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Current affairs
commentary
World University Service HKUSU

Written and edited by Andrea But (Current Affairs Secretary) and Chloe Ching (Publication Secretary, Acting Current Affairs Secretary)

IN THIS ISSUE

Educational Crisis in Pakistan

B y Andrea But

p. 2-5

Boycott Zara: Salvation of the Exploited?

By Chloe Ching

p. 6-12

Does immigration strengthen or undermine tolerance?

By Dilys Tam

p. 13-19

educational crisis in pakistan

By Andrea But - Current Affairs Secretary

A s young people studying and living in Hong Kong, we take education for granted while we complain about work and find ways to work the least but earn the necessary credits. But further west in Pakistan, this is not the case for girls as they have to make the choice between eating and learning.

Education is a fundamental right that lies at the heart of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is also a right enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Everyone has the right to education and education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Pakistan fails to ensure this fundamental right it is described as among the worlds worst performing countries in educationat the 2015 Oslo Summit on Education and Development and there are 22.5 million children out of school in July 2018. This is so because Pakistan spends far less on education than is recommended by UNESCO on its guidance on education. Under this number, there is significantly more girls than boys out of school. This is especially so when children get older as there are fewer schools for girls, many girls are pushed out of continuing studies and an upward bottlenecksituation forms. While girls are denied access to education, it reflects a broader social picture of gender inequality.

2

A study by Gallup Pakistan showed that 63% of respondants

agreed that boys education are more important than girls. The

mindset that boys are inherently better than girls is still ingrained

in the mindset of Pakistanis.

than girls is still ingrained in the mindset of Pakistanis . Pakistan is among the world's

Pakistan is among the world's worst performing countries in education. (Source: Al Arabiya)

Even though 37% of respondants think that boys and girls should receive education equally, such a change cannot be seen at the core of the problem, the government is disinterested in investing in education and fails to establish an education system that adequately meets all the childrens needs. The lack of compulsory education drives up education costs private schools can be ridiculously expensive for normal families to afford, and the additional costs in public costs can be too much of a burden for poor families as well. As there is no compulsory education, girls

can easily drop out when they lose interest or it becomes too expensive for their families to afford, leading to a high population

of children who are out-of-school. The governments disinterest in

investing in education lead to a low quality of education as they

do not bother to perform strict checks on educational quality.

T he prevalence of corruption also contributes to low quality of education. Some people buy teaching jobs from officials, so they have no ability to teach at all, hence the teachers have varying qualities and the students receive varying qualities of education. Although gender inequality had always been a long term social problem, the governments failure to emphasize compulsory education for boys and girls allows this social problem to persist and even intensifies gender inequality when there is limited resources on education. In short, the government has deprived the right to education for children and especially girls.

the right to education for children and especially girls . At the core of the problem,

At the core of the problem, the government is disinterested in investing in education. (Source: anssersss.wordpress.com)

Denied access to education for girls is not just any social problem it is a manifestation of Pakistani mentality. Traditionally, women play a reproductive role and girls learn to be good mothers and housewives. Men are the breadwinners and gender roles are segregated. By staying in the domestic realm, women maintain their modesty and keep the family honour. To work and earn money strips away their modesty.

T his mentality is reflected in the study by Gallup Pakistan, where 45% of respondents think that it is wrong for men and women to work at the same time. Sending girls to school paves the way for them to find a job which means they cannot be modest, and it destroys the family honour. Additionally, child marriage cuts girlseducation short. Marriage for girls is to eventually move to her husbands home and become his property. For parents, focusing on their daughters marriage, and to marry her off early, is much more important because her modesty and chastity maintains the family honour. In other words, striving to keep the family honour keeps the girls out of school. Even when it is done at the expense of being more vulnerable to violence after marriage, denying access education to girls is to prevent from her from standing up for herself in an abusive relationship.

