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One Third of Pregnancies Are Unintended in Burkina Faso

Social Researchers at L’Institut supérieur des sciences de la population (High Institute of Population Science) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso published a report entitled “Grossesses non désirées et avortements au Burkina : causes et conséquences” (The causes and consequences of Unintended Pregnancies and Abortions in Burkina Faso). The report highlights a few important statistics [fr]: 

  •  Un tiers de toutes les grossesses ne sont pas intentionnelles, et un tiers de ces grossesses non intentionnelles se terminent par un avortement.
  •  La taille de la famille désirée est en moyenne, de 6 enfants dans les zones rurales, contre 3 à Ouagadougou. 
  • Entre la moitié et les deux tiers de l’ensemble des femmes qui avortent sollicitent des praticiens traditionnels sans compétence particulière

-A third of all pregnancies are unintended, and one third of these unintended pregnancies result in an abortion.
-The size of the desired family is on average of 6 children in rural areas, against 3 in Ouagadougou.
-Between half and two thirds of women who seek abortions are going to traditional practitioners who do not have the required medical skills. 

First Open Heart Surgery in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

The health international network La Chaîne de l’Espoir (The Link of Hope) reports that 7 Congolese children in critical conditions benefited from open heart surgeries [fr] on February 14 in Brazzaville, Congo. With the help of the Congo Assistance Fundation as well, Prince Béni and Maya, both suffering from cardiomyopathy were operated for several hours as told in the following report [fr]:

Elle a dix ans et ne pèse que quinze kilos. Son cœur fonctionne mal. Il l'empêche de s'alimenter et donc de grandir. La petite fille doit être opérée le plus vite possible. L'intervention dure six heures.

(Mayala) is ten years old and weighs fifteen pounds. Her heart is malfunctioning. It prevents her from getting nutrients to all her cells and therefore growing. The girl needed an operation as soon as possible. The procedure took six hours.

ICT4Gov without ‘local gov?’ Shortcomings for youth engagement

This is a guest post by Daniella Ben-Attar (@dbenattar) who consults for international development agencies, NGOs and corporations on areas relating to youth participation, governance, municipal capacity building, ICT4D and peace building.

by Daniella Ben-Attar

Youth in Mali with local authorities.

Youth in Mali with local authorities.

ICTs are increasingly being looked to as holding great promise for improving participatory governance and citizen engagement. Mobile phones have been a game-changer in this sphere, with nearly seven billion mobile-cellular subscriptions worldwide, including 89% penetration in the developing world. Youth are at the center of these developments, both as drivers and consumers of technological innovation.  This is particularly true in developing countries where the young generation is leading the way in the usage of technology to overcome social, political and economic exclusion to begin driving positive change in their communities. The largest cohort in history, youth aged 15-24 number more than 1.2 billion worldwide, with an estimated 87% living in developing countries.  They are almost twice as networked as the global population as a whole, with the ICT age gap more pronounced in least developed countries where young people are often three times more likely to be online than the general population.

The combination of the “youth bulge” and “mobile miracle” has great potential to enable new responses to the longstanding challenge of youth engagement in governance across the developing world. Young citizens are utilizing simple mobile technology to innovate new platforms, tools and mechanisms aiming to amplify their voices and influence government. Youth are being proactive to play a greater role in governance through mobile-based communication avenues, user-generated information, tools tracking government accountability, anti-corruption platforms, crowd-sourcing and more. This is a dramatic shift from the days when the only way to gain the attention of a government official was through slow and cumbersome bureaucratic processes and official meetings in government offices.

A Growing Youth-Local Government Disconnect

Ironically, the impact of these efforts appears to be more pronounced at the national level than at the local level of government. Indeed, ICTs seem to be strengthening communications between youth and central government instead of enhancing connections with the closest level of governance where young citizens can be resources for community development. Applications and innovations in cooperation with government that address local issues have largely been the product of national government bodies. Most youth-led initiatives have not been successful in securing local government partnership, limiting impact. A communications gap has widened between young citizens and their local governments, which are often staffed by individuals with far less digital experience than their youthful constituents. As a result, youth and their local leaders often seem to be speaking in different languages through different media.  Local government deficits in capacity and resources continue to exist as barriers, as well as the need for sensitization to youth engagement as a priority outcome of adopting and shaping ICT-enabled practices.

Most young people using technology as a way to influence governance will tell you a similar story. When expressing themselves through social media outlets and ICT-enabled mechanisms, it is usually the national political figures that are more attuned and responsive. Local leaders are far behind their national counterparts in ICT capacity and usage. National ministers and officials often use Twitter accounts, blogs, SMS and websites to engage with their citizens, who by default are largely young. While this is a positive development, it also elicits frustration from young people who feel that their voices are ignored or unheard by elder leaders at the local level where chances are greatest for tangible impact in their day-to-day lives.

President Kagame of Rwanda is a stark example.  Youth have described how the president directly interacted with young citizens via Twitter and addressed concerns relating to many issues, from police violence towards youth to business ideas for urban tourism.  No such possibilities existed for these same youth to approach the local authority with these locally-based needs.  Even more significant, Kagame merged the national ministries of Youth and ICT in 2012 and appointed a Minister of Youth and ICT.  This is a groundbreaking move both in terms of ICT and youth, with youth ministries commonly grouped with sports or culture. However, these extraordinary national developments are not reflected in the policy and practice of local government in Rwanda.

Digital mapping initiatives have been in the spotlight as a new youth-driven tool drawing attention to local issues often overlooked by government officials.  While communities are benefitting from these processes, youth leaders report that these maps often do not gain the attention of city hall. For example, Kenyan NGO Map Kibera has seen its maps utilized by national ministry committees, better equipped with the capacity and mindset to absorb digital data, while city council has not been responsive to ICT-based approaches. Young leaders in Kandy City, Sri Lanka are working to bridge the “youth-local government ICT gap” which they have identified as a major barrier in engaging youth in local development. These young leaders are training municipal officials in computer skills and creating new ICT platforms for citizen-local government interaction as part of a UN-HABITAT supported youth-led training and education program run by YES – City of Youth.

Building Local Government Capacity for ICT & Youth Engagement

Partnership with local government is viewed by stakeholders as a key missing ingredient in enabling governance technology applications to have tangible results at the community level. The importance of “closing the engagement loop” and early local government buy-in is emphasized time and again by stakeholders in the field as a vital lesson learned through pilot programs. Youth organizations like Youth Agenda and Sisi ni Amani have achieved successful governance results by engaging local leaders as partners from the preliminary stages, highlighting the benefits they can gain through mobile solutions that increase civic engagement, enhance service delivery, fight corruption and bridge between local government and citizens.

Bridging the youth-local government gap will require sensitizing local officials and encouraging them to see the advantages of “listening” to youth ICT platforms, to bring them to where the majority of youth are voicing their opinions, and enable them to take responsive actions. National governments should be encouraged to help local governments be better equipped to address youthful concerns at the local level through capacity building for both youth engagement and ICT4G.  This can be supported by integrating local ICT components in national ICT plans, or increased “decentralization” and integration of both youth and ICT strategies, bolstered by budgetary allocations and devolution of authority. When seeking to utilize ICT to deliver positive governance outcomes for young people, “local gov” must be part of the “ICT4Gov” equation.

This blog post draws on findings from a UN-HABITAT Report entitled “ICT, Urban Governance and Youth” co-authored by Daniella Ben-Attar and Tim Campbell.

