sorcery killings in Papua New GuineaSorcery — like something out of Harry Potter movies— receives a lot of focus around fall, especially on Halloween. It is a common lighthearted joke of the season. However, sorcery, magic and witches are a strong legitimate belief in some cultures, especially in Papua New Guinea. Sorcery, also known as “sanguma,” is a life or death issue in Papua New Guinea — sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea are all too common.

These murders rarely make the news, and police protection is unreliable. Those mainly accused of witchcraft and sorcery are women, which leads to gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Since 2013, Papua New Guinea’s government has been attempting to stop this modern-day witch hunt. Despite their efforts, it’s harder than it seems. One main obstacle is the lack of awareness. This problem only gained global attention in 2017. The people of Papua New Guinea accused Justice, a 7-year-old girl, of using dark magic.

The History

Sorcery killings have been occurring in Papua New Guinea for centuries. For a period of time, their law even legalized the killings. In 1971, the Papua New Guinea government passed the Sorcery Act. This law made sorcery an illegal and criminalized act. It also made sorcery a legal defense when it came to murder trials. The act affirmed that magic is a real, plausible belief in their culture, which can be punishable by death.

Between 1980 and 2012, sorcery killings resulted in only 19 charges of murders or willful murders. Then in 2013, the Sorcery Act was repealed (the part about sorcery as an acceptable murder defense). Witchcraft practitioners were (and are) still imposed with the death penalty — although, there have been no executions since 1954.

Additionally in 2013, the government passed a Family Protection Act. The new act criminalized domestic violence and allowed women to acquire protection orders. But according to Human Rights Watch, the implementation of the law is weak.

Despite the new legal repercussions, death rates have continued to increase. Locals believe up to 50,000 people have been accused over the years, and there are 200 sorcery killings annually.

Recent Occurrences

Sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea continue today is because of the lack of punishment and law enforcement. Many public events have occurred when it comes to sorcery killings, many of which fly under the media’s radar.

In a 2016 case, four women were accused of stealing a man’s heart. After condemning the women for witchcraft, villagers attacked the women and forced them to return his heart. The man made a full recovery with his “returned” heart. While the man lived, a video surfaced of the burning, torture and death of all four women. Justice, the 7-year-old girl who gained global attention, was accused of the same act. Likewise, her village captured and tortured her for five days.

Positive Change

Papua New Guinea’s government has been upholding their decision to hold individuals accountable for sorcery killings. In 2017, The National Council agreed that eight men were to receive the death penalty for a sorcery-related killing. Further, the government raised $2.9 million for “sorcery awareness and education programs.”

There are even foundations, such as the PNG Tribal Foundation, dedicated to helping Papua New Guinea. The organizations fight to change the country’s societal views on women, engage in new health care programs, open women’s forums and help at-risk youth. The PNG Tribal Foundation actually helped create a plan to save 7-year-old Justice from her village.

Hopefully, change is on the rise when it comes to sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea and the associated gender-based violence. Papua New Guinea can begin to turn things around if they put into place more properly enforced laws.

Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

sex education in the PhilippinesThe general purpose of sex education is to inform youth on topics including sex, sexuality and bodily development. Quality sex education can lead to better prevention in STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, it decreases the risks of having unsafe sex and increases responsible family planning. To help address issues, like overpopulation, high rates of teen pregnancy and the rise of HIV, the Philippines is gradually implementing sex education and accessibility to contraceptives.

Reproductive Health Act

The Philippines passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Act) after a 14-year wait. Through the act, the government integrated sex education into the public school curriculum for students ages 10 to 19. The Philippines also gave funding for free or subsidized contraceptives at health centers and public schools.

The government passed the RH Act in response to the many health issues impacting the country, such as infant mortality, pregnancy-related deaths and a rise in HIV/AIDS cases. Moreover, teen pregnancies in the Philippines are common, where 9% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 start child bearing.

