Shit – this is something we really need to talk about.

For our second blog of 2019, we hear from MIDPA’s Managing Blog Editor and Website Editor, Yvanah Hernandez, and her emphasis in gaining support and greater awareness for World Toilet Day.

Toilets.

We don’t give them much thought. Probably not at all. They’re just porcelain-made objects that often sit in our bathroom or have their own special room – hopefully with its own exhaust fan. We all know what goes in there. But do we talk about it? Not really. Do we admire its significance in our life? Probably not. Unless you happen to be a woman, like me, who has had painful experiences standing impatiently in a lengthy queue of a shopping centre, stadium or theatre, waiting to use the bathroom, desperately wishing that the female race was more ‘stereotypically’ efficient in the toilet than men.

Photo Source: The Japan Times 2019, “Restroom Queue,” https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2010/09/26/cartoons/restroom-queue/#.XJC0iBMzY_U

Whether designed for a sitting or squatting posture, toilets safely collect and dispose of our urine and faeces. But they are so much more! They are the world’s sanitation haven. A sanctuary we often neglect and billions of people globally, have no access to one.

UN-Water estimates that 62.5 per cent of the world’s population don’t have access to safe sanitation and 1.8 billion people use drinking water sources that are contaminated with human waste. Okay, so now those white pieces of hardware in our bathrooms seem a little more significant – well, in comparison to how much credit we give them for saving our lives on a daily basis.

Toilets are important. We should hug them for protecting us from contamination, infections and poor health. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t hug them. But we should definitely stop taking them for granted.

Photo Source: World Toilet Day 2018, “World Toilet Day,” http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/resources/social-media/

Increasing global access to toilets, particularly for remote communities improves sanitation levels. It eliminates disease by reducing the risk of diarrhoea and the spread of intestinal worms. It improves health conditions and the impact of malnutrition, particularly on developing and vulnerable bodies. It promotes dignity and safety. It strengthens school attendance, particularly for girls during their menstruation cycle. Undoubtedly, improved sanitation is a human right, no matter where one lives in the world. A study by the World Health Organisation in 2012 calculated that for every US$ 1.00 invested in sanitation, there was a return of US$ 5.50 in lower health costs, more productivity, and fewer premature deaths.

However, increasing access and availability of toilets is an international challenge. Poor sanitation is being exacerbated by global water scarcity, increasing salinisation, climate change, rapid population growth and development. Around 892 million people in the world use no toilet at all. When nature calls, they go out in the open. That means millions of children are growing up with human waste in their environment, putting them at risk of deadly diseases. Therefore, strengthening water efficiency and improving water management for sanitation purposes is critical to balance the world’s increasing sanitation and water demand.

On the 19 November each year, we celebrate World Toilet Day. It’s a day to advocate for every person, no matter where in the world, to have safe access to a toilet by 2030. This is in collaboration with Goal Six of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Whilst November is quite some time in the future, it’s never too early to advocate for everyone’s human right in accessing a safe toilet.

Are you courageous enough to join the movement and get involved?

Join us, and share on your social media, on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people without access to those white porcelain objects in our bathrooms, the importance of toilets!

Want to read more? Click here – http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/

Nature is calling!

Resources:

Lijster, M 2016, “10 reasons we should care about toilets,” viewed 13 March 2019, https://www.eco-business.com/opinion/10-reasons-we-should-care-about-toilets/

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) 2018, “When nature calls, where do you go?” viewed 13 March 2019, https://blogs.unicef.org/blog/when-nature-calls-where-do-you-go/

World Toilet Day 2018, “World Toilet Day,” viewed 13 March 2019 http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/

**Statistics from UN-Water, the World Health Organisation and World Toilet Day gathered from http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/resources/

What is International Development?

For today’s post we hear from 2019 MIDPA President, Emily Meggs, and her dilemma in answering the popular question most International Development students get asked at barbecues- what exactly is International Development?