The road to changing this social issue faces a lot of challenges. Poverty is an important factor that drives girls out of school as families face the dilemma between sending their daughters to school and feeding them. The governments incapability to solve this deep-rooted problem, or at least provide compulsory education for girls, enhances gender inequality. But what needs to change fundamentally is Pakistanis perception of a modest woman to uphold family honour. When this perception is broken down, then there is no reason to say that boys are inherently more capable than girls, and there is no reason to deny girls of education.

boycott zara:

salvation of the exploited?

By Chloe Ching - Publication Secretary, Acting Current Affairs Secretary

S weatshop in third-world countries like Bangladesh is not news to anyone. And lately, the narrative has been reiterated - this time by advocates of the Boycott [insert any fast fashion brand]” movement, whose emergence has garnered much support. It is a rebellion, intended to resist poor treatment of garment factory workers. The aspirations are admirable, but does it actually aid the workers they seek to save?

The collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory complex, has first brought to light the problems of Bangladeshi garment industry, which is the second largest in the world. The incident was catastrophic: more than 1100 died, and thousands more were injured. What is more tragic is that the innocent victims have been sacrificed to feed human greed - a graceless massacre. Casualties would have been avoided, had the factory owners told workers to leave work early after noticing cracks on the walls. Since then, factory ownersblatant disregard of workerssafety and the lack of governmental regulation have been a focal point of criticism from the international community.

R esentment towards garment factory owners culminated in late 2018, when the local government proposed to raise garment workersminimum wage from 5300 taka (US$62.9) to 8000 taka (US$95). Tens of thousands of workers, dissatisfied about the meagreness of the increment, had since made headlines for demonstrating for a higher pay, and a more friendly working environment. It had lasted for more than a month, and had caused injuries as the police fired tear gas in response to the growing crowds. As a result, more than 50 garment factories had ceased operation.

What followed is that more than 5000 garments workers have lost their jobs for participating in the protests. To make matters worse, union representatives have been arrested on trumped-up charges that may lead to life imprisonment.

on trumped - up charges that may lead to life imprisonment . The aspirations to resist

The aspirations to resist poor treatment of garment factory workers are admirable, but does it actually aid the workers they seek to save? (Source: Nikkei Asian Review)

The suffocation of workersrights is apparent. “Workers have the fundamental right to [demand for] decent wages and should be able to do so, free from repression,”

B en Vanpeperstraete of Clean Clothes Campaign, which is committed to improving working conditions in the garment industry across the world, remarks.

It is tempting to conclude that labour exploitation in the garment industry has reached an unbearable degree, which justifies the moral crusade against fast fashion. The strategy is simple: boycott any fast fashion brand, make them shut down, and the issue can be solved. Yet, a closer look at the working conditions in Bangladesh reveals such rationale may as well be an illusion of righteousness.

To say that the garment factory workers hate their jobs, as derived from recent strikes, is a simplistic statement. Indeed, they are better off than those who take up other occupations, especially for women, whose career choices are limited. A majority of them are compelled to either work for a garment factory, or to serve for an affluent family.

a garment factory , or to serve for an affluent family . A majority of them

A majority of them are compelled to either work for a garment factory, or to serve for an affluent family. (Source:

blog.brac.net)

T he phenomenon is caused by an interplay between economic and cultural factors. In addition to the dependence of the local economy on manufacturing, the social stigma that women are to remain in the domestic sphere prevails; working as a woman in Bangladesh is seen as a desperate measure to make ends meet.

And being an employee in the garment factory is more effective in fulfilling that need. Comparing the main options available for women, while servants work 22 hours more per week than garment workers, their average income is much lower: as of 2018, a servant earns a paltry 4000 taka (US$47.5) monthly, a half of what garment workers are gaining.

