Social inequality in GermanyResearch shows that levels of social inequality in Germany could increase COVID-19 transmission rates among people experiencing poor living and working conditions. Evidence does not conclusively determine that poverty directly causes Germany’s COVID-19 cases. However, it is apparent to scientists and medical professionals that a large number of COVID-19 patients come from low socioeconomic standing. In 2015, 2.8 million German children were at risk of poverty. The influx of migrants flowing into Germany has also increased rates of poverty in Germany.

Poverty and COVID-19

According to the CIA World Factbook, 14.8% of the German population lives below the poverty line as of June 2021. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the North Rhine-Westphalia area has the highest number of COVID-19 cases. The area is home to Gelsenkirchen, the most impoverished German city based on a 2019 report by the Hans Böckler Foundation.

Risks of Overcrowding

Overcrowded living areas are more susceptible to airborne illnesses, medical sociologist Nico Dragono said in an interview with The Borgen Project. In 2019, 8% of Germans lived in overcrowded dwellings, meaning there were fewer rooms compared to inhabitants. This percentage has increased in recent years, according to Statistisches Bundesamt (German Federal Office of Statistics).

In November 2020, statistics showed that 12.7% of the population residing in cities lived in overcrowded dwellings. Comparatively, 5.5% reside in small cities or suburbs and 4% reside in rural areas. Dragono says that social inequality in Germany plays a significant role in the spread of disease across the country’s large cities. This especially impacts those living in close proximity to others. “Infections clustered in the areas of the city where the poor live because there simply was no space,” Dragono says. He says further that with many people living in one household, traveling to school, work and other places holds an increased risk of bringing infections into the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on February 26, 2021, that COVID-19 is transferable through respiratory droplets from people within close proximity of each other. This puts those in poverty at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Those living in areas such as refugee camps and impoverished neighborhoods are especially vulnerable. Therefore, social inequality in Germany may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Migrants Potentially at Higher Risk

Dragono says that, unlike the United States, Germany does not document patients’ ethnicities. In other words, Germany cannot collect the demographics of who contracts COVID-19. He said it appears the association between COVID-19 and social inequality in Germany is universal for migrants and non-migrants. However, many hospitals across Germany reported that close to 90% of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit have an immigrant background, according to Deutsche Welle.

“Migrants are more often poor because they do many of the bad jobs,” Dragono says. There are indications that COVID-19 is more prevalent in the areas inhabited by migrants. “Migrant workers, as they grow older, many have diseases, because in general, they are doing hard work… so their hospitalization rates could be a bit higher.” Dragono says Germans’ social status and income determine how much access they have to quality resources. It is easier for upper-class citizens to purchase masks and use personal travel and they do not have to rely on public transportation or low-quality protective gear.

On June 5, 2021, the German health ministry came under fire regarding a report that dictated its plan to dispose of unusable face masks by giving them to impoverished populations. However, the health ministry released a statement that all of its masks are high quality and receive thorough testing. Any defective masks are put into storage.

Assistance From Caritas Germany

As the virus continues to spread, many organizations are extending assistance to disadvantaged citizens in Germany. Some services translate COVID-19 information into migrants’ languages or modify other services to fit COVID-19 guidelines. Caritas Germany, one of the largest German welfare organizations, typically operates childcare services, homeless shelters and counseling for migrants.

To comply with COVID-19, Caritas began offering online services such as therapy and counseling. The organization also travels to low-income areas and focuses on providing personal protective equipment to those working with the elderly. Many Caritas volunteers use technology to maintain distance while also maintaining communication with patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of volunteers have trained in online counseling.

However, Dragono says that while the country has systems in place to avoid broadening the poverty gap, the serious implications of COVID-19 on social inequality in Germany are yet to emerge. Fortunately, organizations are committed to mitigating some of the impacts of COVID-19 on disadvantaged people in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Unsplash

Globalism Reduces PovertySeveral factions surround globalism, some cite statistical reduction in poverty, while others decry effects on local communities. As in all reductive thinking, oversimplification misstates the complexity, succumbing to the facility of a universal perspective. What is absolutely clear, however, is the initial decades of global trade created categorical winners and losers — the most impoverished 5% gained $.07 in daily income, while the top 1% averaged $70. The theory that globalism reduces poverty is multifaceted, and such, globalism is best described as a “two-way street.”

Global Inequality

As the global pool of wealth undeniably grows, financial resources are increasingly concentrated among a powerful economic cadre, actually increasing global inequality. Subsequently, inter-national economies are seeing more parity, but intra-national wealth distribution is increasingly unequal.

Absent the economic investment from global trade, however, developing nations struggle to modernize. Lacking foreign capital investment to create sustainable industries, an estimated 95% of Indian youth are forced into informal child labor. In the nation-state equivalent of “Sophie’s Choice,” governments are forced to participate while the premise that globalism reduces poverty remains dubious.

