The bishops of the North and East provinces have requested the Vatican to appoint a separate Cardinal for the two provinces of Sri Lanka. Father Joseph Pathinathar Jebaratnam, who spoke in Jaffna,More
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
We welcome President Ranil Wickramasinghe’s initiatives on national unity, accountability, and reconciliation – a mile stone effort to bring about a much-needed reconciliation in the ever-shrinking harmony between communities. We hope his effort will be sustained without being stalemated by the fortress of the un-accommodative hate machine that thrives in its sadistic crusade to undermine any effort for national reconciliation. Sadly, end of the war did not lay the foundation for lessons to be learnt to uphold the much-needed respect for diversity, tolerance, and law and order in the governance of Sri Lanka.
As an umbrella body of 32 Hindu temples in the UK, our members are saddened and emotional about the decadence of Sri Lanka and further deterioration of its multilingual and religious pillars that are being structurally destabilised beyond redemption. Unfortunately, these are being wantonly harmed to maintain the majoritarian Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy in a shallow sense that has burdened the very moral fabric of the nation of Sri Lanka.
The very Archaeological Department has become the lethal and unquestionable quango with inordinate powers to institutionally progress the distasteful mission of the hate minded politicians and the majoritarian religious bigots who does not subscribe to Buddha Dharma. Hindu temples have been systematically targeted by the hate driven Archaeological Department and the very department is able to cause untold misery by its Machiavellian conduct for the Hindu community in Sri Lanka and for the Diaspora community.
With the past few months the Aathi Shival temple of Kurunthur Malai, the ancient Mullaithivu Manatkerni Hindu temple, the deities of Tiricomalee Rajavanthan Malai, Nedunthive Vetti Arasan Fort, invasion of the Kannia holy wells, restriction of use of land owned by the recognised Thirukketheeswaram temple in Trincomalee, taking control of lands surrounding Nechiadi Iyanar temple surroundings etc., and many other sites in the Eastern and Western flank by the Archaeological Department must be seen as well-established political agenda to further marginalise the Hindu community in Sri Lanka.
We appeal to the President of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to suspend the prejudicial Archaeological Department and create the conducive climate to strengthen his mission to build a hate-less, fearless and an able and accountable Sri Lanka for all living in Sri Lanka. Depoliticization of Buddhism is needed to strengthen the political will and if Thailand practicing Theravadha Buddhism exported from Sri Lanka could practice such controls, Sri Lanka too must learn lessons from it to free the nation from the harmful religious influences in politics.
Statement issued by the Federation of Saiva (Hindu) Temples UK
The population in Japan declined to 124.95 million in 2022, marking the 12th consecutive year of decline, government data showed Wednesday.
As of Oct. 1 last year, the total population, including foreign residents, saw a decrease of 556,000, or 0.44 percent from the previous year, according to the latest population estimates released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
The number of Japanese nationals, which came in at 122 million, plunged by 750,000, the decline of which has been expanding since 2011, the ministry said in an online report.
The figure represented the largest comparable decline since comparable data became available in 1950, Kyodo News reported.
The government will address the country’s falling birthrate “with the highest priority,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference.
In the latest count, the number of people under the age of 15 came to 14.5 million, making up for the lowest-ever 11.6 percent of the population, while those aged 65 or over totaled about 36.23 million, slightly up from a year earlier to account for 29 percent of the total.
Of the total population, males accounted for 48.6 percent with a fall for the 15th consecutive year, while the female population saw the 12th consecutive year of decline to account for 51.4 percent.
The population sex ratio, or the ratio of males to females in a population, was 94.7, with females outnumbering males by 3,431,000, the data showed.
From a regional perspective, Tokyo saw its population increase by 0.20 percent, rebounding from the first drop in 26 years last year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that slowed the traditional influx of people to the capital region, according to local media reports.
Japan’s total population fell below the previous year’s level for the first time in 2005, then peaked in 2008, and has declined for 12 consecutive years since 2011, the ministry’s report said.
With a declining birthrate and an aging population, a shrinking workforce and a greater financial burden on the medical and social security systems are posing challenges to the country.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has on multiple occasions promised to focus on policies related to children this year, vowing to tackle the low birthrate through “unprecedented” steps.
In the latest move to tackle the falling birthrate, the Japanese government put into operation a new administrative body Children and Families Agency to better serve the country’s child-related policies.
On March 21, 2023, India’s air force confirmed that a major Russian arms delivery would not occur, citing Russia’s logistical challenges stemming from its war in Ukraine. It has served as the latest example of Russia’s inability to complete weapons deals with India since the conflict began in February 2022.
India is the world’s largest arms importer, and as the country’s largest supplier, Russia plays an outsized role in India’s defense. But Russia’s ongoing military challenges in Ukraine will naturally increase India’s push to develop homegrown defense alternatives and diversify foreign suppliers.
Strong growth in Russian defense spending since the start of the war indicates that the country’s domestic weapons manufacturers can rely on stable demand from the Russian state. But sanctions have meant they are already having difficulty completing these orders, and risk losing further international market share as their products increasingly flow to the Russian military.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that six countries—the U.S., Russia, France, China, Germany, and Italy—were responsible for 80 percent of global weapons exports from 2018 to 2022. The U.S. alone counted for 40 percent, while Russia was a distant second at 16 percent.
