Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Promoting gender equality, Maharashtra textbooks now have women as cops, pilots and men as chefs

Generation, after generation of young minds, has looked at their textbooks and seen women in the kitchen and men in hard labour or office roles. One more common stereotype, inculcated in young minds is that the mom cooks in the kitchen while dad reads the newspaper in the living room.
(Old Textbook) Image Courtesy: Balbharati

But in today's India, we are striving hard to give all genders equal representation and shake those stereotypes. Breaking away from the regular stereotypes and regressive attitude, The Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research (popularly known as Balbharati) is doing away with old illustrations and text that can promote gender stereotypes in any form.
Image Courtesy: Balbharati

In their class II textbooks, they have revised and incorporated men and women sharing household chores and cleaning vegetables together. In another, a woman is shown as a doctor and as a traffic cop; while a man in one is shown as a chef and in one as ironing clothes. The books also show women as pilots and in the police force. Basically, no typecasting on the basis of one’s gender.
Image Courtesy: Balbharati

This is a welcome change and will help in making kids understand that there isn't anything called a particular gender role. Men, women, and the third gender all are capable of doing any task and be anything they wanna be! It is with these basic steps and instilling such equality-positive thoughts that we can mould a young mind to be more progressive. Kudos!

(Source: What Shot)

Mount Everest: Climbers set to face new rules after deadly season

Climbers who want to attempt Mount Everest should first have to demonstrate that they are experienced mountaineers, a panel advising Nepal's government has recommended.

Its report proposes that applicants must already have climbed a Nepali peak of at least 6,500m (21,325ft).

They should also have to provide a certificate of physical fitness, and employ experienced guides, it adds.

Earlier this year at least 11 people died or went missing on Mount Everest.

Nine of the deaths occurred on the Nepali side of Everest and two on the Tibetan side, with four of them blamed on overcrowding.

The panel's report also proposes a fee of at least $35,000 (£29,000) for those wanting to climb Everest, and $20,000 for other mountains higher than 8,000m.

"We will take this forward by amending the laws and regulations. We will make our mountains safe, managed and dignified," Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattari told reporters.

Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, and foreign climbers are a major source of revenue.

The Nepali panel was staffed by government officials, climbing experts and climbing community agencies.

It was set up after criticism from experienced climbers and guides of the system that allows anyone who pays $11,000 to climb Everest.

Nepal's government issued a record 381 permits this season.

(Source: BBC)

Is an Indian holiday the cure for sibling rivalry?

I want my children to value Raksha Bandhan, the celebration of the bond between brothers and sisters, as much as I do.

Although you’d never know it if you’re counting on Bollywood to mirror real life, Indians don’t only celebrate weddings. Holi, the festival of colors, photographs well. My family has a sparkler party with the neighbors every Diwali, the festival of lights. Depending on our backgrounds, Indians might celebrate Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, or any number of Sikh, Buddhist, Jain or Zoroastrian holidays. But my personal favorite holiday is Raksha Bandhan — a Hindu celebration of the special relationship between brothers and sisters.

Every August for 34 years, I’ve tied a Rakhi, a symbolic red thread, around my younger brother’s wrist, and he gives me money or a present. I’m not sure how other families do it — maybe they include sweets or prayers — but like many Hindu holidays, each region and even each home celebrates it differently. For us, it’s always been the thread and the gift, little bribes stipulated by my parents. It’s a small ritual meant to symbolize the bond of protection between brother and sister, and even though I’ve never seen a cinematic musical extravaganza built around it, nothing in our family of four is more sacred.
via Priyanka Mattoo

My brother and I have always been unreasonably close, especially for kids born almost six years apart. We’ve had exactly one fight. I was 13; he was 8. He wrestled the remote control out of my hand; I punched him in the leg. He screamed, developed a bruise and moved on, while I cried about it for two days. I can’t recall an argument since. As adults we live in the same city, have figured out boundaries and quality time and catch up over weekly family dinners and snatched phone calls. We know, it’s unusual. But now I look to my own small children, a boy and a girl almost five years apart, and am desperate to recreate the alchemy of it all.