Lack of knowledge about reproductive health is significantly associated with poverty, especially in regard to overpopulation. Therefore, the RH Act aims to help the population make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It provides more equal access to sex education, while also ensuring that the government reaffirms its commitment to protecting women’s reproductive rights, providing accessible family planning information, and hiring skilled maternal health professionals to work in both urban and rural areas of the Philippines.

Opposition from the Catholic Church

Around 80% of the Philippine population identifies as Roman Catholic. Accordingly, the Catholic Church largely influences the state of sex education in the country. The Catholic Church opposes sex outside of marriage and fears sex education will increase sexual relations. The Catholic Church consequently remains critical of the RH Act, increasing difficulties in putting the RH Act into concrete action.

Additionally, the Catholic Church opposes implementing sex education in schools as well as the distribution of contraceptives. The Church prefers to rely on parents to teach their kids about reproductive health. However, many families are either unequipped to do so or will not address the subject directly with their children.

The Implementation of the RH Act

In an effort to reduce the country’s rate of poverty, Philippine President, Rodrigo Duerte, ordered the government to provide access to free contraceptives for six million women in 2017. Duerte aimed to fulfill unmet family planning needs. This came after a restraining order was placed on the RH Act in 2015. However, the government appealed to lift the restraining order to continue applying the RH Act and addressing issues due to overpopulation.

In 2019, Save the Children Philippines — an organization with the purpose of supporting Filipino children — advocated for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention bill. The organization also fought for requiring schools to fully integrate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) into their curriculum. Save the Children Philippines hopes to combat the country’s high rate of teen pregnancy. CSE in the Philippines includes topics such as consent, sexual violence, contraceptives and others. The bill would also advance access to reproductive health services, further supplementing the goals of the RH Act.

Increased Conversation Surrounding Sex Education

In addition to greater governmental action, there are various organizations that are working to increase access to sex education and services in the Philippines. The Roots of Health is a nongovernmental organization that provides sex education to women in Palawan and Puerto Princesa. Started in 2009, the founders, Dr. Susan Evangelista and Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, initially provided reproductive health classes at Palawan State University in Puerto Princesa and have since expanded into free clinical services for young women. The Roots of Health provides services that assist with birth, reproductive healthcare, contraceptives, prenatal and postpartum check-ups, and ultrasounds. By 2018, they served 20,000 women and adolescents in the Palawan and Puerto Princesa communities, demonstrating that there is a growing grassroots movement towards reframing reproductive health in the Philippines.

Sex education will remain a controversial subject in the Philippines. Nonetheless, it is a developing matter that is expected to evolve with continued conversations between governmental, faith and nongovernmental actors.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Livelihoods in Brunei are ImprovingBrunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Some statistics about the country still remain unknown like the percentage of Bruneians that live in poverty. This is due to the fact that Brunei still does not have a poverty line as of 2018. However, one can use other means to measure Brunei’s poverty. Additionally, other data can help ascertain whether or not livelihoods in Brunei are improving their unquantified impoverished situations.

One way to look at this is the Economic Freedom Index Score (EFIS). One can think of this as Bruneians’ freedom of choice as well as their ability to acquire and use goods. Brunei’s EFIS is 66.6, and it ranks 61 out of 180 countries. Singapore, the top country, comes in at 89.4, making it the world’s most free economy in the 2020 Index. Then there is North Korea, the bottom country, which has a score of 4.2. Despite Brunei’s moderate EFIS score, the country is working to boost that number. Here are three ways livelihoods in Brunei are improving.

1. Self-Empowerment Initiatives

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah says Brunei has drafted “self-empowerment initiatives” to create more job and entrepreneurship freedoms. Oil and gas production supply 90% of government revenue and 90% of exports. However, these industries have limited job opportunities.

Now, the country strives for economic diversification to reduce reliance on oil and gas. To support these endeavors, the administration will simplify the processes to start a business and develop business regulations. The most significant changes were amending certain laws allowing businesses and investors to operate without a license and reducing the wait times for a business to open.

