Monday 9 December 2013

Reposting: What is the Global South?

Reposting: What is the Global South?
Today I am reposting a blog I first posted on August 15, 2012, when I was new to blogging and didn’t know how to publicize my work.  I still agree with what I said last year, except, apparently, the growth of the emerging economies is slowing down somewhat.  
What is the Global South?
The other day I was having lunch with an old friend who teaches the sociology of the family. She has noticed that lately her students have been using the term “global south” a lot, and she asked me what I thought of it. This gives me the chance to expound on one of my pet peeves. My students use the term “global South” to contrast the world’s rich with the world’s poor and to show their sympathies with the South.  But when I ask them where the global south is, they are stymied.
It’s not a geographical term. Some countries south of the equator are rich, such as Australia and New Zealand. Others are or are becoming middle-income countries, such as Chile. And in the North, there are many poor countries; one of the poorest, Haiti, is in both the North and the West. Another area that is very poor is the Arab Middle East, in the northern half of the world.
What can be considered the Global South- Wiki Commons
Nor is global south an economic term, meant to embrace all “underdeveloped” countries as “southern” regardless of their actual geographical location. Some formerly underdeveloped countries, both in the north and the south, are becoming much wealthier than they used to be when academic concern with underdevelopment first became widespread in the 1970s. About three million people live in a group of six growing economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Mexico, some in the north and some in the south. China has been growing in leaps and bounds since it embraced authoritarian capitalism in 1979.  India has been growing since 1991, when it relinquished economic protectionism. China is now an exploiter of Africa, where it grabs up oil and minerals without a concern for internal development or democracy and human rights; it certainly doesn’t belong in the same “south” as the Africa it cheerfully pillages for resources.
Finally, the global south is not a good political term. China is now a major player on the world scene and in the United Nations Security Council, and many commentators think that this century will be the “Asian century” with China in the lead. The emerging economies also have more political clout, especially through the formation of regional political and economic blocs, such as the Organization of American States and the African Union.
When students use the term global south, they often mean to imply that the south is poor because the north is rich; that is, the north has been exploiting the south.  Yet we know that many causes of poverty are internal to the countries that experience it, not external. A few years ago the Arab Development Report, written by Arab scholars, mentioned the lack of democracy as one of the chief causes of underdevelopment in the Arab Middle East. In China there are still gross inequalities between rural and urban areas, and migrants to the cities are treated particularly badly: this is a result of domestic policy, not “northern” exploitation, past or present. In India, much poverty is a result not of relations with the north but of the caste system and severe gender discrimination. In Africa, a chief cause of underdevelopment is government corruption: witness Nigeria, whose hundreds of billions in oil revenues are ripped off by the governing elites and their cronies.
So what it comes down to, as far as I can see, is that the global south is Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is in the geographical south, is very poor, and still has very little global political influence. It’s not a good idea, then, to use the term global south. The so-called south is divided by geography, economic prosperity, and political influence. The world is too complex to be divided into two categories, especially when such categories conflate the present with the past.

65 Years of International Human Rights: Progress, Gaps, Regressions

65 Years of International Human Rights: Progress, Gaps, Regression
This morning I was interviewed by a local radio reporter in advance of World Human Rights Day, which is tomorrow, December 10, 2013. This is the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948.
The reporter wanted to know if anything has improved since 1948. A lot has. Probably the single biggest improvement is that over half the world’s population—women—are now recognized as subjects of human rights and have their rights guaranteed in most international human rights instruments. And women in many parts of the world enjoy many rights in practice as well--political rights to vote, economic rights to work and to equal pay, and so on. Lots more women are engaged in fighting for rights too.
Another improvement is that with the end of apartheid, overt racial discrimination is no longer allowed. Again, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, in overt forms (such as discrimination against non-Jews in Israel) or covert forms (such as continued enslavement of “blacks” by “whites” in Mauritania). And the end of racial discrimination doesn’t mean the end of caste discrimination in India. 
DRC refugees fleeing conflict- Wiki Commons
Totalitarian governments, such as the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1971, and China from 1949 to 1979 (when it became an authoritarian capitalist state instead) have almost disappeared, although North Korea still hangs on to totalitarianism. Thirty years ago much of Latin and Central America was suffering under murderous military rule: most of those governments have gone.  Sub-Saharan Africa is making progress—though not as much as we would like—towards regimes that protect civil and political rights. And we’ve made a tiny dent in impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes with the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
There are still gaps in the human rights regime. There is no declaration or covenant protecting the rights of LGTB individuals (lesbians, gays, trans-sexuals, bisexuals), although more and more protections are emerging through legal decisions. Little progress has been made in protecting aboriginal peoples’ rights as collectivities—most importantly to their traditional lands—as well as their rights as individuals. Some third generation “collective” rights such as to peace and a clean environment have a long way to go. It’s hard to believe the right to peace has any meaning when we know that over five million people have died from warfare, disease, starvation, and rape in the so-called “Democratic” Republic of the Congo since 1994. The world’s rulers still aren’t paying enough attention to the dangers of climate change, and it seems that corporations’ “rights” to make profits and countries’ “rights” to trade still take priority over the long-term life of the planet. 
There are regressions as well. Since 9/11 the world’s most established liberal democracies have imposed controls on civil rights of those suspected of being terrorists; most such suspects are Arabs and/or Muslims, and Islamophobia runs rampant in these societies. New technologies have increased the surveillance capacities of the state and of corporations, rendering us all vulnerable to the Big Brother controls envisaged by George Orwell in his 1984. The welfare state is under attack: governments are cutting back on all types of social security, cheered on by a corporate sector that pays its CEOs obscene amounts while vigorously fighting unionization and protesting against even the tiniest rise in the minimum wage. 
The reporter also asked me what I thought the worst human rights problems are in Canada. The worst by far is the treatment of First Nations people: not only because of their unresolved land claims, but because of gross violations of their individual rights. Indigenous peoples in Canada are disproportionately likely to be poor, to be incarcerated, and to commit suicide. The federal government that is supposed to finance education on reserves provides far less funding per pupil than the provincial governments where the reserves are located. Then there are the continuing multiple human rights violations of Canada’s poor, in housing, work, health, and education, just for a start. And we currently have a government with a terrible track record in environmental good management.
Finally, the reporter asked me what one person could do about human rights. Here I quote the Canadian political commentator Rick Mercer, whom I heard on a recent radio programme. He said everyone could use their own skill set, and mentioned his mother, a nurse, who use to spend her “vacations” donating free nursing at a summer camp for diabetic children. Lots of Canadians help other people to realize their human rights, from the volunteers at food banks to the doctors abroad in danger zones. Unfortunately though, to volunteer requires time, a regular schedule, and some money, even if it’s only enough to get to the place you want to volunteer at.  Poor people without money for bus fares, with irregular and arbitrary work schedules, and with multiple demands on their time, often can’t volunteer in a formal sense, even if they would like to, but many of them help each other with child care, personal care for the elderly and disabled, and so on.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to uphold human rights.