The Qatar Blockade: A Reflection

To all my friends and relatives: thank you for all your love, care, prayers and concerns.  We are all well, safe and enjoying food like always in Qatar. There are no empty shelves in the grocery stores and everything is on routine. We have food and lots of it!  

To everyone who is wondering what is going on: I am writing at a time when Qatar is facing a blockade from the neighboring GCC countries; Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.  On June 5th, the 12th fasting day of Ramadan, the country woke up to the news that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are cutting ties with Qatar. Qatar stands accused of funding terrorism and meddling with the internal affairs of the four neighboring countries. Soon thereafter other countries followed suit: Yemen, Maldives, Mauritania, Eastern Libyan government, Senegal and Comoros. Others such as Jordan downgraded diplomatic relations with Qatar. Kuwait and Oman stayed neutral with Kuwait leading the mediation efforts to resolve the crisis.

At the time, everyone thought that like the rift in 2014, this conflict too will resolve itself. So the closure of land border, air space and sea will really not last that long.

But matters took a different turn.

The conflict evolved and saw announcement from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain calling their citizens to return from Qatar within 14 days and for Qataris to leave these countries and head back to Qatar.  On the other hand, there were reports that the grocery stores’ shelves are empty as people hurried and stocked up on necessities like water, milk, chicken and rice.

Since June 05th, the crisis hasn’t abated and the political and economic blockade continues. The 13 demands list issues by the four Arab states: including shutting down Al Jazeera, scaling down relations with Iran and shut down the Turkish army base, stands rejected by Qatar. The mediation efforts to resolve the crisis continues from US, Kuwait and Oman.

As the crisis continues and evolves, what have I learned from the current blockade?

A crisis in any form, in any area, whether personal or professional, not only brings changes in life, but also, changes one’s perception and thoughts on various matters.

Qatar is a country where I was born and live to this day. It is my home where I’ve had my beautiful childhood and teenage years. Whenever asked where I’m from, my answer is Qatar (followed by an explanation in a few seconds that I’m Pakistani, but was born and raised in Qatar).

The crisis when it began was a shock. The first thing coming to mind was the 1990 Gulf War scenario. The fear, the anxiety and the confusion all at once raced simultaneously in mind. We, the family, were here in Qatar then and now. We didn’t leave because there was no question at all leaving my dad behind alone. As mom says, “we stay together and  go through every single thing together”.

But in times of political and economic crisis, there are always human costs involved. Qatar was no different. According to Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) “at least 13,314 people were directly affected by anti-Qatar measures” with the violations including family separations, right to travel, education, work, freedom of opinion, residency and ownership. It sent shivers down my spine. I realized how we take family relations and friends for granted. We don’t even think what if , one day, they are all taken away from us. It made me highly grateful to be with my family and to have relations in my life.

The blockade via land, airspace and sea meant that many goods would no longer be available.  Products like Almarai milk, butter and other goods from Saudi, UAE and Bahrain would be unavailable during this crisis. The initial scenario where the stores faced empty racks was true because people panicked and ensured that basic necessities like rice, chicken and milk were available at least for children. Qatar government assured the residents that it had taken measures to ensure that normal life routine continues in the country and there is no need to panic. Turkey and Iran both countries sent food both via plane and sea.

What amazed me was how as consumers we are all highly adaptable to situations. We teach and study in economics that given the change in factors, consumers substitute from one good to another. In times of crisis, that holds to be absolutely true. We didn’t have Almarai milk, but, we bought Turkish milk (and are amazed how actually good it is!). I love Dandy yogurt (made in Qatar), but Turkish yogurt is good. We, the consumers, quickly shifted our preferences to other brands, which makes me wonder when this crisis is over would we ever return to Almarai milk and yogurt?

Prices did spike as expected. Now as goods arrive via sea, the prices will start to go down.

I also highly appreciate mom’s small vegetable garden here. While there was a shortage of mint and coriander leaves for some time, we were enjoying fresh mint, tomatoes and chillies from our Mama Khan’s little vegetable garden 🙂 (she even gave fresh mint leaves to her friends!) The idea of a farm-house really is not that bad 🙂 Maybe in future, I might go for a farm-house than a city life (just a thought).

The critical lesson learned in this crisis is: leadership,patience and tolerance.

The Qatar government continues to bear all the costs ensuring that normal life in Qatar continues for all the residents. And indeed, the normal life continues.

Bahrain and UAE banned people from publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar. Sympathizing with Qatar in UAE and Bahrain was a cyber crime, with the offenders facing fines of up to $136,000 and up to 15 years of jail term. While the boycotting countries’ media said a lot on social media, Qatar government requested all its residents to take the higher road by not insulting or saying anything negative about the boycotting countries and their leaders and to express their opinions in a peaceful manner on social media. This is tolerance and what we have seen here is a real life example.

This is true leadership!   Every one has the right to their opinion and there are always agreements and disagreement. Successful is the one who is patient, listens to others and presents arguments in a peaceful, constructive and respectable manner. The Qatari leadership is a prime example of this.