Relative and Absolute Poverty

Early returns from globalism showed a reduction in extreme poverty from 36% to 19% between 1990-2008 and capitalists trumpeted imminent eradication of poverty by the benevolent “invisible hand” of market forces. Undoubtedly a monumental achievement, millions have benefited from access to foreign markets.

As always, the devil is in the details. Poverty is an indiscriminate measure, a theoretical categorization defines the powers that be. For the World Bank, poverty is a function of daily income. But, between 1990-2018, the threshold indicating extreme poverty has preposterously risen a mere $0.90 while global GDP grew by $60 trillion during the same period. Given such disproportionality, it is difficult to see how globalism reduces poverty.

Global Poverty or Global Inequality

Ambiguous poverty metrics belie a true consequence of globalism, that the top percentile claimed more than 60% of growth. To retain these substantial gains, it is the providence of influential international corporations and institutions to promote globalism. Exceedingly fungible, poverty metrics become a prism through which various interests and policymakers justify exploitative agendas, often accompanied by stifling conditionalities.

As the International Monetary Fund and European Union counsel draconian measures to fledgling economies, local “governments often find it politically easier to cut the public expenditures for the voiceless” impoverished as connected wealthy classes are “disinclined to share in the necessary fiscal austerity.”

Equally as true in developing nations, entrenched hegemonies have little incentive to shoulder the burden of globalism and frequently siphon economic growth for personal enrichment. Irresponsible stewardship of finances and resources, as always, disproportionately affects voiceless and impoverished communities.

Generations after the ouster of foreign monopoly United Fruit Company from Latin America, indigenous farmers’ share of profit is essentially stagnant as corrupt domestic entities pocket revenue. Globalism reduces poverty only when sufficient protection is guaranteed to populations most at risk of exploitation and achieved only when international, federal, corporate and municipal institutions communicate with disenfranchised communities.

Paternalism in South Africa

Under the best of circumstances, sudden inundation of investment and foreign influence is devastating. For countries without robust legislative institutions, it is cataclysmic. The hyper-racialized-apartheid bureaucracy of South Africa was particularly ill-prepared for the rapid modernization required by globalism.

Despite democratic revolution, political bodies could not address the dual responsibilities of erasing paternalistic and racist policies while simultaneously reentering international trade. After centuries of protectionism and isolation, South African society was a manicured house of cards temperamentally opposed to foreign influence.

The draconian society, which enslaved the Black majority, created a delicate homeostasis and the post-apartheid government was manifestly incapable of protecting the citizenry as globalism began in earnest. A systematically underprivileged class was ripe for exploitation.

Skills-Based Bias

During apartheid, underpaid, low-skill labor provided the engine for economic growth in South Africa. Known as “lumpenproletariat,” these peri-urban shantytown workers relied on the largesse of landed aristocracy for survival.

As a matter of course, economic opportunities through education represented an existential threat to White hegemonies. Because “it is surely the lack of opportunities of the less advantaged that is the real concern” in reducing poverty, undereducated South Africans were dispositionally unable to profit from economic growth.

Compounded by exclusion from land ownership, Black South Africans possessed neither the capital nor the skills for socio-economic gain. Various policy initiatives for Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) have targeted inequality, but generations of subjugation cannot be erased during the short lifespan of South African democracy.

Case Study: South African Winemakers

Overregulation and heavy subsidies throughout the 20th century created an extremely inefficient South African wine industry. Traditional focus on bulk production for domestic markets encouraged widespread plantation of high-yield, low-quality cultivars that were antithetical to international demand for higher quality. With a contorted supply chain entirely unfit for global competition, South African winemakers responded by replanting 50% of vineyards between 1990 and 2005.

To finance these changes, producers required foreign investment. At the behest of multinational distributors, conglomeration through a spate of mergers destabilized traditional market structures — the consolidation of Distillers and Stellenbosch Farmers Winery eliminated 2,000 jobs alone.

Moreover, a weak currency forced producers to rely on foreign capital for infrastructure improvements to replace apartheid-era slave labor. As South African winemakers became increasingly dependent on external financing, mechanization reduced permanent employment by 60%.

The Unequal Distribution of Benefits

Nonetheless, foreign investment allowed the wine industry to grow. Exports increased tenfold during the 90s, and by 2002, South Africa was the fastest-growing sector in the all-important British market. Representing 45% of domestic exports, the fortunes of South African winemakers were existentially linked to unpredictable foreign markets.

But, native producers have seen little benefit. As of 2018, the average return on investment for those costly infrastructure upgrades is an abysmal 2%. And after three decades of democratic rule and countless land reforms, Black ownership in the wine industry is 3%. However, a goal of 20% by 2025 was established in 2007.

A Two-Way Street

In the hyper-competitive wine trade, “survival is not made any easier by the fact that globalization is a two-way street.” The South African wine industry is just one example of countless local communities at the mercy of free markets.

