The World Today for April 09, 2018



Out of the Ditch

Last month, Pakistan, a Muslim majority nation, elected its first Hindu woman from the country’s “untouchable” caste to the Senate. The victory is being called an example of the nation’s work to elevate women and religious minorities into public life, the New York Times reported.

But Krishna Kumari’s harrowing tale as a forced laborer turned senator is more an exception to the rule than the norm in the country officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where enmity between Muslims and Hindus is on the rise and women face many barriers to equality.

Kumari’s story has inspired other women – especially other lower-caste Hindu women – to try their hand at elected office, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Pakistan elected its first female prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, in 1988. But 30 years later, literacy and mobility are still huge barriers to Pakistani women’s participation in politics. The literacy rate for girls in Pakistan is just 45 percent, compared to 70 percent for boys, and strict religious practice and patriarchal doctrine constrain girls’ mobility in the public sphere.

“Those women who are involved in the electoral process, those women who are voted into parliament, are really exceptional women,” Oxfam Pakistan director Mohammed Qazbilah told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Such issues are only compounded if a woman is a member of the nation’s Hindu minority, which makes up just 4 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million citizens, according to the Pakistan Hindu Council. Others put the figure at just 2 percent.

Last year, the Atlantic reported on fears that vulnerable, lower-caste Hindu women were being abducted, married to Muslim men, and forced to convert to Islam – seen as a blessing by the nation’s Muslims. Fueled by increased religiosity in Pakistan, courts have upheld such marriages, despite outrage from activists and the international community.

It’s only added to the country’s growing religious chasm – many Hindus have already migrated to neighboring India for fear of further ostracization, the Atlantic wrote.

Tapping into the international zeitgeist to fight for women’s rights, however, activists in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore have staged unprecedented protests to demand equality, Pakistani writer Bina Shah wrote for NPR.

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai even returned to Pakistan recently for the first time after being shot by the Taliban in 2012 to advocate for better education for girls. In her emotional speech, she called on the nation to “progress in the right direction” by empowering its young women.

Kumari sees her election as a woman and a lower-caste Hindu as a sign of hope. “It’s like for the first time in history that we have been taken out of a ditch,” she told the New York Times. “Finally, we are seen as humans.”

While her election has invigorated a movement campaigning for equal rights, however, achieving a truly representative democracy in Pakistan is still far off.



Keeping Receipts

Explosions rocked a military base in Syria a day after US President Donald Trump warned there would be a “big price to pay” for a chemical attack on the rebel-held city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta that Washington attributed to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria claimed to have shot down eight missiles in an attack Monday morning on an air base, Bloomberg cited Syria’s official Sana news agency as saying. Sana said there were a number of fatalities and injuries from the attack.

US officials denied responsibility for the alleged strike, said the Associated Press.

Over the weekend, several Syrian activist groups said that barrel bombs loaded with toxic chemicals were dropped on Douma Saturday, killing dozens of civilians and wounding scores more, CNN reported. Trump and various other leaders condemned the incident and blamed the Syrian government. But Syria once again denied responsibility and accused the rebel group that controls Douma of fabricating the videos depicting the attack.

Russia also denied that chemical weapons had been used.


No Apologies

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban won another sweeping victory in Sunday’s national elections, proving that the unapologetic brand of authoritarianism he calls “illiberal democracy” continues to work at the ballot box.

With 93 percent of the ballots counted, Orban’s Fidesz party and the allied Christian Democrats appeared set to secure two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, once again granting the rightwing firebrand the power to amend the country’s constitution, the New York Times reported.

Orban’s previous efforts to convert Hungary to a more majoritarian system prompted claims that he’d co-opted the powers of the state to solidify his own power, undermining democracy in the process. The new victory could well embolden other regional leaders with similar agendas, including those in neighboring Poland, the Times said.

Despite widespread criticism of his tactics, however, Orban’s anti-immigration, anti-European Union rhetoric was perhaps as significant in the vote as gerrymandering and other efforts to stack the deck.


Trump Card

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed to review his country’s policy toward Chinese investments if voters return him to power in the upcoming election.

The 92-year-old opposition candidate said Chinese investments would remain welcome if they set up operations in Malaysia, employed locals, and brought in capital and technology. But he criticized how Chinese investment has been managed by incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“We are for Malaysians. We want to defend the rights of Malaysians. We don’t want to sell chunks of this country to foreign companies who will develop whole towns,” Bloomberg quoted Mahathir as saying.

The comments come as various Asian nations reflect over the impact of massive Chinese investments, including those related to the “One Belt, One Road” project to create trade links between Asia, Europe and Africa. While the potential benefits are attractive, the massive loans involved come with risks, too – including a “debt trap” like the one that compelled Sri Lanka to hand over a key port to companies owned by the Chinese government in January.


Cognitive Offloading

For all the talk nowadays about the efficiency and helpfulness of technology, researchers recently discovered that smartphones might actually be hampering our memory, Vox reported.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that participants who went on a tour of the Stanford Memorial Church scored lower on memory tests when asked to recall information about the tour if they had been taking photos with their smartphones.

Study participants without a camera, on the other hand, scored better on the memory test by one point.

While that difference may not seem like a lot, it culminated in the difference between a passing grade and failing one on the memory test, Vox wrote.

Some say the occurrence is a simple case of misplaced attention. But others hypothesize it’s due to a phenomenon known as “cognitive offloading,” or allowing technology to alleviate the burden on our brains by offloading information into varying devices.

Though the study’s researchers may be criticizing smartphone users’ memories, an optimist could see things in a different light: We’re not losing our memory – we’re just putting it elsewhere.

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