2. Employment

Unemployment rates — regardless of education level — are high. Although, Bruneians with a vocational background have the highest rates of unemployment. The youth are also at risk of higher rates of unemployment. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the unemployment rate among young Brunei increased from 25.3% to 28.9% in 2019 — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was the highest percentage.

A suggestion from the IMF is to invest in technology and digitalization to capitalize on the tech-savvy generation. Also, the Manpower Planning Council is setting up a labor-management information system to lower unemployment among college graduates. This will be a cooperation between government agencies, the private sector and education institutions to ensure the turnout of employable graduates.

3. Welfare

The Sultan also says that people’s welfare is of utmost importance. This assertion stems from taqwa, the basic Islamic principle of God-consciousness together with brotherhood, equality, fairness and justice. This concept is the basis of true Islamic societies.

With this in mind, livelihoods in Brunei are improving by adjusting the financial aid requirements. This effort attempts to lift benefit recipients out of poverty and continue to provide assistance to citizens who need it. With these new rules, the government will be able to map welfare recipients and learn where there is a need to advance workforce skills and job opportunities. The implementation of this new system is more important than ever before due to COVID-19 and an expected increase of benefit recipients. Now, however, Brunei authorities can better prepare themselves to leave no one behind, per taqwa.

Overall, livelihoods in Brunei are improving. The administration has focused itself on economic diversification to be less reliant on oil and gas. The unemployment rate has increased, but the country is undergoing steps to combat that with education and jobs. Also, Brunei is updating welfare programs to include further applicant information. This will assist in financial help as well as learning where education or job options are a factor in poverty.

These changes could create a cycle of prosperity and bring more Bruneians out of poverty. However, Brunei needs to create a poverty line. That way, it can more accurately assess its poverty situation and how much progress it still needs.

Heather Babka
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Brazil
After the end of a 20-year military dictatorship, significant action began to take place regarding healthcare in Brazil. As a result of the long political struggle, healthcare as a right became enshrined in the Constitution in 1988. The Sistema Único de Saúde is the name of the public healthcare system in Brazil. Decentralized in its nature, both state and federal governments finance the system.

After a major reform in 1996, nearly 70% of the Brazilian population uses this system. The people who need it the most are those who cannot afford private health insurance, which tends to be the lower middle class, especially those who live in impoverished areas like the favelas. According to James Macinko, an associate professor of public health, the reform resulted in “Brazil [having] the lowest rate of catastrophic health expenditures (2.2 percent) of nearly any other country in the region.”

How the System Works

The system’s promise is providing equitable healthcare in Brazil, regardless of one’s socioeconomic background. As a result, many people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds received healthcare. In 1994, the government started an initiative called the Family Health Strategy. The program intended to provide healthcare services in people’s homes. While the intention of the program was not to strictly target the poor, those who reaped the greatest benefits were people of low income and living in impoverished areas.

The program was a medical success. It improved data accuracy regarding mortality, increased immunization rates to 100% and reduced unnecessary hospitalization for chronic diseases. However, most critically, it reduced the inequity in access and utilization of healthcare services. The government also created a program called Mais Medicos in 2013 which resulted in many foreign doctors (mainly from Cuba) arriving in Brazil and being placed in marginalized communities that lacked much-needed medical care.

Recurring Issues

The situation of healthcare in Brazil does raise a lot of concerns. For one, it is still sensitive to political and economic pressures. An example of this occurred in 2014 when Brazil experienced a deep recession. This resulted in the government taking austerity policies after failing to improve the economy through other means. These other means include price controls and stimulus packages. This led to lower tax revenues and significant cuts in healthcare during 2015.

On the political side, there is a recent example of Prime Minister Jair Bolsonaro capitalizing on the unpopularity of Cuban doctors by the Brazilian medical community. In the process, he made offensive accusations against the foreign professionals, required the doctors to take examinations to practice medicine in Brazil, forbade the Cuban government from taking away 75% of the doctors’ wages and mandated the doctors to have their families move to Brazil. This series of actions have alienated both the Cuban government as well as the Cuban medical practitioners which resulted in many leaving the country. This created a hole and vacuum that the government has tried yet failed to fill using Brazilian doctors. As of January 2019, 1,533 positions remain unfilled. The people who suffer most are the marginalized communities who desperately need those doctors.