It is difficult to place an exact value on the global arms industry. What exactly constitutes “arms” is debated, while the same products can be sold for different prices. Weapons may also be shipped discreetly or on the black market. Nonetheless, SIPRI uses a “trend-indicator value” that allocates a specific value to individual weapons or weapons systems based on their capabilities.
Maintaining and growing their market share is a prerogative for countries that export weapons. For Russia, weapons deals are a key method to gain access to hard currency. But weapons exporters also gain leverage over recipient countries by shaping their security situation, helping to lock in long-term constructive relations with other countries.
The strength of national weapons industries can often fluctuate. After the Soviet collapse, for example, state funding for Russia’s arms industry declined markedly, while much of the weapons manufacturing infrastructure formerly under Moscow’s control was spread across the former Soviet Union.
But even Eastern European countries seeking to make their armed forces more interoperable with NATO and Western weapons struggled to wean themselves off Russian weapons. Increasing exports to China and India meanwhile helped sustain Russia’s arms industry in the 1990s. And after Putin came to power in 2000, Russia’s weapons industry managed to flourish by rebuilding part of its former client base and expanding across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Despite remaining the world’s second-largest arms exporter, Russia’s industry has faced significant headwinds in recent years. Sales had already declined following the imposition of the first round of sanctions in 2014, which limited technology imports to Russia and punished countries for purchasing Russian weapons.
Sales to China, Russia’s other major weapons market have declined substantially since the 2000s, despite a slight rebound in 2018. And while China has developed its own domestic industry, it has also begun to export overseas to traditional Russian markets.
The struggles of Russia’s defense industry since the start of the war in Ukraine have also forced the Kremlin to reach out to recipient countries. In March 2022, U.S. intelligence indicated that Russia asked China for military assistance, a claim denied by both Russia and China. Russia has also reportedly turned to India in search of spare parts, sought artillery shells from North Korea, and purchased drones and missiles from Iran.
Contrastingly, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with $30 billion worth of both excess weapons and vehicles and some of its latest weaponry. Doing so has weakened Russian military capabilities significantly without having to involve U.S. forces directly. U.S. weapons exports surged in 2022, spurred by deliveries to Ukraine and other allies increasingly wary of Russia and China.
Other countries have also sought to take advantage of the struggles facing Russia’s defense industry. French weapons exports had already increased from 7 percent of the global total from 2013 to 2017 to 11 percent from 2018 to 2022. France has also looked to rejuvenate its image as a leading arms exporter after the 2021 AUKUS deal between Australia, the U.S., and the UK terminated a high-profile French-Australian submarine program, humiliating Paris.
As India’s second-largest arms source, France is a frontrunner in a deal to deliver 27 Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Navy, having already delivered 36 to India since a deal was signed in 2016. And as sanctions have hindered Russia’s ability to provide essential parts, Serbia, another Russian weapons customer, declared it was in talks to place an order for French jets as well.
Germany’s arms industry has also exported significant quantities in recent years, with 2022 being the second-largest year for arms exports in German history. Germany’s ruling coalition initially wanted to scale back the country’s arms exports to avoid sending weapons to countries deemed human rights offenders, before the war in Ukraine saw exports surge.
However, the difficulties many European countries faced when they attempted to send German-built Leopard tanks to Ukraine demonstrated some of the underlying issues affecting Western weapons industries. Many Leopard tanks did not function properly and required significant refurbishment and additional parts, while other countries were unwilling to part with the few working tanks in their possession. Despite the hundreds of Leopards that Ukraine requested, only a few dozen have been delivered.
Western weapons stockpiles have also been significantly reduced in an effort to bolster the Ukrainian military. The focus on high-tech “luxury” weapons has meanwhile meant that European countries have struggled to transition to mass production industries. Russia’s focus on using artillery and relying on its ammunition stockpile have undercut the West’s technological and industrial advantages by forcing Ukraine to engage in artillery battles.
Both U.S. and Russian defense industries have also struggled to produce cheap drones, which have had a significant impact in recent conflicts, most notably during the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey in particular has rapidly developed its homegrown drone industry, and Turkish drones have been used against Russian weapons to great effect during the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war as well as in Libya and Syria.
Turkey has sold many drones to Ukraine, while Iran has sold its own arsenal to Russia. Both Turkey and Iran are aiming to pitch their products as low-cost alternatives to Western manufacturers. Turkey, however, is still in talks to buy Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. Its provision of weapons to Ukraine, while it continues to negotiate weapons deals with Russia, demonstrates the complicated nature of the global arms industry.
The war in Ukraine continues to underline how integral the arms industry is to geopolitics and the importance of being able to manufacture weapons domestically and cheaply. China, for example, has not provided weapons to either Ukraine or Russia, but its largest civilian drone maker, DJI, is one of the most important suppliers for their militaries.
Weapons manufacturers must also be wary of their exports one day being used against them. China’s supply of weapons to Vietnam to fight U.S. forces in the 1960s and 1970s saw them used against the Chinese military during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Additionally, many of the U.S. weapons given to Afghanistan and Iraq ended up in the hands of the Taliban and the Islamic State.
In the court of public opinion, weapons exporters are also increasingly seen as partly responsible for how recipients use their products. The U.S. has been criticized in recent years for its weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, which is under fire for human rights abuses and for its conflict in Yemen. And though claims of Western weapons being smuggled out of Ukraine have often been dismissed, there is concern that many of the weapons sent to the Ukrainian military have or will end up on the black market.
