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The Pro-Life Movement Foments “Moral Panic” in Latin America

Shortly after the passage of a total abortion ban in 1997, El Salvador became the first Latin American nation to routinely incarcerate poor women experiencing stillbirths and other obstetrical emergencies for the crime of “homicide.” Sociologist Jocelyn Viterna analyzes the political and cultural dynamics behind the pro-life movement’s success.

Quote by Jocelyn Viterna on when movements fail

By Michelle Nicholasen

The cases are harrowing, and they keep accumulating. El Salvadoran women and girls who give birth to stillborn babies are originally charged with abortion, and then ultimately sentenced to decades in prison for “aggravated homicide.” To date, Jocelyn Viterna, professor of sociology, has collected fifty-one such cases: most are destitute young women who live far from medical care—women who didn’t even know they were pregnant, many the victims of rape. Another twenty cases involve young women incarcerated and charged with “abortion.”

Viterna learned about the first cases in the mid-2000s when she was doing research for her book about female guerilla fighters, Women in War: The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador, and she couldn’t turn away. When she looked closely at the evidence presented in each case, it was clear that gender bias was rampant in the judicial process: women were accused of murder without any forensic evidence suggesting violence to the fetus; girls who didn’t even know they were pregnant were accused of attempted murder for accidentally birthing their babies in their home latrine. She wondered, why was there automatic presumption of guilt when there was no evidence of violence? 

Consulting with doctors, psychologists, pathologists, and forensic examiners, Viterna educated herself about the science of abortion, miscarriages, and stillbirths. She then started submitting briefs to the court—including statements from medical professionals—about what was known in the medical literature. Could a young woman, in fact, not know that she was pregnant? As it turns out, yes, a traumatized woman can suffer from dissociative disorder which can psychologically disconnect her from her body. Can a woman first learn of her pregnancy by giving birth in the latrine? Again, the medical literature supported this. Could an umbilical cord break on its own from a fetus’s fall into a latrine? Yes, according to medical experts. All of this she aggregated and reported in a series of “friend of the court” briefs.... Read more about The Pro-Life Movement Foments “Moral Panic” in Latin America

Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

An important transformation is occurring in Europe. Whether we call it a move toward “strategic autonomy,” “sovereignty,” or whatever else, it is forging a new trajectory of self-reliance.

Image of US and EU chess pieces on a board

By Adrien Abecassis

Since taking office, Donald Trump—the president of Europe’s greatest ally—has publicly castigated his counterparts in Europe, denounced Europe as being “set up to take advantage of the US,” and characterized the Europeans not as allies but as “foes.” 

The approach of not taking these statements seriously, or downplaying them, did not last very long. To the Europeans, they are serious. For them, the options were always to wait for the Trump storm to pass in the hope of reverting to a “normal” transatlantic relationship once he was out of office, or react and deal with the consequences. Increasingly, Europeans are moving toward the latter.

Growing calls for a “sovereign Europe”
 

“Europe can no longer entrust its security to the United States alone. It is up to us to assume our responsibilities and to guarantee European security and, thereby, sovereignty,” declared French President Emmanuel Macron in his annual grand speech on foreign policy earlier this month. “And we have only one credible European response: that of our strategic autonomy,” he continued. The French Ministry of Defense echoed him a few days after: “A European defense today is an imperative. We can no longer shelter under the American umbrella.”

A “sovereign Europe” has remained a key theme of Macron’s speeches since his election campaign began. One may say that a French president advocating for greater independence has been nothing new since de Gaulle. But other European leaders have joined Macron. Alluding to the American leadership, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the times in which we could totally rely on others are to some extent over. We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” 

That statement caused some stir. Her foreign minister doubled down, suggesting in an opinion piece that after seventy years of depending on the US, Europe should pursue “a new world order” in which Germany, France, and its European partners should seek a “balanced partnership” with Washington. For good measure, he added, “Where the USA crosses the line, we Europeans must form a counterweight—as difficult as that can be,” and advised Europe advance “where America retreats.” Merkel had to downplay the tone by calling this comment a “personal expression.” However, her own spokesman immediately stressed that “the article conveyed much of what constitutes the common stance of the government towards the United States” and that it “presents observations that are preoccupying the government—namely stronger European unity and the question of Europe taking on more responsibility.”

