The World Today for February 28, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

Riding Coattails

India recently released its 2018 Economic Survey outlining the success of the economic liberalization strategies that have effectively quadrupled the nation’s economy since 1991, making it the world’s third-largest economy behind China and the United States, the Washington Post reported.

But as India continues to experience rapid economic growth, the survey notes another troubling trend: Economic progress has yet to deliver on gender equality.

India is currently in what researchers have coined the “second stage” in the relationship between development and gender equality, meaning that while women may have made strides in joining the workforce and gaining more respect in public life, societal forces have sprung up to hinder further progress.

Hindu traditions of dowry, as well as women being excluded from inheritance rights, mean gender bias in India has economic roots, writes Business Standard – many families simply think they can’t afford to have girls.

The result is that selective abortion and premature death of girls due to neglect and even murder is still prevalent in Indian society, resulting in an estimated 63 million women “missing” from the population, the Guardian reported.

It’s why the nation’s birth ratio between girls and boys is even lower than it was a decade ago: Only 899 female births for every 1,000 boys.

Later on, societal factors continue to work against women – some local customs subject women to beatings and other penalties if they don’t pass a rudimentary virginity test on their wedding night, for example, Al Jazeera reported.

And almost 24 percent of women still report having been subjected to physical or sexual abuse in the past year, according to World Bank data cited by the Wire, a news website in India.

Strides have been made to level the playing field, the Wire reported: Data show that state-led efforts to promote female primary-school enrollment have significantly decreased the number of girls out of school to just a fraction of what it was in 1990.

Moreover, more niche gender identities in India have been officially recognized and protected, despite continued social stigmatization, the New York Times reported.

But women still lack equal access to basic social opportunities like proper health care and financial services, presenting a slew of challenges in finding organized work: They made up 24 percent of the labor force in 2016, compared to 36.3 percent 10 years prior, the Washington Post noted.

For its part, the 2018 Economic Survey admitted that India has work to do to tackle gender bias, which it states “is long-standing, probably going back millennia,” CNN reported.

In the meantime, women won’t be riding the coattails of India’s economic success story.

WANT TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Going Legit

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political group on Wednesday in a bid for peace that adds to signals that 16-plus years of war cannot be ended without an acceptance of the ultra-conservatives.

“The government offers peace negotiations to the Taliban without any conditions,” Reuters cited Ghani as saying at a conference attended by officials from around 25 countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process.

Ghani has regularly called the Taliban “terrorists” and “rebels,” but with the group still controlling much of the country despite an increase in US airstrikes and other assistance last year, it now appears compromise is the only way forward.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and the creation of an official political office for the Taliban, provided the group accepts the legitimacy of the Afghan government and respects the rule of law. The deal could then lead to the release of Taliban prisoners, the removal of Taliban names from international blacklists, and reintegration and jobs for former Taliban fighters.

DENMARK

Selective Enforcement

Denmark plans to double the penalties for crimes committed in areas it designates as “ghettos” – which provide homes to more immigrants than other parts of the country.

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of the ruling center-right Venstre party announced the scheme as part of a drive to have “no more ghettos by 2030,” the BBC reported. Currently, Denmark defines 22 areas as “ghettos,” where more than 50 percent of residents are non-Western immigrants.

While some fear the plan threatens the principle that everyone is equal before the law, the opposition Social Democrats have also expressed support for the scheme, the BBC noted.

The Danish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Interior says the country has about half a million inhabitants with non-Western backgrounds – 10 times the number of such residents the country had in 1980. Meanwhile, it estimates that some 28,000 immigrant families “live in a parallel society,” resisting integration with local Danes.

SOUTH AFRICA

New Page, Same Script

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is walking a tightrope as he seeks to distance his ruling African National Congress party from his ousted predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

In a cabinet reshuffle this week, Ramaphosa reinstated Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister, undoing a controversial Zuma decision that roiled financial markets in late 2015, Bloomberg reported. And he put Pravin Gordhan, another finance minister fired by the former ANC leader, in charge of six of the biggest state companies – all of which face dire financial straits and graft allegations.

But he retained a number of Zuma loyalists, highlighting the difficult task of reforming the party that has dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid. And on Tuesday ANC members of parliament backed a motion from the radical left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party to change the constitution to allow the government to transfer land owned by white South Africans to black citizens without paying the former owners any compensation, Reuters said.

Critics say the scheme ignores a key problem: many farms already transferred to black farmers are now fallow and unproductive.

DISCOVERIES

Pest Control

Ports in New Zealand refused entry to three cargo ships filled with Japanese autos this month after the discovery of a massive infestation of stink bugs amid the haul.

Vehicle imports from Japan totaling 18,000 units have been halted and workers have had their hours reduced as a result, CNN Money reported.

“In my 15 years in this role, and probably 30 years involved in this industry, I have not seen anything which is as serious as this,” said David Vinsen, CEO of New Zealand’s Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association.

If the situation continues, many employers will be forced to issue temporary lay-offs, Vinsen added.

The threat of introducing foreign pests is taken seriously in isolated New Zealand, where agriculture is pivotal to the economy and vulnerable to invaders.

Government officials have already imposed stricter rules for controlling foreign pests coming from Japan, ordering all imported vehicles to be cleaned and inspected for any freeloading insects.

“Biosecurity is absolutely paramount to us,” said Vinsen. “We need to do whatever we need to do to make sure that we’re not exposing any of our agricultural industries to this sort of risk.”

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