Monthly Archives: July 2014

Female genital mutilation and child marriage: Progress, but too slow

This week I am writing about the horrors that are female genital mutilation and child marriage. It seems clear to me that these practices largely still exist because of the commodification of women and lack of global female empowerment. An excerpt:

Too many girls’ lives are still being destroyed

Jul 26th 2014 | From the print edition

FIRST the good news: according to a report published on July 22nd by UNICEF, the share of the world’s girls who are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) is around a third lower today than it was three decades ago. Now the tragedy: seven girls still have their genitals cut or mutilated per minute. And the rate at which the practice is declining is not enough to counter population growth. Unless the pace picks up, the number of victims will grow from 3.6m a year now to 4.1m in 2035.

At its worst, FGM involves cutting off the clitoris and labia and stitching the vagina almost closed. In the African countries where it is a traditional rite of passage, as many as nine girls in ten are subjected to the barbarous practice (see map), which causes excruciating pain and can lead to infection, infertility and sometimes death.

Child marriage, another custom that destroys girls’ lives, is also common in Africa, and in parts of Asia too. The future life of a child bride is likely to be poor and socially isolated. Schooling will probably fall by the wayside. Early childbearing may destroy her health or kill her. UNICEF reports that more than 700m women alive today were married before turning 18—and 250m of those before turning 15.

In some countries most women aged between 20 and 49 were married when they were children (see chart). And though, like FGM, the tradition is slowly fading, high fertility where it is most common means absolute numbers are barely falling. Without further progress the number of former child brides will still be over 700m in 2050.

Read the full article here.

Simon Hedlin

The Economist explains: Why Swedish men take so much paternity leave

I have written a brief piece for The Economist that explains the Swedish parental leave system and how paternity leave helps to boost gender equality:

Why Swedish men take so much paternity leave

Jul 22nd 2014, 23:50 BY S.H.

ALONG with its Nordic neighbours, Sweden features near the top of most gender-equality rankings. The World Economic Forum rates it as having one of the narrowest gender gaps in the world. But Sweden is not only a good place to be a woman: it also appears to be an idyll for new dads. Close to 90% of Swedish fathers take paternity leave. Last year some 340,000 dads took a total of 12m days’ leave, equivalent to about seven weeks each. Women take even more leave days to spend time with their children, but the gap is shrinking. Why do Swedish dads take so much time off work to raise their children?

Forty years ago Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce a gender-neutral paid parental-leave allowance. This involves paying 90% of wages for 180 days per child, and parents were free to divvy up the days between them in whatever way they pleased. But the policy was hardly a hit with dads: in the scheme’s first year men took only 0.5% of all paid parental leave.

Today they take a quarter of it. One reason is that the scheme has become more generous, with the number of paid leave days for the first child being bumped up from 180 to 480. But it has also been tweaked to encourage a more equal sharing of the allowance. In 1995 the first so-called “daddy month” was introduced. Under this reform, families in which each parent took at least one month of leave received an additional month to add to their total allowance. The policy was expanded in 2002 so that if the mother and father each took at least two months’ leave, the family would get two extra months. Some politicians now want to go further, proposing that the current system of shared leave be turned into one of individual entitlements, under which mothers should be allowed to take only half of the family’s total allowance, with the rest reserved for fathers.

Policies similar to the Swedish “daddy months” have been introduced in other countries. Germany amended its parental-leave scheme in 2007 along Swedish lines, and within two years the share of fathers who took paid leave jumped from 3% to over 20%. One of the most powerful arguments in favour of splitting parental leave more equally is that it has positive ripple effects for women. Since Swedish men started to take more responsibility for child rearing, women have seen both their incomes and levels of self-reported happiness increase. Paying dads to change nappies and hang out at playgrounds, in other words, seems to benefit the whole family.

