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Shangri-la Security Dialogue heralds important shift in Australia’s language on China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/06/2024 - 4:59am in

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Asia, World

The 21st Shangri-la Security Dialogue, held in Singapore between 31 May and 2 June, saw the United States’ Secretary of Defence unveil a new way to describe his country’s Asia-Pacific policy, and hold a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart. China was unyielding on its “core interests”. Australian Defence Minister Marles embraced the “global rules-based Continue reading »

Q and A with Naila Kabeer on Renegotiating Patriarchy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 8:47pm in

In this interview with Anna D’Alton (LSE Review of Books), Naila Kabeer discusses her new book, Renegotiating Patriarchy: Gender, Agency and the Bangladesh Paradoxforthcoming from LSE Press in September. The book examines positive social change in Bangladesh over the past 50 years, in particular the factors that enabled significant and rapid gains for women in areas like health, education and employment within a deeply patriarchal society.

LSE Festival Power and Politics 2024

Join Naila Kabeer, Monica Ali, Phillip Hensher and Sarah Worthington for an event, Power and Storytelling on Saturday 15 June as part of LSE Festival.

Renegotiating Patriarchy: Gender, Agency and the Bangladesh Paradox. Naila Kabeer. LSE Press. 2024.

Bangaldesh Paradox naila kabeer book coverWhat is the “Bangladesh paradox”?

Bangladesh has been described as a new nation but an ancient land. For much of its history, Bangladesh was colonised by foreign powers, first by Hindu and Buddhist rulers from other parts of India, then by the Moghuls, followed by the British. When the British left in 1947, what is now Bangladesh was incorporated into Pakistan but occupied the status of a quasi-colony. It fought a war of liberation before finally becoming independent in 1971.

The long history of colonial extraction meant that Bangladesh embarked on independence as one of the poorest countries in the world. It had extremely high fertility rates which made it one of the  most densely populated countries in the world. It had a largely illiterate population that eked out a living in subsistence agriculture. It also had a very patriarchal culture, one it shared with the northern plains of India, that gave rise to very strong son preference and a tradition of discrimination against daughters. The high fertility rates in the country were partly due to the pressure on women to have enough children to ensure a minimum number of sons, pressure which resulted in very high rates of maternal mortality. Bangladeshi women were described by a Population Crisis Committee report from the 1980s as “poor, powerless and pregnant”, with the lowest status among women from the 99 countries covered by the report.

Bangladesh was regarded by the donor community at the time [of independence in 1971] as an “international basket case”[] Yet by the 1980s, fertility rates began declining at a speed that set a record in demographic history.

Bangladesh was regarded by the donor community at the time as an “international basket case”, a country would need foreign aid into the foreseeable future if it was to survive, let alone thrive. Yet by the 1980s, fertility rates began declining at a speed that set a record in demographic history, there were striking improvements in health and nutrition and educational levels began to rise. What stood out about these changes is the disproportionate gains made by women and the resulting decline in gender inequality.  So the term “Bangladesh paradox” is used as shorthand to describe the remarkable progress that the country made in spite of high levels of poverty and poor levels of governance.

There is one other element to the paradox that is less widely remarked on that interests me. The improvements observed in gender equality came at a time when the country had begun experiencing a steady rise in a very orthodox version of Islam, one imported from the Middle East and antithetical to many of the gains women had made.

Q: What aspects of the Bangladesh paradox does your book, Renegotiating Patriarchy address?

There have been many explanations of the Bangladesh paradox, but they tend to focus on the role of powerful actors such as the state, the donors and the non-governmental sector. They all have a part to play, but at the heart of the story I tell in this book is what I believe to be the main driving force behind the changes we associate with the paradox: the ideas, values and motivations of ordinary people. This hidden story of change takes as its starting point the evidence emerging in the literature that there had been a significant decline in son preference and a move towards more egalitarian preferences, with many parents satisfied with only having daughters. This was in sharp contrast to India where parents were seeking to reconcile their desire for fewer children with the practice of female-selective abortion to ensure that their children were only, or mainly sons.