In turn, two weeks ago, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker titled his annual State of the European Union speech, “The Hour of European Sovereignty,” asserting that the “geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come. It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit—the capacity to play a role in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.” Indeed, “strategic autonomy” is itself a goal defined in the last EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Defense Policy.... Read more about Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

History’s Apology: Sexuality and the 377 Supreme Court Decision in India

A landmark ruling in India not only decriminalizes same-sex relations but sees them as part of the natural human order. It could put into motion the reevaluation of colonial-era laws that police sexuality across the former British Empire. Professor of Women and Gender Studies Durba Mitra examines the language of the ruling in the context of the realities of being a sexual minority in India.

Cover image and opening preamble of Indian Constitution

By Durba Mitra

“History owes LGBT people an apology.” This was the statement from Justice Indu Malhotra, who, on September 6, with four other judges of the Indian Supreme Court, declared that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (broadly known as the law against sodomy) was unconstitutional. In the days that have followed the judgment, I have wondered what it means for us to demand that history apologize for its wrongs. Indeed, the harms of history appear to be too numerous for a simple apology to the minorities consistently and historically characterized as “unnatural” or “foreign” to India by an increasingly powerful majority. To demand an apology from history for its wrongs against sexual minorities requires that we know and teach the diverse histories of sexuality for India. 

Following an almost two-decade-long legal struggle to change the law, the Supreme Court’s judgment striking down 377 is remarkable. Looking over almost 500 pages of the judgment, one encounters a number of powerful interpretations of the Indian Constitution and the role of the courts in protecting minorities. Several parts of the judgment declare that “constitutional morality” must be held as a higher authority over “social morality.” But what exactly is “constitutional morality”? This phrase is likely to be defined and debated in different interpretations of this ruling in the years to come. According to an initial reading of the judgment, constitutional morality is a set of protected rights that may exceed the bounds of social norms defined by heterosexual sex and marriage. Using the language of the judgment, these rights include 1) privacy and the rights of the individual, especially with regards to consensual sexual behavior, same-sex or heterosexual, 2) the “immutable” sexual identity of LGBTQ peoples, one that is natural and normal, 3) further discussion of the meaning of “formal equality” under the constitution, and 4) the importance of dignity as a right enshrined by the constitution and to be protected by courts for the most vulnerable minorities. The judgment offers a critical apparatus to think not only rights for “sexual minorities,” such as queer, nonbinary, gay, lesbian, and gender-variant and trans people; it also provides a way to return to critical questions about social strictures and endemic issues of sexual violence and discrimination faced by women. It provides a chance to return to the meaning of formal equality under the law in India, more than forty years after Indian women’s movements in the 1970s challenged the bounds of constitutional equality.... Read more about History’s Apology: Sexuality and the 377 Supreme Court Decision in India

Who Deserves Independence?

A historian spotlights the backstories of nationalist groups that were passed over during the post-World War II wave of decolonization.

India map of states and disputed territories

By Lydia Walker

Twentieth-century global decolonization changed the map. In the thirty years after the Second World War, sixty countries—mostly in Asia and Africa—became independent from colonial powers. During the high point of accelerated decolonization in 1960, the United Nations recognized seventeen independent states. At times it seemed that there was a new country every week. 

This narrative of progressive national liberation ignores two important implications. First, it overlooks the existence of people who claimed—yet did not receive—independence during this period of heightened possibility. Second, it elides the fact that international recognition required an external audience—sometimes the United Nations, or a former colonizer, or a great power backer—to determine which ‘people-territorial match’ was a nation deserving a state, or a minority requiring protections, or indeed, a group of humans needing rights. Recognition signifies seeing a people as a state, considering a people as a political unit that ‘deserves’ statehood, and therefore being willing to hear their claim in international politics. The unspoken presence of a silent, sometimes shifting entity that bestowed international recognition suggested that it was incumbent on the nationalist movement to demonstrate its legitimacy, and construed the granting of statehood as a moral rather than a strategic question.... Read more about Who Deserves Independence?