Despite the blockade from neighboring countries, Qatar did not expel their citizens and assured them that they are welcome to stay (even when it could have taken the same path).  Despite the tense environment, we see patience and the leadership continuous, non-stop effort to resolve the crisis through constructive dialogue. It has won the people’s hearts and support! The “Tamim Al Majd” (meaning “Tamim the glorious”) is viral. From car stickers to murals to posters on residences, the strong support and love is evident. Its’ in the air! It brought everyone together under one roof. It has strengthened the unity of a nation.

The crisis has taught me strong positive lessons. I always am grateful for things, but now, I’m highly grateful for the small things in life which we take for granted. I have many times thought the in today’s time values don’t matter. Wrong. Values, how you conduct yourself in life and how you treat others does matter for they form real human connections that are not broken easily. I have learned to be hopeful, even in tense times and remain optimistic.

I am thankful for everything in life.

Unfolding the Brexit

“UK votes to leave EU” – the glaring headline that graced my Facebook news feed on Friday 24 June 2016. The Brexit has happened and chaos follows the financial markets worldwide.

The shocking result stunned the political establishments worldwide. Hysteria took over as the shock reverberated through the financial markets across the global economy. According to Time magazinethe pound sterling slid dramatically against the dollar……lost about 12% of its value against the dollar in the course of 6 hours, marking the steepest plunge on record”

The result has shocked the global economy and many predictions have begun in the wake of UK departure from EU. It is a historic and an unprecedented event. For UK to leave European Union after 43 years is no laughing matter. While the media, analysts, financial and political figures discuss the fallout of the result, it is important to note that in the time of economics crisis, any policy decision in haste has the potential to further complicate a tense situation. In times of economic chaos, it is critical to watch how the financial markets unfold and let the market take its full course. Economies act very differently. During crisis, political, economical and social issues could become a toxic cocktail, which could have  either desirable or disastrous results for all.

What is required at this time is to understand the underlying currents that gave way to the Brexit and the stakes now involved with the result. Some thoughts to consider.

brexit-1477615_960_720

This is not the first time for European Union to face a crisis. Before European Union was formed with Euro as the currency, the inception of the idea had dealt with hard-core feelings of the member countries’ fearing loss of sovereignty and voice should European integration went ahead. The integration went ahead and benefits realized were larger than the costs. However, the underlying faults (political resentments, different political and economic motives of member states) remained, especially, as Germany was seen the power player in the Eurozone. The nationalistic seeds were always present.

The US financial crisis of late 2008-2009 cracked open the faults within the EU. The Greek financial crisis unraveled and shook the Union at its core as Euro came under threat. Four years ago, I had written a post on Greek crisis and how the future of the Euro zone is bleak. At the time then, the fear of Greece exiting the Euro was very much real as there was a prediction that the exit would be catastrophic as the crisis would spread to weaker economies such as Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal and these economies will also think of leaving Eurozone. The very existence of Union was under threat. There was upheaval in the economies as the austerity policies took effect.  The political resentments resurfaced as Germany was reluctant to help out Greece on  such a massive platform. The German population believed that Eurozone will be better off if Greece were to exit. The same sentiment also existed on the British side, although, it was mute. Greece continues to reel not only from the conditions of the bailout, but also, from the policies it has had to take to get its house back in order.

On the other side, the Middle East crisis began to unravel in full force as ISIS took over key cities in Iraq and Syria while Libya and Tunisia continued to be politically unstable. The mass refugee exodus from these countries  due to terrorism became the migrant crisis of Europe. To this day, more and more migrants arrive in Greece and Italy only to find their way and travel to other European member countries for a stable and secure life. Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, France became hosts to refugees and so did Britain. The Eurozone crisis, the migrant crisis and the stand with Russia over Ukraine became a deadly combination.

As the European Union faced these scenarios, Britain faced its own set of problems. Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, economy facing recession, surging immigration, higher tuition fees and students protests – the bitter cocktail that politicians are now facing. The surging immigration gave way to fears of loss of identity. At the EU level, it was the loss of sovereignty with Brussels seen as the  ultimate power. On the other hand, the austerity economic policies slowed economic growth, causing resentments among the population that faces the challenges of unemployment and higher prices.

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising to see countries taking protectionist measures, whether in the form of limiting trade or immigration. The scenario was similar to what had occurred during the US Financial crisis, where many countries opted for protectionist trade policies. In such times, protecting one’s own interests and national security becomes a critical agenda. Thus, to hold referendum in such a background was only bound to lead to such a result.