At the heart of the story I tell in this book is what I believe to be the main driving force behind the changes we associate with the paradox: the ideas, values and motivations of ordinary people.

Clearly there had been some kind of shift in the structures of patriarchy in Bangladesh: girls were now more likely to survive the early years of life than boys (the norm in much of the world); they were more likely to be enrolled in primary and secondary school than boys and their labour force participation rates had been rising consistently, overtaking those of India and Pakistan.

My book sets out to find out what led ordinary people make the changes in their lives which coalesced into the Bangladesh paradox. And because there was evidence accumulating in various studies that women had played an important role in making these changes happen, I was particularly interested in this aspect of the story. Given Bangladesh’s patriarchal traditions, I wanted to know what motivated women to seek change and how they were able to bring it about when the changes they sought seemed to go against the grain of these traditions.

Q: What was your methodological approach and how did you arrive at it? 

The book is interdisciplinary in its approach and pluralist in its methodology. As I noted earlier, there have been many “big picture” stories about the Bangladesh paradox. What has been missing are the multitude of “small picture” stories from ordinary men and women. A great deal of the book is made up of these stories, gathered from my own research and from research that others have carried out. By examining the experiences and motivations related by different generations of women and men over successive periods of time, I was able to trace the unfolding of the Bangladesh paradox through the shifts in attitudes that they reported, the actions they took in response to survival imperatives and the changes in their aspirations as new possibilities came into view.

These narratives form the core of my analysis, but I draw on a range of other sources of information as well. I go back into the history of Bangladesh to understand the more tolerant version of Islam that had flourished in the country, an amalgam of the various religions that had co-existed in the region and that may have been a factor in allowing women to make the gains they did. I draw on secondary literature to understand the evolution of the country’s policy and legal architecture, piecing together the story of the economic changes that allowed the country to transcend its past poverty. These constitute the structural context within which individuals and groups were able to exercise certain forms of agency but not others, which allowed women to “renegotiate” the more oppressive aspects of patriarchy rather than to overthrow it.

Individuals and groups were able to exercise certain forms of agency but not others, which allowed women to ‘renegotiate’ the more oppressive aspects of patriarchy rather than to overthrow it.

In addition, woven into my account of the qualitative explanations that men and women gave for their behaviour are statistical findings that helped me to distinguish between the explanations that embodied the experiences of the few, perhaps those who were ahead of their time or lagging behind, and those of the many whose experiences were widespread enough to shape the larger statistical trends.

Q: A central research question in the book is around the decline for son preference among families and communities in Bangladesh. What were the reasons for son preference?  

Bangladesh is a part of a larger region that Deniz Kandiyoti refers to as “the belt of classic patriarchy” stretching from North Africa across the Middle east and the northern plains of the South Asian sub-continent, including Bangladesh. These countries may have very different histories, different religions, different economic trajectories, but they share certain features of their gender and kinship relations in common. They are characterised by patrilineal descent so that the family name and property pass through the male line. There are strict restrictions on women’s mobility outside the home so they are confined to reproductive and home-based activities, dependent on male breadwinners for most of their lives.  Daughters are married off early and leave the parental home to be absorbed into their husband’s lineage. Sons, on the other hand, carry on the family line, inherit its property, engage in productive work and look after their parents as they get older. Not surprisingly, these societies are characterised by a strong preference for sons, with lower levels of female education and labour force relative to male and, in contrast to the rest of the world, higher levels of female mortality, particularly in the younger age groups.

A woman in Bangladesh wearing an orange sari holds a tool and looks off camera with trees behind herA woman in Subarnachar, Noakhali, Bangladesh. Photo © Jannatul Mawa.

Q: In your research, you discovered that there was a decline in son preference in the past forty or fifty years. What were some of the reasons for that decline? 

My interest in son preference goes back to 1980 when I was doing my PhD at LSE and researching the reasons for high fertility in Bangladesh. I spent a year doing field work in a village in Bangladesh where it became clear to me that women had a particularly strong preference for sons over daughters, both to assure their status in their husband’s family and because sons represented security in old age. After my PhD, I joined the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex and continued to do research in South Asia. I was aware of the various studies from Bangladesh documenting, among other things, increasing gender equality in survival rates, health, nutrition and education. To find out why this was happening, I went back to the village in which I had conducted my PhD field work.