When Life Is in Limbo, Education Can't Wait

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, associate professor of education at Harvard, shares insights from her team’s work on refugee education around the world.

Image of student hands building a map

By Michelle Nicholasen

Of the sixty-five million people currently displaced worldwide, about half of them are children. On average, a refugee may spend between ten to twenty-five years in exile. This means that for many children, their entire formal education will take place while awaiting a durable solution to their displacement. However, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that only 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education, and only 22 percent have access to secondary school. 

The critical task of educating refugee children has been the focus of scholarship for Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Sarah Dryden-Peterson and her research team who are investigating processes of refugee education in Kenya, Lebanon, and Uganda, among others. Documenting the experiences of students, families, and teachers over time, the group has gained insight on education delivery, quality of instruction, and resource allocation. The struggle to meet the educational needs of refugee children, according to Dryden-Peterson, has called into question the very purpose of education and what kinds of futures it prepares young people for.

The Weatherhead Center asked Dryden-Peterson and doctoral students Vidur Chopra and Elizabeth Adelman to describe some of the realities facing Syrian refugees, who rely on education as a critical pathway to establishing a secure life. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.... Read more about When Life Is in Limbo, Education Can't Wait

More Care for the Kids, Better Careers for the Moms

New research shows that affordable and expanded daycare coverage in Norway has prompted more mothers to return to the workforce—and other countries may want to replicate their success.

Image of woman helping child with coat in classroom

By Michelle Nicholasen

To American parents struggling to find affordable childcare solutions, Norway might seem like a utopia: a place where parents who want affordable daycare, get it—or receive a cash payment if they don’t use it. 

Norway has long provided subsidized daycare for children aged three and older. But the years between 2002 and 2008 were a time of sweeping reform. In 2002, the government increased federal financing for daycare, and it expanded full-time daycare services to include babies at the tender age of one. The aim was to get more mothers back into the workforce. 

To find out if this radical reform achieved its goals, Weatherhead Center Postdoctoral Fellow Øyvind Skorge, and his colleague Henning Finseraas, both researchers at the Institute of Social Research in Oslo, evaluated and measured the effects that the reform had on working women. Their study found that expanded full-time daycare not only helped women attain higher level positions, but also increased their aspirations about work.... Read more about More Care for the Kids, Better Careers for the Moms

Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict in September 2015 was spurred by a plethora of motivations. Russian scholars Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux unpack the various rationales. 

Image of Putin, Assad, and others

By Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux

Fourth in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded American policy makers with his agenda in the Middle East for at least the past decade. Russia’s stance has varied in its accord with Western policies, at times seeming to align—as in Libya and Yemen—and other times shirking, by showing indifference toward Iran’s nuclear program violations. Western diplomats have long puzzled over Putin’s real aims in the region and whether or not he could ever be a reliable ally. 
 
Russian airstrikes in Syria in 2015 marked a turning point in its foreign policy. Taking full advantage of the vacuum created by President Obama’s failure to intervene, Russia stepped in to lead, signaling Moscow’s new commitment to involvement in the region. Just two years prior, Putin had refused to export missiles systems to Syria, raising hopes in the West for a possible partnership that could help to stabilize the region. It was not to be. Russian officials fanned speculation and confusion about its actions in Syria. To the public, they skewed the purpose of intervention, first claiming to target Islamic State, then “terrorists” in general. In fact, Russian bombs fell on anti-Assad rebel groups, some of whom were armed and trained by US intelligence agencies. Thus began a protracted “proxy war” between the United States and Russia that continues today.