So now that Britain has voted to leave EU, what next?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron

Some interesting points to note are:

  • UK Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned and so far, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has not been invoked despite the EU leaders calling for Britain to speed up the process.  The EU leaders want the process of Brexit to begin, but UK will take time. Firstly, the resignation of the David Cameron means there is a political void that needs to be filled, that is, a new prime minister must come in to take the lead on Brexit process. For the new prime minister, this task could be the death of their political career for good.  Secondly, perhaps, but it seems that the opposition had no plan in the line should the Leave campaign win and under the present circumstances, some critical questions must be answered even before Article 50 is invoked for e.g. the status of Britons working in other EU states, new trade deals and the kind of relationship UK will want with EU in the future after the exit. Clearly, UK will take time much to displeasure of EU, to think thoroughly on these matters and needs a “captain that can steer the ship” effectively.

 

  • Currently, it now seems many voters who voted for the exit are backpedaling. The reports that after the vote, there was a spike in the Google search for “What is EU?” is alarming. It places a question mark on the knowledge of the voters on what it actually meant to leave or remain in EU. Secondly, it is widely claimed that it was the older segment of the population that caused the Leave campaign to win, effectively shutting out the voice of the young generation who voted to remain in EU. Thirdly, with key leaders of the Leave campaign backtracking their statements could be indicative that the Leave campaign was based on misinformation and even deception. With these developments, it would be interesting to see if there could be second referendum on Remain or Leave EU again under the circumstances. This is bearing in mind that the pound sterling has slid against the dollar and Moody’s has already downgraded UK economic outlook from stable to negative, indicating that UK not only faces uncertainty, but also, will face negative consequences for its economic growth.

 

  • Then there is Scotland and Ireland with the possibilities of their own referendums on the plate. With Scottish Prime Minister Niclo Sturgeon announcing the plan for second independence referendum (Scotland voted to remain in EU) and with Ireland unification referendum plans, UK stands not only to lose EU, but also, Scotland and Ireland that could potentially alter the economic and regional picture. The possibility that referendums (if credible) could act as deterrent remains to be seen.

 

For the time being, the UK economy will face challenges, but only in the short run. In the long run, there is a possibility that the shock could actually lead the economy towards recovery as such is the nature of economics. Economic theory could point towards one way, but, in reality it could go the other way. On the political end, things could take an ugly turn should the referendums of Scotland and Ireland go ahead and the results are the opposite. That could unleash another wave of shocks to the global economy.

However, the crack within the European Union is wider now. The political discussions around Brexit will not be easy.  Brexit has effectively paved the way for other member states to call on their own referendums (France, Holland, Sweden and The Netherlands have already had a call to hold referendums on remaining or leaving EU). With weaker economies still reeling from the austerity policies effects, such economies will re-think their stand on remaining within the EU, thus putting the whole union and the Euro at stake.

According to American economist Nouriel Roubini,  “Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) could be the beginning of the disintegration of the bloc of countries or the United Kingdom” 

But could it be disintegration for both EU and UK?

 

“Imagine. Create. Learn” – WISE 2014

The stage was set on 4th Nov 2014 in Doha, Qatar for the biggest, renowned names and audience to come together under one roof  to debate and discuss the biggest issue of the present time – education. The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) 2014 theme “Imagine, Create and Learn: Creativity at the Heart of Education” came at a time where creativity and innovation is at its lowest, where students are disengaged and where teachers have lost the passion. From 4th Nov – 6th Nov, the actors from various parts of world, in various positions and fields came to address the critical issue of creativity and innovation and how to create an  educational system that nurtures creativity in the youth today.

WISE 2014 Opening Ceremony
WISE 2014 Opening Ceremony – Doha, Qatar

The World Innovation Summit for Education was created under the leadership of Qatar Foundation’s Chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser in 2009. The aim behind WISE was not only to make it an international platform for creative thinking, debate and action, but also, to bring forward unique global approaches to education in order to build a unique future of education with collaboration.

This year Summit proved that challenges in the educational front are not confined to one country, one educational system, one group of students and teachers. Rather, the challenges are real and global in nature. If not addressed, an era will be lost to chaos. Without innovation, there is no change, there is no growth. And without growth, we will become stagnant. Innovation is the engine of growth and it is now what is required should we want to steer around the circumstances around the world.

The WISE 2014 Polls showed that 67% believed that schools kill creativity and 33% believed not. These numbers are representative of not only the issues within the educational system, but, they also show the state of the current times. We have chaos and destruction around us. Our children are being exposed to violence and terror of a horrific kind. Freedom of thought is suppressed. The global economies are on a stand still. Unemployment and poverty is high. There is hardly any peace. Happiness is now a new goal in a world where desperation and sadness surrounds us.

All of this stems from the fact that every one is running after materialistic goals. The external pressures which include pressures from parents and societies is all about going to best university, getting the best education, getting the top grades, getting the best jobs,best house and pay that ultimately would lead to a certain kind of lifestyle. Selfishness became the focus and somewhere along the line, helping others and being responsible for others was lost.  And the pressure didn’t end here. To get to the best university, you must have the top grades and for top grades you don’t have room for error, you just can’t do mistakes. There is no absolute room for trial and error.  If anything, the late US Financial crisis of 2008-2009 broke the model of selfishness as it exposed that the world built on selfishness, greed and power is unsustainable.