My interest in son preference goes back to 1980 when I was doing my PhD at LSE and researching the reasons for high fertility in Bangladesh.

What I found makes up the concluding sections of the book where I also touch on why a similar shift in son preference had not been happening in India. The full answer on the reasons for this shift, detailed in the book, are complicated and tangled up with the overall story of the Bangladesh paradox. The short answer revolves around changing intergenerational relationships and the belief on the part of parents that sons had become more focused on their own wives and children to the neglect of their parents, that daughters-in-law were not as subservient as they used to be and that daughters are now not only regarded as more loyal to their parents than sons. They are perceived as being more concerned about their welfare, but also, with the rise in their income-earning opportunities, in a better position to help them materially. It was mothers who were often at the forefront of this revaluation of daughters.

Q: You deal with the rise in women’s labour force participation in your book. What was its significance?  

It has been very significant. There is an interesting contrast here between Bangladesh and India. India has one of the highest per capita growth rates in the world but its female labour force participation has been declining steadily and is now among the lowest in South Asia. In fact, the jobless nature of India’s growth has seen high levels of unemployment among men as well. Although Bangladesh’s growth rates are also high, it remains far poorer than India.  However, it has had a more labour-intensive pattern of growth and generated opportunities that have benefited women as well as men. Its microfinance programmes have allowed women to take up income-generating activities that could be carried out within or near the home. Its export-oriented garment sector had a largely female labour force. Community-based services, including those provided by NGOs, hire large numbers of women. In Bangladesh, women’s ability to make a direct contribution to household income has been an important factor in enhancing their voice and agency within their households, has made daughters appear less of a burden to their families and has given women the motivation to resist the efforts of Islamist forces to curtail their opportunities.

Women’s ability to make a direct contribution to household income has been an important factor in enhancing their voice and agency within their households

Q: Do you think that the positive social changes, including the progress on gender equality that the paradox describes will be sustained in the future? 

It’s hard to say. I feel somewhat pessimistic but not just in relation to Bangladesh. The whole world seems to have become darker – it is more unequal, there are more wars, more natural disasters, more financial crises and, of course, accelerating climate change. And the same market fundamentalism that impededes our ability to put things to right in the rest of the world is also holding it up in Bangladesh.

We have seen inequality rising in Bangladesh over the last decades. Whereas in the early years after independence, it was possible to make important gains on the health front with low-cost vertical programmes, we now need broad-based health services so that everyone can be assured of decent care when they need it. Quantity in educational provision has been achieved at the expense of quality, and quality has been undermined by compromising on a secular curriculum in deference to Islamist forces. We have had multiparty democracy since 1990 and mainly civilian rule, but when the same party has been in power since 2009, we know it is not a very healthy democracy. Meanwhile, the rise of an intolerant Islamic orthodoxy has continued and may have been given fresh oxygen by what is happening to Palestinian people in Gaza today. I am not sure whether the pace of social progress we saw in the past will be sustained in the future. But who knows? Bangladesh has defied the odds before; it may do so again.

Note: This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Main image credit: A woman in Subarnachar, Noakhali, Bangladesh. Photo © Jannatul Mawa.

 

Indian elections double victory for democracy – Asian Media Report

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2024 - 4:57am in

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Asia, Media, Politics

In Asian media this week: Voters teach Modi a lesson. Plus: Graham Allison on Thucydides’ Trap latest assessment; China, US switch off the megaphones; IMF, World Bank warn of system break-up; summit opens way for rules-based competitive order; tobacco companies control smoking-law narrative. India’s national elections were a double victory for democracy – a massive Continue reading »