INFOGRAPHIC: Pursuit of Happiness in Africa

Happiness Value Index for the African Continent via Afrigraphique CC-NC-2.0

Happiness Value Index for the African Continent via Afrigraphique CC-NC-2.0

The Afrographique blog mapped the happiness index for the African continent. Topping the ranking are Angola and Mauritius who hold the same happiness index as Albania and Russia, respectively. In related news, the Pharell’ single “Happy” has been used by dancers around the world to celebrate the new year 2014. All the videos are compiled at the blog We are Happy from . Below are the videos from Antanannarivo, Madagascar:

and Cotonou, Benin:

Tech Salon Summary: children, youth, migration and ICT

Migration is central to the current political debate as well as to the development discussion, especially in conversations about the “post 2015” agenda, the ‘youth bulge’, and youth employment. Prevention work is not likely to end migration, regardless of the organizations and governments working to improve the well-being of children and youth in their home communities. In fact, improved economic capacity may actually enhance people’s capacity to migrate.

Our Technology Salon on January 16, 2014, discussed the role of ICTs in child and youth migration, ways ICTs are influencing migration, how ICTs could make migration safer and more productive, and ideas for mobile applications that would be useful for child and youth migrants. We welcomed Ravi Karkara, United Nations Inter-agency Network on Youth Development; Lucas Codognolla, Lead Coordinator, Connecticut Students for a DREAM; and Michael Boampong, Migration and Development Consultant, UNDP, as our lead discussants.

Some areas on where and how ICTs are playing or could play a role:

  • Sending money / remittances / mobile money. Costs to transfer money need to be reduced. Some studies have shown that the African diaspora pays up to 20% for money transfers. More needs to be done to extend mobile money services, especially in rural areas.
  • Finding a job. Many youth use ICTs from the very start of the migration process to look for work. They may also use ICTs to find work in their home countries if they return.
  • Getting a visa to migrate legally. Most legal immigration processes require making appointments with Embassies via the Internet and the ability to communicate via email.
  • Identifying migration routes. Often, youth who migrate irregularly investigate routes online before their departure. GPS can also help during transit. One program in Mexico is developing a “safe migration map” that provides crowd-sourced, near real-time information to migrants on which areas are experiencing high crime or other dangers so that they can migrate more safely.
  • Reporting abuse. Child help lines are expanding their services across many countries and providing support, advice and help to children in case of emergency or abuse, including during migration. Many help lines are experimenting with text messaging.
  • Connecting with other youth in similar situations.  Youth who have an irregular migration status are able to find others in the same circumstances and feel less alone. They can also connect with peers and organizations who can provide support, help and advice.
  • Keeping in touch with parents/family. ICT are useful for children and youth keep families informed of how they are doing, and to ask for support and help. The African Movement for Working Children and Youth works with telecoms operators to provide a free number to children and youth who migrate in West Africa. Parents and children can remain in touch that way while children are moving from one town to the next.
  • Sharing information on migration rights. Organizations like Connecticut Students for a DREAM use ICTs and social media to reach out to youth who have an irregular migration status to provide support and to engage them in organized advocacy activities. The organization encourages sharing of stories and a safe space to discuss migration difficulties. The “Pocket DACA” application helps young migrants understand the deferred action law and apply for it.
  • Engaging, organizing, and influencing government. Youth in the US are organizing via Facebook and other social media platforms. In some cases, government officials have reached out to these groups for advice on legislation.

Participants pointed out that:

Children/youth are not always victims. Often the discourse around children’s movement/migration is centered on trafficking, protection and vulnerability rather than rights, power and choices. More needs to be done to empower children and youth and to provide opportunities and participation avenues. At the same time, more needs to be done to create opportunities at home so that children and youth do not feel like their home situation is hopeless and that migration is the only option.

Children and youth are not a homogeneous population. When thinking about ICTs and children/youth, it’s important to know the context and design programs that are relevant to specific children and young people. Age, wealth, sex, literacy and other aspects need to be considered so that ICT applications are useful. Both traditional communication and ICTs need to be used depending on the population.

ICTs can widen generation gaps. In some cases, ICTs increase the communication divide among generations. Older people may feel that youth are working in a medium that they are not skilled at using, and that youth are not considering their input and advice. This can create conflict and reduce levels of support that might otherwise be provided from community leaders, elders and government officials.

The role of the State needs more thought. Often irregular migration happens because legal channels are difficult to navigate or they are prohibitive. The role of ICTs in influencing or facilitating legal migration needs more thought, as does the potential role of ICTs in advocating for change. The State may not always be friendly to migration, however, so the topic is controversial. States may also use ICTs for surveillance of youth or migrating populations, especially in places where there is political or ethnic conflict, so ICTs may put people in extreme danger.

Risks need to be considered. There are serious risks associated with using ICTs in general, and especially with vulnerable populations. These include everything from online grooming and risks of being lured into trafficking or sex work, to scamming sites that take advantage of youth, to political aspects such as surveillance and targeting of certain populations of youth by the State or other armed groups. ICTs could be a way to help break conspiracies of silence and to report and speak out about human rights abuses, but care needs to be taken that people are not put at risk when they do so.

ICTs need to fit local contexts. Rural areas are less connected and so other forms of information and communication are often more common. Both online and offline means need to be used when working with children and youth. In addition, different social media tools and platforms are used in different places. For example, though the end of Facebook is heralded by some in the US, because youth are reportedly fleeing as older people join the site, Facebook is taking off in Latin America, where many organizations use it for engaging youth and helping them to organize and get informed about their rights.

Not much is known about children, youth, ICTs and migration.  The area of child migration is relatively weak in terms of research. The upcoming World Youth Report centers on child and youth migration and has been a highly controversial process. Migration needs to be considered from an evolving age perspective, with focus on aspects that impact on children, adolescents and youth differentially. A gender perspective needs to be included. There is also a difference between children and youth who migrate for employment and those who move due to conflict or who are seeking asylum, and deeper knowledge is needed in all of these different areas.

Recommendations for future efforts included:

  • More youth voice and support for youth movements in the area of migration
  • More involvement of youth in the debate/dialogue on migration and ICTs
  • Micro-grants for youth who want to work on migration initiatives, including those that use ICTs
  • More nuanced research and understanding of the role of ICTs in child and youth migration with specific lenses on age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors

Resources on ICTs and child/youth migration:

Salons are held under Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this post. Many thanks to our lead discussants and to ThoughtWorks for hosting and providing breakfast.

If you’d like to attend future Salons, sign up here!

Sports as a Vector of Peace in Burkina Faso

The National Department of Sports and Entertainment in Burkina Faso published a report on the role of sports as a vector of peace and development in Burkina Faso [PDF in fr]:

Les programmes sportifs bien conçus renforcent les capacités humaines de base, créent des relations interpersonnelles et inculquent des valeurs fondamentales et des aptitudes à la vie pratique. Ils constituent un précieux outil de promotion du développement et de renforcement de la cohésion sociale. Collectivement, les avantages de ces programmes constituent un puissant moyen pour combattre l’exclusion sociale.

Sports programs that are well-designed can strengthen human capabilities, they create human bonds and instill core values ​​and skills needed to face daily life. They are a valuable tool to promote development and strengthen social cohesion. Collectively, these programs are a powerful tool to combat social exclusion.

Colors from the Zaatari Refugee Camp

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

The impact of the escalation of violation in Syria on a whole generation of children has become a priority for many Syrian activists and organizations. Colors from the Zaatari Camp is one of the many initiatives focusing on the future of Syria by trying to improve the life conditions of refugee and displaced children.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp Facebook page.


The Zaatari camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, is the largest Syrian refugee camp, hosting more than 100,000 refugees, many of them children. According to Dima al-Malakeh, who works for the Dubai-based association For Syria:

“We chose Zaatari for this project because it is a place where many Syrians live together now, one where we can start working together in the field of schools and education.”

She added:

The Colors of Zaatari project throws light at the work of children to highlight their voices, their talents and their dreams, in an attempt to reach out to international organizations and institutions so that they can help them go back to school. Going back to school is what the children dream of, and so do we.

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp Facebook page


The idea was born after activist Mahmoud Sadaka saw a number of drawings that children living in the camp had made. “The drawings were beautiful, powerful and revealing, and I thought it was a shame that they stayed in the camp and no one else could see them”, he explained to Syria Untold. 

