by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs
It’s especially interesting to have a reproductive health advocate and activist offer keynote comments at a meeting of researchers, mainly economists who have a high standard of evidence. Yet Professor Fred Sai, an extraordinary man whose international experience spans decades, offered his insights into the movement of reproductive health transitions on a global scale and within sub-Saharan Africa. And drawing on a combination of his observations and experiences, Professor Sai made the case to the audience of economic demographers that an understanding of the policy environment is critical to the development of evidence-based policies. Given that one of the key reasons for the creation of the PopPov network is to support an evidence base to better understand the relationship between reproductive health, population growth, and economic development, Professor Sai’s message helped set the tone for the 6th annual PopPov network conference and reinforced the importance of strong evidence that can be explained to policymakers.
One of Sai’s observations was related to the use of family planning in the continent. In Eastern and Southern Africa, about 40 percent of married women use modern family planning; in contrast, use in West Africa is much lower—in Ghana, one of the regional leaders in family planning, fewer than 20 percent of women use modern family planning; in other countries, such as Mali, only about 4 percent of married women use family planning.
Fred Sai speaking at the 6th Annual PopPov Network Conference in Accra, Ghana. Photo: PRB.
In spite of low prevalence, many leaders and advocates argue that family planning is a woman’s right—a point that most people take for granted and about which few would argue. Although the language of human rights is used, Professor Sai made a point that is vital to understanding what having a right really means. “A right is not a right if the citizenry is unaware nor can they be fulfilled without government provision to the people.” Professor Sai makes a keen distinction that separates the language that many policymakers use and the reality of millions of women and couples around the world. If people don’t know about family planning, then how can they be expected to exercise their right to decide on the timing and spacing of having children? Similarly, if governments do not work to make family planning information and services available to the public, than it is complicit in not holding up the rights of their citizen. Without both knowledge of and access to family planning, the rights of millions of women and men cannot be achieved.
This week, a bunch of us from PRB are in Accra, Ghana for the 6th Annual Research Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development as part of the PopPov Research Network. The Population and Poverty Research Network (PopPov) was created in 2005, when the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation formed partnerships with funding agencies and program implementers, bringing together researchers from leading higher education institutions worldwide. PopPov’s goal is to provide clear evidence that investing in reproductive health can provide economic benefits at both the household and country level, and how to reach policymakers and donors with these messages. This week, conference participants will present their ongoing and completed research on population, reproductive health, and economic development; identify gaps in evidence and methods that inhibit the development of sound policies on population and economic development; and discuss examples of the influence of research on policies and how to communicate research findings to policymakers.
We’re honored to be co-hosting the conference with the University of Ghana. Fred Sai, Former Presidential Advisor on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS, will give the keynote address tomorrow. I’m excited to hear his perspective on the progress and challenges since the International Conference on Population and Development (the “Cairo conference”) in 1994. (Dr. Sai was the chair of the conference’s Main Committee.) Since then, the focus of global family planning efforts has shifted to women’s rights and empowerment, for women to be able to decide the family size they desire and have control over their fertility. Donor funding and programming for family planning is increasing, but the links to economic development is not as clear. And with many other public health and development issues competing for donor and policy attention, strong evidence is needed. I expect Dr. Sai, and the conference in general, to discuss many of these issues.
Throughout the week, I’ll be blogging from Accra and interviewing researchers on various population and economic issues and their implications for public policy. Stay tuned for more posts from Accra and quite a few videos on the PRB site over the coming weeks. Want to learn more about the conference? Visit the PopPov website for the agenda, conference paper abstracts, and more.
by Deborah Mesce, program director, International Media Training
The Kenya government took a bold step toward transparency a few weeks ago when it fired up its Open Data website (www.opendata.go.ke) and posted loads of data in a format that makes the information easily understood by the average person. The data sets include national census statistics as well as government spending, and the government promises more data to come. This is a boon for journalists willing to wade into the numbers to examine what’s going on in their country and hold their government accountable. I’m waiting now to see how they will use this new tool.
We always hear that information is power, but that works only if the information is used. Lots of information begins as numbers, statistics, and data sets, with lots of good stories tucked away in there to be found by the journalist willing to go the extra mile, examine the numbers, and do the math. In many developing countries, the information – numbers, statistics, data sets – isn’t easily accessible, if it is available at all. Governments keep a tight hold on it, or if it’s made available, the average person would be hard pressed to make heads or tails out of it.