Brazil’s Healthcare and Technology

Strong suggestions have emerged that one way to make Brazilian healthcare more resilient is by adding more investments to the existing infrastructure in order to make it more adequate. When it comes to making healthcare in Brazil more efficient, the leading solution providers are tech startups. They hone the power of technological innovation to address the inefficiencies in the system. One example is the startup iClinic, a Software as a Service that helps doctors with visitor management, organization of electronic records and remote telehealth consultations. It has had 22,000 customers which represent 7.5% of the market share.

On the mobile front, there are apps like Dieta e Saude. This has helped over a million and a half people make better choices regarding their dietary and exercise routines. When it comes to prescriptions, Memed is a startup that has emerged to fill the dire need for e-prescription management. It provides its services to more than 50,000 doctors. Errors occur in over 77% of prescriptions due to a lack of digitization. E-prescription management services help by reducing those errors through the use of scanning.

These are just some of the examples that make healthcare in Brazil more efficient, cost-effective and less dependent on the public healthcare system. As a result of these factors, public healthcare in Brazil will be in less need of government spending and less sensitive to political and economic pressures.

– Mustafa Ali
Photo: Pixabay

demand for child rightsWith 25% of Latin America’s population being under the age of 15, an increased demand for child rights is inevitable. As a result, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen gradual implementations of protection for children under the law. Countries in these regions have seen improvements spanning from a growing economy to quality health care.

Health Improvements for Children

One immediate causes for the demand in children’s rights is because of the abuse that many children in impoverished countries endure. Some issues that exemplify the need for child rights are sexual abuse, drug and alcohol consumption and child labor. The health care systems in Latin American countries are responding.

For example, increased demand for child rights in places such as Argentina and Peru has resulted in more representation for children in health care services. Argentina has had children’s rights written in law since 1994. Now, with children included in health plans, child mortality rates have decreased to 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, compared to 12.6 just five years earlier.

Strengthening Written Law

Previously, many children in these countries were not seen as separate individuals until they reached adult age. However, increased children’s rights in certain Latin American and Caribbean countries have improved the livelihoods of the underaged. Children’s rights in Latin America and all across the world have moved to the forefront of many political agendas thanks to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and active citizens.

Countries such as El Salvador have shown that the demand for child rights have proved their international leadership on the issue. There are more than 15 comprehensive laws within the country protecting children and almost 20 international laws protecting El Salvadoran children.

Though the numerous laws, in theory, protect the children, it is not as easy to enforce the laws. A large discrepancy still remains between the sentiment and enforcement of law for the protection of children. Legislature rendered ineffective through lack of enforcement “allows perpetrators of violence against children and adolescents to continue committing the same crimes with no fear of prosecution or punishment.

The BiCE

One organization that has made child rights in Latin America a priority is BiCE, the International Catholic Child Bureau. The organization’s main goal is the preservation of child rights in different countries in Latin American and around the world. Current field projects take place in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru. Most of the projects focus on fighting sexual abuse of children.

BiCE’s projects have many goals that ensure the safety of a child. For the programs fighting sexual abuse, they offer therapy services for recovery. They also train people to learn advocacy techniques for children’s rights. Over 1,000 children in Peru have received help from BiCE and the organization continues to do more in other countries in Latin America.

Most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have written laws and statutes that protect children. However, this has not proved to be enough for the safety of children in these countries. There have been health improvements and decreased poverty rates, but more still needs to be done to enforce the written laws.

Josie Collier
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Comoros
Comoros is a country located in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel. The country relies on tourism and other external projects to help with funding its economy. With a relatively small population of 400 inhabitants per kilometer, Comoros’s population is young, half being under the age of 20. However, as of 2014, 18% of the population lives under the international poverty line. Hunger in Comoros therefore remains a vital issue.