Nonetheless, increased trade and economic growth from globalism affect poverty. The 21st century will be judged by how well the fruits of international wealth are distributed to the most vulnerable populations. As early growing pains subside, poverty eradication is within grasp if the world so chooses.

Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

Chile’s electionOver the weekend of May 15-16, 2021, a very unique election took place in Chile. Chileans voted for mayors, governors and city councilors. The distinctive part of Chile’s election was the vote for 155 representatives who will make up the Constitutional Convention responsible for drafting the new constitution of Chile.

The Need for a New Constitution

Back in 1973, Augusto Pinochet came into power as an authoritarian military dictator. Pinochet drafted a constitution that was reflective of his rule. Since then, Chile has been making the transition to democracy through several presidential administrations, the current being that of President Sebastián Piñera. Pinochet’s 1980 constitution has been a point of contention because many Chileans perceive it as favoring corporations over citizens.

Additionally, the constitution does not even mention indigenous people who account for more than 1.5 million Chileans. Chileans generally want to move away from the old constitution, which symbolizes the move from a transitional period into a full embrace of democracy. A new constitution would allow this to happen. Chile’s election decides who participates in the drafting of this monumental document.

Protests in Chile

Public disapproval came to a head in October 2019 when massive protests swept the South American country. Major cities like Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción experienced riots, looting and several casualties as a result. An increase in subway rates initially triggered the demonstrations. The riots continued over concerns of extreme economic inequality and poor public health and education systems. One of the demands of the protests was to rewrite the constitution. A new constitution was seen as a solution to address the root of all the issues.

In October 2020, Chile’s government held a referendum in response to the protests. The referendum asked Chileans if they would want a new constitution, and if so, Chileans were to specify the type of body they would task with drafting this new constitution. Chileans responded with a majority of more than 78% of the country voting in favor of a new constitution to be drafted by a group elected by popular vote.

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention is the first in the world to have a gender parity requirement. Because of the election, 50% of legislative seats will belong to women. Another milestone is the inclusion of Chile’s indigenous people. Indigenous representatives will account for 17 of the 155 convention seats. Seven of these seats go to the Mapuche, the largest Indigenous community. In recent years, industrial deforestation has wiped out much of the Mapuche lands, greatly harming the community.

In addition, six out of the 155 representatives will come from the LGBTQ+ community. Although the nation is facing great troubles, the achievements of Chile’s election should not be overlooked. The built-in diversity and representation should be cause for global celebration. The majority of seats have gone to independent and opposition candidates. This goes against the right-leaning coalition that is currently in power under President Piñera. Since the “government-backed candidates” now take up only about a quarter of the seats, they are left unable to pass legislation or block dramatic changes.

The Goals of a New Constitution

One of the primary goals of the leftward shift is fighting poverty in Chile, but not in the traditional sense. In terms of GDP per capita, Chile is considered the wealthiest country in South America, but the wealth is distributed very unequally. Chilean’s want the country’s wealth to be distributed equally, which should be reflected in better housing, education and healthcare for all.

Whether through indigenous rights, equitable educational services or the taxation of the wealthy, the Constitutional Convention will figure out how to make Chile a more equitable place. A well-structured and democratic constitution has the potential to bring lasting change to the country and reduce extreme poverty, which is why Chile’s election is such a significant moment in the country’s history.

Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Wealth divide in IndiaIndia is one of the most unequal countries in the world. The rich have been rapidly earning more money while the poor have been struggling to earn enough money to provide for themselves and have access to necessary services. The wealth divide in India has been continuing to expand, affecting women and children the most. The number of billionaires has doubled throughout the past 10 years. This increase has left the middle and lower class behind, harming them in order to profit the wealthy.

Inequality in Numbers

The wealthiest people in India have 77% of the national total amount of wealth. There are a total of 119 billionaires in India. In 2000, there were only nine. These billionaires have a fortune that would take the average worker 941 years to earn. In addition to this, their fortunes have increased by almost 10 times over the past 10 years. More than half of people in India are living in poverty, as about 780 million people live on under $3.10 each day. Almost 75% of people live in villages and earn their money through hard labor. Only 11% own a refrigerator and 35% cannot read and write.

COVID-19 and the Wealth Gap

COVID-19 has hurt India’s middle and lower-class significantly. Throughout the pandemic, billionaires have earned more money while the middle and lower classes have lost money due to the decrease in economic activity and lockdown restrictions. One of the world’s richest men, Mukesh Ambani, earned $30.5 billion in wealth. In addition, Cyrus Poonawala, the founder of Serum Institute of India, added $5.56 billion to his net worth in 2020.

Due to the strict lockdown, which started on March 25, 2020, in India, millions of workers across the country lost their jobs and, as a result, had no source of income. This pushed even more people into poverty, further widening the wealth divide in India. This was also true of middle-class people, as they faced many job losses and pay cuts, resulting in a decrease in income.