Learning Re-imagined

The message of WISE 2014 echoed this reality.  We are responsible for others and we can no longer  stand behind the scenes and be spectators. With the increasing inequality, it is time to step up and change our behaviours. And the simplest way to do it is to change the mindset of individuals and innovate the educational system that fosters not only human values, but also, nurtures unique creative traits in individuals. This means we cannot live in a world with no mistakes. Such a world does not exist. As Dr Tony Wagner from Harvard Innovation Lab said “Education demands failure. Make mistakes and learn. In other words, the mindset must now change if real learning is to take place.

Creativity and learning is a critical issue because we have become a machine based society. Students absorb rather than create. Unfortunately, part of this lies with the present state of educational systems. The educational system resembles the 19th century industrial organization where students are being released as products to the world on a conveyor belt. They are instructed the same material with the same instructional methods, same assessments via exams and then are given degrees at the end to certify that a certain standard of good has been produced. What the system fails to recognize that students are human beings, not products. They can’t be molded and perfected to meet a certain standard set by the corporate world and society. Students are disengaged because the stories they hear are not human. Each student brings with them a unique quality and skills that needs to be fostered.

There is a significant recognition that grades do not reflect a student’s capability or skills. A student with top grades might not have the skills that are required in the world today. Similarly, a student with no top grades might have all the skills that are required to succeed. Top grades in university does not necessarily translate itself into success. The students today have the knowledge but how that knowledge can be applied to real world problems is where they fell short. It is important, rather critical, to ask questions and be curious rather than having the right answer. As Tony Wagner stated “today the world no longer how much you know, but, what can you do with what you know is what is looked for”. In other words, more knowledge does not mean greater capability. The young generation must have the skills to solve complex, analytical problems with collaboration. And that is only possible if they can work through the paralyzing fear of failure as the fear of failure means risk aversion. Without failure, there is no learning. How would we know what works and what not until we have trial and error?

Wendy Kopp - Founder of Teach for All
Wendy Kopp – Founder of Teach for All
Legos For Creative Writing
Lego For Creative Writing

This change requires a transformation in teaching.  Teaching does not mean regurgitating the material. It is a dynamic process whereby teachers have to be creative, have to develop a mindset which encourages questions, thoughts and nurture creativity within students. Teachers have to become coaches and believe that each student is bound to succeed in their own unique way through their unique skills. Teaching has to be free from judgement. When teachers value mistakes and guide students rather than judging, its turns around the whole interaction with students. When students are believed in and encouraged in their thoughts and their creativity, students engage and are motivated to bring about a change. An educational environment which teaches students to help others, to be “women and men for others’, to be responsible for themselves and serve the community is the demand of our time.

If we are to change the global inequality, it must start with our educational systems which needs revamping. We need to re-evaluate our systems and really see whether our students are learning or are simply taking part in order to pass a course, to get a certain grade and move on.

We need to start listening to our real selves and nurture our own creativity. We need to embrace our own imperfections and stop judging others. We should value the human experiences, emotions and stories rather than valuing materialistic goals that only increase the gap between people. We need to engage with parents and community to build bridges of understanding and cooperation should we want to see our youth stepping up and helping others.

Until we as individuals, teachers, parents and community change, the world at large will not change. Until our education systems change to reflect the needs and demands of times, creativity and learning will continue to suffer. The real question now is will the actions come in time? or will we have to reach the lowest point to make the change happen?

 

The Work- Life Balance: An Illusion

In life, we all make certain assumptions and believe them.  If we work more, we will have more time for life. If we work harder and earn more, we will be able to fulfill all our desires and wishes. If we do this, we can have that etc. Well, time for reality check. All these assumptions are dead wrong! Yes and I say this with experience and absolute certainty.  

When I got a job, I was happy that now I will be able to pursue my hobbies myself without depending on my parents. I bought a dSLR, oil paints, canvas, puzzles and other things. Did I paint? No. Did I make puzzles? let’s see, that box has lots of dust on it for sure. Did I start exploring photography? Hahahahaha, the camera is sitting in my cupboard!

Then, I was promoted from part-time to full-time job. I was over the moon because all my hard work paid off.  It meant now I can do everything I want. Wrong again.  I ended up working even harder, bringing some work home and checking emails at home!  Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. But the hard truth is, I don’t have time to do paintings, or make puzzles or even read a book because I have other commitments such as taking mom for grocery shopping, helping her around the house and other chores. So where is time?

When you work more, you don’t have more time for life. When you work harder and earn more, your really don’t get to spend that money because you are ‘busy’ working. When you do this, you will not have that because you will have 100 more commitments. And here is another reality check: there are only 24 hours in a day.

I am not writing anything new. Many people have written about it and its out there.  All of us struggle in finding that balance between work and life and we do need help. Everyone needs a balance. So what’s new here?