There is limited data regarding hunger in Comoros, but the country’s nutritional and economic needs are clear. In 2014, the poverty rate was 62.30%, an increase of 0.7% compared to 2004. Although the poverty rate has not been increasing drastically, the stagnant high poverty rate dramatically affects the population. For these citizens, ensuring access to agricultural progress is key to reducing hunger in Comoros.

Heifer International

For this success to be possible, organizations such as Heifer International are working to fund the farming population via donations. With contributions from the public, the organization provides cattle, learning opportunities, crops and female empowerment. Heifer International’s work serves to alleviate hunger in Comoros by increasing both agricultural resources and educational opportunities for the entire country.

Heifer International also operates to bring about success for agricultural communities in 21 countries. It bases its work on three different models: community mobilization, training and connection to markets. Each model serves to provide hungry, impoverished communities what they need to provide for their families and their country. Community mobilization allows for teams of people to come together to create change as a whole. Heifer International also has team members work alongside farmers and train them to grow their businesses. The organization provides resources such as seeds and livestock for farmers to have a good head start.

Training and Connections

To help reduce hunger in Comoros, Heifer International’s training comes in the form of teaching farmers how to manage what they have. This training not only helps with maintaining livestock and crops but also allows farmers to develop successful business plans. Managing livestock quantity and learning how to manage a business are skills that stay with the farmers long after their training concludes, helping them to fight hunger in their communities.

With this training in place, having a connection to markets allows farmers to grow their businesses to create more revenue for farming communities. Heifer International helps farmers do this by assisting them with advertising products and selling them in new markets. The organization also provides methods for the public to donate directly to farmers in need. With different amounts of money, people can purchase goats, water for life, a heifer, an alpaca and other items for those in need. The donor can see where their donation is going and the impact it has on the community.

Looking Ahead for Comoros

Hunger continues to be a leading issue for those in poverty. According to Heifer International, 821 million people go hungry every night. With this in mind, organizations such as Heifer International support farming communities to ensure food security for all.

Brooke Young
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Israel
Despite being a high-income country, Israel has one of the highest rates of hunger and poverty in the developed world. Many citizens experience hunger and have relied on NGOs to provide food. They are also asking for the government to take further action, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel is a small country located in the Middle East with an estimated population of 8.7 million people. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt border it. Established as an independent country in 1948, its gross domestic product (GDP) has grown significantly over time. This has made Israel a high-income country.

Food Insecurity in Israel

Despite Israel having the categorization of a high-income country, about 25% of individuals living in Israel experience food insecurity, and up to 40% are living with extreme hunger. According to the Poverty and Social Gaps Annual Report by the National Insurance Institute of Israel, Israel has one of the highest rates of hunger in the developed world. In particular, food insecurity and poverty tend to disproportionately affect:

  1. Orthodox Jewish communities
  2. Arab communities
  3. Single mothers
  4. Elderly individuals
  5. Families
  6. Children

There is adequate food available in the country as a whole. However, there is a notable discrepancy between income levels and nutritious food available. The risk of hunger in Arab and Orthodox Jewish families attributes to potentially larger families and lower employment levels. For ultra-Orthodox Jews, 50% of men and 73% of women do not have employment. Additionally, more than 800,000 children were living in poverty as of 2016. This has resulted in almost one-third of Israeli children experiencing hunger on a regular basis.

The Response of the Israeli Government

In response to hunger in Israel, nonprofit organizations have taken the large responsibility to provide for people in the country. On the other hand, the response of the Israeli government in regard to this issue has left many dissatisfied.

In an interview with Channel 12 in Israel, Minister Tzachi Hanegbi made controversial remarks. He said people in Israel who claim to struggle with food insecurity are talking “nonsense” and are not actually starving. He has since apologized, stating that he intended to convey that “[his interviewers’] extreme and gross criticism of the government creates fear amongst the public, instead of hope,” and that “the government that I am part of works day and night to put Israel back on the track of a healthy and flourishing economy.” Hanegbi’s initial comments have caused public disbelief and outrage in Israel and around the world.