In coordination with For Syria and other Syrian journalists and activists such as Milia Aidamouni, they decided to highlight Syrian talent through these children’s creations. They collected the best works and organized their first exhibition in Amman on January 16-17, 2013. A total of 60 art pieces, properly framed with the help of artist Lina Mohamid, were exhibited.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

Supporting the Rights of Malian Youth to Education

While Mali is trying to reunite in its large territory strained by a prolonged internal conflict between the north and the rest of the country, its young people are impatient to move forward to build Mali's future. My Rights, My Voice, Mali is a project led by Malian youth and supported by Oxfam to promote their rights to education and sexual and reproductive health.

Image from Facebook page for the My Rights, My Voice project. Used with permission.

Image from Facebook page for the My Rights, My Voice project. Used with permission.

The context

Although 80 percent of Mali’s children enrolled in primary school in 2010-11 school year, the system struggles to give them a quality education. Almost half abandon their schooling early, while many complete school without basic reading, writing and mathematical skills. The education system is also plagued by a lack of schools in rural areas, as well as shortages of teachers and materials.

High school students in Kati, Mali via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

High school students in Kati, Mali via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Laya Diarra, a blogger for Afribone in Bamako explains that finishing primary school is often not enough to solve the literacy issue [fr]: 

Il a été constaté que les enfants qui terminaient le 1er Cycle de l’Enseignement Fondamental retombaient très vite dans l’illettrisme. Cet enseignement ne garantissait pas le minimum éducatif que le système se donnait comme objectif.

Statistics show that many children who completed primary school fell quickly back into illiteracy. This formation did not guarantee the minimum objectives that the educational system aims for.

Additionally, the gender gap in access to education is still a major subject of concern. In 2008, more than 80,000 students passed exams to enter secondary schools, yet around 17,000 — 40 percent of whom were girls — were denied placement in secondary schools. Marianne Opheim, an education researcher, explained that the gender gap is not as large as it may seem [fr]:

Tout en reconnaissant l'importance des facteurs particuliers au statut de la femme, je pense que la sous-scolarisation des filles est étroitement liée aux grands défis généraux de l'école malienne, tels que l'écart linguistique et culturel entre l'école et le foyer

While it is important to recognize the importance of specific factors linked to women status, I think the under-enrollment of girls in school is closely linked to the general challenges of the Malian school system, such as the linguistic and cultural gap between their school and their home.

Some solutions

Mali faces a shortage of teachers (only one per 100 pupils in some areas), poor teacher training, a lack of classroom materials and an outdated curriculum. Still, some schools are rising to the challenges, like the Mohamed Diallo Primary School. In the following French-language video, the director argues that despite many challenges, the school was able to meet its goals thanks to the dedication of the teachers:

The education authorities’ lack of accountability and transparency in financial management means legal standards are not upheld and policies such as the national girls’ education policy are not implemented.

Working with partners in Mali such as the Education for All coalition, My Rights, My Voice is advocating for an improved national curriculum, including life skills and sexual and reproductive health rights. They also train youth groups to monitor policy implementation so that they can hold the government accountable to its commitments to provide quality education for all Mali’s children and to promote girls’ schooling in particular. 

The Worrisome Job Market Projection in Burkina Faso

The AFDB published its country report for Burkina Faso in which it highlights the worrisome job market trend [fr] for the next decade : 

Sept burkinabè sur dix ont moins de 30 ans. Le nombre de jeunes (15-24 ans), primo demandeurs d’emplois, doublera entre 2010 et 2030, passant de trois à six millions ce qui va créer une tension sur le marché du travail. Les opportunités de travail se limitent à celles qui ont une faible productivité ou qui génèrent peu de revenus : environ 80 % des travailleurs dépendent de la production agricole ; seuls 5 % des travailleurs sont salariés dans le secteur formel (public ou privé). 

In Burkina Faso, 7 put of 10 citizens are less than 30 years old. The number of young people (15-24 years), primary job seekers will double between 2010 and 2030, from 3 to 6 millions,  which in turn will create tension on the labor market. Employment opportunities are limited to those with low productivity outlet or those that will generate little revenue: about 80% of workers depend on agricultural production and 95% of workers are employed in the informal sector.

GDP sectorial distribution in Burkina faso in 2011 via AFDB Report - Public Domain

GDP sectorial distribution in Burkina faso in 2011 via AFDB Report – Public Domain

Cartoon Character ‘Meena’ Changes South Asian Attitudes Towards Girls

Screenshot from the cover of Meena Comic Book. Courtesy Unicef

Screenshot from the cover of a Meena comic book. Image courtesy UNICEF

Only two decades ago, the status of many women in some South Asian countries was low. Many girls in rural areas were not allowed to study. Girls were inevitably married off as soon as they grew up, so what good was studying? Boys would get the best of the households’ food, the girls the leftovers.

But this discriminatory mindset has changed tremendously, in part thanks to a cartoon character.

The fictional character Meena stars in the South Asian children's television show of the same name. Promoted by UNICEF, Meena and her TV show is very popular in the region. UNICEF developed the Meena Communication Initiative (MCI) as a mass communication project aimed at changing perceptions and behavior that hamper the survival, protection and development of girls in South Asia.

Bangladesh was the first country to meet Meena when a film about her struggle to go to school aired on Bangladesh national television (BTV) in 1993. The secondary characters of her stories include Meena's brother Raju and her pet parrot Mithu.

Meet Meena. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Meet Meena. Image from Wikimedia

According to an old report of UNICEF:

Since her inception 14 years ago she has shown millions of women and girls what can be achieved. She has delivered messages on issues as far reaching as solving the problem of bullying through to challenging the stigma of HIV/AIDS through to girls’ right to play sport. The Meena stories are highly entertaining and fun, but also reflect, at their core, the realities of girls’ lives in South Asia.

Meena has spread messages to stop child marriage and the practice of dowry and promote healthy toilet use, sending girls to school, equality between boys and girls and the right to education for the domestic workers. Her shows highlights the potential contributions to society that girls can make if provided an equal playing field.

How can a message spread by a small cartoon girl be so empowering that it has helped change the society radically? Housewife Naznin Rahman told the Daily Prothom Alo [bn]:

আমার মা জোহরা বেগম তাঁর দুই ছেলের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নিয়েছেন। তখনো টিভিতে মীনা দেখাতে শুরু করেনি। তারপর যেই তিনি মীনা দেখতে শুরু করলেন, তাঁর চরিত্রে মেয়েদের প্রতি আলাদাভাবে একটা সহানুভূতি কাজ করতে লাগল। তারপর যখন তাঁর ছোট ছেলের বিয়ে দিলেন, তখনই আমরা বুঝতে পারলাম তিনি মীনার দ্বারা কতটা প্রভাবিত। আম্মা আমার ছোট ভাইয়ের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নেননি।

My mom Zohra Begum has taken dowry for her two elder sons. In those days, Meena was not aired. Since she started watching Meena, she had developed a special sympathy for girls in particular. When she had her younger son married, we realized how she was affected by Meena. She did not take any dowry for my younger brother.

Shuvo Ankur wrote on the's kids page about the positive changes Meena has provoked:

প্রচার হবার পর থেকেই মীনা পেয়ে যায় দারুন জনপ্রিয়তা। এবং এর ফলে আসতে থাকে বেশ কিছু পরিবর্তন। আগে গ্রামাঞ্চলে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে স্কুলে যেতে না দিয়ে বাড়ির কাজ করানো হতো। মীনা কার্টুন প্রচার হবার পর থেকে আস্তে আস্তে ঘটতে থাকে পরিবর্তন। কারণ মীনা কার্টুনেও দেখানো হয়েছে যে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হতো না। কিন্তু কিছু ঘটনার পরে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হয়। এবং মীনা বিভিন্ন বুদ্ধিমত্তার পরিচয় রাখতে থাকে। সে লেখাপড়া শিখে তার বাবাকে ঠকে যাবার হাত থেকে রক্ষা করে। আবার বাড়ির গরু চুরি ঠেকায়। এমনি সব কাজের জন্য মীনা হয়ে যায় সবার জনপ্রিয় এবং সার্কভুক্ত দেশগুলোতে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে অবহেলাও কমে যেতে থাকে।

Meena achieved popularity from the start. The changes were visible soon after. Earlier, in rural areas girl students dropped out of school and ended up working as a housemaid. But the situation changed after Meena's show began airing. On screen, Meena was also not allowed to go to school first. But she changed her lot and got permission to go to school. Meena's wit and intelligence allowed her to learn to count and other essential knowledge to save her father from the deception from other people. She saved their cows from a thief. Her intelligence became popular, and the negligence of girls in South Asian countries slowly started disappearing.