Photo Source: Australian Artist Solidarity 2019
http://www.australianmaristsolidarity.net.au/first-meeting-marist-international-development-agencies/

A few days ago I was sitting with my friend Hoeun in a café; conversation inevitably turned to our jobs and degrees. We both work in customer service industries, her as a medical receptionist, and myself as a retail sales assistant in a department store. One of the things that we bonded over was the difficulty of explaining our degrees and what it is that we want to do with them with our respective clients. Quite often we hear “oh international development, what’s that?” And so begins the protracted and difficult explanation or tangent of what it is that we study.

A few days ago I was sitting with my friend Hoeun in a café; conversation inevitably turned to our jobs and degrees. We both work in customer service industries, her as a medical receptionist, and myself as a retail sales assistant in a department store. One of the things that we bonded over was the difficulty of explaining our degrees and what it is that we want to do with them with our respective clients. Quite often we hear “oh international development, what’s that?” And so begins the protracted and difficult explanation or tangent of what it is that we study.

I remember the first day of my master’s course, I was so nervous; I felt like I was 17 again and starting university for the first time, who did not know where anything was. The first class that we take looks at the history of and issues related to international development. I spent two hours listening to my lecturer define what is and is not international development, and afterwards, I was still no clearer on how to succinctly define and explain what international development is, let alone describe it to someone who hasn’t heard of it.

All I could conclude was that international development is “fluid” and full of overlapping themes and ideas. Colonies = bad, but decolonisation = troublesome. I could say that international development is rooted in poverty alleviation and ‘third world inequality,’ but that ignores vital work that is done in post-conflict societal reconstruction, sanitation, ethical fashion and decent labour conditions, sustainability, health, and the big, bad elephant in the room; climate change. See, it’s not so simple to describe it.

Sometimes I say international development or NGOs and I hear “oh you mean The U.N.” Who wouldn’t want to work for The U.N., but this cannot be exclusively considered as international development, especially considering the increasing use of contract work, corporate social responsibility, and the encroachment of private enterprise in development. 

Then there are the people that conflate international development with international relations, and you have to tell them “sort of, but not really.” Now I believe that there is overlap between the two, especially because it was a big part of my undergraduate degree, but I also see international relations as a chess game that emphasises the power of both the state and free market. This could not be more different to international development that emphasises the needs of people to improve quality of life and often has to rally against the state and the free market. The overlap occurs between the global governing institutions that regulate debt, money, and resources, often to the detriment of developing economies and lining the pockets of wealthy international creditors.

The final common answer I get is, “ah so you want to save the world.” There are some that do have an idea what development is but assume that you have ideas to change the world, that we can “fix” poverty and the refugee issues that keep coming back into fashion every election cycle. This is not so easy. Now we can have a lengthy and protracted discussion about this, but my mid-twenties brain does not necessarily have the knowledge or experience to solve these issues. I might have general knowledge about these issues, but this may not be my area of expertise or interest due to the broad nature of development.

International development and the issues surrounding it are too complex to merely reduce it to a sentence. Usually, if someone can understand a part of what international developments constitutes, I often think “eh close enough,” rather than spend the next 15 minutes of my shift trying to explain exactly it is what I want to do. International development is so much bigger than the sum of its parts, and after two years and 66 credit points, I am still no closer to being able to succinctly describe what international development is.

On the Record: On Discrimination

For our second segment of On the Record, our Marketing and Partnerships Officer, Javier Icaza Santos reflects on what discrimination means to him, how it affects us on a daily basis, and what that means for development programs. This week’s topic was chosen to honour the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

On the Record 2 (discrimination)

Q. Why did you take this picture?
A. When you asked me to take a picture about discrimination I really did not know what on earth I was going to do… then, one day, I was walking past the Law building and I saw this and I realised it was easier than I thought.