Despite a huge difference in wages, they similarly come with a heavy cost: the possibility of abuse. In 2015, Khadija, a girl who served as a domestic worker, reported to the authorities that she was scorched by hot cooking spud and boiled water, and scratched by sharp metal all over her body”. Her story is not uncommon in Bangladesh. In fact, servants are prone to be taken advantage of: of all servants, 17% claim to be sexually harassed, 47% are said to be physically tortured, and a whopping 83% allege being mentally tormented.

sexually harassed , 47 % are said to be physically tortured , and a whopping 83

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Despite a huge difference in wages, they similarly come with a heavy cost: the possibility of abuse. (Source: Al Jazeera)

T he problem is particularly prominent for them, for what happens in houses behind closed doors will always be a mystery to outsiders; thus, monitoring the conduct of employers is nearly impossible.

The inadequacy of legal protection is only part of the grave realities encountered by domestic workers. It seems the abuse has become more rampant. The Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) notes that in the recent years, there have been more cases of murders of domestic workers, caused by injuries at work, being disguised as suicide.

For women, deciding who to work for is like opting for the lesser of two evils. Likewise, poor men, who usually lack proper education, struggle with the choice of occupation. Their encounters are much less serious, though. Given such circumstances, it is not without reason that the impoverished in Bangladesh tend to think of employment in a garment factory as a (relatively) preferable way to free themselves from poverty.

tend to think of employment in a garment factory as a ( relatively ) preferable way

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The impoverished in Bangladesh tend to think of employment in a garment factory as a (relatively) preferable way to free themselves from poverty. (Source:

Daily Sun)

B y refusing to consume fast fashion, the victimsmeant to be saved will have landed on worse jobs. Inaction may have been unethical as it normalises the misbehaviour of employers, but boycotting fast fashion brands is equally inappropriate - a good-natured, yet misinformed act. To know where the misconceptions stem from, it is crucial to understand the misrepresentations of poverty in Bangladesh.

The country has always been portrayed as the rising star. According to the World Bank, “Bangladesh is continuing to make impressive progress in poverty reduction”, which is evident in the fact that extreme poverty rate had decreased from 34.3% in 2000 to 12.9% in 2016.

had decreased from 34 . 3 % in 2000 to 12 . 9 % in 2016

Most people purchase water from illegal well owners, whose rates can be 15 times the official unit rate. (Source: The Upstream Journal)

I nterestingly, publications as such often dismiss the context of income insufficiency. For instance, most people purchase water from illegal well owners, whose rates can be 15 times the official unit rate. Such expense is one of the many illegitimate fees, which are not taken into account, but may adversely affect the livelihood of the least privileged.

Boycott Zaracomes across as a manifestation of ignorance of most people towards the country: advocators fantasisethat garment workers belong to the lowest strata in the country when they are not, hence why their sympathetic situations are ubiquitous in the media.

The important lesson to take away from the misrepresentations is: do not take any human rights issue out of context. Eradicating labour exploitation is not just about boycotting fast fashion brands altogether. What we can do to improve the status quo, instead, is to look at the bigger picture and to advocate for workersrights in Bangladesh in general.

does immigration strengthen or undermine tolerance?

By Dilys Tam

B roadly speaking, immigration refers to the movement of population from one place to another. While some consider open borders a celebration of liberal ideals, others fear the influx may strain welfare states and threaten solidarity. Concerns regarding the ideological clash between liberalism and foreign values have also been raised. As a neutral notion, the effects of immigration can vary vastly with circumstances - if coupled with appropriate measures, it diversifies society and strengthens tolerance; if not, it may exacerbate age-old contentions, undermining tolerance. The effects on tolerance in society depend on the context of immigration, government attitudes, as well as the individual characteristics of the immigrants.

