Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Working from bottom-up in Afghanistan's rural areas

Here's the lede from a story on NPR's All Things Considered today:
The U.S. Institute of Peace released Tuesday a new report outlining policy recommendations for Afghanistan. The RAND Corp.'s Seth Jones, a co-author of the report, says success in Afghanistan has historically been a combination of top-down efforts in urban areas and bottom-up efforts in rural areas.
The story goes on to discuss the need for coordination and links between rural and urban places if Afghanistan is to be stabilized. This is necessitated, in part, by the persistence of tribes and clans wielding a great deal of power in rural places. Jones, a Middle East expert, even refers to Tip O'Neill's famous line, "All politics is local," in explaining the need to engage local powers.

This recognition of the greater power of custom and local (if sometimes illegitimate) sources of authority in rural places is interesting, and I suspect it explains difference and conflict between rural and urban authorities in various contexts--particularly in the developing world.

Certainly, this rural-urban duality is reflected in one of my current projects, in which I am assessing how various countries have responded to their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to guarantee certain rights to rural women. It appears that in rural areas, the power of custom and local authorities is greater, which becomes an impediment to top-down imposition of international legal norms. It does not, however, preclude work from the "bottom up" to empower women.

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