Above all, the ongoing massive weapons deliveries that continue to shape the conflict in Ukraine have elevated the profiles of major multinational weapons corporations, reinforcing one of the most uncomfortable aspects of war—profiteering.
Credit Line: This article was produced by Globetrotter.
On April 5, tens of thousands of farmers and workers from across India came to the capital New Delhi to protest the central government’s anti-farmer and anti-labor policies. The rally was held at the Ramlila Maidan grounds.
The rally was jointly organized by some of India’s biggest organizations representing farmers, workers, and agricultural laborers—All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), and All India Agriculture Workers Union (AIAWU), respectively.
The protesters demanded relief from inflation, a legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP) on major crops, a minimum wage for all workers at Rs 26,000 ($317) per month, debt relief, a pension for all farmers above the age of 60, repeal of the four anti-labor codes, and the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020, among other measures.
Unions have highlighted several issues plaguing Indian farmers such as stagnant wages, price rises, unemployment, job insecurity, and low returns for farm produce. According to a joint statement, 100,000 farmers have committed suicide in the last eight years. The unions also have raised alarm over the unprecedented increase in the number of suicides by daily wagers—112,000 in just three years from 2019 to 2021. Particularly since the historic farmers’ movement in India in 2020-21, farmers across the country have played a key role in protests against the government’s policies.
Protesters accused the Modi-led government of creating a livelihood crisis for all sections of the working class. KN Umesh, CITU National Secretary, told NewsClick that the fight might be multipronged, but the campaign generated much confidence among workers.
“Wherever we went, people said they were fed up with this government and it should go,” he said. “[The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party] may have a majority in Parliament, but people are on the streets.”
Credit Line: from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
The recent wave of crimes in the country is a disturbing reminder that despite the efforts of religious institutions to educate the public on the meaning of life, there are still those among us who choose to disregard the basic principles of morality and commit heinous acts. The reported killings of innocent government servants, teachers, and domestic partners are a grim reflection of the state of our society.
The various religious institutions in the country, including Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, and Hindu organizations, are all preaching the message of leading a meaningful life. However, it is apparent that the message is not reaching everyone. It is the responsibility of the government, social groups, and the media to join hands and address this issue before it gets out of hand.
Certainly, the psychology of crime in economically deprived societies is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to address. Economic deprivation and inequality can cause feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and anger, leading to an increased risk of criminal behaviour. Additionally, economic hardship can cause a breakdown in social cohesion and increase the likelihood of conflict and violence.
The media, in particular, should play a crucial role in educating the public on how to prevent such crimes. Rather than merely reporting on the incidents, they should also offer advice to help prevent similar occurrences. Sensationalizing these crimes only leads to panic and despair among the public. The media should instead focus on empowering the people by providing them with information on how to identify warning signs and how to seek help in case of danger.
The government must also take a proactive approach to address this issue. Law enforcement agencies need to be more vigilant and take stern action against those who violate the law. The government should also increase funding for crime prevention initiatives and support community-based programs that promote social cohesion and strengthen the fabric of society.
It is also the responsibility of the general public to be vigilant and report suspicious activities to the relevant authorities. We cannot turn a blind eye to these crimes and hope that they will go away on their own. It is only by working together that we can overcome this challenge and build a society that is safe and secure for all.
Addressing the root causes of crime in economically deprived societies requires a coordinated effort from responsible people in society. By creating economic opportunities, providing social support, promoting education and training, building community, and encouraging conflict resolution, we can create a more just and equitable society, where everyone has the opportunity to lead a fulfilling life free from the fear of crime.
The recent spate of crimes in the country is a wake-up call for everyone. We cannot afford to sit back and watch as our society crumbles around us. It is time for the government, social groups, the media, and the general public to come together and take decisive action to prevent these crimes from occurring. We must work together to promote a culture of peace, respect, and harmony, and ensure that everyone can lead a meaningful life, free from fear and violence.
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s most recent book, Your Consent Is Not Required, published by BenBella Books, Inc.
Upon retiring to the sunny Okanagan Valley in British Columbia in 1997, my father underwent prostate cancer surgery. His tumor was successfully removed, but the operation rendered him permanently impotent and incontinent. I was visiting my parents and decided to stay longer.
My father was private at all times, and a distant brooder when things weren’t going well. The emotional and practical challenges of navigating sexual dysfunction and a lack of bladder control at sixty-five, on the cusp of his golden years, daunted him. The retired life he’d been envisioning after his career as a college professor of computer engineering crumbled, and his feelings of vulnerability took on vast dimensions. Through restless nights, the ineffectiveness of over-the-counter sleep medications increased his anxiety.
In his reticent way, he sometimes opened up to me or my mother. He was worrying about his finances, age, fragility, failures in life, and mortality. He didn’t want to eat or get out of bed, and at times actively resisted physical efforts to pull him to his feet. He said he felt like the ceiling of the house was caving in on him and that the furnace was about to blow up. Not unlike the stern father I knew, upon meeting resistance from others, he stubbornly dug in: The ceiling is caving in. Call the gas company right away. Never prone to physical violence, suddenly he was saying that he wanted to kill himself, my mother, me.
Considering the circumstances, I didn’t find what was happening altogether surprising. I’d been inspired by my father’s library of literary classics, and studied philosophy, science and science fiction, theater, yoga, meditation and ancient spiritual practices, and research into unusual states of consciousness. I’d grown a network of similarly reflective, artistic, exploratory friends, among whom it was normal at times to experience emotionally charged or psychologically devastating periods that could last hours, days, weeks, or months. So, when my father’s voice trembled with hints of suicide and homicide, I reminded him of his appreciation for Fyodor Dostoevsky’s tale of murderous obsession, Crime and Punishment.