Theoretically, immigration enhances tolerance as the possible economic benefits contribute towards the establishment of a supranational identity that transcends cultural affiliations. If properly regulated, immigrants are precious foreign-introduced assets that complement the economic inadequacies of a nation. For countries with low birth rate, immigration provides them with labour needed to sustain its economic structure. Some legal immigrants bring valuable knowledge, while others lacking in

s kill are often willing to take up jobs that locals do not desire, allowing the mobilisation of local labour for the further economic development of the region. Hypothetically, common economic benefits as stemmed from globalisation cultivate a rapprochement that transcends differences of ethnicity, race and culture that have circumscribed populations for centuries, achieving greater market diversification. In progressive capitalist societies, the boundaries of race and ethnicity are of less consequence than that of socio-economic distinction. Tangible national economic benefits, yielded by immigrants or locals alike, are a celebration of such liberal ideals, thus fostering greater social cohesion and tolerance.

On the contrary, in circumstances of competition, immigration often undermines tolerance. During economic depressions when competition for jobs are keen, local citizens are more likely to regard economic immigrants, who are often more willing to take up the same jobs for lower wages, as threats towards their economic security, manifesting in an Us versus Themattitude. Moreover, the poorly educated children of immigrants have a low competitiveness in the job market, resulting in a reliance on government welfare, perpetuating the misconception that immigrants are economic burdens. For example, during the Great Depression, Mexican immigrants who were seen as competitors of American jobs faced repatriation in the wake of widespread unemployment and increasingly hostility. Henceforth, one can infer that in contexts of keen competition, immigration undermines tolerance in society as it creates more conflicts of interest. Furthermore, the effects of immigration towards tolerance are highly susceptible to the volatile changes of socio-economic conditions.

More evidently, crime committed by immigrants acts as a catalyst that undermines tolerance in society for particular groups. For

e xample, the arrival of Syrian asylum seekers in Europe indirectly brought about the individual cases of crime committed by immigrants, such as the 2015/2016 New Years Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany. While these cases are by no means representative of Syrian asylum seekers, they have elicited a public backlash targeted at Muslim immigrants of Middle Eastern origin. Coupled with the effects of right-wing populism, the gross exaggeration of individual cases into a seemingly widespread phenomenon instills xenophobia into society. In such contexts, movements such as 120 dB exploit legitimate campaigns against gender-based violence to normalize hatred against immigrants. This exacerbates existing contentions between locals and communities of specific ethnicity, race and religion. Consequently, immigration threatens tolerance as it engenders the possibility of forming unfair generalisations concerning certain groups in the event of crime.

concerning certain groups in the event of crime . Syrian asylum seekers in Germany (Source: Arab

Syrian asylum seekers in Germany (Source: Arab News)

While the notion of open borders stands as a beacon of liberal ideals, the pressure of immigration brings a practical need for nations to cater to their national interests. Socio-economic concerns divide European societies, fraying coalition governments that have previously strived for national benefit. 15

A s a case in point, Angela Merkels and Horst Seehofers contention concerning Germanys open door policy have elicited a wave of right-wing sentiment. With Germans increasingly divided over the issue, tolerance in society is undermined under pressure. Threats towards tolerance have also emerged in other central European states like Austria. Externally, conflicts may also arise between states that profess a moralistic highground, likely stemmed from a postwar desire to establish itself as a responsible nation, such as Germany, and those with a history entailed with cultural amiosity, such as Hungary. Under keen competition for resources, existing contentions regarding privileges and responsibilities manifest as an intolerance between EU states on the grounds of socio- economic or ideological differences. Instead of complementing each others differences and embracing diversity, these distinctions divide the Schengen Area, showing that immigration generates a pressure that undermines tolerance.

Nonetheless, although domestic concerns inevitably divide member states over the rights and responsibilities of the EU, immigration can also stand as an invaluable opportunity to strengthen tolerance. As the EU is established on the basis of solidarity and common benefit, immigration has rendered the acceptance of socio-economic differences within the union as the prerequisite of European cooperation. The influx of immigrants poses a necessity to implement contingency measures, such as the European Agenda on Migration proposed by the European Commission in 2015. The strengths and weaknesses of member states would be taken into account, effectively optimizing the similarities and differences for common benefit. By imposing a need for the EU to enact a shared response to a common challenge, the necessity of

c ommunal effort of every member state is acknowledged.

