Home Political science Sustainability of Agro-Food and Natural Resource Systems in the Mediterranean Basin
All of the above, of course, is nothing more than a wish list. Just as it is easy to list all the technologies we should be deploying rapidly to stabilize the climate, it is easy to lay out everything that governments should be doing, or doing better, to make for a sustainable world in general. Both approaches beg the question: given the stark absence of adequate movement in the right direction already, how can we make it happen?
Without question, there is no silver bullet—no single approach that will miraculously achieve what has so far eluded the determined efforts of many people. Any approach that ultimately meets with success will have to incor-
Box 22–1. Women, Governance, and Sustainability
For most of the history of civilization, it was unthinkable that women would help decide who would govern, much less themselves govern. Occasional examples of a reigning queen or empress were quirks of monarchic succession that scarcely dented men's control of government. The past century, however, has witnessed the emergence of women voters in almost all countries. The last decade has seen a gradual rise—too gradual, many would say—of women's leadership at multiple levels of government around the world. This development seems positive for governance with future generations in mind, especially if it accelerates from its currently slow pace of growth. But the evidence supporting this thesis is at best suggestive and indirect.
The numbers point to a significant emergence of women in governance and politics. Prior to 1960, women were absent from top national elective leadership, according to a timeline on women's governmental leadership produced by the International Women's Democracy Center. In that year, Siramavo Bandaranaike became the world's first woman prime minister, leading the government of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Within a few years, such dynamic presidents and prime ministers as Indira Gandhi in India, Golda Meir in Israel, and later Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom were gaining fame worldwide—and earning the reputation of being every bit as hard-nosed as the male leaders around them.
In recent years, women have achieved their nation's highest office in dozens of countries. Incumbencies in late 2013 included Angela Merkel in Germany, Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Geun-hye Park in South Korea, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, Joyce Banda in Malawi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, and Dalia Grybauskaitė in Lithuania.
Kosovo, not universally recognized as an independent nation, has as its president Atifete Jahjaga. In the United States, meanwhile, the only Democrat widely treated in the news media in late 2013 as a likely standard bearer in the 2016 election was former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, with Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren gaining attention as the most likely rival for her party's presidential nomination. This rivalry (at least as presented in the national media) suggests how routine it is becoming to consider that a woman could become president of the United States.
Yet in a world with 193 United Nations member states, the share of presidents who are women remains far from proportional to the share of women in the world's population. And despite gains at parliamentary, ministerial, and other levels of government, women are still vastly outnumbered in wielding governmental power. The authors of a 2007 UNICEF report concluded that at then-current rates of growth, “gender parity in national legislatures will not be achieved until 2068.” Some countries still lack any women either sitting in national legislatures or carrying ministerial portfolios.
The situation appears to be comparable in corporate leadership and governance. After an initial advance in the 1970s and 80s into what was for centuries a male-only culture, women remain a small minority of chief executive offi. Just 22 CEOs among U.S. Fortune 500 companies in mid-2013 were women, according to Bryce Covert, economic policy editor for the Center for American Progress's blog ThinkProgress. Among executive offi generally, just 15 percent were women, while women comprised about 17 percent of corporate board members, according to a recent survey of the same companies by Catalyst, a research and advocacy nonprofi working to expand women's leadership.
Just one parliament—that of Rwanda—today has a majority of women members. (See Figure 22–1.) And even this example owes much to a controversial device used to jumpstart gender equity in civil governance: quota systems for candidates or sitting legislators. Critics argue that such systems weaken the equality of political opportunity, while supporters counter that they are the only way to hasten the day when government mirrors the gender balance of population. Most nations seem to agree with the supporters. According to the Quota Project, an academic and intergovernmental collaboration, more than half of UN member states have enacted some type of political gender quota system, whether voluntary by political parties or mandatory by candidacies or even reserved legislative seating. Representation of women in corporate executive suites and boardrooms improved in Norway, Spain, and Sweden after the governments of these countries set targets for such gender balance, according to Covert.
Whether women in government are more likely than men to endorse policies that promote environmental sustainability is unclear. The authors of the UNICEF report found that women policy makers are much more likely than their male counterparts to support children's well-being—a possible proxy for interest in sustainability—as well as nonviolent resolution of conflict. There is at least a smattering of evidence supporting the presumption that women on average are more collaborative and less competitive than men, and are more worried about environmental unsustainability as well. Future research may bolster a hopeful thesis about gender equality in governance: that it will make governments more likely to work with the governed to build civilizations that respect biophysical laws and still find ways peaceably to prosper and endure.
—Robert Engelman and Janice Pratt
Worldwatch Institute Source: See endnote 3.
Figure 22–1. Women in Parliaments, 1997–2013
porate efforts on many different levels. If there is a common theme standing behind the policy ideas and reforms explored in this book, however, it is the necessity of citizen empowerment and citizen responsibility. Call it the first law of political physics: a body at rest will remain at rest until a force is applied to it. When promising governance alternatives are known and seem worth trying out but are not yet happening, then a force needs to be applied to encourage exploratory movement in a new direction. And when governments themselves are unable to muster that force and other actors (such as corporations) are pushing in the wrong direction, an opposing vector can come only from the people.
Sustainability by diktat seems unlikely, given the interests—self-preservation, first and foremost—and track records of autocratic regimes in general. Sustainability therefore seems to require something like democracy, or at least a strong democratic impulse. A democracy of distributed leadership (as opposed to one that begins and ends with the ballot box) seems to be the natural home—if such a new idea as sustainability can be said to have one—for sustainability efforts. (See Box 22–2.) Where democracy is already in place, citizens and civil society organizations need to take advantage of their existing freedoms to organize, protest, deliberate, offer input to governments, and demand action. Where democracy is mainly for show or simply absent, safer tactics are required. The goal is the same: to create the irresistible force needed to elicit a positive response.
Regardless of location, this is a difficult thing to do. It requires a longterm, bottom-up approach. Only a sustained mass movement has any hope of generating countervailing power to the forces that are driving the current unsustainable system. It will require courage, passion, and dedication of the sort seen in the Arab Spring uprisings and the Occupy demonstrations, but those alone are not enough; passion will burn out if it cannot be supported with dogged and determined grassroots organizing, through civil society organizations, unions, community groups, cooperatives, and concerned citizens everywhere. It is both the passion of the moment that brings people into the streets for demonstrations and the determination for the long haul that is required to make citizen empowerment a reality.
It would be naïve to assume, however, that the prospects for such a development are good or that the risks are negligible. Grassroots organizing of the sort needed may never happen or just not succeed. The physical risks in many places are significant. Such organizing will take lots of time—years, perhaps decades. During that time, many bad things are bound to happen socially and environmentally, given worsening inequality or the impacts already loaded into the climate system. And these divisive developments in turn may well lead to further repercussions that render a cooperative approach ever harder. Bottom-up organizing may be informed by values and intentions that are anything but “liberal” and “internationalist,” and could instead very well end up being chauvinist, xenophobic, inward looking, or violent.
Ultimately, it seems to us, all governance begins with individuals-incommunities. Humans are no more isolated actors in politics than they are the independent molecules of mainstream economic theory. The impetus or pressure to improve governance, at every level, can come only from awakened individuals dedicated to making their communities sustainable places. From there, it may be possible to build communities of communities in a
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