A better service may be transmitted

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 4:55am in

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Asia, Media, Politics

The Indonesian government’s TVRI channel is supposed to have negotiated an MOU with the ABC to swap programmes. A great idea – benefits all. That’s the initial reaction. However, if there’s no catering for the two nations grossly different values the scheme could collapse through fear, distrust, inertia and censorship. On TV screens in Indonesia Continue reading »

North Asian Summit: hedging against the United States?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/06/2024 - 4:58am in

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Asia, Politics

The Prime Ministers of China, Japan and South Korea met in Seoul on 27 May to resume regular annual meetings which began in 2008 and were held annually until 2019, when they were interrupted by COVID and “aspects of the international situation”. The PMs issued a joint statement after their meeting which was strong on Continue reading »

US pawns: Taiwanese separatists should stop deluding themselves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/06/2024 - 4:50am in

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Asia, Politics, USA

The island’s current political status is as good as it gets, and any further military partnership with Washington will deliver only diminishing returns. Say what you like about Taiwan’s new leader William Lai Ching-te, but he really did ask for it. Days after his inauguration, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted live drills around the Continue reading »

The militarist as milkman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/06/2024 - 4:53am in

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Asia, Politics

ABC TV’s Landline programme has declared that “Australia’s dairy industry is licking its lips at the prospect of increased demand from Indonesia.” The cow cockies’ cliched hopes are based on the applauded pledge by Indonesia’s incoming president and former general Prabowo Subianto to give 83 million school kids free feeds and milk. The salivators are Continue reading »

China Incorporated: The Politics of a World Where China is Number One – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/05/2024 - 8:44pm in

Kerry Brown‘s China Incorporated examines how China’s rise has reshaped the global political order, previously dominated by the US. Examining the impacts of Cold War modernisation paradigms and conflicting values between East and West, this book is an excellent resource for those interested in researching beyond the traditional narratives about China, writes Burak Elmalı.

China Incorporated: The Politics of a World Where China is Number One. Kerry Brown. Bloomsbury Academic. 2023.

Kerry Brown’s China Incorporated: The Politics of a World Where China is Number One offers a thought-provoking perspective on the implications of China’s rise in a global context dominated by the long-standing leadership of the United States. Comprising eight chapters, Brown’s analysis encourages readers to adopt a fresh mindset through a comprehensive examination of China’s dynamics from start to finish.

The book delves deeply into the often-overlooked theme of values within the realm of great power competition between China and the US

The book’s contribution is twofold. Firstly, it delves deeply into the often-overlooked theme of values within the realm of great power competition between China and the US, notably highlighted through Brown’s frequent use of the term “Enlightenment West” to describe the US-led Western perspective in contrast to China. Secondly, it prompts us to question the established modernisation paradigm (a theory that posits that economic development in societies is a catalyst for democratisation) inherited from Cold War, stressing the inseparability of economic development and democratisation, thereby giving way to a re-evaluation of traditional viewpoints.

The first chapter provides a comprehensive overview of key themes, which are detailed in the rest of the book. It delineates three critical aspects: China is no longer weak, its ascendancy in both land and naval capabilities, and the distinctiveness of its value system vis-à-vis the West. This exposition transcends the commonplace discourse surrounding China’s rise, which has become the talk of the town in the last decade, directing attention to how to make sense of this reality. The recognition of China’s transition from a perceived state of weakness is contextualised as a simultaneously relative decline of Western powers, stimulating parallel discussions concerning China, the US, and European powers. Moreover, the emphasis on the burgeoning maritime power of China underscores the necessity of broadening the discourse on China-West relations beyond the confines of the Taiwan issue to encompass a broader naval domain, the South China Sea.

The recognition of China’s transition from a perceived state of weakness is contextualised as a simultaneously relative decline of Western powers, stimulating parallel discussions concerning China, the US, and European powers.

As mentioned earlier, the emphasis on values and philosophy compared with the Enlightenment is most intriguing. This undoubtedly reminds us that we need to question the less inclusive and intriguing aspects of the ideational pillars of a global actor that is often touted as a future superpower, such as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” and “Harmonious Society,” which are frequently used by Beijing.