There is one fundamental problem.  It is with the statement “Work-Life Balance”.    

 

Work – Life Balance : is work really different from life? Ever heard of “work is life” or ‘life is work”?  Ohhhh yes!  This was my ‘ah ha” moment in the workshop. How is it ever possible that I did not see that?!!!! This reminded me of the dialogue in the movie ‘Now You See Me’: “the closer you look, the less you see”.  The painting by Jason Martin “Witch”  exhibited in Anima Lounge in Doha, Qatar practically shows the meaning of the dialogue. Simply put, when work is a part of life, how could the two be pitted against each other?! We become so busy in scrutinizing every thing in such detail that we lose the big picture. This is a critical mistake.

It’s not about work – life balance. It’s about “life balance” and this insight changed my whole perspective towards the balance issue. Balance is not about quantity. It’s about quality.  It’s about ‘when do we have the times of our lives’, being present and soaking in the moments, being content with what we have or with whatever we are doing in present. It’s all about focus.  So, while I was attending the professional development workshop “The Myth of Work-Life Balance” presented by Pam Vaccaro, it was hard for me not to check my work emails on the mobile (come on, we are all guilty of checking our mobiles now and then during meetings and lunch. We are all in the same boat 🙂 ). But I did not check my mobile for emails. Wait, let me re-word it. I chose not to check my emails during this workshop.  I chose to focus on the workshop and be present in the moment.

The truth is: we don’t focus. We are never present in the moment. Be honest and ask yourself: when was the last time you were really present in the moment? When was the last time you really enjoyed that tea in the garden soaking in the nature around you? When was the last time you had a great time with friends? When?

We are so busy in glorifying busy and complaining about lack of time that we hardly notice anything around us. When we choose to focus, we choose to be present in the time soaking up every single detail around us without any pressures. We are at peace and happy. Naturally losing focus leads to imbalance . It’s all about what we value in our lives and these values make up the life balance. 

At work, we are accountable for our tasks and performance. Why then do we not hold ourselves accountable on life balance? There is a need for life balance accountability and once we choose to do it, life will become balanced. 

One thought-provoking question asked was “How will you feel if you don’t________?” (fill out the blank for you).

For me, the questions were

  • How will you feel if you don’t write, share and try new experiences on your blog? (regret, resentment sad and angry) 
  • How will you feel if you don’t read books anymore? (I already feel a part of me is dead as I have lost my imagination)
  • How will you feel if you don’t paint anymore? (I feel suffocated and trapped)

The answers show why I am out of sync. I give too much attention to one aspect of life and ignore others. I am  not balanced. But this is not all.

This exercise also opened up a Pandora’s box within me that I have kept shut for a decade. The truth is my fears of being judged by others and failure stops me from writing on blog and trying new things (a in another post).

So I broke away from my fears. I took the first step in revamping the look and layout of the blog, de-cluttering the space and am taking it to a whole new level. It might work, it might not work. But that’s where the fun part is. I will learn, create, develop skills, make new friends on community and who knows what opportunities open up through this. I am focusing and am present in this moment.

I am owning up the life balance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unwanted Girls

Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody. ”  (Jane Austen)

The title of this post is neither surprising nor new. It is a repetitive old story, only, that in modern time, it has assumed an uglier face. I recently attended an Economics seminar titled “Bare Branches and Drifting Kites: Tackling Infanticide and Feticide in India”  by  Arjun Bedi – Professor of Development Economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, The Netherlands. As the title suggests, the paper explored the various ways in which female infanticide is being tackled in India. I have written some posts along the same lines previously. But today, the post attempts to explore the issue in-depth in order to understand the mechanics behind this ugly phenomenon. The rationale of exploration is simple: To an educated individual (a girl!) like myself, the paper presented shocking and horrific facts.

Female infanticide is not new. Its’ existence dates back to ancient times and the practice continues to this day.The issue continues to plague the developing countries. The phenomenon is highly controversial from the ethics, human rights and moral grounds. But what has further complicated the scenario is the modern technology. The cheap and easy access to ultrasounds that identify the sex of the fetus had led to sex-selective abortion resulting in the “missing girls”.   If you ever thought being a woman or a girl in this world is difficult, you will thank the stars that today you are alive, for a million girls were killed in the wombs even before they were born.

Being a woman in today’s world means fulfilling various roles and responsibilities. From nurturing to raising and contributing positively to the nation as a whole , a woman assumes multiple roles to accomplish various objectives and norms imposed on her either by the society, or, culture, or, simply by the virtue of being the opposite sex. Failure to do so results in criticisms and taunts, with the final game ending with a common mantra  ‘its’ women’s fault”  I have observed such statements various time back home, in my family gatherings and community, where woman is blamed for every single evil in the world.

