REVIEW: Considering South Asia: Reviewed by Moniza Inam
Dawn, April 26, 2008
Missing Links in Sustainable Development: South Asian perspectives
Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)
Sama Editorial & Publishing Services, Karachi; ISBN 969-8784-60-7; 385pp. Rs795
The book under review is an anthology published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on its ninth annual conference. The theme for the year — which is also the title of the book — is Missing Links in Sustainable Development: South Asian perspectives. The collection has been divided into three major sections: gender and human security; economics of globalisation; and peoples’ rights and livelihood. The issues addressed are not new for South Asians. What is distinctive is the manner in which the writers have presented their views both intelligently and creatively. The book presents a thorough evaluation of topics in the broad spectrum of theoretical and policy perspective.
Saba Gul Khatak and Kiran Habib have discussed in detail the issues concerning the security of women in Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to the writers, the situation is rather similar in both countries: ‘The lack of meaningful decentralisation, the existence of factional politics, the normalisation of violence and corruption in everyday life, the denial of rights and freedoms to the common people, especially women and minorities are the issues that concern human security debates in both countries.’
Though women enjoy constitutional guarantees and legal safeguards, their status in the society is very low even by South Asian standards. In this regard, the authors have mentioned traditions such as honour killings, swara and vani in case of Pakistan and fatwas and acid attacks in Bangladesh, apart from trafficking which is a common threat for women dwelling in both nations.
Moreover, structural inequalities and discrimination are rampant in all spheres and at all levels of life. The writers believe that the very structures that are meant to protect the fair sex play a critical role in making them insecure: ‘We have traced the link between the institution of the family, community and the state that collide together to perpetuate women’s subordinate status.’ Nazish Brohi, Urvashi Butalia and Emma Varley have also contributed their papers in this section.
In the second section, Karin Astrid Siegmann has written a very informative paper on gender and economic integration in South Asia. Being traditional societies, the region has the lowest female labour force participation rate globally after the Middle East and North Africa. As a result, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan rank 99 to 107 on the gender development index (GDI). The writer has analysed how global economic integration has influenced and interacted with gender imbalance in South Asia. Her findings are very depressing as the results of globalisation have not trickled down to or had any effect on female workers. As a result, they lag behind in the quest for employment due to their poor educational background and are mostly being hired as unskilled workers in the labour-intensive sector.
In the same section, Rajesh Kumar has written a paper on the prospects of peace between India and Pakistan by following the China Model, which means that New Delhi and Islamabad should aggressively improve their business relationship without worrying about addressing unresolved political differences. The China Model enthusiasts hypothesise that Beijing and New Delhi have been able to contain their political differences by adopting a similar strategy.
However, the writer is well aware of the difficulties that lie in the way of peace. There is a strong lobby — extremists and certain sections of the military with vested interests in maintaining the status quo in both countries — which is not ready to yield any kind of concessions and believes in the total annihilation of the opponent. Though the Indian government is more open to the idea, Pakistan’s stand is more unequivocal and it is not ready to put the Kashmir issue on the backburner.
In present circumstances, this is very unfortunate because they are still trapped in the Cold War mindset whereas the rest of the world is making unbridled progress in trade and globalisation. Adding insult to injury is the fact that South Asia remains the most impoverished region in the world in terms of income as well as human development indicators such as health and education. It is said that the largest number of poor in the world live in South Asia.
In the last section, Sobia Nazir and Abid Qauiyum Suleri have assessed the state of livelihood assets in the earthquake-affected areas in Pakistan. There is no doubt that the October 8, 2005 earthquake was the worst natural calamity to hit the region in recent history. Nearly 87,000 people were killed, three million have been affected and approximately 500,000 households lost their livelihood. The disaster has changed the social dynamics of the region, and at the same time damaged the sufferers’ potential earning capacities. The paper has analysed the dilemma of the affected people in a very logical and scientific manner and has also provided policy recommendations as well.
Analysing the findings of their research, the writers believe that contrary to popular belief, human assets suffered the most significant damage due to the earthquake. The damage resulted in reduced capacity and capability of the local people for earning, dismantling the social set-up and threatening livelihoods. Though natural assets (agricultural land, irrigation system), financial assets (houses, livestock) and physical assets (home appliances, kitchen utensils, bedding, clothing and furniture) were all damaged, with the help of local and international NGOs, the government and philanthropists, a majority of these were repaired or replaced. In this context, Nazir and Suleri have given many policy recommendations to transform this tragedy into an opportunity to rebuild lives and livelihood with more sustainability and resilience. Several other writers have also contributed to this section.
The book is a unique compilation as it contains ideas from activists as well as research and policy communities on different issues across South Asia. It emphasises pro-women, pro-poor and pro-people approaches in a local, national, regional and global context and suggests steps towards change. It is therefore highly recommended for students, teachers, policy makers, scholars, journalists and development workers.