CMIE reported that there was a 26% fall in industrial workers since the start of the pandemic. This consisted of small industrial units and enterprises. It also reported that there was a loss in white-collared employees, such as engineers, physicians and teachers. This was the biggest loss among salaried workers. Many also view healthcare as a luxury in India. Only those who have the money to pay for healthcare can obtain decent care in India. As a result, the poorest areas in India have high infant mortality rates and maternal deaths.

Possibilities for Change

People are more likely to succeed if they get a quality education. In Asian countries, rich people are more likely to have had four full years of school than the poor population. As a result, the growing inequality connects a lack of education with a lack of a substantial salary. The divide between the wealthy and the poor requires introducing policies in order to stop inequality and social injustice. Few governments have implemented these kinds of policies. If the government focused more attention on the wealth divide in India, it may be able to put more policies into place.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

Education in Chile
In 1990, Chile democratized after almost two decades under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. His imposition of neoliberalism in the early 1980s, characterized by individualization and competitiveness, dramatically changed education in Chile. Pinochet’s universal educational voucher system set into motion the privatization of education. Three types of schools served children: completely free public schools, fee-based subsidized private schools and non-subsidized private schools that family tuition entirely paid for. Within this system, a student’s socioeconomic status foretold their experiences and educational attainment.

Separate & Unequal

Proponents of privatization argue that giving parents the option to choose the best school for their child leads to competition for student enrollment and thus improved the quality of schools. This promised “choice,” however, was only available to those with the financial resources to afford higher quality, fee-based private schools for their children, leaving underfunded public schools as the only option for impoverished Chilean families.

Marie Gentile, a former teacher for English Opens Doors, a volunteer initiative that the Chilean Ministry of Education supports, told The Borgen Project that she had the opportunity to teach in both a public and a subsidized private school. Gentile reported that teaching in the public school system was “definitely a much different experience. I had a lot of really sweet, engaged kids, but there were also some extreme behavior issues that stemmed from toxic home situations.” She reported that “teaching in a public school was almost always people’s last choice. Once you started teaching in a public school, it was hard to “move up” to a private school, which paid more and had an “easier” student/family population.” Gentile’s experiences show the larger problem of education in Chile and the extreme discrepancy between socioeconomically segregated public and private schools.

The 2015 Program for International Students Assessment indicates that students from the highest quartile in economic status outscored their counterparts in the lowest quartile by about a fourth in science, reading and mathematics. Perpetuating the cyclic nature of poverty is the fact that 60% of students living in poverty, compared with 13% of those from the highest socioeconomic class, enroll in technical-professional programs with the aim of entering the workforce after high school. A student’s socioeconomic status is an accurate predictor of performance in school and postsecondary plans.

Corrective Legislation

Two years after massive student strikes in 2006, the Chilean government passed the Preferential School Subsidy Law (SEP) to “boost student achievement and reduce income-based gaps.” Under SEP, priority students or students from families in the bottom 40% of the income distribution, which would later increase to the bottom 50%, did not have to pay fees and private schools could not deny them due to academic grounds. The effect was that poor families had a wider scope of school choices. Moreover, schools received increased funding to participate in SEP.

To ensure accountability, schools participating in SEP have to administer national assessments. Schools labeled “insufficient” on national assessments for four consecutive years faced potential closure. The Ministry of Education in Chile uses the results of national assessments to “identify the deficits of each [insufficient] school and tailor specific programs that respond’ to those needs,” however, using school closure as a means to improve the system as a whole has undergone fierce debate.

Due to increased choice, funding, accountability and the partial desegregation of schools, the gap in academic performance between the highest and lowest socio-economic rungs of Chilean society narrowed between 2005 and 2012. In fact, the “size of the income-based test-score gap in [4th-grade] mathematics declined by at least one-third.”

Recent Initiatives and Legislation

To improve upon the SEP legislation, in 2016, the government of Michelle Bachelet passed the Inclusion Law. Markedly, this law increases the number of people receiving “priority student” qualification by 20%, does not require the devolvement of economic, social or academic background in the school admissions process for schools receiving government funding, and states that “by 2018, all schools that receive contributions from the state must be organized as non-profit entities.”

Another equalizing legislative measure is “Gratuidad,” a policy that passed in 2016 and makes college tuition-free in Chile for the lowest 60% of the income distribution. This policy has promising impacts on the number of students living in poverty who attend tertiary school. A report found that “15% of Chilean students in the program would have otherwise not sought a college education.” Gratuidad aims to address concerns raised over years of public protests, including that of high college tuition, student loan debt and the “gulf in quality between the institutions attended by the wealthiest and poorest students.”