Image From Kenya Open Data
That’s where Kenya’s new website is different. I found it fascinating and relatively easy to poke around in the data. For example, I downloaded a couple of data sets into Excel and compared, county by county, the poverty rates and percentages of people with primary school education. Usually more education correlates with less poverty, and that was evident in some of the counties. But I found it interesting that Nairobi, with the lowest poverty rate (22%), has a relatively low level of primary school education (50%), while Turkana, with the highest poverty rate (93%), has a relatively high level of primary school education (71%). What’s going on? It may be easily explained. I have no idea. But it certainly makes me curious.
As more data becomes accessible in this digital age, it’s getting more difficult for journalists to avoid the numbers. PRB has been helping journalists shed their math anxiety and dig into the data, the building block of policy. This fall, we’ll be helping journalists in Kenya learn to use the Open Data website to see what’s going on in their country and keep tabs on where government money is being spent. We’re doing the same kind of work with journalists in Uganda and Malawi, helping them to improve newsroom numeracy. Sure would be nice if they had the same kind of tool available to them as the Kenyan journalists now have.
“Hunger”: What does that word mean to you? I would guess that most would define it as not having enough to eat. It probably brings to mind images of starving children living in poverty in a rural African village. An oft-cited statistic in international development is that 1 billion people in the world are hungry. The first Millennium Development Goal calls for an end to “extreme poverty and hunger.” But a new article in Foreign Policy takes a closer look at global hunger and asks if we’re looking at the issue in the wrong way, with misguided assumptions. If 1 billion people are “hungry,” then you would think that it means that 1 billion people don’t have enough to eat and a rise in income would lead to purchasing more food. But according the article’s authors, the co-directors of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, this isn’t the case. They point to the example of India, where those living in extreme poverty are actually eating less (measured by calorie consumption) now compared with a few years ago despite rising incomes and lowering food prices (at least until recently).
TV cables and phone lines above a slum in Mumbai. Photo: Eric Zuehlke.
After spending almost a month in Mali, I am thoroughly convinced that Malian women can and will transform and market just about anything that is potentially edible, drinkable, or wearable. In this story, I am introducing three old friends. Two attended the ad hoc training program that Mariam and I implemented in 1974- 75. The third one was a leader in the Functional Literacy Office in Bamako when I worked in Mali. These three remarkable women were all part of the group I looked up during my recent visit to see what they had done since the early 1970s. It turns out that all three have built up very successful small businesses. But the most remarkable thing is that all three have combined their economic pursuits with social outreach activities, in support of women’s and youth groups. It is noteworthy that in many of these groups men participate as well, because they want to learn new skills that will allow them to be productive and earn money. However, so far the men have remained a small minority.
The Women’s Banks, featured in my previous blog post, emerged largely thanks to Mariam Ndiaye, my counterpart while I was working in Mali, and my friend for life. Mariam was born in 1942, when French colonization was still firmly established throughout Africa. When she went to primary school, at age seven, Malian children were sitting in the back of the classroom, while the children of the French butcher, baker, and hairdresser occupied the front rows. Students of both groups considered that this was the “normal” societal order. However, the Malian children that made it to school, especially the girls, were usually descendants of forward-looking and highly motivated families who encouraged their children to learn as much as they could to help their society change for the better. As a consequence, they were the children who were consistently on the honor roll. Already at a young age, Mariam liked the “hard sciences” such as physics and biology. After completing secondary school, during the period that Mali became independent in 1960, Mariam enrolled at the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENSUP) in Bamako. After obtaining her first degree, she was admitted to graduate school at ENSUP, section biology, as the first Malian woman in science.
In every African village there is always one house where the courtyard is swept more neatly, the children look cleaner than in the other compounds, and the woman of the house seems to carry her head dress straighter, and with more pride and self-confidence. This is precisely the case of the house of Sefa Coulibaly in Sirakorola, the main village of the Cercle (administrative unit) of Sirakorola. Sefa is the pivotal person of the Sirakorola Women’s Bank, a well-organized and well-run federation of 32 women’s groups with 1,255 members: 1,198 women, and 57 men. (As an aside, when I asked a few of the core group of women if they were not afraid that the men would take over, they responded, giggling, that on the contrary, a few men were always needed to do the hard work, and this way the women even did not need to pay them for their labor.) Sefa is the main Community Organizer (“Monitrice”) who teaches skills to the other women in the core group (“Animatrices”). Each group has its own president, treasurer who keeps the books and the money that is in the bank, and a number of Animatrices, who teach functional lliteracy, and a variety of skills related to microbusiness development. To create its beginning capital, a group starts by asking each member to contribute 250 Frs. CFA (about 50 cents) per month, over a period of eight months. At that point the bank starts to function as a savings and loans association by giving out microloans and initiating members’ savings accounts. The actual amount of cash in the bank is kept to a minimum, in order to avoid taking costly security measures, and minimize the opportunities for thieves to steal the money.
