2008: Volume 39
Even the most devoted believers in the neoliberal paradigm will have had their convictions shaken recently, as the world’s markets have played havoc with their faith. For those who have long questioned the purported benefits of neoliberal economic policies and highlighted their injurious consequences, it comes as little surprise that this 'grab-bag of ideas' is in freefall.
The focus of this IDS Bulletin is particularly apposite at a time when much-cherished axioms are being re-inspected and where new possibilities and directions are so badly needed. Contributors add to a growing, vibrant debate about Gender and Development. This issue arises from a conference held at IDS in July 2007 in collaboration with Birkbeck College, under the Pathways of Women's Empowerment Research Programme Consortium, where participants reflected on the relationship between feminisms and neoliberalism, in the context of international development.
What emerges from many of these articles is a sense of unease with the extent to which G&D discourses have lent themselves to appropriation – and with what stories they tell about women and their assumed relationships with men and with each other. Revisioning feminist engagement calls for reflexivity, repositioning and canny appraisal of what it takes to make change happen. Challenging and transforming existing power relations involves empowerment and resistance, which may run directly counter to the neoliberal model. To reclaim agency and empowerment we need to reaffirm their liberating dimensions, reasserting their association with forms of collective action that involve possibilities of social transformation. The debates thrown up by this diverse and stimulating collection suggest that this process has already begun.
Across the hardest-hit countries of sub-Saharan Africa the HIV/AIDS epidemic is causing immense distress and impoverishment to children. In this region alone, some 12 million are estimated to have lost one or both parents to the disease, but this headline figure misrepresents and understates the magnitude of the problem.
The challenge for policy is not to reach 12 million individual children needing assistance, but to design policies and interventions that address the diverse needs of a range of poor and vulnerable children in societies affected by AIDS - a far more ambitious task.
The articles in this IDS Bulletin discuss the complexity of HIV epidemics and their impacts on children, as well as the importance of factoring in the role of such children in the dynamics of the epidemic itself.
Themes covered are: poverty is the backdrop but not the driver of the epidemic; inequities by age, gender, geographical origin and economic status mark vulnerabilities and create circumstances where transmission can flare; it is important to define 'family' within local contexts to avoid misunderstandings; the majority of children of concern are aged 11 and older (not the younger children who tend to excite western compassion); the fundamental rationale for responding is that children have rights; migrants tend to fall between the cracks; and diversity of circumstances must be acknowledged.
The combination of policy case studies and comparative quantitative political science analysis draws important conclusions about how to make policy work, from inception to implementation.
Climate change gets attention across the world. IPCC findings call for radical limits to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations responsible for human-induced climate change. Achieving an international agreement, particularly under the UNFCCC, on emissions targets, burden sharing, trading mechanisms and technological and financial assistance remains a high priority concern for the 'mitigation' of climate change.
Simultaneously, there is a growing acknowledgement of the need to enable human and natural systems to adjust to actual or expected climate stimuli or their effects, a process known as 'adaptation'. Adaptation is now a central strand of climate policy, thanks to the increasing engagement of the development community, particularly through emphasising the differentiated nature of impacts across the world and within societies. Adaptation is framed as an equity and rights issue. The central message of this IDS Bulletin is that adaptation will be ineffective and inequitable if it fails to learn from and build upon an understanding of the multi-dimensional and differentiated nature of poverty and vulnerability.
Abortion has become an ever more controversial issue, provoking strong reactions both 'for' and 'against'. Language used in disputes over whether or not women should have access to safe and legal abortion indicates just how polarised debates have become: pro-choice versus pro-life; pro-abortion versus anti-choice.
As the anti-abortion agenda has become coupled with other conservative agendas, such as pro-abstinence, pro-chastity and anti-contraception, an increasingly assertive movement has evolved. The extension of these conservative forces to parts of the world where thousands of women die every year because they were unable to access safe abortion and protect themselves from HIV infection, has turned this polarised dispute into an urgent development issue.
Articles in this IDS Bulletin are unequivocal on the issues at stake: access to safe abortion is a matter of human rights, democracy and public health, and the denial of such access is a major cause of death and impairment, with significant costs to development. All contributors share a commitment to a woman's right to have access to safe, affordable services for the termination of pregnancy for the widest range of reasons.
They bring perspectives from a range of contexts: countries where abortion is not guaranteed, or only under restrictive conditions, and countries where it is guaranteed but there are strong movements of counterattack. Profound inequities of access globally and nationally are highlighted, and the importance of movements to address this. Contributors focus on policy reform and lessons learned from struggles to obtain or retain access to safe abortion services. They reflect on strategies contributing to successful outcomes or more constructive dialogue in countries where abortion is being debated.
The working poor contribute to, and benefit from, economic growth through labour markets and paid work, but employment generation has not featured significantly in the macroeconomic agenda. It was assumed that opening up economies to global competition and flexible labour markets would generate labour-intensive growth trajectories and secure livelihoods, leaving public measures for social protection restricted to those unable to earn their own living, but these predictions have not been borne out in practice.
Poverty rates have declined, yet globalisation has brought new insecurity. Labour market flexibility has increased labour force participation but the informal nature of these jobs mean they are precarious and badly paid, trapping some in chronic poverty.
Thinking on social protection, concerned about possible distortions of the labour market, has done little to stem the spread of informal employment. Despite policy commitment to poverty reduction through labour-intensive growth, the gains for the poor have been ambiguous. These themes were explored in a 2007 workshop convened by IDS and WIEGO.
Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policymakers, their contributions now make up this IDS Bulletin. Articles cover the changing nature of the global economy, flexible labour market policies in different regions of the world, conceptualisation of labour markets, implications for macroeconomic policies, and the scope for social protection. The conclusion is the need for a better understanding of the way labour markets function in the 'real' world if we are to find policies that will better deliver on the outcomes they promise.