Sohanur Rahman [bn] wrote on Kishorebarta that there is a lot to learn from the cartoon show:

[...] মীনার কাছ থেকে আমরা অনেক কিছুই শিখেছি। সেই ৯০ দশক থেকে আজকের দিন প্রযন্ত প্রায় ১৭ বছর ধরে মীনা আমাদের সমাজের প্রতিটি মানুষের মনের মনিকোঠায় একটি উজ্জ্বল চরিত্র হিসেবে স্থান দখল করে নিয়েছে।

We have learnt a lot from Meena. From the '90s till today, Meena has become a star and a special character in our society.

Meena is also broadcast on radio. Farzana Islam Tithi, 24, who voices Meena, told The Daily Star:

Everyone loved Meena from their childhood and everyone, regardless of age, watched the cartoon eagerly. I also used to watch it. May be Meena’s accent struck to my mind since then and I believe that feeling helped me in my voice over for Meena.

Twitter user Bengalithings deemed Meena a role model:

The UNICEF Bangladesh Twitter account (@UNICEFBD) reminded that:

Every year on 24th October “Meena Day” is observed in Bangladesh to promote social awareness on 100% enrollment of kids in school, avoid dropouts and ensure proper education.

According to reports [bn], Meena has also become popular outside of the South Asian region. It has been dubbed in more than 30 languages such as Arabic, Burmese and Chinese. You can download free Meena comic books from here.

37 Million Students Start New Year with Free Textbooks in Bangladesh

A Student rises up a textbook during the

A student lifts up a textbook during the “Textbook Festival Day” program organized bythe  Education Ministry in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

More than 37 million school students in Bangladesh have received nearly 300 million free school books from the government as part of “Textbook Festival Day” on January 2, 2014, setting a new world record in free textbook distribution, according to Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid.

One of the aims of the annual textbook festival, which has been held since 2011, is to combat illiteracy in the country. According to UNESCO, about 80 percent of youth are literate in Bangladesh. 

In the past few years, the country has made tremendous progress [bn] in its education sector. Bangladesh has achieved almost 100 percent enrollment of eligible children in primary schools, male-female student parity, and ensuring free textbook for all. In 1991, the rate of enrollment was only 61 percent. In 2011, the rate rose to 98.2 percent and in 2012 to 99.47 percent. The rate of female enrollment in primary schools increased from 32 percent to 51 percent and in higher secondary from 18 percent to 54 percent of total students.

In 2014 school year the total books distributed were 299,675,938 among 37,336,672 students of primary, Ebtedayee, Higher secondary School, Dakhil and vocational school systems. The new textbooks can also be downloaded for free or read online from the government's e-book website and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) site.

Blogger and educator Masum Billah noted on the site Articles on Education of Bangladesh another benefit of free textbooks:

Free book distribution for all the primary students emerges as a great contributing factor to reducing drop out.

Different media published photos of students’ happy faces as they received their textbooks.

Film producer Rowshan Ara Nipa remembered on Facebook her own memories of school, when it took at least a few months to receive a new book for the school year:

গত ৫ বছর ধরে জানুয়ারীর ১ তাং এলেই সব বিদ্যালয় গুলিতে এক অসাধারন আনন্দ উৎসব আমাকে সুখকর এক ঈর্ষায় ফেলে দেয় , আহ্হারে আমি যদি ওদের বয়সী হতাম তবে তো আমিও আজ এই আনন্দের ভাগীধার হতাম! তবে আনন্দ যে একেবারে হয়না তা ঠিক নয়, বছরের শুরুর এই দিনে এক সাথে এত কচি কাচার হাসি মুখ এর চেয়ে বড় কোন শুভেচ্ছা আর আছে কি?

খুব মনে আছে এই তো ৫ বছর আগেই কোন ছাত্র-ছাত্রী নতুন বই কবে পাবে তার কোন ঠিক ঠাক সময় ছিলনা, বছরের ৩ মাস পেরিয়ে গেলেও নতন বই এর দেখা পাওয়া বড় সৌভাগ্য বলে গন্য হোত অথবা ২/১ টা নতুন বই আর পুরোনো বই মিলে একটা সেট বানানোর প্রান পন চেষ্টা করা হোত । আমার মা- বাবা দুজনেই প্রাথমিক বিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক ছিলেন। নতুন বই তো দুরের কথা ফেব্রুয়ারী-মার্চ পর্যন্ত কোন বই ছাত্রদের হাতে নাই এ নিয়ে দুশ্চিন্তার অন্ত ছিলনা…

The date January 1 meant a day of joy, which makes me happily jealous, if I were like them I would be part of the celebrations. But it is grand is to see all those happy faces of the children.

I remember that only five years ago there were no guarantee for the students when they would receive books. It would be pure luck for the students if they could get one or two books from the whole set after three months. Both my parents were primary school teachers. They would worry a lot how they were going to carry on with teaching the curriculum in the absence of books till February or March.

Sandipan Basu made fun of the situation:

এখনকার পোলাপাইনগুলা অভাগা। আমাদের কালে আমরা বই না পাওয়ার অজুহাতে পুরা জানুয়ারি স্কুলে যাইতাম না। আর পোলাপাইনে এখন বছরের প্রথমদিনই বই পাইয়া যায়। ক্যামনে কি !!

Today's students have no luck. We could skip school for the whole of January because we did not have new textbooks. Now they get new books at the beginning of the year. How is it possible?

Students rise up textbooks during the

Students celebrating the “Textbook Festival Day” in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

Bangladesh is advancing despite its problems. The distribution of books on the second day of the year is one such example. Blogger Arif Jebtik wrote:

যাঁরা ভাবে বাংলাদেশ এগুচ্ছে না, তাঁরা আমাদের বাংলাদেশ দেখেনি। আমি জানি এই দেশ কীভাবে কতটুকু আগাচ্ছে। [..]

আজ বই হাতে পাওয়া প্রিয় প্রজন্ম, তোমরা সুখে থাকো। তোমাদের যখন পিছু ফিরে দেখার সুযোগ হবে, সেই বয়েসে তোমরা যে বাংলাদেশে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকবে, সেই সুন্দর বাংলাদেশের কথা ভেবে আমি মাঝে মাঝেই তোমাদের ঈর্ষা করি…

Those who think that Bangladesh is not progressing, they are not aware of Bangladesh. I know how it is leaping forward. [..]

Please be happy that the new generation received new books on time. When you look back at this moment one day, like I am doing, you will have lived through that progressive Bangladesh, and I am very much jealous.

Political violence has been a feature of many people's lives in Bangladesh, including children. Freedom fighter and activist Akku Chowdhury wrote:

this is the kind of Bangladesh we would like to see…Children happy with new books seeking knowledge….not Children with gun powder learning to make human BBQ….we want violent free democratic and peaceful nation moving forward with the spirit of liberation war….we want leaders ready to walk the talk…leaders who lead by example….we want politicians who considers power as a public service but not self service to become wealthier….joi manush (hail humans)

Malaysia’s New Year Protest Against Price Hikes

A New Year’s Eve party in Kuala Lumpur was turned into a protest event as thousands of Malaysians voiced their opposition to looming price hikes in several basic goods and services.