The perception is further strengthened by the strong culture preference for boys than girls . In developing countries, men are not only seen as the breadwinners of the family, but also, the bearers of the bloodline, the only ones who carry the family name forward. Thus, a family’s lineage survival highly depends on boys. A girl is viewed as a burden for one has to pay dowry for marriage and since she goes to someone else’s house, hence the connection to the family name is broken. In the quest of having a son, The Economist in 2010 reported that in India, 100 million girls or more have disappeared and the number is continuing to rise. The article claimed that gendercide will affect India’s economic growth in the future.

However, India is not the only country where female infanticide and feticide is common. The trend is observable in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Vietnam and has recently spread to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In China, the one-child policy has strictly gone against the girls. Combining with the culture preference, in China alone, it is the estimated that the imbalances are reaching a critical point where most Chinese men would be unable to find wives and could turn violent. Violence, frustration could lead to social chaos, ultimately, threatening the economic growth China has witnessed over the years. In one paper, ‘Hudson and Den Beor (2004) predict that by the year 2020, 12-15 percent of the young adult male population in China and India will not find brides leading to higher crime rates, diminishing prospects of democracy, stability and peace’.  Higher crime rates with women victims are on the increase in the developing world. ‘In Haryana, India, shortage of women has led to marriage migration, abduction, polyandry (one woman married to several men) and kidnapping of girls’ (Bedi 2009).

A horrifying fact is that in India, it is the wealthier parts of the nation where female infanticide is common. Worse, ‘as a mother’s education level increases, the sex ratio worsens until graduate level” (Bedi 2009). Thus, privilege and wealth are the main cause of sex selective abortions and female infanticide. One report of New York Times quotes an author that  “a male offspring brings a higher social status”. This reasoning makes one ask: has education taught these women nothing at all?!  How could an educated woman agree to abort a female fetus? How could an educated woman agree to kill a life in her own womb?! Is it that despite education, such women lack authority and the decision-making power to take such decisions? Is the pressure from the family or the society to such an extent that an educated woman is forced to bow down to the norms? What are the underlying mechanisms that the educated women take such steps?!! In India, it is claimed that ‘sex selection began in the urban, well-educated stratum of the society, before spreading down the income ladder’ (NY Times 2011). So really before blaming the poor for neglecting their daughters and not fulfilling their responsibilities, one has to first point the finger at the so-called well off, well-educated members of the society who openly discriminate against the baby girls. Instead, it is the low status families who opt for more girls than boys.

One of the  arguments in favour of female infanticide is that  low supply of girls will lead to a lower demand of dowry. Hence, shortage of women works in their own favor. However, that is not the case. It seems that the market for dowry is sticky (is rigid and doesn’t move much) and hence lower number of women has had no impact on lowering dowry at all.

However, all is not doom. Tamil Nadu – one of the states in India implemented programs and policies to combat female infanticide. The government of Tamil Nadu along with NGOs implemented schemes like Cradle Baby schemes in order to save the baby girls and to correct the imbalance created by the feticide. A Girl’s Child Protection Scheme is that as girls are viewed as an economic burden, to enhance their economic values the government provides financial support to families to raise girls. This was particularly targeted on families below the poverty line. The scheme has effectively worked in increasing the sex ratio at birth.

Daughter deficit – the gap between the number of expected daughters and the number of daughters born or alive in a certain age group – declined in the heavily treated districts (whereby the policies were implemented strictly like ‘on the face’ approach). The approach indicated the importance of large-scale interventions motivated by political and administrative zeal can reverse the impact of female infanticide. Thus, the results clearly show that if political will exists, the issue is amenable by public policies.

The issue of sex selective abortion and daughter deficit from the economic point of view is critical. Human capital is one of the critical requirements for economic growth. The term ‘human capital’ is not confined to males alone. It encompasses human which means both men and women. In today’s globalized world, where women’s contribution through work is critical, having less women means having less labor supply in the future, which could effectively derail an economy from its growth and development path. Without women, economic development is hard to obtain since a woman’s main contribution comes in the form of mother who raises a generation from the beginning and nurtures it so that there is positive contribution to the society. Without a woman, a society will simply shatter for the values, ethics and morals are all aspects that a woman passes on to her children.

The research in turn lead to  a number of questions requiring attention such as:

Boys marrying girls from other regions or backgrounds, what is their preference in terms children? Do they have a strong preference for  girls or boys?

What are the prospects of match making under such a scenario? Do educated women get well-educated husbands? Is there more choice for women than men?

While I attended this seminar, I am currently reading the book “The Secret Daughter” by Shilpi Somaya Gowda whose story is along the same lines of the paper. The story looks from the eyes of three characters whose lives are interconnected in different ways. The story line will be discussed in the Women’s Book Club in which I will be participating for the first time. It would be interesting to hear the views and thoughts of women and girls from different backgrounds on the topic that is a harsh reality for many.

While the questions are thought, and debated, while the story is read and shared, it cannot be denied that a girl is also a human being, who when grows up becomes a part of community, society and nation and contributes to the economy in a million ways. The real question that stands in front of us is:

Will the era of unwanted girls ever end?