Wish List

Student advocacy groups continue to fight for more equality in education. A recent priority for student protestors is the termination of the PSU, a prerequisite assessment for applying to college. Students argue that the assessment is biased and favors affluent students and data supports their messaging. In 2018, 30% of the public, 43.5% of subsidized private and 79% of fully private school students obtained the minimum score for college application. The PSU, they argue, is another system that disadvantages the disadvantaged.

Since the fall of Pinochet, governments have tried to mitigate the socioeconomic inequities augmented by the dictator’s education system. Inclusive legislation and a strong national student voice have driven Chile forward in its pursuit of equal education in Chile.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in JapanDespite being a small country, Japan still holds a significant position in the international community by having the third-largest economy in the world. Japan does well in terms of wealth inequality, ranking well below the international average of 0.73, standing at 0.63. Income equality is an important factor in determining the general health status of a country. Specifically, the measurement tends to be an indicator of a country’s mental health prevalence. Countries with a higher rate of wealth inequality tend to have a higher prevalence of mental illness and vice versa. Mental health in Japan is also often impacted by the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

Prevalence of Mental Diseases in Japan

The prevalence of Common Mental Diseases (CMD) in Japan is relatively low. Japan stacks up favorably against the United States, which ranks fourth globally in wealth inequality and has recorded a prevalence of CMD that is approximately three times that of Japan. Compared with China, which has the largest economy in the world after the United States, the rate of CMD in Japan is somewhat similar. Japan’s balanced economy has helped it maintain a low prevalence of mental illness.

One other potential reason for Japan’s low CMD prevalence is the stigma surrounding mental health in Japanese culture. Japanese society has conditioned its members to believe that a mental health disorder is shameful and signifies a lack of willpower. In a June 2018 study on the perception of mental illness in Japan, more than 80% of Japanese participants believed that treatment could cure depressive disorder or schizophrenia but stigma toward people with schizophrenia was still quite apparent.

Mental Illness Stigma

As a result of Japan’s collectively held stigma, persons affected by mental illness often do not seek treatment. One study which looked at the factors of mental health in Japan found that “the proportion of mental health service use by all persons and those with CMD was lower in Japan compared to most high‐income countries from the 2000s to the 2010s.” This suggests that the CMD prevalence rate in Japan is likely higher in reality while mental illnesses are underreported.

Additionally, many Japanese people do not believe that mental illnesses require professional treatment. There are treatments available in the country for many mental health disorders and “almost two-thirds of sufferers never seek help from a health professional.” The responsibility of caring for a mentally ill person usually falls upon the family or relatives.

It is evident that the negative perceptions surrounding mental health in Japan cause many people to suffer in silence. To combat the stigma against mental illness and schizophrenia, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology changed the Japanese name of schizophrenia from seishi buntetsu byo (split-mind disorder) to togo shiccho sho (loss of coordination disorder). Although Japan has yet to celebrate its success in ending stigma, even minor changes illustrate that the country is evolving to no longer neglect mental health.

Looking Ahead

The powerful stigma around mental illness in Japan has kept Japanese people from seeking treatment and simultaneously oppresses mentally ill people. The stable economy of Japan, when paired with appropriate wealth distribution, has partially contributed to a low prevalence of CMD as the two are essentially related. However, since the stigma around mental illness is so prevalent in Japan, the low CMD prevalence in the country can also point to the fact that mental diseases are underreported. Improving the nature of mental health in Japan will require the aid of rewriting social norms and reframing mental illness. Japan’s efforts so far are promising for combating mental health stigma in the country.

Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Inequality in ChileChile is one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous countries in South America. Chile successfully reduced its poverty rate from 7.4% of people living on less than $3.20 a day in 2006 to 1.8% in 2017. Some of Chile’s development growth comes from its free-market economy, which has also been a source of protests due to the inequality that has followed. Chile’s economic growth and poverty reduction made it an “economic miracle.” However, the success of economic growth covered up the growing inequalities in Chile. The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Paul Kubik from DePaul University in Chicago for insight on the growing threat of inequality in Chile.

Problems in Chile’s Growing Economy

The Chilean transition to a free-market economy raised the quality of life for many of its citizens and increased foreign investment into the nation’s businesses but made life harder for Chileans living under the poverty line. Tackling poverty and inequality in a country usually occurs in tandem but the Chilean government has historically focused on reducing poverty while overlooking the inequality issues that come soon after.

In 2019, the Chilean government raised subway fare prices that sparked protests. Why would protests occur due to a small change in subway fare when Chile has a high GDP of $282.3 million? Dr. Kubik states that a high GDP is not the sole indicator of economic development. Long-running inequality in Chile has influenced the rise in protests. Dr. Kubik states further that “It is important to recognize as well that protests over inequality are about more than the economics of the day. Inequality has social dimensions as well, that when considered, help to explain events.”

Gender Inequality in Chile

Besides income inequality, Chile is experiencing gender and quality of life discrepancies based on the types of jobs available to different genders working in the lower class. It is no secret that quality of life diminishes with poverty but women in Chile are experiencing gender-based violence with severe income disparities as they hold one of the lowest unemployment rates in South America.