Simon Hedlin

Daily chart: Barbaric cuts

I have co-authored a post with a daily chart today that presents data on the cruel practice that is female genital mutilation:

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The tragic increase in female genital mutilation

EVERY ten seconds one girl around the globe has her genitals sliced with a knife. The labia are pulled back and some or all of the clitoris is cut away; sometimes the labia are severed or sewn tight. The practice has deep cultural roots in many countries. But unlike male circumcision, which has been shown to reduce disease and actually enhances sexual pleasure, female genital mutilation puts its victim at risk of infection, infertility and death. Sex often becomes extremely painful: indeed, this may be the very justification for it by those who wield the blade.

New data released today by UNICEF paints a mixed picture. Although the prevalence of female genital mutilation is declining, the population growth in the countries where it is practiced means the actual number of victims will increase. If the present trend continues, the number of girls cut each year will grow from 3.6m today to 4.1m in 2035. It marks a big increase, considering that around two-thirds of both men and women oppose the activity in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where it is most prevalent. And in some places, around three-quarters of women are victims (as our article from last year reported)

Simon Hedlin

Economics and ethics: Lying commies

My contribution to this week’s issue discusses an experiment that finds that socialism causes unethical behavior:

Lying commies: The more people are exposed to socialism, the worse they behave

Jul 19th 2014 | From the print edition

“UNDER capitalism”, ran the old Soviet-era joke, “man exploits man. Under communism it is just the opposite.” In fact new research suggests that the Soviet system inspired not just sarcasm but cheating too: in East Germany, at least, communism appears to have inculcated moral laxity.

Lars Hornuf of the University of Munich and Dan Ariely, Ximena García-Rada and Heather Mann of Duke University ran an experiment last year to test Germans’ willingness to lie for personal gain. Some 250 Berliners were randomly selected to take part in a game where they could win up to €6 ($8).

The game was simple enough. Each participant was asked to throw a die 40 times and record each roll on a piece of paper. A higher overall tally earned a bigger payoff. Before each roll, players had to commit themselves to write down the number that was on either the top or the bottom side of the die. However, they did not have to tell anyone which side they had chosen, which made it easy to cheat by rolling the die first and then pretending that they had selected the side with the highest number. If they picked the top and then rolled a two, for example, they would have an incentive to claim—falsely—that they had chosen the bottom, which would be a five.

Honest participants would be expected to roll ones, twos and threes as often as fours, fives and sixes. But that did not happen: the sheets handed in had a suspiciously large share of high numbers, suggesting many players had cheated.

Read the rest here.

Simon Hedlin

The economics of behaviour: Time and punishment

This week, I write in print edition of The Economist about discounting and crime. An excerpt:

Impatient children are more likely to become lawbreakers

Jul 12th 2014 | From the print edition

IN HIS “Odyssey”, Homer immortalised the idea of resisting temptation by having the protagonist tied to the mast of his ship, to hear yet not succumb to the beautiful, dangerous songs of the Sirens. Researchers have long been intrigued as to whether this ability to avoid, or defer, gratification is related to outcomes in life. The best-known test is the “marshmallow” experiment, in which children who could refrain from eating the confection for 15 minutes were given a second one. Children who could not wait tended to have lower incomes and poorer health as adults. New research suggests that kids who are unable to delay rewards are also more likely to become criminals later.

David Akerlund, Hans Gronqvist and Lena Lindahl of Stockholm University and Bart Golsteyn of Maastricht University used data from a Swedish survey in which more than 13,000 children aged 13 were asked whether they would prefer to receive $140 now or $1,400 in five years’ time. About four-fifths of them said they were prepared to wait.

Unlike previous researchers, the authors were able to track all the children and account for their parental background and cognitive ability. They found that the 13-year-olds who wanted the smaller sum of money at once were 32% more likely to be convicted of a crime during the next 18 years than those children who said they would rather wait for the bigger reward. Individuals who are impatient, they believe, prefer instant benefits and are therefore less likely to be deterred by potential punishments.

Read the rest of my story here.

Simon Hedlin

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