Organized mainly by students, the Reduce Cost of Living Movement (Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup), or Turun mobilized thousands to join the annual New Year countdown at Dataran Merdeka park and use the occasion to protest against the rising cost of living in the country.

The government has announced that it will be cutting fuel and sugar subsidies to rationalize public spending. On the other hand, there will be price increases in electricity tariffs, petrol, sugar, assessment rates for Kuala Lumpur properties, public transport fees and toll rates for highways.

The police allowed the protesters to go near the venue but they accused the protesting youth of disrupting the event. Fireworks were cancelled and the concert was stopped which disappointed many people.

anilnetto noticed that most of the protesters were young:

Many of the protesters appeared to be youths who will be hard-pressed to cope with the rising cost of living.

… salute to the brave Malaysians who defied warnings and claimed their democratic right to assemble peacefully last night.

Alternative news group Malaysiakini covered the event and observed the following:

The majority of the protesters are youths. The atmosphere is boisterous with the singing of the national anthem, speeches and slogan chanting throughout the entire procession.

Interestingly, the traffic police who were directing traffic at the nearby intersections have left their posts.

This video shows several scenes of the New Year protest:

But the police believes the rally received minimal public support:

Actually, they are only a small group trying to ride on the wave of the New Year celebration to give an impression that the rally received a widespread support with the visuals downloaded onto social websites.

Meanwhile, the protesters denied they were unruly during the activity and they cited the community singing of the national anthem before the dispersal of the protest as proof that ordinary Malaysians were supportive of the protest.

Using the Twitter hashtag #turun, Malaysian netizens shared their reactions about the protest. Some expressed admiration for the bravery of the protesters but others urged the group to air their grievances at a proper time and venue.

A few days ago, the government announced that it will implement 11 austerity measures in an apparent bid to quell the rising public dissatisfaction over the price hikes. But despite this announcement, the Turun protest continued to pushed through.

Zurairi AR analyzed why the Turun protest quickly gathered momentum in the past few days:

In a way, the group made its point: 2014 is “the year people suffer” from price and rate hikes, it claimed. There is nothing to be happy about the New Year.

The objective of the rally had been made very clear from the beginning by its organisers: to protest against a number of price and rate hikes, and the spiralling cost of living.

Perhaps there is another lesson here for activists: that the issues most dear to the people and capable of spurring massive turnouts are about civil liberties and bread-and-butter issues.

And Turun was about the falling value of money in our wallets, and just like the others they attracted people from all walks of life.

The Turun protest was perhaps a preview of what will happen in Malaysia in the next few months if the government fails to reverse the economic hardships experienced by its citizens.

What the Situation of Street Children in Port-au-Prince is Telling a Haitian Citizen

Valéry Moise, a Haitian physician and activist, reflects upon the dire situation of street children [fr] in Port-au-Prince :

Moi, quand je regarde un enfant des rues briser une vitre, je vois une promesse électorale non tenue, quand je regarde un enfant sans idéal, je vois un gouvernement sans vision, quand je regarde un enfant manquer de respect à une loi établie, je vois de policiers et officiels circuler en sens inverse, quand je regarde un enfant essuyer une voiture aux heures de classe, je vois une société touchant le fond de l’abîme. Rendez-moi fou ou sage, je verrai toujours à travers les enfants l’image des adultes.

When I witness a child breaking a window, what it tells me is that another promise by a politician went unfulfilled. When I see a child without a dream, it tells me that the government is lacking a vision for the country. When a child does not respect the law, what I see are police forces going the other way. When I see a child cleaning cars when he should be at school, I see a society that has reached the bottom of the ocean. Color me crazy or wise, but I will always see the characters of the adults through the behavior of their children.  

Upholding the Essential Values of the Bhutanese Youth

Bhutanese youth playing. Image by Morgan Ommer. Copyright Demotix (15/2/2009)

Bhutanese youth playing. Image by Morgan Ommer. Copyright Demotix (15/2/2009)

Bhutan has been blessed with a sustained, rich cultural heritage and the Bhutanese people take pride in upholding a number of essential values including harmony, compassion and patriotism. Blogger Dorji Wangchuk has been working with the recovering addicts and alcoholics and looks for a long-term solution of the problem among the Bhutanese youth. He asserts that educating own children is not enough, there is a need to work extra hard towards fostering the children of fellow citizens to inspire them to become good human beings.

Egypt: Campaigning for Rights of People with Special Needs

Marginalized Egyptians with special needs have been protesting for their rights both before and since the #Jan25 revolution. However, their grievances are yet to be resolved. At the time when the Committee of 50 is voting on the most recent draft of the Egyptian Constitution, Zayee Zayak campaign, which translates to “I am just like you” from Egyptian colloquial Arabic, has kicked off in Egypt aiming at raising awareness about the constitutional rights of people with special needs in the country.
A 2006 census claimed that almost a million Egyptians suffered some sort of disability, yet dedicated NGOs and international organizations estimate these to be at least 8.5 million. Zayee Zayak campaigners evaluate that as many as 17 million Egyptians have special needs:

You can follow discussions through a dedicated group, ‘Disability Awareness in Egyptian Society’ (En).

Modern Mobility: the role of ICTs in child and youth migration

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 6.14.40 PM

Migration has been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time, and populations have always moved in search of resources and better conditions. Today, unaccompanied children and youth are an integral part of national and global migration patterns, often leaving their place of origin due to violence, conflict, abuse, or other rights violations, or simply to seek better opportunities for themselves.

It is estimated that 33 million (or some 16 percent) of the total migrant population today is younger than age 
20. Child and adolescent migrants make up a significant proportion of the total population of migrants in Africa (28 percent), Asia (21 percent), Oceania (11 percent), Europe (11 percent), and the Americas (10 percent).

The issue of migration is central to the current political debate as well as to the development discussion, especially in conversations about the “post 2015” agenda. Though many organizations are working to improve children’s well-being in their home communities, prevention work with children and youth is not likely to end migration. Civil society organizations, together with children and youth, government, community members, and other stakeholders can help make migration safer and more productive for those young people who do end up on the move.

As the debate around migration rages, access to and use of ICTs is expanding exponentially around the globe. For this reason Plan International USA and the Oak Foundation felt it was an opportune time to take stock of the ways that ICTs are being used in the child and youth migration process.

Our new report, “Modern Mobility: the role of ICTs in child and youth migration” takes a look at:

  • how children and youth are using ICTs to prepare for migration; to guide and facilitate their journey; to keep in touch with families; to connect with opportunities for support and work; and to cope with integration, forced repatriation or continued movement; and
  • how civil society organizations are using ICTs to facilitate and manage their work; to support children and youth on the move; and to communicate and advocate for the rights of child and youth migrants.

In the Modern Mobility paper, we identify and provide examples of three core ways that child and youth migrants are using new ICTs during the different phases of the migration process:

  1. for communicating and connecting with families and friends
  2. for accessing information
  3. for accessing services

We then outline seven areas where we found CSOs are using ICTs in their work with child and youth migrants, and we offer some examples:

Ways that CSOs are using ICTs in their work with child and youth migrants.

Ways that CSOs are using ICTs in their work with child and youth migrants.

Though we were able to identify some major trends in how children and youth themselves use ICTs and how organizations are experimenting with ICTs in programming, we found little information on the impact that ICTs and ICT-enabled programs and services have on migrating children and youth, whether positive or negative. Most CSO practitioners that we talked with said that they had very little awareness of how other organizations or initiatives similar to their own were using ICTs. Most also said they did not know where to find orientation or guidance on good practice in the use of ICTs in child-centered programming, ICTs in protection work (aside from protecting children from online risks), or use of ICTs in work with children and young people at various stages of migration. Most CSO practitioners we spoke with were interested in learning more, sharing experiences, and improving their capacities to use ICTs in their work.