Response of NGOs

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new economic hardships that further complicate efforts to reduce inequality and provide adequate food. Many expect that a major food crisis will occur as a result of the pandemic. GDP in the country has fallen 1.7% in the first quarter of 2020, while it had previously been rising.

As a result, there has been an increasing reliance on NGOs. Leket Israel, the largest food rescue program in the country, fed over 175,000 people in need before the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic and resulting economic situation, it began a new program that delivers food directly to homes. With this program, it sent over 700,000 meals to people, many of whom never needed food assistance before the pandemic.

Other NGOs like Latet and Mazon made significant impacts regarding combating hunger in Israel and providing food to lower-income citizens. Latet is a large NGO that fights food insecurity in Israel and is partnered with 180 other local organizations in the country. It provides monthly assistance to 60,000 families, according to its website.

Policies and Government Efforts

The amount of policies toward the reduction of poverty has increased by 3.4% in 2016 in comparison to the previous year. This demonstrates the importance of continued governmental support.

The Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition has been campaigning for changes toward better nutrition, improved health and environmental sustainability. Some of its projects include creating a data center for public use about nutrition and the environment, counseling municipalities, advancing research and holding the government accountable for advertising misinformation about food and the environment. It holds annual conferences and has had over 60 professional seminars with government officials, policymakers, academic experts and others.

In 2017, there was an increase in the minimum wage. It went from NIS 5,000 per month at the beginning of the year to NIS 5,300 by the end. In addition, in 2016, 80% of households had employment. This has resulted in a reduction in poverty and hunger for elderly individuals, Arab communities and immigrants in Israel. However, since COVID-19, unemployment has again increased within a month from under 4% to nearly 25% in April 2020 and leaving more than 1 million people without jobs. While there is continual progress, the government still relies mostly on NGOs and third-party organizations. Overall, more change must occur to improve the issue of hunger in Israel and support a more balanced world.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Unsplash

Congressional LeadersA Gallup poll taken before the government shutdown of 2018-19 found American’s approval rating of congressional leaders’ job performance at 18%. More recent polls show ratings have improved but remain low, with an average of 24.2% of people approving of Congress, according to Real Clear Politics. Government shutdowns and highly publicized filibusters highlight the challenge of passing bills and contribute to these low approval ratings. In fact, in 2016, after a House of Representatives sit-in over gun control measures, political analyst Larry Jacobs told a Minnesota local CBS affiliate that more than 90% of bills die in Senate or House committees.

However, as USHistory.org notes, passing bills is meant to be difficult with the checks and balances system in place. What’s more, bills do get introduced constantly. For instance, each of the 200 senators and 435 representatives in Congress is involved with at least a few of the hundreds of bills introduced throughout any given leaders’ tenure. Here are five leaders who have been especially active in supporting bills directly impacting the fight against global poverty.