Photo: Bart Everson, used under Creative Commons license.
by Carl Haub, senior demographer
Few government numbers receive as much publicity as the monthly unemployment rate released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). U.S. Presidents proudly point to it if it decreased from the previous month and the political opposition can use it to their own ends when it does not. But what exactly is it?
Each month, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts the Current Population Survey (CPS), a nationally representative survey in which persons in 50,000 households are asked a variety of demographic and economic questions to update data obtained in the decennial census. (The CPS should not be confused with the American Community Survey, a larger, rolling survey, which has replaced the “long form” in the decennial census and produces data for relatively small geographic places.) The survey began in 1940 as a part of the Works Projects Administration. It was specifically established to measure unemployment scientifically and to produce trends in U.S. employment status. The CPS is widely known as extremely reliable. BLS has ensured that the definition of “unemployed” has remained comparable over the years because while the level of unemployment is obviously important, so is the trend.
In order to measure unemployment, the “labor force” must first be defined. In the United States, labor force is defined as those who were currently employed at the time of the survey and those, while not employed, had looked for work in the four weeks before the survey. That second group is the unemployed. The definition of course is more complex than that since many people do not quite fit into such neat statistical categories (the nerve!). A useful description of the survey and its statistical concepts can be found on the BLS website.
As of December 2010, the size of the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and over (the population the CPS surveys for labor force data), was 238,889,000 (data are seasonally adjusted). Of that, 153,690,000 made up the civilian labor force. Of those, 139,206,000 were employed and 14,485,000 unemployed. Dividing that 14,485,000 by the total labor force of 238,889,000 comes out to 9.4 percent, the unemployment rate reported last December.
But there is another group that is not in the official labor force — those who are not employed but who “currently want a job.” In December 2010, there were 6,471,000 such people, comprising about 3.6 percent of the labor force although they themselves are not part of the labor force. This group consists of people in many different situations such as those who have looked for work in the last 12 months, but not the last four, believe no work is available, have transportation problems, etc. Full definitions may also be found on the BLS website.
So, depending upon how one looks at categories of those who want a job and do not have one, “unemployment” or more accurately, “out of work,” could be as high as 14 percent.
As a rule, all taxis in Bamako are beaten up and about to fall apart. I am sitting in one of those when I ask the driver, Souleymane Togola, if he is setting aside money on a regular basis (a typically European or American question, by the way!) so that he will be able to replace his taxi one day in the foreseeable future. He explains that there is no way that he will be able to do so, since every cent he earns goes into the basic necessities for his family. His “family” being his wife, three children, and four students–close or distant relatives who have come to Bamako from their native villages to complete their secondary school education since the schools in their own villages do not offer the complete cycle of secondary education. Souleymane takes care of most needs of these students such as food, lodging, and transport, and sometimes clothes, school supplies, and pocket money. At present, there is very little reciprocity by the students’ own families. Souleymane’s wife transforms peanuts into a paste that is widely used in the Malian daily meal, which she sells in the neighborhood market, to supplement the family income. Souleymane hopes that in the future the students he supports will help him buy a new taxi, after they have finished school and hopefully found well-paying jobs.
A member of the Fulani ethnic group, Aly Djiga was not supposed to ever touch iron, let alone make a living as a blacksmith. Forging iron was restricted to a specifc ethnic group, and for a Fulani to engage in that type of activity would be scandalous for the family. Yet, Aly told me yesterday that his exceptional skills in forging iron launched his very successful career. I met Aly first in 1974, when he had just graduated from the Centre d’Apprentissage Agricole (CAA) in Samanko, about 20 kilometers from Bamako. The CAA provided training for agricultural development agents, who were supposed to be integrated in the civil service, and stationed in villages to provide training and advice to mostly illitterate farmers, and to be liaison officers for distribution of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, herbicides, small tools, and agricultural credit. As a student, Aly was very smart and quick, and always eager to learn new and uncommon skills. That is how he caught the attention of the Canadian specialist blacksmith/instructor, who was teaching at the CAA under the umbrella of an ILO/FAO project. So when Jacques, the Canadian instructor, needed a deputy, he proposed the position to Aly who accepted eagerly in spite of stiff resistence from his social circle.