The second chapter illustrates China’s behaviour in the virtual domain and cyberspace amid its global growth, showcasing its ability to create Made in PRC versions of domains with high levels of censorship and surveillance, a significant capability. It also discusses the overestimation of Confucius Institutes (hosted by universities, Confucius Institutes are educational and cultural organisations affiliated with the Chinese government, established around the world with the aim of promoting Chinese language and culture, supporting Chinese language teaching, and facilitating cultural exchanges) as examples of China’s soft power, cautioning against exaggerating their impact. These examples highlight China’s subtle, exclusionary actor behaviour and its challenges in attracting interest in its values. It is, therefore, highly unlikely for a passionate researcher or enthusiast to solely emerge from Confucius Institutes in a university with a rich liberal arts tradition.

Brown underscores two turning points in China’s perception of the West: the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the Arab Spring, highlighting the failures of Western capitalism and interventionist foreign policies in the post-Cold War era.

The third chapter outlines a significant shift in the Enlightenment West’s attitude towards China, evolving from patronising to openness for collaboration and eventually seeing China as a threat. This last attitude reflects what we saw in the long communique issued after last year’s NATO Summit in Vilnius. Brown underscores two turning points in China’s perception of the West: the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the Arab Spring, highlighting the failures of Western capitalism and interventionist foreign policies in the post-Cold War era. They solidified China’s reluctance to heed Western advice, resonating with critiques of interventionist liberalism in John Mearsheimer’s The Great Delusion. The notion of a crusader state promoting liberal values, with each Western failure now serving as rhetorical leverage for China, stands as a noteworthy observation.

In the fourth and fifth chapters, we observe a dual analysis, which is highly necessary. These chapters, elaborated upon with the questions “What Does the World Want from China?” and “What Does China Want from the World?” clearly illustrate the stark contrast between China’s ambition to wield power without taking too much responsibility with binding commitments in global issues like climate change and the Western perception of a China constrained within the boundaries of the liberal international order. This inherent disparity is central to understanding how China and the West perceive each other. The sixth chapter presents a rich and necessary example, both from Brown’s own experiences and in the context of the discussions on China and the alternative global order. Accordingly, the Xinjiang issue, where the Chinese government is accused of a series of ongoing human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, serves as a microcosm for understanding China’s stance on human rights within the international system. The vast disparity between how the Enlightenment West and China perceive the surveillance state mechanism in this autonomous region underscores the differing perceptions detailed in the fourth and fifth chapters.

The seventh and eighth chapters are crucial, especially concerning the future of modernisation theory and whether China will adopt a paradigm-shifting approach. The assertion that, “We have been using Stone Age tools to address a space age problem. Getting rid of the ‘evil/good’ dichotomy is a great place to start addressing this,” (170) is particularly noteworthy. Brown conveys the message that differentiating our observations and analyses from the past is no longer optional, but a necessity to understand and contextualise China.

Though his enquiry is robust, Brown’s analysis lacks examples of China’s actor behaviour through global regimes and international institutions. For instance, China’s behaviour under the UNFCCC regarding global climate change, its stance in WTO negotiations, or its voting behaviour in the UNSC could have been included in the discussion. Comparing China’s nuanced approach of exploiting or utilising existing potentials within UN frameworks to the goal-oriented strategies of the West, as mentioned in the second chapter, could have made the differences clearer and more understandable. For example, contrasting the EU’s stance with the Green Deal against China’s revisionist approach in COPs as the leader of the G-77 would give readers a better understanding of the contrasting engagements with international institutions at play.

Comparing China’s nuanced approach of exploiting or utilising existing potentials within UN frameworks to the goal-oriented strategies of the West [… ] could have made the differences clearer and more understandable.

Overall, the author’s emphasis on values and the call to evaluate China’s rise concurrently with the relative weakening of the West are thought-provoking and significant. This book provides an excellent resource for those interested in researching beyond the traditional narratives about China. Additionally, through this work, Brown highlights the need for new methods in examining China’s rise in international politics literature.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: The White House on flickr.

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/05/2024 - 4:55am in

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Asia, Media, Politics

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Asia, Media, Politics

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