 

“What would men be without women? Scarce, sir…mighty scarce.” (Mark Twain )

Sources:

Bedi, Arjun and Srinivasan , Sharda (2009) “Bare Branches and Drifiting Kites: Tackling Female Infanticide and Feticide in India”

The Economist (March 2010) ” The war on baby girls: Genedercide”

The Economist (May 2011) “One dishonorable step backwards”

The New York Times (June 2011) ” 160 Million and Counting”

‘Malala’ – The Face of Global Youth

The past few days have been disturbing. News channels are filled with the news of 14-year old girl Malala’s shooting by Pakistan Taliban. Her crime: she took the stand for her and the girls’ fundamental right: education.  Her picture remains in my eyes and mind, making me realize how lucky I am that I had education and didn’t had to fight for this right.

But the harsh reality is that in a highly patriarchal and feudal society like that of Pakistan, educating girls is a challenge. It is a taboo for women are seen as inferior beings. Give them education and they will demand freedom, their rights and therefore, to keep them subjugated so that they never raise their voice ever, take away even their foremost fundamental rights – the rights that Islam itself has bestowed the very day a girl is born.

Although, children continue to be killed in drone attacks and schools are destroyed by both drones and Pakistan Taliban, Malala’s shooting has opened a Pandora’s Box. It is letting some important issues slip from the main picture that are siginifcant for they offer an insight not only of reality on the grounds, but, of the mechanisms that might be playing in the background.

1: The Timing of the Incident

Pakistan, in terms of economic, political and social context is unstable. Every other day there is news on either the social, political or economic front that ushers in a new low.  With the current government, Pakistan is widely believed to be ‘a sinking ship’ and the future prospects are gloomy. The incident has arrived at a time when American elections are looming and elections in Pakistan is also near. Further, the sentiment against the drones strikes is rising within the people. Currently, when the national government is losing popularity with the masses, the Supreme court giving verdicts against its interests, what could be done to divert the attention?

Malala’s shooting has caused outraged in Pakistan. If anything she has won the hearts of youth praying for her recovery. People are now focusing on the Malala issue and strangely, the political entanglements, the volatile issues of corruption and embezzlement all have taken a back seat.  Unfortunately, the incident has given some breathing space to the government. Yet, the state has no idea on how to deal with the economic, social and political issues of the country. They are failing to recognize that the time requires action, not contemplation. Setting of an investigation into this young girl’s shooting – who is battling for her life – will not solve anything. It is time that the government admits its failures and comes in to action to correct the imbalance setting in the society.

Interestingly, it is also a signal to people: don’t think about hope. If there is any hope, it will be extinguished. There can never be hope in this country –  a clear message that indicates that people will continue to be suppressed in all forms. The politicians in fulfilling their own agendas will never allow space for any positive aspect.

2. The Feudal-Religious Mindset

The harsh truth is that the feudal-religious mindset continues to be dominant in our society. This incident has clearly exposed the factor wide open. Honor killings and acid attacks are everyday news. Last year, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s film “Saving Face” – winner of Oscar award – was an insight of the status and treatment of  women in Pakistan. Ironically, this is  a country that has had a woman Prime Minister and now has a woman Foreign Minister (this is irony at its height). It shows that despite much economic development, education has clearly failed to change the mindset of the majority and of the society that still strongly clings to the perception that women don’t have any rights. The question blaring at the people; is it that education has failed us or have we failed ourselves?

Woman, in a highly patriarchal society, is still viewed as burden and an inferior being that has no soul. Despite the fact that Islam has given fundamental rights to women, starting from the very day she comes in the world, men in all their superiority and ego complex view it as a threat to their status and strength. Malala had the courage to stand against the people (sorry, I should not have used this word) cowards who openly believe that woman is the sole reason of chaos in this world. Thus, take away her rights, treat her like an animal and she will remain in control. In a male-dominated society, the fight for one’s rights means death. Many young women have lost their lives in their quest for justice and rights.  So how should this feudal-religious mindset be dealt with? How should it be eradicated?  Is there no middle path?

3. Malala – The Face of Global Youth

I strongly disagree that Malala serves as the face of Pakistani youth alone. No. Malala is the face of the global youth. This 14-year old had the courage to defy the system that denies her rights and freedom. And in the developing world, there exists a million of Malalas’  who on a daily basis are fighting this war at all levels, be it personal, societal or at national level. Malala is the face of every girl who wants her fundamental rights, dreams to have education and has aspirations to contribute to their country and society.  The only difference is such girls never make the news.  Malala made news because of the attention she already had via her anonymous BBC Blog and the Pakistani news channels who had interviewed her. What about those girls who are fighting this war every other day, in different countries? Why is it that the media does not mention such girls and young women out in the open?  Why is there a preference in the media to only cover someone who is well-known and not acknowledge the issues across the specturm? Unless, the issues is widely brought out, many young girls and women will continue to tbe the victims. Many stories will go unheard, many will not have justice.