Putin is now entering his fourth term as president, buoyed by high levels of public support. Syria is facing its eighth year of conflict, and is now a devastated country, in large part due to the deadly Russian bombing strategy that destroyed densely populated areas and many thousands of Syrian lives. Last December, Putin and Assad together declared victory over Islamic State and announced the eventual reduction of Russian armed forces. Nevertheless, the proxy war rages on, with Russia’s continuing air and ground assaults against US-backed rebels. 

Taking Syrian intervention as a pivot point in Russian foreign policy, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Faculty Associate Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux—director and executive director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, respectively—to demystify Putin’s overarching goals in the region, and to consider what they might mean for future relations with the West.... Read more about Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Global Oncology in Rwanda

A case study in best practices, Rwanda’s commitment to cancer treatment demonstrates how a state can utilize private resources while safeguarding national ownership.

Image of Burera district, Rwanda

By Darja Djordjevic

Darja Djordjevic, now a postdoctoral fellow in the Weatherhead Scholars Program, worked as a MD/PhD student in the Burera district of Rwanda and in Kigali during 2010–2015 when she was a Graduate Student Associate at the Weatherhead Center. As a medical volunteer, she worked directly on the pilot cervical/breast cancer prevention program in Burera, which was developed through a transnational partnership between the Rwandan government and Partners In Health, an NGO based in Boston. Her ethnographic fieldwork contributes to the yet nascent anthropology of cancer in contemporary Africa.

Last summer, two major pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Cipla, reached an agreement to sell sixteen standard chemotherapy drugs at very low cost (purportedly only slightly higher than the manufacturing cost) to six African countries: Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.1 This negotiated deal also included a plan for top American oncologists to simplify cancer treatment protocols, which an IBM team would then make available through an online, open-access tool. 

This development signaled an important moment in the politics of global health, one of growing awareness and advocacy around cancer in Africa and the Global South. While this particular deal was a positive and overdue development in the battle long-fought by care providers across the world who look after poor people with cancer, we have to wonder for how long such a deal will last, alongside other pressing concerns. Further, how does this initiative fit into the broader political economy of a profit-driven pharmaceutical industry always in search of new markets, with Africa being a potentially massive one? 

... Read more about Global Oncology in Rwanda

When Should Children Be Allowed to Work?

A comparative study in human rights compliance in Bolivia and Argentina by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow Lorenza Fontana and Jean Grugel.

Image of young boy shining shoes

by Lorenza Fontana and Jean Grugel

When we think about child labor, what often comes to mind are images of dirty, poorly dressed children—digging in mountains of trash, carrying heavy loads of bricks or crops, or disappearing in dark mine tunnels. Yet working children are a heterogeneous group that also includes children helping out in domestic labor, family shops, or subsistence agriculture, and adolescents undertaking their first steps into the labor market.

While child labor is generally perceived as bad for children and efforts toward its elimination are pursued by the international communities, in certain contexts—and particularly in countries of the Global South—this is a culturally accepted and sometimes prized practice, considered fundamental for basic household production. In certain countries, working children themselves have created unions and mobilized to ask for fairer labor conditions and greater protections rather than child labor elimination. These gaps between international and domestic views on child labor have made the task of regulating the issue under human rights law particularly challenging for international organizations.... Read more about When Should Children Be Allowed to Work?

Striking a Balance: Straight Talk on the Global Economy

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik details the downside of hyperglobalization, and calls for a better balance between global rules and national autonomy.

Image of shipping containers

by Michelle Nicholasen

For more than two decades, economist Dani Rodrik has warned about the dangers of what he has called “hyperglobalization.” He has long argued that national economies and domestic policies should have priority amidst a rising tide of unfettered globalization and open markets. Today we have some evidence that he was right. Our race toward “one world economy” has produced consequences in the form of global social inequality and populist or extremist political movements, for example. Rodrik envisions a way to keep bringing down trade barriers while maintaining the integrity of the nation-state. His latest book, Straight Talk on Trade, is a synthesis of his monthly columns for Project Syndicate, and functions as a roadmap of Rodrik’s prolific analyses. The Weatherhead Center spoke to him about his long view on world economies.... Read more about Striking a Balance: Straight Talk on the Global Economy