Social Choice Theory by Cassie Novick

Ranchod Nilsson’s article “Gender Politics and the Pendulum of Political Social Transformation in Zimbabwe” brings indirect attentions to the importance of institutions and economic conditions in public choice and policy making as well as the importance of working with and no solely against a government with which a group of people disagree. First of all, institutions help determine voting rules and actions within established voting rules. Social Choice Theory tells us through Arrows Impossibility Theorem that there is a tradeoff between social rationality and the concentration of power. In other words, there is a tradeoff between representing everyone’s interests fairly and allowing for authoritarianism or dictatorship. This theorem that mirrors Locke’s ideals relates to the article, because in a newly independent government such as Zimbabwe, the government as well as the people are going to struggle with their new found freedom, responsibilities, and the tradeoff of social rationality and concentration of power. So it honestly makes sense to me that new found independence and a growing progressive social movement would exacerbate the volatile swinging of the pendulum toward social equality, which already exists in countries with stable institutions and political conditions (discussed further below in relation to the magaya v. magaya decision).

 Additionally economic conditions are important in that they determine the incentives the majority has to make change. To reference social choice theory again, people will always prefer the status quo to being worse off and will only make an effort to change the status quo when they have a certain level of assurance or probability that they will be able to successfully make their situation better off (or closer to their ideal). Furthermore, if economic conditions are as bad as they were in Zimbabwe after independence and people are more concerned with surviving day to day, they will rarely find the time, resources, or desire to fight for change. This will result in a minority of people fighting for social change and accomplishing it in a more non-linear fashion that the article references It is not until a majority of people have the luxury to advocate or are left with nothing left to lose that there will be substantial, more linear progress made toward social equality. When a majority of people have the luxury to advocate for a cause rather than worry about their day to day survival, they will take the time to educate themselves and work with a government entity to change policy. In contrast if a majority is left with nothing left to lose will spark reactionary revolt and overthrow the government rather than work with it.

The magaya v. magaya court decision in the Gender Politics article also resonates with issues presented in the Intimate Partner Violence article from two weeks ago. Both the court decision and the previous article recognize the time it takes for social transformation to infiltrate the ranks of authority and various institutions/systems already in place under a more paternalistic system. I would argue that nearly every fight for greater social equality has been more non-linear than linear and subject to the idea of the pendulum presented in the article.  Advocate groups often win small battles with pieces of legislation, swinging the pendulum back and forth, but the real war the advocacy groups are fighting are not won until the clock strikes twelve, if you will, and a Supreme Court decision or some other higher up authority falls in their favor. This process can be observed in many of the movements for acceptance and against discrimination in the United States such as Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, and is in action now with the fight to gain acceptance/legalization of gay marriage.

Women’s issues in Zimbabwe and AIDS preventions By Catherine Perez

Starting with the article on gender issues in Zimbabwe, it is definitely depressing to read about. They start with a court decision that is totally sexist and has, I believe, no ground at all. But being in a different society, where women have little rights, it doesn’t matter what I think about it, since it’s about what they think. And men seem to be the only persons with power to enforce their beliefs. So even if a woman was legally given the right to inheritance by her father, some other male can just claim it for themselves, and win. Just because they are male and the inheritor female. No other reason. But in Zimbabwe, I guess it makes perfect sense, since women can’t inherit. But for her half-brother to be an ass and kick her out….to me that isn’t a legal issue of a man should inherit a property. It’s almost stealing. Her brother wanted the property from her, not for the legal reason that women aren’t allowed to inherit, but probably because he wanted the property for himself. Selfish of him, and it’s his sister? But I guess in Zimbabwe, even siblings don’t get respect based on gender. But what about the father’s will? He’s male, and designated the property to his daughter. So why does his decision not matter at all?

And also, women served in the Zimbabwe military (of different groups), so they risked their lives and wellbeing just like men. But even with the right to work in the armies, they were seen as a way to persuade men to join since men wouldn’t want women to one up them. And women weren’t given any more right really. And after the fighting and development of a new state, they struggled for years with policy to give women rights, but I don’t think much change happened, and at least not enough was being done

The quote below I found contradictory. So they say this yet still don’t protect or respect women more?

“We must honour women because they are our mothers. If we don’t hold women well, we will never win the war.”

It’s a shame. I kinda hope this oppression of women has become less now, but I can’t say I have that much faith in people to change. And this article did focus less on the AIDS/HIV aspect we usually talk about it class, but it’s this basis of attitude toward women that helps spread and create such a huge problem of AIDS in women in Africa.