Malala serves as a beacon of light to every girl regardless of caste, creed, race or nationality, who wants to achieve dreams and growth. She is hope. Her bravery shows that young girls and women are not weak. They are strong beyond imagination. If we have the power to create harmony, we have the strength to fight for it and for our independence.

Being a woman in today’s world is difficult. I look at her picture and ask myself: why? what did they achieve shooting this young, vibrant girl? What was her crime? To continue education? Where did we go wrong? If we are inferior beings, then why did God create us?

Despite various advances, we continue to fight for our identity, dreams and rights in multiple ways. A decade has passed, yet, woman continues to a slave to either traditions, values or customs that only hinder her growth and suppresses her character. Malala is the heroic face of young girls struggling with their battles. A thousand miles away from her, yet, I am praying for her speedy recovery and health from the bottom of my heart.

But at the same time, I ask myself: will our battles ever end?

Are we born only for suppression?

Will I continue to fight customs and traditions all my life?  How long will the war for identity go on?

Will I ever attain my freedom and rights?

 

The ‘Commitment’ Obsession

 

The news of Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson with the married director is on every entertainment and news website, to an extent, that I am nauseating now. I am irritated and my mind is now racing towards a billion direction from relationships to love to many other issues. Therefore, I was forced to write out this post.

The news is BIG because it involved a married director with two kids and a young actresses who was already in relationship for three years.  There lies the clue! The whole issue in this entire saga is of commitment.

Observing the trend in the media, the discussions in real life with friends and within professional boundaries, I ask what is ‘commitment’? Do we even understand the concept or the definition of commitment?  Do we need commitment? If we cannot uphold commitments does it really matters? If yes, then to what extent?

The definition of commitment is given as follows:

1. the trait of sincere and steadfast fixity of purpose

2.  the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action

3. a message that makes a pledge

and the list goes on.  In real life, the word holds different meanings for different people in different contexts and situations. One of the striking feature of the definition is the ‘sincerity’ aspect.  How many of us are sincere to ourselves and to other people?  Sincerity to ourselves is often seen by others as selfish, self-centered and cold. Some lie in extremes while others lie somewhere in the middle. The important aspect is are we sincere to others? I would say most of the times the answer is no.

We are not sincere to others because our ego, objectives and self-interests always comes in the way.  We think about our benefits and our needs first before the others. In relationships, this behavior leads to our downfall. Today, most relationships fail because we fail to see good in the other individual, complain a lot about the flaws, focus more on the negative aspects, lack of compromise and lack of sincerity.  I do not advocate compromise and sincerity to an extent that one loses self-respect and dignity. But sometimes, one has to compromise for a number of reasons. There are number of ways to tackle the situation and if the issue is approached in a different manner, most problems can be solved. But should the approach lack sincerity, then no issue can ever be solved genuinely.

Sincerity today is a concept that looks good only in books, especially in relationships. Now relationships are more about glamour and glitz.  Not for once does it cross our minds that relationships like every other aspect of life demands attention and needs to be worked at.  The truth is we have all our own flaws. When we fall in love and are with someone special, we need to accept their flaws and rather than focusing on the flaws, pay attention to their good points and magnify the positive aspects to make life better.  The entertainment industry has made relationships a joke as it has largely portrayed the glamour aspect of it; the coyness, the dates, the little secrets, asking personal private question. In turn, commitment is now a joke because the patience and honesty in relationships is disappearing. Commitment – the very word has no real meaning anymore.  If I am in a relationship, I will not discuss my private life’s aspects with anyone. It is a personal space where a variety of emotions exists which requires work.This is where commitment comes in; to work together at every stage of life no matter what obstacles are in the way.

There are times of ups and downs and discussing it out openly in public means allowing others to control your life when they shouldn’t. Commitment does not enter the picture her because that private space is somehow lost when discussed with others.  Sincerity is the critical key of commitment and of a good relationship. If you are with that special individual who trusts you, loves you for what you are, encourages you in all aspects of life and supports you, then why on earth would you ever, ever deceive them?  Why be in any relationship when you cannot be sincere and honest? Why? Is it necessary to break someone’s heart? Yes, there could be aspects that might be the cause of problems, but again, by focusing on the positive points, the flaws could be dealt with.

Commitment is an overrated term. Frankly speaking, we have lost the meaning of commitment altogether. Relationships hold no value today. If they work, good, if they don’t  kick them out (and here I am not referring to abusive relationships at all as they are altogether a different issue. My main focus is good healthy relationships that go awry). There is no value of sincerity because today all relationships suffer from moral hazard problem.

So all the fuss about Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson is really a reflection of how we view commitment and relationships. It is about time we start reflecting on ourselves before pointing any fingers on anyone. If we do not understand what commitment is, then its better not to get involved in any project,work or even a relationship. We will save someone’s time from being wasted and someone’s heart from being broken.

Learn first what commitment is before stepping. Commitment is not a joke, it is real hard work!