Q. What did you see in particular?
A. If you look closely, you can see how the main group is almost exclusively made of Asian students, and then you can see how even people who are sitting alone tend to sit closer to people from their same race. That was when I realised how much we tend to discriminate, even unconsciously; how much we tend to pick the familiar over opening ourselves up to new people.

Q. Are you referring exclusively to racial discrimination?
A. That was the most evident factor in my picture and something that is quite common in our everyday life, but no. I think we also tend to discriminate based on how we think, not just how we look. Think about it: we tend to spend time with people who share our same values and ideas. I think we can also tend to discriminate based on ideology.

Q. How do you feel that relates to Development?
A. [laughs] That is a deep question! But yeah, I think that this way of thinking affects Development a lot. Nowadays, Development is undoubtedly global and, even with all the different economic systems in place, we all depend on each other. Therefore, if you support programs that favour discrimination -that is to say, favour one race in particular- then that is not development, that is exploitation; that is resource exploitation.

If you would be interested in participating in On The Record, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com

Javier
Marketing & Partnerships (2016)

Development for Peace

FUrrego Main Picture

In order to understand the reason why I decided to study the Masters in International Development Practice at Monash University, I should first provide you with a quick summary of the history of Colombia.

A brief history of Colombian conflict

Colombia was a Spanish colony from the 1500s until its independence in 1810. Its history as an independent country has been strongly marked by violence and war, so much so that just in the Nineteenth Century we had more than four civil wars. The other major impact upon Colombian society nowadays has been the constant ruling of a small elite who have continued the status quo from the colonial era, maintaining the inequality that still characterises the country today.

At the middle of the Twentieth Century, leftist groups emerged wanting to fight the oppression created by this elite. However, the government’s suppression of these groups was so violent, they were forced to flee. And so, guerrilla warfare commenced as they hid deep in the Colombian jungle. This necessity, of the people to fight inequality, brought war again to our country. These groups, in pursuing control of the power themselves, began killing civilians indiscriminately and brought a sense of terror upon the population.

 

A brief history of this Colombian Felipe

Here is where my story begins, by the year 2005 Colombians were tired of this war of terror and gave big support to our armed forces to fight these illegal groups. Right after finishing school, in my willingness to help end the war that had cost too many lives, I joined the Colombian Navy. I have already been ten years in this institution and only now, by the combined effort of the Colombian Armed Forces, have we brought the main illegal group to sit and hold peace negotiations with the government.

All these years in the military have given me the opportunity to get to know almost all the corners of my country, to see the people’s needs and to witness the devastation that war brings. The only thing I could do at that moment as a member of the Navy, was to provide security and try to alleviate basic needs.

 

Linking development and post-conflict Colombia

Over this past decade, in my understanding of the major issues and the experiences I have had, I have come to realise that you cannot fight violence just with stronger armies: that is like fighting fire with fire. What the Colombian Armed Forces need are new ways to help the people, to offer more than just cyclic violence and illegal lives.

My goal here is to learn how to create Sustainable Development programs in isolated communities and communities that have been victims of the conflict. With these programs I hope we will be able to provide more than just the choice of becoming another illegal actor because of the lack of opportunities for a better future.

 

Why a Colombian naval officer at Monash?

In my search to find new tools to help the situation in Colombia, I started to look for other countries or places where I could take a different perspective of my country’s situation from outside the military. Australia and especially Melbourne is a place where I have many friends from back home and also it is considered the most liveable city in the world; what a great place to experience an example of modernity and welfare. I received a scholarship from the private sector in Colombia and the Colombian Navy approved my choice of study to help build new plans for a post-conflict society.

I decided to come to do the Masters in International Development Practice because it provides an opportunity to learn of the different trends in development and how I can better approach my goals and be successful in them. The other aspect that I find very important and interesting about being in this masters, that I had not considered before coming, is that it is full of enthusiastic people from different backgrounds and lived experiences.

MIDP offers a multicultural environment that I enjoy because the students bring their own points of view, different to my own, that are so important to understanding development.

