generating worry among experts that the economy will be unable to employ a sufficient number of people and that growth will not lead to inclusive and shared benefits.

Throughout 2017, global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million. The increase, while a modest 5.7 to 5.8 per cent, is due to deteriorating labour market conditions in emerging countries – particularly those in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, unemployment is expected to fall in developed countries – especially in Northern, Southern, and Western Europe, the United States, and Canada.

In addition, the figure of 1.4 billion people who are employed in vulnerable working conditions is not expected to decrease. That number represents 42 per cent of all employment for 2017.

“Almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries,” said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report. That statistic is even worse for emerging countries. Those living in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are facing the greatest risk.

While the number of people living in poverty has been declining in recent years, rates of progress have begun to slow and are expected to continue to diminish in 2017. In developing countries, the rate of poverty is actually increasing.

Since 2009, the percentage of the working-age population willing to migrate abroad for work has risen in almost every region in the world. That trend was most prominent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Arab States.

The report also points out a number of social inequalities that are creating barriers to growth and prosperity. Gender gaps in particular are affecting the labour market. In Northern Africa, women in the labour force are twice as likely as men to be unemployed. That gap is wider still for women in Arab States. As a result of these and other social inequalities across a wide range of demographics, the ILO estimates that the risk of social unrest or discontent is growing in almost all regions.

“Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion. This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs,” said Mr. Ryder. “Persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are alarming. We need to ensure that the gains of growth are shared in an inclusive manner.”

The ILO advocates policy approaches that address root causes of secular stagnation as well as structural impediments to growth.

“Boosting economic growth in an equitable and inclusive manner requires a multi-faceted policy approach that addresses the underlying causes of secular stagnation, such as income inequality, while taking into account country specificities,” said Mr. Toobin.

Such progress, the ILO emphasized, is only possible through international cooperation. A coordinated effort to provide fiscal stimuli and public investments would go a long way to provide an immediate jump start to the global economy and could eliminate an anticipated rise in unemployment for two million people.


Date         :              January 12, 2017

Source     :               UN News Centre


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Education access problem ‘is poverty, not gender’


UN plan to eradicate gender inequality misses larger problem of low access rates linked to poverty, University of Cambridge experts warn

When the United Nations began its push to improve access to higher education in the world’s poorest countries last year, it was hailed as a historic moment by many education experts.

Never before had the UN set itself targets to increase participation in tertiary-level education. Instead, it had focused almost exclusively on making sure that children around the world had the chance to gain a decent education at a primary or secondary school, while efforts around post-18 education were centred on technical or vocational training.

By including a goal of achieving “equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university” as part of its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, there is hope that university attendance can be boosted across the globe, particularly for women.

However, the UN’s focus on eradicating gender inequality in education – a cause championed by Michelle Obama, America’s outgoing first lady, among others – may in fact cause governments to lose sight of more pernicious educational inequalities, two University of Cambridge educationalists have warned.

According to a study by Sonia Ilie and Pauline Rose, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, educational inequalities concerning poverty are far greater than those regarding gender.

Using data from the Young Lives project, a University of Oxford longitudinal study tracking about 12,000 children born in 1994 over their entire education, Dr Ilie and Professor Rose found that women’s participation in higher education often exceeded men’s, although the participation gap remained huge when income was considered.

For instance, only 2 per cent of Ethiopia’s poorest fifth of male 19-year-olds are in higher education, but 9 per cent of its poorest female 19-year-olds are. Meanwhile, 22 per cent of the richest 19-year-old men and 30 per cent of the richest 19-year-old women are at university.

Income was also a key factor in Vietnam, where some 8 per cent of the poorest 19-year-old men are in higher education compared with 14 per cent for women from low-income families, the Young Lives data show. In comparison, participation rates for richer 19-year-olds stood at a fairly healthy 48 per cent and 56 per cent for men and women, respectively.

“We need to keep on focusing on gender inequalities, but it is clear that the gaps in educational outcomes are far larger when you compare different income groups,” Dr Ilie told Times Higher Education.

Those educational inequalities are particularly apparent at primary school level, where income was far more important than gender in determining whether children went to school or not, said Dr Ilie, who presented her results at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s annual research conference in Wales last month.

“The push to get everyone into primary schooling has fundamentally altered the education landscape, and many more young children are going to school,” she said.

“Later on in the education system, the figures tend to favour boys, but the gender gap is starting to get a lot smaller,” she added.

Throwing the UN’s weight behind ensuring equal access to higher education for both sexes was likely to have an impact on this problem, even if it was not the most pressing challenge faced by these countries, which is poverty-related inequalities, Dr Ilie added.

“Whenever there is an explicit focus on a target like this, you see an increase in monitoring activity and governments look in more depth about what is happening,” she explained.

Offering quality universal education was particularly important for improving access to university as only 5 per cent of those not enrolled in school by the age of eight made it into higher education, the Young Lives information showed, said Dr Ilie.

“If you do not start learning very early, it is a huge missed opportunity and your chances of reaching higher education diminish hugely,” she explained.

“We also need to focus on what is happening in schools – it’s not enough to simply master basic numeracy and literacy as you need to acquire a good grasp of higher-level maths to improve your chance of getting into university,” she added.

Education targets laid out in the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda, agreed in September 2015

  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
  • By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university


By            :               Jack Grove

Date         :               January 12, 2017

Source     :               Times Higher Education

Posted in Education, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment
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