Based on Plan Finland’s “ICT-Enabled Development Guide” (authored by Hannah Beardon), the Modern Mobility report provides CSOs with a checklist to support thinking around the strategic use of ICTs in general.

ICT-enabled development checklist developed by Hannah Beardon for Plan International.

ICT-enabled development checklist developed by Hannah Beardon for Plan International.

We also offer a list of key considerations for practitioners who wish to incorporate new technologies into their work, including core questions to ask about access, age, capacity, conflict, connectivity, cost, disability, economic status, electricity, existing information ecosystems, gender, information literacy, language, literacy, power, protection, privacy, sustainability, and user-involvement.

Our recommendation for taking this area forward is to develop greater awareness and capacity among CSOs regarding the potential uses and risks of ICTs in work with children and youth on the move by:

  1. Establishing an active community of practice on ICTs and children and youth on the move.
  2. Mapping and sharing existing projects and programs.
  3. Creating a guide or toolbox on good practice for ICTs in work with children and youth on the move.
  4. Further providing guidance on how ICTs can help “normal” programs to reach out to and include children and youth on the move.
  5. Further documentation and development of an evidence base.
  6. Sharing and distributing this report for discussion and action.

Download the Modern Mobility report here.

We’d love comments and feedback, and information about examples or documentation/evidence that we did not come across while writing the report!

How can we use ICTs to engage adolescent girls?

At the November 8th Technology Salon in New York City, we looked at the role of ICTs in communication for development (C4D) initiatives with marginalized adolescent girls. Lead discussants Kerida McDonald and Katarzyna Pawelczyk discussed recent UNICEF reports related to the topic, and John Zoltner spoke about FHI360’s C4D work in practice.

To begin, it was pointed out that C4D is not donor communications or marketing. It is the use of communication approaches and methodologies to achieve influence at various levels –  e.g., family, institutional and policy –  to change behavior and social norms. C4D is one approach that is being used to address the root causes of gender inequality and exclusion.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 7.24.48 AMAs the UNICEF report on ICTs and C4D* notes, girls may face a number of situations that contribute to and/or are caused by their marginalization: early pregnancy, female genital cutting, early marriage, high rates of HIV/AIDS, low levels of education, lack of control over resources. ICTs alone cannot resolve these, because there is a deep and broad set of root causes. However, ICTs can be integrated systematically into the set of C4D tools and approaches that contribute to positive change.

Issues like bandwidth, censorship and electricity need to be considered when integrating ICTs into C4D work, and approaches that fit the context need to be developed. Practitioners should use tools that are in the hands of girls and their communities now, yet be aware of advances in access and new technologies, as these change rapidly.

Key points:

Interactivity is more empowering than one-way messaging:  Many of the ICT solutions being promoted today focus on sending messages out via mobile phones. However C4D approaches aim for interactivity and multi-channel, multi-directional communication, which has proven more empowering.

Content: Traditional mass media normally goes through a rigorous editorial process and it is possible to infuse it with a gender balance. Social media does not have the same type of filters, and it can easily be used to reinforce stereotypes about girls. This is something to watch and be aware of.

Purpose: It’s common with ICT-related approaches to start with the technology rather than starting with the goals. As one Salon participant asked “What are the results we want to see for ourselves? What are the results that girls want to see? What are the root causes of discrimination and how are we trying to address them? What does success look like for girls? For organizations? Is there a role for ICTs in helping achieve success? If so, what is it?” These questions need to be the starting point, rather than the technology.

Participation: One Salon participant mentioned a 2-year project that is working together with girls to define their needs and their vision of success. The process is one co-design, and it is aimed at understanding what girls want. Many girls expressed a feeling of isolation and desire for connection, and so the project is looking at how ICTs can help them connect. As the process developed, the diversity of needs became very clear and plans have changed dramatically based on input from a range of girls from different contexts. Implementors need to be prepared to change, adapt and respond to what girls say they want and to local realities.


Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 10.41.22 PMA second study commissioned by UNICEF explores how young people use social media. The researchers encountered some challenges in terms of a strong gender approach for the study. Though a gender lens was used for analysis, there is little available data disaggregated by sex. The study does not focus on the most marginalized, because it looks at the use of social media, which normally requires a data connection or Internet access, which the most marginalized youth usually do not have.

The authors of the report found that youth most commonly used the Internet and social media for socializing and communicating with friends. Youth connected less often for schoolwork. One reason for this may be that in the countries/contexts where the research took place, there is no real integration of ICTs into the school system. It was emphasized that the  findings in the report are not comparable or nationally representative, and blanket statements such as “this means x for the whole developing world” should be avoided.

Key points:

Self-reporting biases. Boys tend to have higher levels of confidence and self-report greater ICT proficiency than girls do. This may skew results and make it seem that boys have higher skill levels.

Do girls really have less access? We often hear that girls have less access than boys. The evidence gathered for this particular report found that “yes and no.” In some places, when researchers asked “Do you have access to a mobile,” there was not a huge difference between urban and rural or between boys and girls. When they dug deeper, however, it became more complicated. In the case of Zambia, access and ownership were similar for boys and girls, but fewer girls were connecting at all to the Internet as compared to boys. Understanding connectivity and use was quite complicated.

What are girls vs. boys doing online? This is an important factor when thinking about what solutions are applicable to which situation(s). Differences came up here in the study. In Argentina, girls were doing certain activities more frequently, such as chatting and looking for information, but they were not gaming. In Zambia, girls were doing some things less often than boys; for example, fewer girls than boys were looking for health information, although the number was still significant. A notable finding was that both girls and boys were accessing general health information more often than they were accessing sensitive information, such as sexual health or mental health.

What are the risks in the online world? A qualitative portion of the study in Kenya used focus groups with girls and boys, and asked about their uses and experience of risk. Many out-of-school girls aged 15-17 reported that they used social media as a way to meet a potential partner to help them out of their financial situation. They reported riskier behavior, contact with older men, and relationships more often than girls who were in school. Girls in general were more likely to report unpleasant online encounters than boys, for example, request for self-exposure photos.

Hiding social media use. Most of the young people that researchers spoke with in Kenya were hiding social media use from their parents, who disapproved of it. This is an important point to note in C4D efforts that plan on using social media, and program designers will want to take parental attitudes about different media and communication channels into consideration as they design C4D programs.


When implementing programs, it is noteworthy how boys and girls tend to use ICT and media tools. Gender issues often manifest themselves right away. “The boys grab the cameras, the boys sit down first at the computers.” If practitioners don’t create special rules and a safe space for girls to participate, girls may be marginalized. In practical ICT and media work, it’s common for boys and girls to take on certain roles. “Some girls like to go on camera, but more often they tend to facilitate what is being done rather than star in it.” The gender gap in ICT access and use, where it exists, is a reflection of the power gaps of society in general.

In the most rural areas, even when people have access, they usually don’t have the resources and skills to use ICTs.  Very simple challenges can affect girls’ ability to participate in projects, for example, oftentimes a project will hold training at times when it’s difficult for girls to attend. Unless someone systematically goes through and applies a gender lens to a program, organizations often don’t notice the challenges girls may face in participating. It’s not enough to do gender training or measure gender once a year; gendered approaches needs to be built into program design.

Long-terms interventions are needed if the goal is to emancipate girls, help them learn better, graduate, postpone pregnancy, and get a job. This cannot be done in a year with a simple project that has only one focus, because girls are dealing with education, healthcare, and a whole series of very entrenched social issues. What’s needed is to follow a cohort of girls and to provide information and support across all these sectors over the long-term.

Key points:

Engaging boys and men: Negative reactions from men are a concern if and when girls and women start to feel more empowered or to access resources. For example, some mobile money and cash transfer programs direct funds to girls and women, and some studies have found that violence against women increases when women start to have more money and more freedom. Another study, however, of a small-scale effort that provides unconditional cash transfers to girls ages 18-19 in rural Kenya, is demonstrating just the opposite: girls have been able to say where money is spent and the gender dynamics have improved. This raises the question of whether program methodologies need to be oriented towards engaging boys and men and involving them in changing gender dynamics, and whether engaging boys and men can help avoid an increase in violence. Working with boys to become “girl champions” was cited as a way to help to bring boys into the process as advocates and role models.