5 Congressional Leaders Tackling Global Poverty Issues

  1. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Susan Collins has been a senator since 1997.  She directly sponsored 18 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 374. Bills she introduced include the Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Support Act, which she introduced in various forms in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015. These bills encourage the U.S. to better help advance an international initiative to make clean cooking accessible to millions of people worldwide. Collins also introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child Acts of 2015, 2017, and 2019—which urge the president to create a five-year strategy to, as the bill states, help end “preventable child and maternal deaths globally by 2030.”
  2. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). A Senator since 1993, Robert Menendez has sponsored 178 and co-sponsored 650 international affairs bills. Menendez’s sponsored bills include the Ebola Eradication Act of 2019, which passed in the Senate in September 2019, the End Tuberculosis Now Act of 2019, which is still under Senate consideration, and the Venezuela Humanitarian Relief, Reconstruction, and Rule of Law Act of 2018.
  3. Representative Lois Frankel (D-Fl). Lois Frankel has been in Congress since 2013. She’s sponsored 12 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 200 with a focus on women’s rights issues abroad. For example, one bill she introduced herself is the Women and Countering Violent Extremism Act of 2019, which authorizes aid to women’s groups abroad that address terrorism-related issues. Frankel also introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act, a bill improving access to education for young girls worldwide. Frankel introduced the initial version in 2018 and passed the new 2019 version in the House in January 2020.
  4. Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ). Christopher Smith has been in Congress since 1981. In that time, he’s sponsored 287 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 1,208. One bill he introduced is the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which directs the U.S. to help treat and eliminate under-the-radar tropical diseases to improve lives in at-risk regions. The bill passed in the House in December and is under review by a Senate committee. Another bill he introduced is the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act of 2018, which extends the programs of the Global Food Security Act of 2016. Smith’s bill was a sibling to a Senate bill that passed through both legislatures first, becoming law in October 2018.
  5. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY). A Congressman since 1989, Eliot Engel has personally introduced 150 bills addressing international affairs issues and co-sponsored an additional 1,312. One bill he introduced is the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017, which calls for the U.S. to assist Venezuela amid its growing humanitarian crisis. The bill passed in the House in December 2017 and is under Senate review. Engel also introduced the Global Fragility Act to “establish the interagency Global Fragility Initiative to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence globally.” This act passed in the House in May 2019 and is under review by the Senate.

These five congressional leaders have worked directly on hundreds of bills addressing issues of global poverty. The examples above are only a snapshot of their individual contributions. These five leaders have had a total of 30 sponsored bills in the international affairs category become law; the process of introducing and passing bills never ends. The upcoming election will determine whether these leaders will continue to build on their legacies or cede their place to new leaders eager to make a mark on the legislative process.

– Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

7 Measures to Tackle COVID-19 in Qatar
Qatar is one of the biggest oil sectors in the Middle East. It has also been the site of a diplomatic crisis after its highly-publicized split from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). COVID-19 in Qatar has spawned a decline in oil prices and in addition, the government has been cracking down on the rights of migrant workers by utilizing digital technology to monitor the spread of the disease. Here are seven facts about COVID-19 in Qatar.

7 Facts About COVID-19 in Qatar

  1. In late March 2020, the government put several square kilometers of industrial zones in Doha, the nation’s capital, on lockdown. The lockdown shut down labor in warehouses, car services and small shops, negatively impacting migrant workers who work in these sectors. In addition, Amnesty International has reported that Qatari authorities are illegally detaining migrant workers and sending them back to their native countries.
  2. Qatar has increased the number of COVID-19 tests by using a drive-through procedure that The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) developed. While thousands underwent testing and quarantine mid-March in Doha’s Industrial Area, increased testing is now available for volunteers.
  3. As of May 7, 2020, Qatar recorded 12 deaths, 18,890 infections and 2,286 recoveries in a population of 2.8 million. These infection rates surpass that of many other countries. Many migrant workers and poorer families make up the newer cases. They often live in small dormitories with up to 12 people sharing bunk beds, making social distancing a challenge. However, the death rate remains low despite higher rates of infection. This may be due to a mostly young population and the stringent lockdowns that the government enforced.
  4. The Gulf economy relies heavily on oil trade and production. Qatar accounts for 12% of the world’s natural gas and petroleum resources. The value of these resources has dropped drastically since the outbreak of the virus. The ruler of Qatar has now postponed up to $8.2 billion on capital expenditure projects.
  5. A law surrounding domestic work in Qatar stipulates that domestic workers can only take time off if their employers grant it. Domestic workers do not have protection under labor laws like factory workers and other jobs. They cannot intersperse rest breaks into their working hours but must work the same amount of shifts. This furthers the risk of contracting the virus. Domestic workers, primarily women, face especially dire consequences. The families that many of these workers serve sometimes also abuse them, causing rising rates of domestic violence. Domestic workers either risk suffering abuse in these houses or contracting the virus.
  6. Qatar Charity launched an online fundraiser in partnership with the Qatari youth initiative, Lakm Al-Ajr, which translates to “Pays for Pay.” The youth initiative distributes 800 breakfast meals every day throughout the holy month of Ramadan. As a result, it has been able to feed 4,000 industrial migrant workers in Doha per day.
  7. The government increased its use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in order to combat the spread of the pandemic. The technology helps to monitor the spread by closely tracking people who tested positive for the virus via speed cameras, drones and location-based tracking. This limits more exposure in the general population.

