Xavier Rambla Sociologia

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gen. 26 2012

Gender Inequalities in Brazil, India and Turkey

My students in the course on Social Change and Globalisation (Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, UAB) have produced interesting essays on gender inequalities in Brazil, India and Turkey. Remarkably, the HDI value of these countries is close to the average of middle-income countries, but gender inequality seems to be significantly high.

Roughly speaking, two general explanations seem to hold. The first one argues that traditional values hinder gender inequality in these countries. Certainly, both Inglehart and Huntington classified them in civilizations that endorse social norms on women’s inferior status compared to men. Furthermore, some specialists also make a very similar point, particularly as far as India and Turkey are concerned. The second explanation emphasizes that democratic political projects are gaining momentum, and promoting gender equality, despite the important obstacles. Thus, it is noticeable that in Brazil women’s participation in the labour force has increased dramatically after the democratic transition, and that Turkey is the least unequal Muslim country. In India, conflicts concerning castes intermingle with gender inequality, with progress and contradictions arising in many senses. This country provides a very relevant example of the so-called ‘intersections’ between inequalities (e.g. read Sylvia Walby’s work).

Doubtless, both answers have been accepted, and assessed according to the value of the arguments. However, it is not easy to add them up and say that we find out a sort of underlying tension between tradition and democracy. Actually, the first explanation assumes that social norms determine social behaviour, that is, social norms constrain agency. On the contrary, the second one assumes that agency may transform social norms and shape a new social structure. This is one of the big issues in long-lasting discussions of social change, as I have already commented in other posts in this blog. The point is particularly poignant when looking at the variety of political and religious understandings of tradition in all these countries.

In addition, varied public policies should also be taken into account. The Gender Inequalities Index summarises information about maternal health, adolescent pregnancy, schooling, seats in parliament and participation in the labour force. Therefore, it is very relevant to ask what mechanisms eventually cause gender inequalities in these diverse policy areas. Thus, urban slums and medical attention affect women’s reproductive rights, fiscal resources and the Education for All Programme impinge on schooling, parliaments are the outcome of complex political processes, and labour markets are also influenced by social norms and economic globalisation too. In my view, agency-based accounts of change are better equipped to deal with public policies than modernisation, structure-based theories like Inglehart’s or Huntington’s, but this is precisely one the debates that challenges social researchers nowadays.

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gen. 18 2012

The conflict on private-dependent schools in Spain and Chile

Catalan and Spanish versions available here and here

At the same time as many countries engage in controversies on school choice, educational public- private partnerships and the corresponding legal reforms, a number of specialists are studying the effects of the co-existence of two different institutional sectors funded by public budgets, namely public and private-dependent schools. Actually, Spain and Chile provide two very relevant cases to find these effects out, because in these two countries a great share of students enrols in private schools supported by state aid (i.e. private-dependent schools).

Really, many research questions are at stake. Do these institutional arrangements eventually broaden the scope for family choice? Do private dependent schools charge a fee, besides the public benefit they receive? Do these schools select their intake? Which effects do fees and selection provoke? Does the co-existence of these two types of schools trigger competence to improve teaching and academic performance? Is it connected with the increasing segregation observed almost everywhere? Actually, private dependent schools charge fees in some countries, although in other ones they don’t; furthermore, in some countries they establish their own criteria for student admission while this option is completely forbidden in other ones. Their effects on academic quality vary significantly, in both ways, and anyway they are not the only cause of school segregation.

A research team has compared the politics of private dependent schools in Spain and Chile. We asked for similarities and differences beyond statistics and law. Our conclusion highlights that the main variation is quantitative, since inequalities and segregation are sharper in Chile but the same underlying processes can be observed in both cases. First, in both countries the democratic governments elected during the political transitions from authoritarian rule attempted to regulate the private-dependent sector, which the dictatorships had widely supported. Second, in Spain and Chile important campaigns have been launched by different political players both for and against a stricter regulation of this sector. Third, our observation of local politics in both countries shows that private-dependent schools avail of influential (formal and informal) political instruments so that their interests eventually prevail, mostly as far as the selection of students is concerned.

In our view, this analysis also highlights two questions that political debates often overlook. Certainly, the waves of reforms and mobilisation have been so controversial that the topic has become a sign of political identity in these countries. This is not bad news but a symptom of democratic vitality; however, sometimes intense debates focus so much on a few issues that other ones are sidelined. We want to make two recommendations on the grounds that all public subsidies should be delivered in the same general conditions. Drawing on this principle, which should affect education as well as civil construction and the management of water or electricity, the struggle observed in our two case studies reminds us of two aspects. On the one hand, private-dependent schools only select their intake in some countries, while this option is forbidden in other ones. To what extent is it legitimate that these institutions select their students if they are supported by the state? On the other hand, if the budget of these schools was published, and therefore was better known, it would be much easier to estimate their needs and the relative weight of public subsidies in their whole income. So, democratic debates could really advance if new diagnoses and proposals on admission and budgeting appeared and were disseminated in Spain and Chile.

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