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Yesterday, the papal encyclical “Laudato Sii” was finally released. Environmentally engaged members of the Roman Catholic Church have awaited this day with cautious excitement since January 2014, when it was first announced that Pope Francis prepares such a document on “the ecology of mankind”. Over the last months, the event has also received remarkable attention in the wider public all over the globe.
The release of the encyclical exemplifies how religious actors can influence regulatory processes. Short-term, it may affect current political events with judgments about concrete political choices, influencing their (il)legitimacy. For instance, the papal encyclical calls the final document of the Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, “ineffective”. Further,
the strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. […] it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors (Laudato Sii).
The release may also create a new momentum of debate and hope in the year of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in Paris during which parties aim for a new, legally binding agreement.
Long-term, it is a significant theological document meant to give direction to contemporary Catholicism and 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. Even if we cannot know how it will be interpreted in thirty years from now, its effect is likely to last longer than the next international climate agreement. But despite or especially because of its character, it enfolds its dynamic only with its reception by an audience willing and eager to engage with it. At least three factors have helped to turn the publication of the encyclical into a widely received event which is likely to deserve all the hope that is attached to it.
Guest blogger Nina Engwicht discusses a controversial performance art project in Berlin aiming to help Syrian refugee children.
Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939
“1 in 100” is the slogan of a nightly ironic talent show currently put on in Berlin by the activist performance artists of the group “Center for Political Beauty” (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit). One in a hundred Syrian children will be saved, is the promise. In order to help the German government decide which children should be rescued, the audience is requested to vote for a child they would like to see rescued from the civil war: “1 in 100! One child wins. The others can go on dying. (weitersterben)”.
The artists urge their audience not to make light of their responsibility, but to use their right to vote. The show’s web site (http://voting.1aus100.de/) displays pictures and videos of each child, many of them badly hurt, some of them crying, some of them starving. The video of “child number 2” shows a boy desperately crying after a bomb attack. From off-camera we hear a man, presumably his father, saying “My God. My God. My children are dead. My children are dead”, while the boy cries for his brothers and sisters. The campaign’s Facebook page presents all these candidates and informs readers about their respective chances: “Child Nr. 61 only has two votes. Call now!”
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It is a sad occasion which currently reminds us of questions about large-distance solidarity, transnational communities and commitment – topics which the workshop Mobility and Civil Society: How Social Commitment Takes Place addresses at the University Freiburg, Germany, in December.
During the last weeks, the second largest industrial tragedy in history has raised public awareness and debate about global inequality of international labor protection once again. The Rana Plaza complex close to Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed on April 24. As the rescue work around the former Tung Hai garment factory is still not completed, the reported death toll moves up to around a thousand people. Yesterday, eight people died in another fire in a garment factory in Dhaka.
Last week, I attended a very interesting conference organized by Jean-Christophe Graz, Christoph Hauert, Marc Audetat and Danielle Büschi at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. At this conference, the prospects and limits of participation of civil society in international standardization were not only assessed by leading academics working in the field but also by members of various NGOs, including consumer and environmental organizations operating at the national and transnational level. The conference was part of a research programme at the University of Lausanne called “Living together under uncertainty” which has the aim to reinforce the relationship between academic knowledge and civil society. The INTERNORM project is trully transdisciplinary in the sense that Helga Nowotny understands the term: bringing together different types of knowledge from academics and practitioners for democratic problem-solving in the global sphere. The conference was one of the rare moments where academics and pratictioners engaged in really productive intellectual inquiry into how problems of standard-setting are framed, organized and managed in various national and transnational arenas. It also turned out to be a very cross-fertilizing event between the French and English-speaking communities in this field. Discussions revealed the many still persisting obstacles created by technical standard-setting organizations which make it difficult for civil society actors to participate on an equal footing. Yet, discussions also pointed to the strategic capacity of transnational and European NGOs to coordinate effectively across borders and to set their priorities in ways to enhance their leverage and influence. The presentations of the conferences are available on the INTERNORM project website.
As India celebrates Diwali this week, the debate about how to deal with microfinance has calmed a bit. But since I wrote up my analysis of the root causes Andhra Pradesh showdown (part 1, part 2), the news has taken few further twists. Here’s an update:
- Vijay Mahajan, Chairman of BASIX and speaker for the MFIN industry organisation, stated on TV: “Alot of the reasons for invoking the ordinance were the creation of the microfinance sector itself. There has been a certain degree of wrongdoing by our sector. And as the president [of MFIN] I am the first one to accept it, I want to do it on record.”
- The interest rate disclosure requirement under the new microfinance ordinance in AP has uncovered interest rates far higher than previously reported – up to 60.5 percent. I wish I was surprised; but MFIs usually neglect to factor compulsory savings, fees, etc., into their publicly quoted rates.
- The AP government has published the complete list of complaints of malpractice and suicide launched against the MFIs – see it here.
- A massive borrower database in AP will go on-line in January, in an effort to clear up the mess.
Meanwhile, India’s vibrant media and civil society have been grappling with the issue, as are some American media. The rest of this post is a digest of the most provocative, insightful and intelligent commentary I’ve seen on the subject.