Girls as producers, not just consumers. ICTs are not only tools for sending content to girls. Some programs are working to help girls produce content and create digital stories in their own languages. Sometimes these stories are used to advocate to decision makers for change in favor of girls and their agendas. Digital stories are being used as part of research processes and to support monitoring, evaluation and accountability work through ‘real-time’ data.

ICTs and social accountability. Digital tools are helping young people address accountability issues and inform local and national development processes. In some cases, youth are able to use simple, narrow bandwidth tools to keep up to date on actions of government officials or to respond to surveys to voice their priorities. Online tools can also lead to offline, face-to-face engagement. One issue, however, is that in some countries, youth are able to establish communication with national government ministers (because there is national-level capacity and infrastructure) but at local level there is very little chance or capability for engagement with elected officials, who are unprepared to respond and engage with youth or via social media. Youth therefore tend to bypass local government and communicate with national government. There is a need for capacity building at local level and decentralized policies and practices so that response capacity is strengthened.

Do ICTs marginalize girls? Some Salon participants worried that as conversations and information increasingly move to a digital environment, ICTs are magnifying the information and communication divide and further marginalizing some girls. Others felt that the fact that we are able to reach the majority of the world’s population now is very significant, and the inability to reach absolutely everyone doesn’t mean we should stop using ICTs. For this very reason – because sharing of information is increasingly digital – we should continue working to get more girls online and strengthen their confidence and abilities to use ICTs.

Many thanks to UNICEF for hosting the Salon!

(Salons operate under Chatham House Rule, thus no attribution has been given in the above summary. Sign up here if you’d like to attend Salons in the future!)

*Disclosure: I co-authored this report with Keshet Bachan.

Unemployment, Poverty and Brain Drain: Italy's Crisis Only Getting Worse

Italians’ ever-emptier shopping basket
Picture: Shutterstock

While repeated tragedies [en] in the so-called “Mare mortum” (literally “Dead sea”) off the coast of Lampedusa occupy the headlines of traditional media and social networks, Italians are still in the midst of an economic crisis that offers no sign of ending: the poverty rate continues to increase and so does the number of highly educated people leaving the country.

In the second half of October, a dossier entitled “New Poverty in Italy. Italians that Help“, presented by Coldiretti at the International Agriculture and Food Forum in Cernobbio, captured a worrying situation of hunger in Italy.

On the blog articolotre, Gea Ceccarelli revealed:

Secondo quanto rivelato dall'associazione, gli italiani indigenti che hanno ricevuto attraverso canali no-profit pacchi alimentari o pasti gratuiti sono stati quasi 4,1 mlioni. Circa 303.485 di questi nuovi poveri hanno potuto beneficiare dei servizi mensa, mentre 3.764.765 sono stati coloro che, vergognandosi, hanno preferito richiedere pacchi a casa.

As revealed by the association, there are more than 4.1 million poverty-stricken Italians that have received food through non-profit food parcels or free meals. Approximately 303,485 of these new poor people have benefited from canteen services, while 3,764,765, too ashamed, chose to take home food packs.

For its part, the website provided details of the most affected social class:

Insieme a 579mila anziani con oltre 65 anni di età (+14% rispetto al 2012), in Italia ci sono ben 428.587 bambini con meno di 5 anni di età che nel 2013 hanno avuto bisogno di aiuto per poter semplicemente bere il latte o mangiare, con un aumento record del 13 per cento rispetto allo scorso anno; ma ad aumentare con un tasso superiore alla media è stato anche il numero di anziani, ben 578.583 over 65 anni di età (+14% rispetto al 2012), che sono dovuti ricorrere ad aiuti alimentari.

Together with 579,000 over 65 year olds (+14 percent compared to 2012), in Italy there were 428,587 children under the age of 5 who in 2013 needed help just to be able to drink milk or eat; however, what increased at an above average rate was the number of elderly people, 578,583 over 65 year olds (+14 percent compared to 2012), who have had to resort to food aid.

Hit hard by the crisis, Italian families save on everything, or have to forgo the purchase of essential goods. The website reported:

Sei italiani su dieci, hanno tagliato le spese per l’alimentazione, che ha raggiunto il livello più basso degli ultimi venti anni. Nel 2013 il crollo è proseguito con le famiglie italiane che hanno tagliato gli acquisti per l’alimentazione, dall’olio di oliva extravergine (-9%) al pesce (-13%), dalla pasta (-9%) al latte (-8%), dall’ortofrutta (-3%) alla carne, sulla base delle elaborazioni su dati Ismea-Gfk Eurisko relativi ai primi otto mesi dell’anno che fanno registrare complessivamente un taglio del 4% nella spesa alimentare delle famiglie italiane. 

Six out of ten Italians have cut their food expenditure, which has now reached the lowest level of the last 20 years. In 2013 the collapse continued with Italian families cutting food purchases, from extra virgin olive oil (-9 percent) to fish (-13 percent), pasta (-9 percent), milk (-8 percent), fruit and vegetables (-3 percent) and meat, based on the Ismea-Gfk Eurisko data from the first eight months of the year which show an overall cut of 4 percent in the food expenditure of Italian households. 

Despite the fact some politicians continue to say that the end of the crisis is near, for the moment all there is to see is the deterioration of the situation. The website quoted alarming figures that illustrate the severity of the work situation: 

Gli occupati sono 22.349.000 circa, con una contrazione di 80.000 rispetto il mese precedente e di 490.000 in confronto l’anno passato, facendo così passare il tasso di occupazione al 55,4%. Gli obiettivi europei per il 2020 ci imporrebbero, invece, un tasso di occupazione pari al 67%. I disoccupati, sottolinea l’Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca sono arrivati a quota 3.194.00 circa. Di conseguenza il tasso di inattività (cioè coloro che rientrano nella fascia di attività 15-64) si posiziona al 36,4%, in aumento sia rispetto il mese che l’anno precedente.

There are approximately 22,349,000 employed people, a decrease of 80,000 compared to the previous month and of 490,000 compared to last year, thus causing the employment rate to fall to 55.4 percent. The European targets for 2020 would, however, require an employment rate of 67 percent. The unemployed, stresses the National Research Institute, have reached approximately 3,194,00. Consequently, the rate of inactivity (i.e. those who fall into the 15-64 age range) is 36.4 percent, increased compared to both last month and last year.

The website Consumerismo, an online newspaper similar to Codacons, or the Coordination of Associations for the Defense of the Environment and the Rights of Users and Consumers, wrote:

Il tasso di disoccupazione si attesta al 12,5%, in aumento di 0,1 punti percentuali rispetto al mese precedente e di 1,6 punti nei dodici mesi.

slogan di Codacons, tratto da

slogan di Codacons, tratto da

I disoccupati tra 15 e 24 anni sono 654 mila. L’incidenza dei disoccupati di 15-24 anni sulla popolazione in questa fascia di età è pari al 10,9%, in calo di 0,2 punti percentuali rispetto ad agosto ma in crescita di 0,6 punti su base annua. Il tasso di disoccupazione dei 15-24enni, ovvero la quota dei disoccupati sul totale di quelli occupati o in cerca,

è pari al 40,4%, in aumento di 0,2 punti percentuali rispetto al mese precedente e di 4,4 punti nel confronto tendenziale.

Il numero di individui inattivi tra 15 e 64 anni aumenta dello 0,5% rispetto al mese precedente (+71 mila unità) ma rimane sostanzialmente invariato rispetto a dodici mesi prima. Il tasso di inattività si attesta al 36,4%, in aumento di 0,2 punti percentuali in termini congiunturali e di 0,1 punti su base annua.