Is our sibling bond just circumstance? Or did our parents, a pediatrician and educator, make a deliberate series of choices to force us together? Pediatricians and educators are rarely chill about child-rearing, and my experience tells me it was a combination of both.

The age difference certainly helped. By the time my brother was born, I was 5, a fully formed, fully bored person who wanted a baby in the house. But my campaign for a younger sibling had begun at 2 years old, when my nursery school peers in England started bringing baby sisters and brothers around. I was a bookish child whose only friends were my teachers, but a baby seemed like the best sort of companion — a pet, an acolyte and an outlet for my desire to be in charge of things, all in one. My mother claims not to remember the details of this, but my recollection is that the baby was my idea, that my parents had him for me, and that when he was born I gratefully took him off their hands, keeping him company, packing his lunch and making his afternoon snack, until I went to college.

My brother and I never fought for resources (except that TV remote) because we never needed the same thing. We both felt the full glow of our parents’ attention: me for five years solo, and my brother for much of his early life as I grew into my own. During our shared childhood, we lived in 20-odd places on three continents, often finding ourselves in new neighborhoods and schools, where we didn’t know any other kids. Raksha Bandhan was our yearly reminder that we’d never be alone, as long as we had each other.

Aditi Damle
I can’t speak for every Indian, but a survey of my extended family points to the potential of a larger cultural norm: that a sibling was a gift — a relationship to be celebrated rather than navigated. I asked my cousins’ WhatsApp group (you all do this, right?) whether they felt any sibling rivalry growing up. Of the 10 of us, now living in five different countries, I got the same response from eight: nope. “Only American kids fight,” joked one Toronto cousin.

The only two who reported any conflict growing up were also the only pair of the same gender (boys). They were born only two years apart, whereas the others had four to eight years between them. Maybe they fought because they didn’t celebrate Raksha Bandhan? After all, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of celebration for siblings of the same gender. My cousins all laughed at me. O.K., maybe the holiday was only big in my family.

After I had my son five years ago, I was immediately anxious about having another child. Apart from the whole gestation, childbirth and postpartum worries — what if they fought? If all American kids fight, and these kids were definitely going to be American, was my stressful fate sealed?

His dad and I were in no rush to decide, but history repeated itself when my son’s biological clock kicked in at 2. Just like the baby boom I lived through at Snowsfield Primary School, the minute baby brothers and sisters started showing up in his preschool’s Yellow Room, he wanted one, too. If he heard the word “baby,” he’d shout, even to strangers and empty rooms, “I’d like to have a baby!” For almost two years straight, he told his entire school, “We’re going to have a baby soon, because Mama and Dada are working on it.” We were not.

Eventually, though, his lobbying for a sibling somehow worked on us. By the time he was about 3½, we felt sort of ready to try it all again. Ten weeks into the new pregnancy, my husband and I found out it was a girl, and the next time our son brought up the Baby Issue, we were ready to lay some groundwork.

“We’ll see what we can do,” we said, as did my pregnant mother before me. “But if we decide to have a baby, do you think you want a brother or a sister?” We were prepared to nudge him in the right direction if necessary, but he was immediately set on having a sister. “Like Baby Margaret,” on his favorite cartoon, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” PHEW.

After I started showing, we told him we had, indeed, procured him a baby sister, and he couldn’t believe his good luck. “Like I’ve always wanted!” he said. After her birth, I was nervous about how this was actually going to go down, but other than some impatience at my inability to do everything at the same time, and hiccups resolved by the book “Siblings Without Rivalry,” he’s besotted with his sister, whom he refers to as “my baby,” “my little sissy” or “the little missy.”

“Can you believe this wondrous baby was in your belly?” he said last week, watching her pull herself up on a toybox. (Yes, he said “wondrous”; it’s possible we read too much.) She roared like a bodybuilder as he cheered her on. “She was just a tiny little thing, and now she’s cooler than I ever imagined!” It sounds like I’m making this up. I’m not — that’s how he talks. His dad and I know, it’s unusual. We also know that this could be a brief window of peace, and that the kids might spend the rest of their lives trying to punch each other in the face. Who knows? But Raksha Bandhan is coming, and I have solid plans to overdo it. Snacks, desserts, special toys, a new piggy bank.