As for the prevention reading, I’m glad they have programs that are directed towards high-risk groups like truck drivers and sex-workers. AIDS/HIV in these groups is a major problem, and mostly combated by using condoms or not having these sexual relations at all. The idea of presenters acting out a play to promote safe practices and to inform about STDs and symptoms is interesting. But it gets people to pay attention in a way that isn’t aggressive in their face. Either way, promoting safe-sex practices is probably one of the best ways to prevent HIV/AIDS, since using condoms or not having sex with high-risk groups (or having any risky sex in general) prevents the main way of contracting HIV.

PEPFAR and Prostitution: The Unintended Consequences of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge by Daniel Hougendobler

After reading the Partners in Prevention report from Tamil Nadu, I was reminded of the damaging effect U.S. foreign policy has had  on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in contexts such as these.  In many contexts, such as with truck drivers in Tamil Nadu, commercial sex work is a large driver of the epidemic.  Working with this particularly vulnerable population is essential to arresting the spread of the epidemic.

Unfortunately, The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program instituted a mandatory “anti-prostitution pledge” also known as an “Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath” for recipients of aid money. 

This requirement stems from a provision  of the PEPFAR authorizing legislation (22 U.S.C. § 7631(f)) that states: “No funds made available to carry out this chapter, or any amendment made by this chapter, may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.” The statute goes on to exempt the Global Fund, WHO, IAVI, and the UN from this provision.

USAID directives implementing this provision have required that NGO’s “must have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution” to be eligible for grant funding.

This requirement has had a decidedly negative impact on the ability and willingness of NGO’s to collaborate with commercial sex workers on the prevention of HIV/AIDS.  This provision would have a chilling effect on the activities like those taken with commercial sex workers in Tamil Nadu. NGO’s on the ground in several countries have documented the problems that have resulted from the anti-prostitution provision.  For example, this brief video illustrates the problems the legislative requirement has caused.

The case has been successfully attacked on 1st Amendment grounds in the 2nd Circuit.  In the case of Alliance for Open Society International v. USAID, the 2nd circuit upheld a preliminary injunction, suspending enforcement of the anti-prostitution provision of the law, and, in February of this year, denied a request for en banc reconsideration.  In enjoining further enforcement, the court found that the organizations were likely to succeed on their First Amendment challenge, and were likely to suffer irreparable harm from enforcement of the provision.  However, this decision still fails to address organizations based outside the United States, which do not enjoy 1st Amendment protections.

The anti-prostitution provision is an excellent example of good intentions causing unintended and harmful results.  The bill’s authors almost certainly intended the provision as a tool to fight sex trafficking – an important and uncontroversial goal.  However, the way in which the provision was implemented created a situation in which commercial sex workers were marginalized and effective interventions were discouraged.  What had been intended as a tool to help those victimized by sex trafficking resulted in further marginalization of a vulnerable group.

What lessons can be learned from this experience?  First, as the Tamil Nadu interventions demonstrate, effective interventions must be targeted to specific populations.  The more restrictions that a donor places on funds, the less discretion is left to NGO’s to adapt to local circumstances.  Of course some restrictions and requirements are necessary to ensure that money is spent responsibly and accountably.  However, any restrictions should be carefully analyzed, in collaboration with those working in the field, to ensure that they will not have unintended consequences.  This will ensure that programs, like those in Tamil Nadu, can continue with the support they need.

Gender Politics in Zimbabwe by Meridith Mikulich

The article on gender politics in Zimbabwe immediately made me think back to our previous discussions of the link between gender-based violence, gender inequity and HIV. It is amazing to me how the same trend exists across the globe. Moreover, as we have learned, high HIV rates are not a direct cause of gender-based violence, but an indirect result of gender-related power inequities. This really highlights how important the empowerment of women is to combatting the HIV epidemic; it is really no coincidence that some the highest HIV prevalence rates among women exist in the same areas of highest gender inequality. 

One of the first things that struck me while reading this article is how in many ways gender inequity was amplified due to events that were believed to (or at least portrayed as) advance the status of women. The author highlights this well, noting that “the role of women became very important through practical reasons, rather than through ideological reasons”. While it may appear on the surface that women’s participation in the military was an advance for women, because some traditional practices (like lobola) were suspended and “military rank superseded gender rank”, these were only short-term concessions for political leaders to ultimately utilize the manpower that women could provide. The fact that women in the military were still frequently sexually abused makes this distinctly apparent. Further, since there were no long-term changes made, it is hard to argue that these short-lived advances for women were anything but that. Clearly, as the author states “gender reforms were never on the movement’s practical agenda”.