The unemployment rate stands at 12.5 percent, up 0.1 percent on the previous month and 1.6 percent on the previous 12 months.

Codacons' slogan, from

Codacons’ slogan “Don't swallow the toad!”, from

There are 654,000 unemployed people between the ages of 15 and 24. The percentage of unemployed 15-24 year olds in this age group is 10.9 percent, down 0.2 percent from August but up 0.6 percent from last year. The number of 15-24-year-old unemployed people, that is the percentage share of total of those employed or seeking employment,

is 40.4 percent, up 0.2 percent on last month and 4.4 percent in the trend comparison.

The number of inactive individuals between 15 and 64 years old increased by 0.5 percent compared to the previous month (+71,000 units) but remains essentially unchanged compared to 12 months earlier. The inactivity rate stands at 36.4 percent, up 0.2 percent in economic terms and 0.1 percent over the year. 

The gender differences are also remarkable, with women being disadvantaged. The website noted:

Se si considera la differenza di genere, il tasso di occupazione maschile, pari al 64,4%, diminuisce di 0,1 punti percentuali rispetto al mese precedente e di 1,7 punti su base annua. Quello femminile, pari al 46,5%, diminuisce di 0,3 punti in termini congiunturali e di 0,7 punti percentuali rispetto a dodici mesi prima. Il tasso di disoccupazione maschile, invece, rimane invariato al 12% rispetto al mese precedente e aumenta di 1,8 punti nei dodici mesi; quello femminile, al 13,2%, aumenta di 0,3 punti rispetto al mese precedente e di 1,3 punti su base annua.

Let's consider the gender difference.  The male employment rate, 64.4 percent, is down 0.1 percent on last month and 1.7 percent on last year. The female employment rate, 46.5 percent, is down 0.3 percent over the short term and down 0.7 percent compared to last year. However, the male unemployment rate remains unchanged at 12 percent compared to last month, an increase of 1.8 percent over last year. The female unemployment rate, at 13.2 percent, is up 0.3 percent compared to last month and 1.3 percent since last year.

“This crisis will last years. Finally a bit of stability.” Satirical cartoon by the artist Altan [en]

By analyzing the Istat data released at the beginning of October, it can be seen that in the first six months of 2013, the purchasing power of households decreased by 1.7 percent compared to the same period in 2012. Based on this, the website concluded

Tradotto in cifre – calcola il Codacons – è come se una famiglia di 3 persone, in appena sei mesi, avesse avuto una perdita equivalente a 594 euro (489 una famiglia di 2 componenti, 654 una di 4), una stangata tanto invisibile quanto disastrosa.

Se si aggiunge il dato reso noto pochi giorni fa dall’Istat, relativo al 2012, con una perdita del potere d’acquisto del 4,7%, la stangata diventa impietosa e assume contorni drammatici. In un anno e mezzo è come se una famiglia di 3 persone avesse avuto una tassa invisibile pari a 2.236 euro!!!!

Expressed as figures – calculated the Codacons – it's as if a family of 3 people in just six months has lost the equivalent of 594 euros [about 800 US dollars] (489 for a family of two, 654 for one of 4), an invisible but disastrous blow.

If you add to this the data for 2012 released just a few days ago by Istat, with a loss of purchasing power of 4.7 percent, the blow becomes merciless and takes on dramatic profile. In a year and a half it's as if a family of 3 has been subjected to an invisible tax that amounts to 2,236 euros [about 3,020 US dollars]!!!!

With the increase of poverty, the number of solidarity initiatives also has increased. In fact, the website reported that:

…Si contano nel 2013 ben 15.067 strutture periferiche (mense e centri di distribuzione) promosse da 242 enti caritativi che fanno riferimento a 7 organizzazioni (Croce Rossa Italiana, Caritas Italiana, Fondazione Banco Alimentare, Banco delle Opere di Carità, Associazione “Sempre insieme per la Pace”, Comunità di Sant’Egidio, Associazione Banco Alimentare Roma) ufficialmente riconosciute dall'Agenzia per le Erogazioni in Agricoltura (Agea) che si occupa della distribuzione degli aiuti. Per quanto riguarda la tipologia di aiuto alimentare offerto – conclude la Coldiretti – i formaggi rappresentano circa il 28 per cento in valore, seguiti da pasta e pastina per bimbi e anziani, che assorbono il 18 per cento del costo, dal latte con il 14 per cento, dai biscotti (12 per cento), dal riso (8 per cento), dall’olio di girasole (6 per cento), dalla polpa di pomodoro (4 per cento) e, a seguire, legumi, confetture e farina.

….In 2013 there are 15,067 peripheral structures (canteens and distribution centres) maintained by 242 charitable organisations which refer to seven organisations (Italian Red Cross, Caritas Italia, Food Bank Foundation, Charitable Works Bank, “Together for peace” Association, the Sant'Egidio Community, Rome Food Bank Association) officially recognised by the Agency for Agricultural Payments (Agea) that deals with the distribution of aid. With regards to the type of food aid offered – concludes Coldiretti – the cheeses account for about 28 percent of the total value, followed by pasta and pastina for children and adults, who account for 18 percent of the costs, milk at 14 percent, biscuits (12 percent), rice (8 percent), sunflower oil (6 percent), tomato pulp (4 percent) and, finally, vegetables, jams and flour.

Commenting on the latest Istat figures on the employment situation, the website said:

Meno di due giovani su dieci lavorano, anche se bisogna contemplare all’interno di questo dato la presenza dei minorenni e quindi degli studenti. Di fatto il dato più preoccupante è la disoccupazione giovanile, ovvero la quota dei disoccupati sul totale di quelli occupati o in cerca, che a settembre è arrivata al 40,4%, in aumento dello 0,2% rispetto ad agosto e di 4,4% nel confronto annuo.

Less than two out of ten young people work, although we have to consider also minors and students. In fact, the most worrying figure is youth unemployment, more specifically the number of young unemployed people compared to the total of those employed or seeking employment, which in September came to 40.4 percent, an increase of 0.2 percent compared to August and 4.4 percent over the last year.

On Twitter, the problem was also deeply felt:

Six million without #work, half of them do not even seek it any more. And above all it is the #young who are disheartened. #crisis #unemployment

Young people have to hope for the future, but the strength to carry on, the 40/60 age group is paying for the crisis. #suicides #crisis

The immediate consequence of this dramatic situation, in addition to youth unemployment (which has arrived at the levels of 1977, over 40 percent) is the increase in emigration to other countries.

Cartoon strip: brains leaving Italy – Source Il nazionale

More than 400,000 Italian graduates and doctoral students have fled from Italy, and 59 percent of young people left behind would like to leave the country due to lack of employment prospects in Italy. 

Another complication in the future will be the Italian population: in 2030, or 16 years time, there will be more over 65-year-olds than active citizens. Not even the influx of foreign immigrants can compensate for the brain drain: the many recent arrivals are due to the situations in Africa and in the Arab countries, but the phenomenon was previously already decreasing; economically more dynamic countries are the new objective, not the Italy of unemployment and economic crisis. Encompassing the Emerging Talent in the Middle East

October 10 saw the official launch of, a novel independent platform whose founders are based in Egypt. Abdel-Rahman Hussein, one of the people behind, explains what it aims to achieve:

The rationale behind it was our desire to create an audio platform that would manage to encompass a wide array of emerging talent in the region, in their respective arenas. It is a platform for expression, in whatever guise, and the flip side of that is the hope that this expression finds an engaged audience via the platform.

Screenshot of front page.

Screenshot of front page.

China: School Forces Students To Participate in Forced Demolition

Joe from ChinaSMACK translated a news story about a middle school in Guiyang city, Guizhou province, that forced students to wear SWAT police uniforms and participate in the demolition of illegal structures. In China, demolition armies are as notorious as Chengguan on account of their violent actions against rural villagers who resist land grabbing.

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