After all, bribing us to like each other worked for my parents, and who am I to abandon our cultural heritage?

(Source: NYT)

Monday, 19 August 2019

UK elderly suffer worst poverty rate in western Europe

Britain’s low basic pension, combined with means-tested supplements, puts thousands of older people at risk

The proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, the largest increase among western European countries, according to a new study.

The rise, from 0.9% of the elderly population to around 5%, is attributable to Britain’s state pension system and its “low basic payments and means-tested supplements”, says the author of the report, Pension Reforms and Old Age Inequalities in Europe.

Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus, of the University of Oxford, will tell a European Sociological Association conference this week that the UK is one of five countries out of 16 that he has studied where there has been an increase in people aged 65 and over who are living in “severe poverty”, which is defined as having an income of 40% or less of the median average.
 Around 5% of older people struggle to meet basic needs. Photograph: EM Welch/Rex

“The United Kingdom is a good example of the Beveridge-lite systems that have historically failed to combat old-age poverty,” Ebbinghaus said. “These have rather ungenerous basic pensions with means-tested supplements, and this reproduces relatively high severe poverty rates among the elderly. British basic pensions are particularly low, 16% of average earnings, and require a long contribution period. Income-tested or means-tested targeted benefits are needed to supplement basic pensions and to lift them out of severe poverty – every sixth British pensioner receives such additional benefits.”

Using data from the Luxembourg Income Study, which spans several decades, Ebbinghaus found that:

In the mid-1980s about 1% of those aged 65 and over in the UK were living in severe poverty, putting it equal-lowest in poverty rates of 16 western European countries. In France it was 12% and in Germany 6%.

• By 2008, the proportion had risen to 6%, making the UK fourth-equal highest. Only Switzerland, Ireland and Spain were higher.

• Over the following eight years, the proportion dipped slightly but remained at just under 5%.

Ebbinghaus said the UK compared unfavourably with many other countries: “The lowest poverty rates among older people are found in the relatively generous Dutch basic pensions and Nordic welfare states, while the UK, but also Ireland and Switzerland, with basic old-age security, had the highest poverty rates.”

Even when private pensions were taken into account, the UK continued to fare poorly, Ebbinghaus said: “The public-private mix puts many elderly at risk as they lack sufficient supplementary earnings-related pensions.”

He contrasted the UK system, with its flat-rate basic pension, with the “Bismarckian” system used in Germany and several other European countries, where mandatory pension contributions are based on earnings. “A comparative analysis of poverty rates in old age reveals that Beveridge basic security is not always capable of effectively reducing poverty despite the explicit purpose of doing so, while some contributory Bismarckian systems are better suited to reducing poverty, despite focusing on status maintenance,” he said.

Ebbinghaus also studied those aged 65 and over who can be classed as “better off”, meaning that they have an income of 60% or more of the median average. Around 20% of the UK’s elderly met this criterion, closer to the average for western Europe.

The research found that, overall, those European countries that had made private pensions an important source of income for the elderly had seen a rise in financial inequality. “The comparison shows that the shift toward increasing privatisation amplifies the already existing level of social inequality,” Ebbinghaus said.

“As welfare states have been challenged by the financial and economic crises of the 2000s, individuals relying on funded pensions have also faced volatile financial risks,” he said. “The adequacy of retirement income has often been neglected from current debate, partly because poverty in old age seemed no pressing concern in advanced welfare states – until recently.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Why an Australian suburb was demolished to save tiny penguins

The transformation of Phillip Island into a world-class tourist spot has allowed the birds to thrive once again

It’s a magical sight: just as the light begins to vanish, thousands of tiny penguins waddle out of the surf on an island in southern Australia, then head up the beach and along well-worn paths towards their burrows. The “penguin parade” has been a major attraction since the 1920s, when tourists were led by torchlight to view the nightly arrival of the birds – the world’s smallest penguin breed, with adults averaging 13in tall – from a day of fishing and swimming.

For much of that time, the penguins lived among the residents of a housing development, mostly modest holiday homes, in tight proximity to cars and pets, as well as ravenous foxes. The penguins’ numbers fell precipitously. But in 1985, the state government took an extraordinary step: it decided to buy every piece of property on the Summerland Peninsula and return the land to the penguins. The process was completed in 2010.