This article expresses the personal opinion of the author and not the opinions of any institution mentioned within.

Felipe Urrego Gonzalez
MIDP Student

ufel2@student.monash.edu

Sense and Sustainability

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 2.27.16 AM

If you knew me growing up you’d probably say I was one of those ‘greenies’. Back in high school I was already active in organizations that aimed to help the environment, I went to summer camps on wildlife and marine conservation, headed reforestation activities, and spent most of my holidays and weekends climbing this mountain and that during my four years in university. It was almost second nature to me to try my best not only to nurture the environment, but also to ensure that my actions and consumption patterns weren’t going to have any negative externalities on earth.

It just made sense to me given my upbringing: ‘unplug appliances when not in use’, ‘take quick showers’, ‘dispose of trash properly’, ‘use less paper’, ‘opt for a reusable bag’ and let’s not forget the good old ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.

Back then I thought that conserving the environment was important, now I know that it is a non-negotiable. This is not only for environmentalists, but also increasingly now for development practitioners. The onset of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) has created the crucial link between the health of the planet and development and progress that the human species has always yearned for.

For me, responsible consumption is the closest and most accessible option that individual citizens have to making sustainability a reality instead of being just another development buzzword. It is important that as consumers, we realize that we have an option just not to blindly consume, but to really think about our purchases. Next time you buy something in the department store spare a few seconds and ask not only the usual ‘do I really need this’, but probe a little deeper and think ‘who made this, where did the raw materials come from, how much raw materials and energy was used, how far did this have to travel just to get to me, how long will this garment really last?’

Those questions not only reflect the cost on the environment but also considers the social and human costs, energy and fuel consumption, and maybe even the planned obsolescence behind certain cheap products that leaves us constantly repurchasing after one or two uses.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil or selfish in consuming, we’ve been consuming resources in order to survive as a specie. What’s problematic though is the mindless consumerism that we’ve set our economies and ultimately our sense of development on. We buy, we discard, the economy grows, but do we even think about the life cycle of the products that we buy. Most people will rarely give a time of day to where their products come from or where they will go to once they’re in the bin. For me, certain ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality has been bred and reinforced by this constant stream of validation on why we need to consume more and more.

The SGD on responsible consumption also highlights that point that the goals are merely guidelines and roadmaps, the solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems that we face can’t be found in them just by agreeing to them. The solutions must come from concrete actions from people, organizations, communities, and governments. However it must also be clarified that this goal for sustainable consumption is not only aimed for individual consumers. It also stands as a challenge to companies, manufacturers, and institutions like governments to help facilitate and make responsible consumption easier and more accessible for their markets.

 

The lived realities of gender inequality

Body Form Redfit
Bodyform RED.FIT Campaign

According to the Monash Gender and Medicine website, Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. However, today there is a call for actions that challenge this traditional gender bifurcation and the polarisation into masculine and feminine.

With three older brothers and a headstrong mother, my understanding of my femininity was a beautiful mash up of floral dresses and boys hand-me downs. I was told to speak up rather than criticised for being bossy. I was a sports scholar and beat the boys at chin-up competitions, I was a music scholar and mastered the cello with delicacy and passion. My education never suggested that my boobs would be a hindrance to my success nor that having a womb would limit my career choices. The reality of ‘real world’ was a slap in the face!

My inevitable, charming, coming-of-age-whilst-raging, feminist phase coincided beautifully with the year I was an Officer Cadet in the Royal Air Force at University. My occasional drunken ramble about the importance of women at the top to influence bottom-up equality grew tiresome for my uninterested contemporaries. I seethed with rage but also embarrassment when the new Senior Student of my Squadron asked all the women in the room to return to the kitchen at our annual dinner. The room erupted into laughter, sidelong looks cast in my direction. I was visibly frothing at the mouth but powerless to react in the face of such collective mirth.