“Dostoevsky must have spent a lot of time in dark places inside himself,” I said, “to portray that character’s desperation and violence so well.”
“Mm,” my father responded. Interested, but wary.
“You’re going through a big transition, Dad. These are understandable feelings.”
“I don’t want to kill you,” he said. “I love you, Son.”
We weren’t able to stay there long, though.
After I returned to work in Victoria, my mother more frequently spoke with my brother, Kevin. She was becoming increasingly distraught, and Kevin flew in for a few days. Eventually, they all agreed to go to the hospital. Dad was admitted, committed under mental health law as a risk to his “own safety or the safety of others,” and diagnosed with “major depression with psychotic features.”
Kevin and my mother were immediately dismayed, seeing a huge security guard escort Dad to the ward, and then watching as Dad was instantly stripped of all the accoutrements of his life including his comfortable home with lake view, privacy, and independence, and ordered to share a small, barren room with a much younger patient.
Over the ensuing weeks and months in and out of the psychiatric ward of Kelowna General Hospital, the treating psychiatrists changed often and they gave my father many psychiatric medications in various combinations. He didn’t become happier. He became more self-obsessed and less engaged with others, and so clouded, numb, and exhausted from the chemical overload that he could sometimes barely stand.
On phone calls or trips back to the Okanagan, I asked the staff questions that probably revealed my alarm at what the treatments seemed to be doing. One nurse said, “Your father is very, very ill,” with a mixture of fear and admonishment, as if she could see him more clearly than I could. A psychiatrist said my father had a biochemical imbalance, like diabetes or a broken leg but in his brain. There were no lab tests to confirm this, though. “That’s why it can be difficult to find the optimal combination of medications,” the psychiatrist said.
My mother was a real-life version of the all-purpose, cooking, cleaning, working woman on 1950s television shows who held family households together with enthusiastic warmth and martyr-like love. I’d never seen her have a depressed day. “We trust the doctors, Rob,” she said. “That’s just the way your father and I grew up.”
My brother and I both researched the prescriptions. According to its official label, one drug was a sedative recommended for occasional emergency interventions only, because it was highly addictive. The second was primarily for tranquilizing people experiencing hallucinations, and its toxicity could victimize nearly every organ, nerve, and metabolic process, and cause permanent movement disorders. The third medication came with a warning that it increased the likelihood of suicide. My brother expressed concern when the fourth medication suddenly replaced the third, because the drug’s manufacturer had issued warnings that the two were potentially lethal if prescribed too soon after one another. The psychiatrist said, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
We started wondering if Dad might be better off with no drugs at all. Could he just remain safe in the hospital while working through his feelings? “Hospitals are for treating illnesses,” his latest psychiatrist said. He proposed ECT—electroconvulsive therapy—electrical shocks directed into the brain that induced grand mal epileptic seizures. The psychiatrist said it was very effective for “treatment-resistant” depression, and that it had merely gotten a bad reputation due to misrepresentations in sensationalist movies.
“ECT is like a heart defibrillator,” the psychiatrist said. “It jolts the depressed brain back to life.” The hospital pamphlet explained that ECT was safe and effective, and that it was a “myth” that it caused brain damage or permanent memory loss.
“I don’t want it,” my father said to me, his voice barely audible over the telephone.
“Well, Dad, tell them, and get out of bed. Eat more, so they don’t worry about you not eating. If you don’t want the electroshock, get up.” I filled my helplessness with a commanding tone.
“I don’t want it,” Dad said, more feebly.
The psychiatrists scheduled the ECT. I was stunned. Could they do that? I knew my father as intelligent, responsible, a dedicated teacher, a fisherman, a lover of the outdoors, and basically a stable, ordinary person. Could he so easily be branded and treated as a certifiably insane mental patient?
I contacted a civil rights attorney. “Yes, psychiatrists have that power,” she said. “But I’d think they’d be reluctant to do something as drastic as ECT without family support.”
The psychiatrists swayed Kevin and my mother. They gave my father nine rounds of electroconvulsive therapy over three weeks.
At home shortly after the electroshocks, Dad mowed the lawn, chatted with neighbors, and ate ravenously. “I don’t know why I was feeling so down!” he said.
Two weeks later, he remembered. A social worker was regularly dropping by, and Dad admitted he still felt suicidal. The police took him back to the hospital. Dad told me that, though the police were polite, being handcuffed and escorted into the police car was one of the most humiliating experiences of his life. The police returned later and confiscated his souvenir gun from his early years in the air force.
The treating psychiatrist proposed more electroshocks. “We normally do twelve rounds at a time,” he said.
The nurse explained, “It’s like we’re trying to fill a gas tank, and nine rounds didn’t quite fill the tank.”
Everyone in our family became more vociferous with our concerns. The ECT had worked, in a way, but only for two weeks. Didn’t the risks increase with more shocks? It was becoming unnerving to hear medical staff compare the ninety-billion-cell living computer of the human brain to a four-valve pump and an empty gas can.