The birds are now thriving. There are about 31,000 breeding penguins on the peninsula, up from 12,000 in the 1980s. Phillip Island Nature Parks is the most popular wildlife tourist destination in the state of Victoria, drawing 740,000 visitors in 2018. And late last month, a gleaming symbol of that success opened to the public: a A$58m (£32m) visitor centre, a striking star-shaped building with glass walls that look on to penguin burrows.

The story of the transformation of the Summerland Peninsula from a coastal suburb into a wildlife habitat and world-class tourist spot is one of unusual government foresight. It also reflects the vital Australian tourism industry’s heavy reliance on wilderness and wildlife resources and the economic threats posed by environmental degradation.
Scientists were concerned in the 1980s that the local population of little penguins would be wiped out ( Getty )

“The case study at Phillip Island is proof that difficult short-term decisions can yield great long-term results,” says Rachel Lowry, chief conservation officer of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Australia. “It is an incredible example of allowing scientific modelling to motivate and inform a decision that has gone on to benefit both people and nature in the long term.”

Phillip Island, which sits in the mouth of Western Port Bay about 85 miles south of Melbourne, is home to the world’s largest colony of the species known as the little penguin. In addition to the southern coastline of Australia, the birds also breed and nest in New Zealand.

In the 1930s, the owners of the land on the peninsula gave about 10 acres to the state of Victoria for the protection of the little penguins, and by the 1950s viewing stands and fences had been built on Summerland Beach – the main observation point for the parade – to control human access and viewing. A visitor centre was built in the 1960s. For many residents of Victoria, a visit to the penguin parade was – and still is – a childhood rite of passage, the destination for school trips and family outings.

But the peninsula, with its breathtaking views of the ocean, has also been an attractive location for developers. On the penguins’ breeding ground, 190 structures – mainly homes – were built as part of Summerland Estate, with plans for hundreds more. That, along with the predatory behaviour of foxes (now eradicated) that had been introduced by European settlers, led to a sharp decrease in the island’s population of little penguins. At one time there were 10 colonies on Phillip Island; today there is only one. By the early 1980s, scientists studying the colony were worried about the prospect of total local extinction.

“The colony was being eroded at an alarmingly rapid rate,” says Peter Dann, research manager at Phillip Island Nature Parks. Dann has worked for the parks since the early 1980s and was one of the authors of a study that led to the Summerland property buyback. When Dann describes the 1985 decision to remove or destroy the structures in Summerland Estate, he still seems shocked it happened. It is thought to be the only instance in the world in which an entire community has been purchased by a government for the sake of environmental and wildlife protection.

Dann gives much of the credit to Joan Kirner, who was the minister for conservation at the time and went on to become Victoria’s premier. She died in 2015. “She came out here; she toured the island; I explained the situation to her,” Dunn says. “She went back and convinced the government that this was the right thing to do. I think if it had been anyone else, anyone but Kirner, I never could have convinced them.”

In the years leading up to 1985, measures had been taken by the government to halt development and buy undeveloped land on the peninsula. But the idea of eradicating Summerland Estate was a bombshell for residents. “We were horrified and deeply shocked and incredibly saddened,” a former resident, Jean Verwey, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year, adding that she finds it difficult to visit the site of her former family home.

Because of financing issues, the buyback took a decade longer than originally planned. This gave some residents more time in their properties, but it also left them in a state of limbo. They were banned from building or upgrading in any way. Dann, who himself was a onetime renter on the peninsula, says he understands the anguish. “I have lots of empathy – these are people who have spent countless Christmases and holidays here, who made intergenerational family memories,” he says. But his main concern is for the penguins, he says.

The new visitor centre is on land that was previously a car park for the old centre, in a location between the dunes, the headland and the wetlands, where penguins are unlikely to build burrows. It has a much larger capacity than the old centre, with two restaurants, event spaces and meeting rooms. This month, nine years after the last Summerland Estate home was purchased and removed by the state, a final demolition is due to begin: the old centre and its surrounding facilities will be cleared, freeing up almost 15 acres of prime habitat – enough for about 1,400 tiny penguins.

(Source: Independent)