Legislation exists that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace but there are no criminal implications for perpetrators and no remedies for victims. Furthermore, the legal system does not require equal pay for equal work. It also does not forbid gender discrimination in credit access. Another challenge Chilean women fact is that the default marital property regime automatically makes the husband the head of the house, giving him control of the marital property.

It is possible to have rising rates of inequality in Chile with decreasing poverty rates because experts measure these two rates differently. They measure inequality by the extent to which an economy deviates from an equal distribution of resources, and they look at a variety of marginalized social groups.

Combating Inequality in Santiago and Beyond

Inequality in Chile has reached such an extent that the city of Santiago possesses “high and low class” parks. Public spaces that people can only access due to their income is directly discriminatory against impoverished Chileans.

“Santiago-style inequality” makes poverty harder to track in official statistics. Families that are living above the poverty line are doing so with access to informal credit, which only pushes them further into poverty since they pay 20% more for basic goods. One can blatantly see inequality in the fact that Santiago’s pharmacy chains do not want to operate in impoverished areas of the city. A communist local politician resorted to setting up a “state-run people’s pharmacy” to fill the void.

Some saw the expansion of education as the key to increasing economic growth and opportunity in Chile. As a result, Santiago has multiple universities. However, the existence of stable educational institutions does not mean they are accessible, making it hard to produce the wanted economic expansion. The Chilean government commits just 0.5% of GDP to higher education. Furthermore, “the average university course costs 41% of the average income.” Some university graduates regret the pursuit of tertiary education stating that it did nothing for their job prospects and only increased their debt.

To address this educational barrier, Chile has made some colleges tuition-free for households with the lowest 60% of income. This addresses the issue of high tuition costs that prevent students from enrolling but the secondary costs of education, such as textbooks, transportation and food, do not receive coverage. This still presents a barrier to inclusion and can make completion difficult for many students.

An Inclusive Approach to Development

Dr. Kubik states that development is a complex process. It requires a “coordinated approach that involves political, social and economic dimensions to be successful in the long run.” By focusing less on inequality and more on raising Chile’s GDP, the Chilean government risks different policy conclusions, which can result in clashes between the government and its citizens.

Social and political dimensions include steps the government took to remove all barriers to the completion of education, enforcing inclusionary governmental policies, and in Chile’s case, allowing lower class citizens the same privileges as upper-class citizens. Progress in gender inclusion, education improvements, social acceptance and more, can reduce inequality in Chile.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Cambodia
Women in Cambodia make up over 50% of the population but are still fighting for basic rights and gender equality. Cambodian women are struggling to participate politically, socially and economically because the country’s history and cultural traditions frequently value women less than men. Here is some information about women’s rights in Cambodia.

The State of Women’s Rights in Cambodia

Women’s rights in Cambodia have come a long way in the past years, but the country has not completely abolished gender inequalities. Women in Cambodia still struggle with the wage gap, finding opportunities for higher education, gender-based violence and erasing stigmas and stereotypes. Due to these issues, many NGOs have stepped in to help create change and spread awareness.

The Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Cambodia emerged as a country from conflict and unequal power dynamics between sexes. Since 1992, Cambodia has slowly been pushing toward improving women’s rights along with empowering women to exercise their rights. Implementing CEDAW into its constitution was the first step to put Cambodia on the right track.

The Cambodian government ratified CEDAW in article 31.1 of its constitution in 1992. CEDAW, also known as the “Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” is an international treaty protecting women from discrimination. It takes precedence over laws in Cambodia and many consider it a “fundamental legal basis for implementation.” The constitution also includes further efforts to end discrimination against women in article 45.1.

NGO-CEDAW

The implementation of CEDAW led to the creation of NGO-CEDAW in 1995. NGO-CEDAW is a nonprofit organization that ensures the implementation of CEDAW by creating a good relationship with the government and training all Cambodian women on CEDAW. The organization persuaded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to adopt the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims in 2005 and the Anti-tracking law of 2008. NGO-CEDAW also works with the government to “recommend amendments to the domestic violence law.”

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

Besides NGO-CEDAW, human rights groups like the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) advocate for women’s rights in Cambodia. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights emerged in 1992 and focuses on two programs; monitoring and protecting, and promotion and advocacy. LICADHO is responsible for investigating human rights violations against women and children by the state, providing medical assistance and social work to victims, monitoring prisons to ensure living stable conditions and providing legal advice and representation to unions and victims. LICADHO also creates public reports about human rights cases to inform the public and educates and informs at-risk youths. LICADO brings reform to a national level by working with other NGOs to influence the government.

The Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW)

One in five women in Cambodian report experiencing physical violence since age 15 and half of those women disclosed that they had never told anyone because they believe “there are conditions that justify violence against women.” The Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW) promotes the protection of women by educating, training, advocating, researching and working with national and regional networks to address serious issues that are common in Cambodia such as domestic violence, rape and human trafficking. CAMBOW emerged in 2000 and is an alliance of 35 NGOs and networks that participate in activities involving ending violence against women and children, raise awareness on women’s rights through popular media campaigns and coordinate the exchange of information between the 35 NGOs.

The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation has worked in Cambodia for decades, focusing on increasing women’s and girl’s rights and security, creating economic opportunities and advancing women’s involvement in politics and everyday decision making. The Foundation has discovered that helping empower women is one of the best ways to eliminate poverty and increase development. The Foundation works with local organizations and community leaders to create positive change and teach women the skills they need to reach their full potential. Specifically, the Foundation has provided 116 scholarships to young women in poor families to go to college, offered 1,800 victims of trafficking legal and social support and trained 778 officials from the Royal Government of Cambodia on the National Minimum Standards for the Protection of the Rights of Victims of Trafficking. The Foundation also creates worldwide networks for female councilors and meets with government representatives to inform them of everyday challenges that women face.

International Women’s Day

On March 8, 2019, five NGOs joined Cambodian women to celebrate International Women’s Day at Olympic Stadium after security forces shut their march down earlier. The Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), Women’s Information Center (WIC), The Cambodian Centre for Human rights (CCHR), Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC) encouraged all women to come together to highlight women from all classes, ages and sexualities to share their personal stories. The celebration wanted to show the government that Cambodian women are demanding greater respect and representation; specifically asking for new policies and improved living conditions for all women. On International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020, Cambodian civilizations celebrated by coming together at Democracy Square in Phnom Penh and putting together a fashion show with slogans to promote respect for women’s rights.

Many more NGOs are working to make women’s rights in Cambodia a priority that people respect, uphold and protect. Progress does not occur in one night and as long as these NGOs continue to encourage women to break cultural and social norms, come forward and stand up for themselves, Cambodia as a nation will come to see that men and women are equal.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Pixnio

Updates on SDG Goal 10 in ArgentinaIn Argentina, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic unrest has stalled efforts to close the inequality gap. Before the pandemic hit, Argentina was making progress on a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a framework of global objectives created by the United Nations, designed as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030. The country was “well-positioned” compared to its Latin American counterparts, according to the Argentine Network for International Cooperation (RACI). The onset of COVID-19 has impacted updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina.

Achieving SDG 10: Reducing Inequality

Argentina had been struggling to achieve SDG 10, which focuses on reducing inequalities within a county’s population and among different countries around the world. To measure inequality, the SDGs use a scale of 0 to 100. The lower the score, the closer the country is to achieving economic equality. The goal is to achieve a ranking of 30 or lower by 2030. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina had a ranking of 51. The pandemic has siphoned resources out of the government and stalled updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina and other progressive reforms. On top of that, millions of Argentinians have lost their jobs and inequality is expanding as a result.

President Alberto Fernández

In December 2019, President Alberto Fernández won the presidential election over conservative incumbent, Mauricio Macri. President Fernández’s political style is that of his mentor, former president, Néstor Kirchner. However, “the COVID-19 pandemic might very well shatter the center-left president’s dreams of following in his mentor’s footsteps and bringing social progress and economic growth to Argentina,” writes Hugo Goeury.

Despite Fernandez’s progressive goals for his administration, reforms have all been put on the back burner since the arrival of COVID-19 in Argentina.

Poverty, Unemployment and the Wealth Gap

In the first half of 2020 alone, the poverty rate among Argentinians increased to almost 41%, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas reported, nearly a 5% increase from the previous year. The Central Bank is also predicting the GDP to contract by nearly 11%.

With almost a third of Argentine workers facing unemployment, President Fernandez is scrambling to financially support his unemployed constituents, while also negotiating the country’s debt owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to the World Inequality Database, as of 2019, the top 10% wealthiest Argentinians controlled nearly 40% of the country’s income, while the bottom 50% only possessed 17.9% of the nation’s income.

Better Days Ahead for Argentina

Even though updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina seem especially challenging right now, Argentinians are still
pushing forward to make their country more equitable for everyone. The U.N. says, “In the post-pandemic world, Argentina must strengthen its productive apparatus and continue to eliminate inherited social inequities and those aggravated by COVID-19.”

– Laney Pope
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty and Inflation
Inflation refers to an increase in the prices of goods and services. Poverty and inflation have a close relationship in that a country with high inflation is likely to have high poverty rates as well. An inflation rate measures how much the prices of goods and services change over a year. Many countries struggle with high inflation rates. Most countries have experienced high inflation at some point in history. The U.S., for example, has maintained an inflation rate of around 0%-3% for over a decade. During World War I, however, the U.S. reached an inflation rate of nearly 20%. Today, some countries have negative inflation rates while others have inflation rates over 100%.