We again lobbied the psychiatrists to let Dad stay in the hospital without any treatment. The psychiatrists reacted like we were bothersome bugs flitting around a surgical room. Hospital staff stopped responding to our calls. They discouraged my mother’s daily visits, suggesting that she represented “old mental patterns” fueling Dad’s depression. Then, they moved Dad to Riverview Hospital in Vancouver—a four-hour drive from my mother. “Riverview is more appropriate for long-term stays,” a psychiatrist said.
Riverview Hospital was an asylum from the 1920s and ’30s that used to house thousands of psychiatric patients. By the 1990s, many of the buildings were shut down. This lack of a future inhabited the building where Dad was held: walls bare, rooms dank and rank with West Coast rains, floors worn down into curves, decades-old plastic-covered furniture. I wondered how any mental health professional could imagine that a depressed person could possibly become better in such a place.
In preparation for more rounds of forced ECT, the Riverview psychiatrists took my father off the antidepressants he’d been taking since the previous rounds. I was hopeful this might clear his head; however, he plunged into a state that looked near-comatose.
“Could that be some kind of drug withdrawal effect?” I asked.
“Antidepressants don’t cause withdrawal,” the psychiatrist claimed. “That’s his underlying mental illness manifesting more strongly.”
They gave Dad twelve more rounds of ECT. Not long afterwards, my father struggled to recall his name. I wasn’t sure if he recognized me or was just acting like he did. He spoke only in slow, brief, barely audible slurs and mumbles. He had no idea why he was in a hospital. I tested his ability to count to ten and he got lost between four and five.
He did docilely get out of bed, eat, and take medications when staff told him to. “Your father is doing much better,” a psychiatrist said. This man had never seen my father in anything close to a normal state—portaging a canoe over his head with sleeping bags and gear packed into both ends, training computer programmers for the country’s biggest companies, or shouting passionately about smaller government and individual freedoms.
“He’ll recover his memories within a year or two,” the psychiatrist said, as if I should find this completely reassuring.
Our family was devastated. Any threads of confidence we’d held in the mental health system had unraveled. Finally, nine months after he first got detained, and seemingly because he simply wasn’t functionally capable anymore of posing any kind of risk, the psychiatrists let my father go home.
During this period, Dad slid out of bed, shuffled around, and muttered comprehensibly when pushed to it. My mother, fortunately also retired, devoted herself to doing whatever it took to keep Dad home, safe, and alive. I told her that research showed most people could recover from depression on their own with time and support. She cuddled Dad in bed, reminded him of memories, and encouraged friends and relatives to connect in whatever ways they could. In equal measures, she told him she loved him and she prodded him.
“I’ve made sunny-side up eggs,” she’d say. “I’m not bringing them in here, so you’d better not waste your favorite kind of eggs by staying in bed.”
“The shower is already running,” she’d say. “I know there’s no point in being clean. But just get dressed and pretend there is a point. For me.”
Over the following months and years, my father rebounded. He got up of his own accord, ate, did chores, and talked with people more regularly. He adjusted to his incontinence and found ways to gain some independence again. He weaned himself off the remaining sedating medication that he’d been prescribed. He practiced memory recall with crossword puzzles. Eventually, he was fishing, talking literature and current events, and heading out with my mother on international travel adventures again. My father did recover a lot of his long-term memories—though at times everyone who knew him was startled by gaps.
Yet my father would never remember virtually anything from the year surrounding the ECT treatments. That is, nearly everything of what I just described on these pages was for my father utterly gone.
If someone’s retelling wove together a few of the scattered images that his own memory still retained, the resulting story terrified him. He became angry. He confessed to me much later that one day he went back to confront one of the doctors, saying, “I’m not going to sue you. But why in hell did you do that?”
In response, the doctor said that “depression is a serious, chronic illness” and recommended that my father start getting weekly “maintenance” ECT treatments.
Everyone in our family retained scars. Perhaps as part of my own healing, I had questions I wanted answered: Was that normal? Was everything that happened with my father a case of psychiatric malpractice, or was he one of an unknown number of similar, isolated sufferers? Were law-abiding, intelligent people normally getting incarcerated and treated against their will by mental health practitioners? Was modern involuntary psychiatric treatment frequently so aggressive, invasive, ineffective, and harmful? If so, then why was involuntary treatment still practiced? And if the line between voluntary client and involuntary patient was so thin, shouldn’t we be more careful about advising people in vulnerable emotional states to “seek help”?
As I investigated, everything that happened with my father took on whole new dimensions of significance.
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copyright © 2023 by Rob Wipond
There is no need to delve too deeply into statistical data when the findings are obvious. For instance, when women and men work at the same job, women are paid – on average – 20 percent less than men. To raise awareness about this persistent disparity, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Women host the International Equal Pay Day every year on 18 September and, through their Equal Pay International Coalition, lobby corporations and governments to close the yawning gender pay gap. The idea of ‘equal pay for equal work’ was established in the ILO’s Equal Remuneration Convention (1951) in recognition of the fact that women had always worked in industrial factories, increasingly so during the Second World War. The convention adopted ‘the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value’, yet governments and the private sector have refused to follow suit.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an intensified focus on the health care sector, including health care workers, who were applauded universally as ‘essential workers’. In March 2021, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published a dossier, Uncovering the Crisis: Care Work in the Time of Coronavirus, which reflected the views of women workers in the health care industry. Janet Mendieta of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union reflected on this idea of ‘essential work’:
First, they should recognise that we are essential workers, and then we should be recognised with wages for our work because we work much more than we should have to. We do a lot of work promoting gender equality and health, we work as cooks in canteens and in eateries, and none of this is recognised or made visible. If it isn’t made visible, it certainly won’t be recognised or remunerated.