Differences

are

accepted

and

celebrated,

reaffirming

the

solidarity of the Schengen Area, strengthening tolerance.

solidarity of the Schengen Area , strengthening tolerance . Immigration can stand as an invaluable opportunity

Immigration can stand as an invaluable opportunity to strengthen tolerance. (Source::

Council of the European Union)

Despite the opportunities to strengthen tolerance offered by immigration, government approaches can greatly alter the effects of immigration. When governments actively pursue integration measures, the process of economic contribution of immigrants is accelerated. Through active efforts by the US government in the 1940s, the integration of Chinese and Latino immigrants into American society has contributed towards the rise of a post-modern liberal identity, greater market diversification and the destruction of the false generalisation that immigrants rarely contribute economically. Other policies such as mixed classroomdesigned for the children of immigrants and locals provide the progressive education necessary for the cultivation of open-mindedness. With the effect compounded in future generations, immigration coupled with active integration efforts from the government serves to strengthen tolerance in society, establishing diversity as an edge in an age of monotonous efficiency.

H owever, while one acknowledges the opportunity to strengthen tolerance within immigration, the lack of governmental effort causes immigration to undermine tolerance. Large, secluded ghettos are easily formed with the lack of governmental support, creating a mistrustful situation between immigrants and locals which only worsens prejudices. Members of Turkish diasporas in Germany formed by unintegrated guest workers from the last century are often poorly employed, giving rise to a negative image as a societal burden. Their tendency to congregate in insular urban neighbourhoods have also spawned xenophobia, which has lasted until the implementation of new immigration laws in the 2000s. Hence, one can conclude that while immigration often offers the opportunity for host countries to strengthen tolerance, the effects of immigration could also be detrimental towards tolerance, depending on government attitudes and policies concerning the issue.

All claims towards supranationalism aside, intolerance is induced as an inevitable consequence of introducing foreign values through immigration, especially for nations with more ethnic notions of citizenship like Poland, Japan, and Korea. Such nations may harbour an initial intolerance towards foreign cultural practices of immigrants. Populations of nations with more assertive interpretations of secularism like France may also be intolerant of foreign religious practices, as they may see the integral religious practices of immigrants as a challenge to local ideologies. Oftentimes, this atmosphere of intolerance fuels right wing nationalism, and with surging populist sentiments, liberal values are threatened with the waning influence of centre parties. In the short term, it can be said that immigration incites the possibility of challenging local values, which may undermine tolerance.

Yet, in face of illiberal views, a truly liberal society should be able

Nations with more ethnic notions of citizenship may harbour an initial intolerance towards foreign cultural

Nations with more ethnic notions of citizenship may harbour an initial intolerance towards foreign cultural practices of immigrants. (Source: RT)

t o withstand threats to its core values. Only by allowing individual citizens to retain and express their illiberal views through democratic and legal channels within their constitutional frameworks can liberal societies practice the very ideals they profess. Instead of curbing religious differences and diversity to uphold a dogmatic secularism, a liberal society should embrace pluralism over homogeneity, choosing to embrace the challenges brought about by introduced ideas. In the end, solidarity is established not on the basis of similarity, but on the choice for harmony in spite of differences. Although immigration may introduce ideologies that are at odds with those of liberal societies, it also offers an opportunity for liberal societies to make a choice that reaffirms liberalism, strengthening tolerance as whole.

In conclusion, while it is true that immigration brings on many challenges that may threaten liberalism in the short term, the very nature of immigration also offers opportunities for liberal societies to put into practice their tolerant ideals. By rising to meet the challenge and enacting suitable policies, governments of liberal societies can not only protect their core values but reach an even higher level of tolerance. 19

CURRENT AFFAIRS COMMENTARY J une 2019 | Issue 1

CURRENT AFFAIRS COMMENTARY

J une 2019 | Issue 1