For University Press Week 2019, we are highlighting a collection of books and journal articles that provide insight and comprehensive perspectives on global topics. Whether challenging the conversation around the representations of women in Africa, addressing the role of public presentation in papering over an unchanging power dynamic, or working for social justice by documenting the considerable benefits of early life Medicaid coverage, these authors are helping to shift the conversation towards more equitable and sustainable policies for all.
In Holding the World Together, edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson, contributions from leading scholars focus on agency and avoid stereotypical depictions of African women, reframing the way we think about what we know and how we know it. Essays provide critical perspectives on representation, women’s roles in national liberation movements, and their unique challenges in the areas of health and disease.
“The field of African women’s and gender studies is more than abstractly engaged in the daily lives of those it studies, delineating contemporary political, economic, and social implications of African realities. Thus, our changing perspectives are driven not just by, for instance, the desire to contest ongoing negative stereotypes, but also by contemporary history. Recent African women’s and gender scholarship has emphasized political activism and women’s empowerment, in line with rising political power by women in some countries. Researchers join the subjects of their studies in seeking improvements in the situations of ordinary African women in a variety of contexts. Driving this activist impulse is the perception (and reality) that many African women face increasing threats to their well-being with respect to legal, political, economic, and social factors. Decisions made elsewhere in the world capitalist economy often distort African local economies, and political agency and choices are curtailed by outside pressures, corruption, and an electorate often with little formal education. Economies falter in the face of man-made and natural disasters and political corruption, while a rapid pace of social change involving urbanization, social and geographical dislocations, and religious movements fosters innovations in forms of organization. Contributors engage these issues as they relate to women and gender in Africa, paying particular attention to changing notions of gender identity and African women’s perceptions.” (Achebe & Robertson, 8)
How do you motivate parents to spend more time reading to their children? In the article “Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement: The Parents and Children Together Intervention” from the Journal of Human Resources, Susan E. Mayer, Ariel Kalil, Philip Oreopoulos, and Sebastian Gallegos designed an experiment using a digital library on an electronic tablet. The program used behavioral tools (“reminders, goal-setting, and social rewards”) to more than double the amount of time parents spent reading to their children over a six-week period. If such interventions can increase parental engagement in disadvantaged families, they could go a long way toward bridging the skills gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children, a gap that can be observed even before children start school, and which persists throughout school years.
Joanna Allan reveals how authoritarian regimes in Equatorial Guinea and Morocco, in partnership with Western states and corporations, create a public perception of promoting equality while simultaneously undermining women’s rights in order to cash in on natural resources. Silenced Resistance brings awareness to this genderwashing, and how it plays an integral role in determining the composition of public resistance to authoritarian regimes.
“Sultana could hear the tourists outside chattering and laughing, spectators to Marrakesh’s most famous square. . . . It is easy to miss the architectural understatement of the low-rise, beige Police Commission that sits anemically in one corner of the Djemaa el Fna square. The building’s ability to merge blandly into the background is opportune for the Moroccan regime, which shows a heavily made-up face to the country’s visitors. The Anglophone guidebooks are an ally to Morocco. They make the best of the story of how the Djemaa el Fna (Assembly of the Dead) got its name: ‘heretics’ and ‘criminals’ were tortured here centuries ago, says Lonely Planet. Centuries ago. If the hint of a scream was today to escape from the commission, it would have to fight for attention with the hammers of souq ironmongers, the clashing brass cups of the water carriers, the squeals of dancing monkeys, or the supernatural drone of the snake charmers hypnotizing the guidebook writers. Incidentally, the mouths of many charmed cobras are sewn shut.” (Allan, 3-4)
The United States’ current energy policy attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enforcing standards on the transportation and electricity sectors, promoting the use of renewable fuels. Another possible approach is a carbon tax, which would impose a fee for burning carbon-based fuels. In their article “What Is the Cost of a Renewable Energy–Based Approach to Greenhouse Gas Mitigation?” from Land Economics, Anthony Oliver and Madhu Khanna compare the existing regulations with this alternative, determining that the global emissions reduction achieved by a carbon tax is more than 50% higher than the current policy.
This month, we publish Elusive Justice, Donny Meertens’s new book on the restoration of land rights in Colombia during its transition to peace. There were significant challenges in making the promise of the Victims and Land Restitution Law real for rural women. Meertens contends that women’s advocacy organizations must have a prominent role in overseeing transitional policies in order to create a more just society.
“The three themes of this book—land restitution, gender equity, and reparations—are part of the historical roots of the conflict and core elements of the peace process. . . . Gender equity and redress for the specific forms of violence inflicted on women have been recognized by government and rebels as necessary for building a more inclusive democracy in a postconflict society. Justice, in its multiple forms and interpretations (from criminal to social, from official system to subjective experience), constitutes the backbone of a lasting peace.” (Meertens, 6)
In “The Long-Term Effects of Early Life Medicaid Coverage” from the Journal of Human Resources, Sarah Miller and Laura R. Wherry study individuals who gained access to Medicaid coverage while in utero and during the first year of life through an expansion of Medicaid that occurred from 1979 to 1993. Because this early period is crucial to development, the authors found that the impacts of this policy shift continued into adulthood, with the cohort experiencing “lower rates of chronic conditions…and fewer hospitalizations related to diabetes and obesity,” as well as increased high school graduation rates.