None of this is recognised, she said, neither during the height of the pandemic nor as we begin to drift out of it. In 2018, the ILO published an important report, Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work, that estimated that the value of unpaid care and domestic work amounts to 9 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or $11 trillion. In some countries the value is far higher, such as in Australia, where unpaid care and domestic work amounts to 41.3 percent of the GDP. Based on time-use survey data collected in 64 countries, the report found that 16.4 billion hours are spent on unpaid care work every day, with 76.2 percent of the total hours of unpaid care work carried out by women. In other words, the daily unpaid care work of women around the world is equivalent to having over 1.5 billion women working eight hours a day for no pay.
In July 2022, the ILO and World Health Organisation published another report on the pay gap, this time with an emphasis on the health care sector. Their report, The Gender Pay Gap in the Health and Care Sector: A Global Analysis in the Time of COVID-19, established that, in the health and care sector, women earn on average up to 24 percent less than men. Despite women accounting for 67 percent of the jobs in this sector, only a small number of them work in upper management, and the gap between the wages of hospital administrators and nurses, for instance, only grows wider each year.
The report offers a number of explanations for this pay gap. Among them, it argues that women are paid less due to the ‘lower pay associated with highly feminised sectors and occupations’. Health care fields such as nursing are paid less than others not because of objectively lower skill levels, but due to their association with ‘women’s work’, which is routinely less valued across the world. Furthermore, the report points out that there is a ‘motherhood gap’ in pay, not often talked about but visible in statistical data and in the demands made by health care workers’ unions. There are low levels of part-time work in the health care industry, except for women in their late twenties and into their thirties, when, the report notes, ‘women have to either leave the labour market or reduce their working hours in order to balance work with unpaid caregiving for offspring’. When women leave the industry and return later or opt for part-time work, they do not get the promotions and wage raises that their male counterparts receive and therefore spend the rest of their work lives with lower wages than men who do the same work.
Women have fought against these social conditions for hundreds of years, and it was struggles led by women that established many of the international conventions on labour and on human rights. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we have been lifting up the stories of such struggles and the women who have led them. One of our latest publications, produced in collaboration with ALBA Movimientos, is called Chrysalises: Feminist Memories from Latin America and the Caribbean. Here, we shine a light on Nicaragua’s Arlen Siu (1955–1975), Brazil’s Dona Nina (b. 1949), and the Bartolina Sisa National Confederation of Peasant Women of Bolivia (whose members are known as Las Bartolinas), founded in 1980. Each of these women and their organisations have been part of the global fight against the wretched social conditions of inequality.
It is women like Arlen, Dona Nina, and Las Bartolinas who drafted the World March of Women’s demands for economic autonomy. This week’s newsletter ends with their words, as they call for:
- The rights of all workers (including vulnerable workers, such as domestic and migrant workers) to employment with safe and healthy working conditions, without harassment and in which their dignity is respected, throughout the world and without discriminations (nationality, sex, disability, etc.) of any kind.
- The right to social security, involving income transfers in the case of sickness, disability, maternity and paternity leave, and retirement that permit women and men to have a decent quality of life.
- Equal salaries for equal work for women and men, also taking into account the remuneration of work in rural areas.
- A fair minimum wage (one that reduces the difference between the highest and lowest salaries and permits workers to support themselves and their families) instituted by law that serves as a reference for all paid work (public and private) and public social payments. The creation or strengthening of a policy of permanent valorisation of the minimum wage and common values for sub-regions or regions.
- The strengthening of the solidarity economy with low interest credit, support for distribution and commercialisation, and exchange of local knowledge and practices.
- Women’s access to land, seeds, water, primary materials, and all necessary support for production and commercialisation in agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing, and handicraft.
- The reorganisation of domestic and care work so that the responsibility for this work is shared equally between men and women within a family or community. For this to become a reality, we demand the adoption of public policies for the support of social reproduction (such as crèches, collective laundries and restaurants, care for the elderly, etc), as well as a reduction in working hours without cuts in salaries.
The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) gained a historic win at the Kenyan Supreme Court on February 24, 2023. It was finally able to register as an official nongovernmental organization (NGO), after a 10-year legal battle in a country where homosexuality is outlawed. However, the LGBTQ+ community’s celebrations were cut short by a wave of backlash. A day later, local organizations reported an immediate increase in “verbal and physical attacks,” and in coastal cities, large anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations were held.
Similar battles are currently being waged across Africa over what count as legitimate ways of loving and whose persecution is justified. Queerphobic rhetoric is used by politicians for narrow political gain. Ghanaian anti-LGTBQ+ campaigner Sam George said that “Ghanaian culture forbids homosexuality” and Kenyan MP Farah Maalim characterized existing as a person who is LGTBTQ+ as being “worse than murder.”
Old colonial laws that criminalized same-sex activity and gender variance were left intact after countries gained independence. Many Africans remained ignorant about precolonial Africa where queerness was present and regularly celebrated, because those histories were maligned. Today these colonial-era laws are still used to oppress LGBTQ+ Africans, who receive no state support and also find their attempts to support each other hindered by bigotry.