Highest Inflation Rates in the World

As of August 2020, the 10 highest inflation rates in the world ranked as follows:

  1. Venezuela – 2,030%
  2. Zimbabwe – 747%
  3. Lebanon – 388%
  4. Syria – 275%
  5. Sudan – 127%
  6. Iran – 99%
  7. Argentina – 66%
  8. Libya – 47%
  9. Brazil – 40%
  10. Turkmenistan – 35%

*There are varying estimates between experts, as inflation can be difficult to measure at higher rates.

Consequences of High Inflation

Dr. Prince Ellis, a professor of economics at the University of Cincinnati, spoke with The Borgen Project about the relationship between poverty and inflation. He explained that Zimbabwe and Venezuela have some of the highest inflation rates in the world. “These are two extremes,” he notes. “The price of goods and services can increase almost about 200% a day.” He used the example of a gallon of milk. If the milk is $2 one day, the very next day, the same gallon could be $6.

Dr. Ellis shared his own experience with inflation in Ghana, where he grew up. “I remember my mom had a store, like a convenience store at my house… And we used to sell general convenience items – bread, rice and milk and stuff like that… We are changing prices each week… She goes to the wholesaler… They change the price [of the goods] like price goes up by 20%. We have to also change it by 20%.” Unsurprisingly, this upsets consumers. Consumers may go to the market expecting an item to cost the same as it did last week. Of course, this is not the case, and they may find themselves suddenly unable to afford the item.

Causes of Inflation

Economists use the term aggregate demand to describe the total amount of demand in an economy. Sometimes the aggregate demand in a country increases too quickly for the country’s production. Because there is so much demand for goods and a scarcity of goods, prices increase. This type of inflation is called demand-pull inflation. Demand-pull inflation is often the result of central banks rapidly increasing the money supply.

Another type of inflation is cost-push inflation. This type of inflation comes from a decrease in aggregate supply. The term aggregate supply describes the total amount of goods or services that people are selling in an economy. When the cost of inputs (resources a producer uses to create the final product they sell) or wages increase rapidly, cost-push inflation may occur. This type of inflation was occurring in Dr. Ellis’s anecdote about his mom’s store. Dr. Ellis said that this type of inflation is common in developing countries because “they rely too much on international markets.” In fact, countries overseas import most of the resources developing countries use for production. If a spike in the prices of international goods occurs, a developing country that relies on the goods will experience a severe drop in aggregate supply.

How Inflation Contributes to Poverty

Poverty and inflation have a connection due to the fact that money has value, and its value can grow or diminish. Poverty is a lack of financial resources, leading to an inability to afford basic needs. In other words, as the cost of basic needs increases, the amount of financial resources necessary to afford those needs also increases. Dr. Ellis described this concept as “purchasing power.” He explained how increasing costs lead to decreasing purchasing power. If a person’s income level does not increase at as high a rate as the inflation increases, they will become poorer.

Poverty and Inflation Inequality

One of the issues regarding poverty and inflation is that high inflation has a disproportionately large negative effect on those struggling with poverty. Inflation inequality describes the disparities between the effects inflation has on middle and upper-class people and lower-class people. There are multiple reasons why inflation affects people with lower incomes more than those with higher incomes. One of the main reasons has to do with the types of jobs these two types of people have. Lower-income people often don’t have much opportunity to negotiate their wages. When prices rise, wages for these individuals tend to stay stagnant for a while. Consequently, their purchasing power plummets. Higher-income people, on the other hand, tend to have jobs with inflation-adjusted benefits. When inflation occurs, these benefits limit the decrease in the individuals’ purchasing powers. This disparity is why during inflationary periods, income gaps widen.

Lessening the Effects of Inflation

There are two important ways entities can decrease the negative effects of inflation.

  1. Using another country’s currency – In countries with extremely high inflation rates, the currency practically loses all value. “What happened to Zimbabwe, for instance, is that the currency is now useless. Now, they are using what the U.S. currency is,” Dr. Ellis explained. Using a foreign currency is a temporary fix. Since different countries have different economic systems and ways that they operate, this method fails to be effective long term.
  2. Inflation-adjusted payments – Dr. Ellis also pointed out that sometimes government payments, like Social Security, undergo adjustment for inflation. Many employers also adjust wages based on inflation. These policies do not decrease inflation, but they increase the amount of money people have, increasing their purchasing power.

Permanent solutions to high inflation require drastic changes to fiscal and monetary policy. Political instability, dependence on foreign nations and unpopular side effects are some of the many reasons countries struggle to curb inflation. However, nations can recover from hyperinflation. One of the most well-known examples of this is Germany after World War I. For 16 months, Germany’s prices quadrupled every month. Now, Germany maintains a yearly inflation rate of just under 2%.

– Jillian Reese
Photo: Flickr