Qatar is one of the Gulf Nations that has split from the GCC, creating political disruption. In addition, its migrant workers are still in need of basic necessities like food and medical supplies. The presence of COVID-19 in Qatar puts even more strain on the country and international partners that rely on oil. Qatar Charity has implemented several programs in partnership with other organizations to fund COVID-19 relief and is taking donations for further medical help and assistance in Qatar.

– Isabel Corp
Photo: Good Free Photos

Parliamentary System
Many nations around the world use a parliamentary system, a type of representative government that shapes the way the nation functions. While many know the U.S. for its presidential system, most European nations tend to use a parliamentary system, in which citizens vote for a specific party to allocate seats based on the vote percentages. Parliamentary systems are all around the world, each one with its own unique form and institutions. These unique characteristics shape the way countries run and develop. Here is some information about how a parliamentary system works.

Features of a Parliamentary System

The main characteristic of how a parliamentary system works is the “supremacy of the legislative branch,” which runs through a unicameral (one-chamber) or bicameral (two-chamber) parliament. The parliament consists of members who each represent the constituents. The legislative body votes for laws and the head of state can either sign a bill or return it to legislation, showing their agreement or disagreement with the bill. However, parliament can still override the head of state’s veto with a vote.

The Prime Minister leads the executive branch as the head of government. Often in a parliamentary system, the roles of the legislative branch and the executive branch are either “blurred or merged,” because the two branches do not exist to check each other’s power like in the presidential system of the U.S.

Many parliamentary systems also consist of a special constitutional court, which has the right to judicial review and may state a law as unconstitutional if it violates the law of the land or the constitution.

Political Parties, Elections and Voting

In a parliamentary system, the people do not choose the head of government or the Prime Minister. Instead, the members of the legislative branch choose their leader. Voters vote for the party that they want to represent them in parliament. Typically, the majority party chooses an individual to be the Prime Minister. The legislative branch also chooses members to be a part of the executive cabinet. When voting does not give a party a majority, parties tend to form coalitions.

In terms of the electoral system, most parliamentary systems use proportional representation. A proportional representation (PR) system creates a representative body that “reflects the overall distribution” of the voters for each party. It ensures that minority groups still have representation, but only so long as they participate in elections. A PR electoral system has two varieties, a party-list and a mixed-member PR.

Denmark is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates PR into its electoral system. People know its parliament as the Folketing, and the PR system elects its members. Like the United Kingdom, Denmark is also a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government.

On the other hand, many countries use a plurality system, which places power in the hands of an individual from a strong party. Within a plurality system, there are different variations, such as a single-member district plurality system or first-past-the-post system, typically known as a “winner-take-all” system. In this system, voters vote for a candidate whose party they support and want to represent them. India, Canada and the United Kingdom are great examples of parliamentary systems that incorporate a plurality electoral system.

Canada is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates a plurality electoral system. Canada has a unique governmental structure, as it follows the context of the British constitutional monarchy, despite the U.K. and Canada being two separate nations. Its parliament consists of members that receive election through a plurality system in each electoral district. The party that obtains the most votes wins the majority of seats in parliament.

Advantages of a Parliamentary System

The major advantage of how a parliamentary system works is the fact that it allows all parties, large and small, majority and minority, to receive representation and have a voice in the policy-making process. In a presidential system, all power of the executive branch goes into the hands of an individual of the majority party. This can ignore the minority groups, thus creating social and political tensions. The ability of a parliamentary system to form coalitions allows all parties, including the minorities, to have representation. As a result, it minimizes tensions that develop among societies.

– Krishna Panchal
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