Is it worth it to be a law-abiding citizen?

This past week, the chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu, called on Nigerian youth to take charge of their country, saying that “a society is built on values” and that the youth should defend their values to affect change. He said “I charge the younger generations to take charge of the country… There is nothing bigger the country can do for you than to call you a citizen.”

It almost sounds like Odinkalu is calling for a proletariat revolution. On the one hand, I completely agree that if people are unsatisfied, they need to hold their governments accountable. (Arab Spring, anyone?) Across Africa, governments are not held accountable and corruption levels are extremely high. According to the Credit Suisse Research Institutes’ 2013 Global Wealth Report, while global household wealth is now “USD 51,600 per adult, a new all-time high for average net worth, [this] average global value masks considerable variation across countries and regions.” This global pattern is mimicked in Africa’s wealth patterns: “Half of all African adults are found in the bottom two global wealth deciles. At the same time, wealth inequality within and across countries in Africa is so high that some individuals are found among the top10% of global wealth holders, and even among the top 1%.”

Statements like Odinkalu’s completely ignore the fact that the state has an obligation to its people. Calling on disenfranchised youth to “take charge” of their country is a way of passing the buck- of putting the blame on citizens when the government is failing to do its part to protect them. Nowhere is the wealth gap more severe than in Africa, and Nigeria is one of the continent’s worst offenders.

The purpose of a government is that in exchange for giving up some of your freedom, like not being able to go around murdering people, stealing their land, assaulting with impunity; paying your taxes, and generally being a law-abiding* citizen, the state is supposed to protect you. It is meant to defend you from outside aggressors and domestic terrorists, and you should have access public transportation, healthcare, decent housing, and education. You should be feed your family and be able to drink water that doesn’t make you sick.

These things are not happening in Nigeria.

Sure, there are political elite whose rights are protected, and a middle class that is doing okay, but that is at the expense of many people’s well-being. Combined with South Africa, Nigeria accounts for half of the continent’s GDP thanks to oil revenue and foreign investments, and yet over half the population of Nigeria is living under the poverty line.

If Odinakalu wants things to change in Nigeria, he should start making sure that the government be accountable, and that it promotes and respects its people’s basic rights.

*This doesn’t mean I think all laws should be blindly adhered to, after all there have been, and are still laws that permit, even condone some pretty unjust things.

Gender Discrimination v. Abortion Rights

I am 100 per cent behind a woman’s right to choose what to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. I am completely against “informed consent” laws that require a woman to have an extremely invasive ultrasound before being allowed to go through with the procedure. It seems like a complete waste of time and money to make a woman undergo what I think constitutes a sexual assault before allowing her to exercise something that is her right. I am completely for actual informed consent, when a woman is advised of what the procedure entails, and what risks there are.

I think that any reason for wanting to get an abortion is legitimate. Regardless of how stupid someone else might thing the reason is, it’s still a woman’s decision to decide what happens to her body.

There is one instance where I think abortion restrictions should exist.  The only instance in which I think restrictions on abortion should exist is when it comes to gender-selective abortion. It would be impossible to regulate, because a woman wanting to abort a fetus on the basis of its sex could just give another reason. But if you believe in gender equality, then aborting a fetus simply because she shares the sex of her mother is completely antithetical to what you want achieve. Girls have a right to life, a right that cannot be taken away simply because of their femaleness.

Some states have laws against gender-selective abortions. But as I said before, this is almost impossible to enforce, and preventing a woman from having an abortion when she wants one is a violation of her reproductive rights. But aborting a fetus for being female is an extremely misogynistic act.

India and China, the biggest offenders when it comes to gender-selective abortion due to their sheer population size, are already missing tens of millions of women and girls. India’s 2011 census showed that the country was missing 37 million women and girls, and sociologists estimate that by 2020, there will be 35 million women and girls missing in China.

Some sociologists argue that having so many extra men results in an increase violent crime. There is no positive effect of too few women. On the one hand, women are undervalued by society, which leads to gender-selective abortion, while on the other hand, the deficit of women means that they are in such high demand that they’re kidnapped and forced into marriage- a result of social norms that place a high emphasis on marrying and having children.

Many societies prefer sons because boys are educated whereas girls aren’t, meaning they grow up to be breadwinners, they carry on the family line, they take care of their parents in old age. But girls are also capable of going to school, making money, and without women, no one’s family line would be continued. The only thing that can increase the value of girls and women in people’s eyes is education. Education for girls, so they can reach their full potential. Education for entire societies to realize that girls and women are just as capable of being contributing members and have more to offer than just their wombs. I’m not arguing that girls are identical to boys, but girls are just as important to every family, every society, every country, as boys. Only when this is universally accepted will the worrying gap between men and women be closed.

Is Change Coming to Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan’s presidential election will take place on Tuesday, October 9th. Coercive and undemocratic, the “republic” has concentrated money and power in the hands of the Aliyev family for the last twenty years.

Unfavourable Spread of Wealth

Although the country has $7 billion dollars in oil reserves and strides made towards reducing poverty, many Azerbaijanis live in poverty, with “42 per cent of the rural population [living] below the poverty line, and about 13 per cent of poor people [living] in extreme poverty.”

A 2013 Chatham House meeting summary noted that the government focuses its attention largely on big projects, rather than issues such as healthcare, education, and making it easy for Azerbaijanis to move around- there is “no public transportation in the regions- buses are prohibited and most people do not own cards, which means there are often no means of transports in the villages.” Continue reading

On Gender Nonconformity

Gender is everywhere. Although there is evidence that suggests that, for example ancient Yoruba culture had no gender roles, it is hard to deny their pervasiveness today. From FGM and foot binding (now outlawed), to rigid expectations of manhood, the socially accepted ways in which we are expected to behave are arbitrarily decided on what genitalia we happen to have been born with.

Recently, a six-year old Argentinian was permitted by the state to change her identity. Born a boy named Manuel, she is now a girl named Lulu. Her mother, Gabriela, told The Telegraph “By accepting that my son was not the son I gave birth to, but a girl, I accepted her identity and put myself at her side.”

I fully support individuals being able to identify as the gender that suits them. That may be neither masculine nor feminine: In some societies, there are people who are considered to be a third gender, neither a man nor a woman. In Nepal, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex Nepalis will be able to register as ‘third gender’ for the first time in the country’s history and campaign openly for legislative seats in the planned Nov. 19 elections.” (source) While politicians have accepted LGBTI individuals, says Purushottam Dahal, a political science professor at Nepal Sanskrit University, traditional society has yet to be as inclusive. Allowing them to appear be registered and run on the tickets of major political parties will pave the way for their acceptance into wider society.

Both the Nepalese and Argentinian governments are setting a good example in supporting their citizens who may not fit into the rigid and sexist roles. Although my ideal world is one in which gender doesn’t exist- where people aren’t given a set of behavioral and sartorial expectations based on how they were born- that scenario is unlikely. Still, Argentina and Nepal are encouraging evidence that societies evolve.