The experiences are endless, everyone has their story to tell of perpetual and insidious inequality, some more severe than others. There are moments of optimism however, this weekend I watched a new sanitary towel advert from the UK that literally brought me to tears. They were tears of triumph, a shiver ran down my spine and I boldly shared it on my Facebook feed (only momentarily concerned about offending someone somewhere) with a “F*** YES”. Here was a small action by two big companies that was challenging what it meant to be ‘feminine’ in my culture.

I could not quite believe what I was seeing; women, frigging bad-ass physically active women. Unapologetic for their physical power, their disinterest in the need to be ‘pretty’ palpable in their ambivalence towards the imperfections their activities slashed across their bodies. Blood, red, hot, oozing from elbows, knees, foreheads, noses, mouths, toes…and they don’t give a s*** because blood is a regular part of a woman’s life.

The tagline for Bodyform’s new advert? “No blood should hold us back”. It’s a powerful move, it’s a strong statement, it’s an acceptance of a woman’s lived experience into the mainstream of UK society. Its women saying, we bleed and we’ll be damned if that’s going to make a difference anymore.

Would it traditionally be considered unladylike to discuss this sort of thing in public, hell yes. Do I believe it is possible to be ladylike and discuss such things, absolutely. Could Bodyform shift this refreshing and empowering campaign to the next level with an initiative that supplied subsidised sanitary products to displaced women across the globe, well yes.

Since being asked to write on Gender, every day produced something new and wonderful, or frustrating and harrowing, as food for thought. From the ‘small issues’ produced by everyday sexism that Western women face on a daily basis, to the experiences of marginalised communities in less stable states, we can see that gender inequality is an issue for both the developed and developing nations as it impacts everyone.

There was the petition started in the UK demanding dress codes are reformed for women at work. There are the grand debates surrounding Brexit and how women will have the deciding vote. Amber Heard’s reputation has been dragged through the dirt for trying to escape a violent relationship, one that no one else in the entire world outside of that courtroom should possibly imagine they have the right to comment on. All the while refugees are disappearing into the Mediterranean and Fortress Europe continues to drag its feet on a solution to the refugee crisis.

And then there was Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood star out to change the lived experience of displaced peoples as UN Special Envoy. Newly appointed as a visiting professor in practice for the London School of Economics recently announced MSc of Women (note women, not gender), Peacekeeping and Security. There were mixed reviews for this revelation, the most prominent question being “is she really qualified to teach at a post-graduate level?”

There was however one voice that shone out to me, that of Aljazeera correspondent, Bina Shah that focussed on the important issue here. She takes a practical approach to this news and appeals us to steer our attention to the MSc itself, what it’s really teaching and what a graduate will be able to do with it.

These are similar questions I asked of the various Masters programs I was considering. I landed on Monash for its emphasis on ‘practical experience’ and the promise of career-readiness, graduating with more than just the ability to eloquently debate whether we should be bothering at all.

A debate made even more frustrating when one reads statements such as this gem from Kofi Annan: “gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”. Good luck with dissecting that revelation for a specific proposal, William Easterly certainly died a little inside hearing that one.

Having spent a semester now being asked to challenge existing development trajectories (such as the above) and human rights institutions – to understand how we as the new generation of development workers should be expected to move forward – I find Shah’s closing comments, at once striking for their clarity and harsh in their reality:

“If you want to stop women being raped in times of war, you’ll need a different kind of degree: the one that teaches us how to stop war and how to stop women being used as its spoils. And I’m not sure there’s a university course out there that teaches that as yet”

Gender remains to be one of the most pressing issues of our time, and a hurdle in achieving equality. Regardless of the academic research to understand inequality, how can a university course teach how to mitigate, and overturn the lived realities of gender inequality? Will there ever be a university course that does? Can you teach students how to address such global pressing issues safe in their lecture theatre? Or is there no real substitute for hands-on, in-the-field experience?

*All links are provided for the reader’s further exploration of referenced topics and do not necessarily reflect the author’s own opinions.

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