In the 21st century, Western influence has intensified state-sponsored homophobia in Africa. This form of neocolonialism mimics the initial colonization of Africa through Christian missionaries. Since 2007, at least $54 million from right-wing U.S. churches has flooded the continent to fight “against LGBT rights and access to safe abortion, contraceptives, and comprehensive sexuality education.” Prominent anti-LGBTQ+ politicians such as Ugandan Minister of State for Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives David Bahati have received $20 million to campaign heavily for more draconian legislation. It is perhaps no surprise then that in Uganda on March 21, 2023, a new law was passed that will “make homosexual acts punishable by death.”
Other sources of money are being levied positively to support LGBTQ+ people. The Trans and Queer Fund (TQF) is a hopeful example of grassroots organizing grounded in socialist and abolitionist values in Nairobi, Kenya. The fund was founded in March 2020 by Mumbi Makena, a feminist writer and organizer whom I spoke to two days after the NGLHRC win. She formed TQF with her friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among left working-class movements in Nairobi, some TQF team members noticed many viewed “queerness as a distraction” from other socioeconomic issues and there was repeated hostility toward queer and women organizers. While weakening economic growth in Africa affects everyone, mainstream organizations were not ready to grapple with how LGBTQ+ identity further marginalized some Kenyans, nor reach out to them specifically.
However, TQF was committed, and it initially set up a mutual aid system to provide relief funds for LGBTQ+ people whose livelihoods disappeared due to mandated lockdowns. Makena explained that many queer and transgender Kenyans work in the service and hospitality industries, which are more accepting of them. During the pandemic, LGBTQ+-friendly NGOs were constrained by donors and could not repurpose previously allocated funds to COVID-19 relief. However, TQF was able to be agile and responsive from the start, working in an unbureaucratic, nonhierarchical way. TQF works on a volunteer basis online through Twitter and Instagram accounts and distributes funds through mobile money.
Over three years, TQF has raised and disbursed an impressive $50,000 and assisted over 1,000 individuals. It supports its community in inventive ways—covering bus fares for people to attend marches and managing furniture donations for those creating transgender safe houses. The ease of accessing the Trans and Queer Fund means LGBTQ+ people have somewhere to turn if they get disowned by their families or need money for medical treatment after experiencing homophobic violence. The mutual aid relies on contributions coming largely from individuals within Kenya, but also from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It describes its initiative as “working toward a future where all people are free from imperialism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy and ethnonationalism.” It encourages everyone who comes into contact with TQF to try to understand it as a commons, a collective resource. The next step for the group, Makena says, is political education, so both fundraisers and beneficiaries can “start to form radical analyses of what is happening in the world.”
NGOs have been instrumental in achieving some successes on behalf of LGBTQ+ Africans. For example, they spearheaded advocacy that led to the decriminalization of homosexuality in Botswana and Angola, in 2019 and 2021, respectively. But the law has its limitations. Without a shift in social attitudes, societies like South Africa, home to what is described as “the most progressive constitution in the world,” still suffer from homophobic violence and discrimination. In 2019, NGOs tried to get the Kenyan Supreme Court to rule that sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code, which criminalize homosexuality, were unconstitutional, but the legal petition was unsuccessful.
As Makena points out, solely changing the law doesn’t automatically make LGBTQ+ people safer. She warns against narrowing queer liberation to a liberal rights framework that does not address the everyday realities faced by working-class LGBTQ+ people. Makena remarks, “We must forge greater solidarities within left movements in Kenya but also with LGBTQ+ people overseas who are often notably silent on the intersections between anti-imperialism and our fight for queer dignity and safety.”
A ripple effect of homophobic laws is that they can eliminate support for those with HIV/AIDS and sex workers, two groups that sometimes overlap with the LGBTQ+ community. Any outreach may be misrepresented as promoting homosexuality, and in the case of the new Uganda law, anyone “abetting homosexuality” will be punished. With a continent already facing the repercussions of the ‘global gag rule’ that decreased overseas funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights, this will certainly affect health care for both LGBTQ+ and heterosexual people alike.
Due to the severe consequences of foreign interference, it becomes even more crucial for African countries to fund their own welfare systems. While intolerance of LGBTQ+ Africans endures, efforts to organize to meet their needs through initiatives like mutual aid endure. TQF encourages others to set up similar mutual funds to strengthen community. “Long-term,” Makena says, “we don’t want LGBTQ+ people to only be passive beneficiaries of the funds or deradicalized; we want people to reflect on TQF and be active participants in their own liberation, collectively defining the agenda.”
It is long past time that African communities learned to be more accepting of diversity and acknowledged that all our fates are linked. It is worth “returning to the source” to rediscover Indigenous African cultural traditions around gender variance to enable more flexible responses to gay and transgender people today. Freedom in its fullest sense includes the right to privacy, and the right to love and build family structures of one’s choosing. LGBTQ+ Africans, like every other group, should be allowed to organize for their own freedom. We will continue to despite the daily challenges to our humanity.
Credit Line: This article was produced by Globetrotter.
On the night of March 27, at least 39 migrants from various Central and South American countries died after a fire broke out in the dormitory of a migrant center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Due to the “Safe Third Country” immigration agreement, signed with the U.S. under threats of economic sanctions during the government of former President Donald Trump, the Mexican government has been stepping up efforts to contain irregular migration flow to the U.S. Almost all centers operated by the National Institute of Migration (INM) are overcrowded.
The Mexican authorities have urged the U.S. government several times to commit funds to Central America and southern Mexico to boost development and curb migration as well as to implement measures making it easier for migrants to get jobs in the U.S. However, the Biden administration has yet to take concrete measures to address the crisis.
