Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's TV Got To Do With It?

Sometimes when looking through the newspaper, it's a challenge to find any information on enlightened change. The journalist's motto, "If it bleeds, it leads," leaves little room for enlightenment. Blood and guts always gets the news headlines--unless it's a slow news day, of course. Then we might hear about someone's cat up a tree. In any event, yesterday's newspaper was one of those unenlightened days. I had almost gotten through the whole WSJ without a hit--something that has never happened--but decided to read "World Bank's Priorities On Power Overlook Poorest." The World Bank's poor record regarding accountability and corruption would at least give me news to read, even if not for this blog, I thought. What a surprise, then, to find embedded in this article a nugget of lighted change!

The power in the headline referred to electricity and how funds from the World Bank were supposed to pay for rural electrification. As is usual with these WB projects, the energy grids in the developing countries rarely extend to remote areas. But when they do, the WSJ reports "that the advent of electricity can change centuries old patterns. Villagers use the electricity first for lighting and second for TV." What really got my attention was the following finding:
"The latter [TV use] is associated with a reduction in family size--a long sought goal. The median rural family had 0.6 fewer children after electrification than before. The report cites two possible explanations for how television might achieve this. One is that villagers learn about contraception by watching soap operas and informational programs. Then 'there's the leave me alone, there's something good on TV argument'. '
Amazingly, surveys found that the sex education aspect of TV viewing was the reason for fewer kids. In the developed world, we take for granted the sex education we receive in school and the freedom we have to express ourselves sexually. But this is obviously not the case in the undeveloped countries. The Nobel Laureate in Economics, Amartya Sen, would not be surprised by this uncovery. Back in 1999 he said in his book Development As Freedom that in Bangladesh birth rates were lowered when girls and women began attending school. Note this, it was NOT the contraceptive programs that made a difference in birth rates, but rather the general education after which many of the women got jobs.

Along this same line, an enlightened contributor sent an article regarding the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) which is run by a spunky gal with a doctorate from the University of Cambridge who has made ending female oppression her life's work, according to Ladies Home Journal, June 2006, p. 140. Noeleen Heyzer is quoted as saying: "When you're looking at issues of ending violence against women, normally you work at it from an angle of victimization. WE look at it from the perspective of empowerment. If you empower women economically, they will not be as vulnerable. I believe we can abolish violence against women the way we have abolished slavery."

Those are strong words coming from a UN staffer but this executive director, who has been campaigning since 1994 exclusively for women, puts money where her mouth is: "Less than 10 years ago, rapists in Peru and Costa Rica could avoid criminal prosecution by offering to marry their rape victim. Thanks to lobbying efforts by UNIFEM, these laws have been repealed."

Genital mutilation is another problem on which UNIFEM works, and February 6th is proclaimed as the UN's End Genital Mutilation Day to bring the matter to the attention of the public. An unforgettable article a few years back in WSJ brought my attention to the horrendous consequences of the practice that often disabled the girls who undergo the procedure, and infection was rampant. The cult-like cutting was performed by locals with simple tools and often left the women scarred for life, both physically and mentally. Some of the fortunate ones came to the US for repair, but many not so fortunate have died. UNIFEM has worked extensively to change this outdated tradition and, because of its efforts, many countries have now banned the practice, including Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast and many others.

UNIFEM also understands that having money empowers poor women. One example of its enlightened and innovative economic efforts include: "In tsunami-devastated Indonesia, UNIFEM provided immediate financial support to craftswomen, allowing them to weave protective hats that were in big demand by newly arriving relief workers seeking refuge from the hot sunshine and in turn helped to stimulate the shattered local economy."

It appears Ms. Heyzer strongly believes that education is key to ending the "slavery" of women in male dominated societies for it was the impetus behind the history-making launch of a radio station in war-torn Iraq: "Support from UNIFEM enabled the launch of Radio Al Mahaba, Voice of Women, the first non-government women's radio station in Iraq. The station's programming features female human rights stories by volunteers and journalists." Given Ms Heyzer's dedication to right human relations, this global female empowerment movement is certainly in good hands. This article was proof that one outspoken voice like hers could make a difference, especially when it had the backing of the United Nations.

Having said that, empowerment as the result of economic advances benefits all peoples, not just women, a fact that was highlighted in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom (410 pages, $24.95 available at 1-800-975-8625.) The summary of the index findings as noted in WSJ on January 18, 2008 concluded: "The freest 20% of the world's economies have twice the per capita income of those in the second quintile and five times that of the least free 20%. In other words, freedom and prosperity are highly correlated." Freedom apparently neither expanded nor contracted last year, and the numbers changed little. However, there were bright spots such as Chile and El Salvador but Egypt was a shining star with the most improved economy in the world, jumping from 127th to 85th. Mauritius was in second place and moved into the top 20 out of a total of 157, with 5 not rated. Interestingly Iraq was in the latter category along with Sudan and Congo Democratic Republic.

In this same summary, the French journalist Guy Sorman, who wrote a treatise entitled Globalization is Making the World a Better Place, was quoted as saying: " 'Globalization is one of the most powerful and positive forces ever to have arisen in the history of man.' It fosters economic development, moves countries from tyrannies to democracy, sends information and knowledge to the most remote corners of the globe, reinforces the rule of law, and enriches culture." One could argue that this is NOT the case, but would have to confront what appears to be an inevitable global movement toward freedom, even if accomplished incrementally through individual nations as they lift themselves out of poverty.

And finally, as Russia finds its place among the powerful democracies of the world, it is opening a think tanks dedicated to studying western democracy. The WSJ reports that "a prominent lawyer said President Vladimir Putin endorsed his plan to open monitoring offices in New York and Paris to study the US and French political systems and recommend improvements" (1-18-08, p. A7.) That seemed like a rather ballsy move, but Putin might have been feeling confident having just received TIME's Man of the Year Award. Among other things, Anatoly Kucherina, the think tank's founder, will look at the US's election system that choses a President based on electoral rather than popular votes and the compatibility of capital punishment with democratic principles. For years some Western democracies have had such think tanks making recommendations to the USSR/Russia. It might be fair and reasonable to have the tables turned as Russia finds its voice these days. The scrutiny might reduce some of the appearances of arrogance exuding at times from various Western democracies. Or maybe not. We will see.

An enlightened seed thought regarding nations concludes this blog today. We have to remind ourselves that what appears on the surface to be chaos is simply the growing pains of nations who are evolving just as we are evolving as individuals. It is predicted that
all nations will participate in the achievement noted below and specifically that the United States, Russia, Britain and France have a destiny to fulfill before these triumphant glory days arrive:
"An innate urge in man reaches out toward divinity; the individual then becomes a man of goodwill and also a spiritual aspirant and one who loves God (according to his own particular definition) and, therefore, loves his fellowmen. . .What is true of individual man is eternally true of nations and for them also the same hope of illumination and of future spiritual triumph and glory is predicted" (The Problems of Humanity, A.A. Bailey.)
Tomorrow we turn to a few enlightened topics concerning the the Middle East. Yes, I did find some, and they are stacking up actually. Stay tuned.

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