It really amazes me how much a political leader (or political party) can make such a difference in the social norms of a country. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast to the history of Burkina Faso (a country where I have worked) despite some similar situations. For example, male migration was (and still is) very common in Burkina Faso after they gained their independence. It is one of the poorest countries in the world (ranked 181 out of 188 on the Human Development Index) with very few natural resources, and so many men migrate for agricultural work to Cote d’Ivoire. Consequently, women were left as the heads of households, and as a result women enjoyed relatively high participation in salaried employment (especially in the civil service) and prominence in political and administrative positions. However, this was largely due to the political environment of the country. President Thomas Sankara strongly supported social programs, like education and empowerment of women, and so under his leadership this was possible (…I could go on for pages about Sankara, but I will get to my point). Conversely, under the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe rather than allowing a similar situation (of male migration) to empower women, instead it made them more dependent on the government (to intervene on their behalf when issues arose), and their support of these women was really only to further empower their regime.

Week 7: Ranchod-Nilsson & Bahri

Week 7 focused on how the HIV/AIDS epidemic unfolded in Zimbabwe and  India. Dr. Ranchod-Nilson talked specifically about gender politics in Zimbabwe and how they were impacted by structural factors and social inequalities. She explained that the country was slow to respond to the epidemic (first case was in 1985, first national policy was in 1999). The basis of the economy is agriculture and mining both which depend heavily on regional transportation routes. This is one way the disease “traveled.”

Dr. Bahri talked about her work in Tamil Nadu, in southern India. An an English professor, she asked the students to think of the “story” of HIV/AIDS in India. She wondered whose story is and is not told and who are the “cast of characters” we hear about. Dr. Bahri also talked about the impact of colonial regimes on our understanding of women, reproduction, sexuality, nation, and belonging in this area. Finally, in her work with sex workers and NGO’s  in Tamil Nadu she found it was important to focus on “family” (kutumba) and “diginity” (maryada).


  • Bahri, Deepika. “Partners In Prevention: AIDS Prevention and Control in Tamil Nadu.”
  • Ranchod-Nilsson, Sita. “Gender Politics and the Pendulum and Social Transformation in Zimbabwe.” Journal of African Studies. Vol. 32, No.1. March 2006. 49-67.

Cultural Competency: Drug Culture by Soraya Chanyasubkit

In my Community Health Practices among Refugees and Immigrants Global Health course (long name, I know), we learned the LEARN acronym to familiarize ourselves with the foundations of cultural competency. LEARN stood for listen, explain, acknowledge, recommend, and negotiate. While in the global health class, we are refering to newly arrived immigrants and refugees who have trouble navigating a new culture, language, society, and health care system who probably keep dear and want to maintain their customs and traditional methods of healing, which can conflict when integrating themselves in America.

This is a similar predicament when it comes to the international drug culture. Because it really is what we’re dealing with – another culture. Sure the drug of choice may vary across nations, but it’s the same problem, intravenous drug users. Which are tied with prostitution, violence, high crime levels, and stigma. They have their own customs, vocabulary, and circumstances – a “new” population that instead of a refugee resettlement agency must contend with, but rather public health.

And honestly it’s really, to put it simply, hard. There are so many pre-conceived judgements, discrimination swirling around these individuals. It begins as an escape and in turn entraps them so they themselves can’t escape. And with all the resources and funding available (or rather, not available) why should we help these junkies? Aside from the altruistic, moral, social responsibility that I’m happy the class feels, but just doesn’t cut it in terms of gaining actual funding, there’s a host of public health and societal reasons to clean up the streets – or at least the needles. Whatever belief you hold (“We shouldn’t condone drug use by giving them needles/starting a needle exchange program”), the article stands correct when it says that these people – because they are people – should have the right to reduce the risk they have for themselves and others.

Ideally, we’d rid the world of drug users, but that goes along with the equally intangible racism, terrorism, poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, malaria, etc. But like the article notes, that this will never happen so the best that we can do is accomodate them in the saftest way possible. And here we can enact the LEARN principle. We can listen to these people, their addiction, their poverty, why they turned to drugs in the first place. Explain to them their options and it’s possible to stop, or at least reduce the harm. Acknowledge their problem, the difficulties. Recommend rehabilitation, detoxification and counselling. And the one that is most fitting negotiate. You can’t force anyone to change without their own volition. And that’s why we negotiate: we won’t force a behavior (until you choose to change it) as long as you protect yourself and those around you. That’s the best that we can hope for. Because like Dr. del Rio said last class: HIV/AIDS isn’t an infectious disease – it’s a reflection of society, economy, religion. And so is the international drug problem.