Images released in the aftermath of the fire showed dozens of lifeless bodies covered in silver thermal blankets on the ground outside the facility. Video footage showed emergency workers attending to survivors gasping for breath.
The fire is considered to be one of the deadliest ever to hit a migration center in Mexico. The tragic event has once again highlighted the multitude of dangers facing the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who set off on perilous journeys to the U.S. each year to escape extreme poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunities in their countries in the hope of a better life.
Credit Line: from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
This year marks the halfway point—eight years in and eight years out—of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty and reduce inequalities.
Yet we are a long way off from these commitments, and multiple crises—now known as ‘polycrisis’—such as conflict, disaster and extreme poverty are converging on low income and lower-middle income countries, necessitating systemic change in our poverty eradication efforts.
The scale of the challenge before us is undeniable. Poverty has long been concentrated in certain low- and lower-middle-income countries that continue to experience conflict and a high number of conflict-related fatalities, and high numbers of people affected by disasters from earthquakes, to floods, fires or drought.
These are just two causes of impoverishment and chronic poverty, which often combine with other crises and shocks including ill health.
This isn’t just a concern, however, at the country level. The challenge we are increasingly facing because of polycrisis in many parts of the world is that inequalities within countries are also worsening. The complex and often multi-layered nature of today’s crises means that policymakers need to develop longer term solutions, instead of firefighting crises as they emerge.
Our work at the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (CPAN) in Afghanistan saw that the pandemic, layered with the transition in power, drought, and heightened economic crises, all combined to drive poverty and a dramatic increase in hunger.
Its consequences were especially worrying for certain groups, not least women and girls, and with intergenerational consequences.
In Nigeria, research points to a confluence of hardships over the years experienced by the poorest populations due to sequenced, interdependent crises. The poorest households pre-pandemic were more likely to experience hunger and sell agricultural and non-agricultural assets to cope during COVID-19 in 2020.
As time went on they were also more likely to pay more than the official price for petrol in 2022 during rampant economic crisis, and to expect drought and delayed rains to negatively affect them financially into 2023.
Yet despite interconnected crises, most governments and international agencies respond to each disaster individually as it arises. This could limit the effectiveness of poverty eradication interventions or create additional sources of risk and vulnerability amidst polycrisis.
For example, the singular focus of many countries responding to COVID-19 often diverted resources from other interventions including peacebuilding operations, thereby allowing new conflict risks to arise.
Working ‘In’ and ‘On’ Polycrisis: Centring Equity and Risk
To reach the goal of poverty eradication and reducing extreme inequities, it is critical to respond in a way is sensitive to working in places experiencing polycrisis. This requires at a minimum upholding principles of ‘do no harm’ and being sensitive to local conditions and contexts.
At the same time, we need to find ways of proactively working on polycrisis, by responding to multiple crises simultaneously rather than one at a time. In other words, building on learning from conflict contexts, we need to be working in and on polycrisis in the road to zero poverty.
Many countries worked ‘in’ polycrisis when responding to climate-related disasters during COVID-19. For example, the Bangladesh government adapted its Cyclone Preparedness Plan through various actions including modifying dissemination of messaging through public announcements and digital modalities, and combining early warning messaging with COVID-19 prevention and protection messaging.
Afghanistan disaggregates needs by sector, severity, location, and population groups in its humanitarian needs overview, which when considered holistically can help ensure responses that prioritize benefiting people in poverty.
There are equally important lessons from working ‘on’ polycrisis. The World Food Programme’s operational plan in response to COVID-19 was regularly updated to consider evolving layered crises and support pre-emptive action, scale-up direct food assistance, and reinforce safety nets.
There are also examples we can draw on for reducing poverty from around localized decision making, relying on the knowledge that local communities, women’s rights organizations, and local disaster risk management agencies have about populations in the areas in which they operate.
Flexibility in funding is important in this process to be able to respond to rapidly changing contexts and needs.
Working ‘in’ and ‘on’ polycrisis together necessitates matrix thinking, rebooting and recasting what we know of complexity of intersectionality. While we previously recognised intersecting inequalities primarily by identity markers, such as gender, caste, and socio-economic status, we need to increasingly be aware of how inequalities of people and place converge over time, and how we might center equity in risk-informed responses.
This requires a fundamental shift from single-issue technocratic approaches to crisis management. For example, though social protection—direct financial assistance for people—was heralded as a key mitigation measure during COVID-19 and in response to recent food and energy price inflation, most cash transfer programmes averaged just four to five months during the pandemic.
Social protection could be adjusted to increasingly target the vulnerable as well as people in poverty, and within those categories the people who have arguably been most disadvantaged by these crises. Recovery programmes by governments and international agencies also need to go on for longer than they typically do to build people’s resilience in times of uncertainty.
Disaster-risk management agencies within government could also consistently integrate conflict considerations in their activities. There are examples of anticipatory action such as early warning systems that draw on local, customary knowledge that could be built on in this process.
Investments in coordination between disaster risk, social protection, and peacebuilding agencies, as well as multilateralism between governments, civil society, and international organizations more broadly are needed to anticipate and adapt to systemic risk.
But this risk-informed development will only get us so far, if equity is not centered alongside risk management. Just as crises are increasingly layered and interdependent, we need to similarly integrate our responses to break the link between polycrisis and poverty.
by Vidya Diwakar – IPS UN Bureau / Globetrotter