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York Centre for Asian Research Update            Issue 6, March 14, 2005

In this Issue

Today @ YCAR: Brownbag Seminar - Practice What You Preach? The Role of Rural NGOs in Women’s Empowerment

Thursday Seminar: “Mining, Conflict & Trade in Asia Pacific” by Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada

Call for Applications: Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health Training Awards 2005-06 - Agricultural transformation, human health and nutrition linkages

Summer Course on Refugee Issues at Centre for Refugee Studies, York University Toronto, June 11-19, 2005


Asia Op-Ed: Dilemmas of democracy in Bangladesh by AKM Abedur Rahaman

Today @ YCAR: Practice What You Preach? The Role of Rural NGOs in Women’s Empowerment  by Dr. Femida Handy  (FES, York University) and Dr. Meenaz Kassam  (OISE, University of Toronto)

Monday, March 14, 2005, 12:00-1:30 p.m. 270B York Lanes, Keele Campus, York University

If NGO employees are advocating behavior change for self-empowerment such behaviour must also be modeled for successful transmission as suggested in the self-efficacy models of behavior change. Rural NGOs in India that depend on local population for employees face a limited labor pool who are as likely to be vulnerable to the traditional social pressures and therefore equally marginalized as their clients.      This may cause a gap between what the employees may be trained to 'preach' and what they may 'practice' thereby diminishing their effectiveness to motivate change.  The study examines the employees of a successful rural NGO in India that has received accolades for its work in empowerment to establish if the employees actually ‘walk the talk’. Using three empowerment instruments, including one developed for this study, it is found that employees indeed ‘walk the talk’ and their index of empowerment is related to their tenure in the NGO. Policy recommendations are made based on the findings.

Thursday Seminar: “Mining, Conflict and Trade in Asia Pacific” by Dr. Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada

Thursday, March 17, 2005, 2:30-4:30 p.m., 305 York Lanes, Keele Campus, York University

Canadian mining companies are at the center of intense struggles over human rights, economic security and cultural survival in the Asia-Pacific region. This presentation provides a brief overview of some of the social issues related to struggles surrounding Canadian mining projects in India, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea. It explores in greater depth one case in the Philippines and one in Kanaky-New Caledonia where indigenous peoples’ efforts to establish their rights over land and to cultural continuity are being severely eroded in the confrontation with Canadian mining companies. These examples highlight the need to examine violence and human rights abuses around mining in the region from the perspective of the new security agenda and Canadian trade policies, as well as the need to revisit frameworks for regulating the activities of Canadian corporations overseas. 


The event is co-sponsored by the Colloquium on Global South and YCAR

Call for Applications: Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health Training Awards 2005-06

Agricultural transformation, human health and nutrition linkages


The Ecohealth Training Awards encourage graduate-level students to examine the relationships between the environment, human health, and sustainable development from a holistic perspective through field research.   The focus of this year’s competition is the link between agricultural transformation and health with a particular focus on nutrition.   Applicants are asked to submit proposals that use ecosystem approaches to analyse the links between human health, nutrition and agro-ecosystem conditions, as well as identify potential intervention strategies based on better natural resource management that improve human health and ecosystem sustainability.


Deadline for receiving applications: May 16, 2005



The Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health Awards are intended to provide financial assistance to graduate students undertaking research projects that explore the interaction between various components of an ecosystem, and how these components influence the prevalence of health problems among human populations.   The Awards programme is also designed to encourage collaboration with the institutional partners who will be the end-users of the research.   The proposed research should, therefore, contribute to the development of effective strategies to improve human health through better resource management.   Through active engagement with partner institutions and members of the IDRC Ecohealth Team, recipients of the Awards have the opportunity to contribute to the existing body of knowledge regarding how ecosystemic contexts may impact human health, and engage in work that can produce tangible and meaningful impacts for communities.    


Priority will be given to proposals that:
• focus on the multiple dimensions of the human health and well-being continuum using an ecosystem approach to human health in the specific context of agro-ecosystems and nutritional issues; and

• identify ecosystem management options that will maximise human health while simultaneously encouraging the development of sustainable ecosystems.

Number and Value of Awards:

A maximum of ten awards with a maximum value of 15,000 CAD each will be granted to support field work that contributes to a Master’s or PhD thesis. Applicants must disclose all sources of funding, and their budget should clearly reflect how different funds are allocated. Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health Training Awards cannot be used to pay tuition fees. They may, however, be held concurrently with other awards. The winning candidates could access an additional 4,000 upon the completion of their field work to attend an international conference to present their findings.


Duration of tenure:

Up to one year to complete the field work.


For more information and for examples of Ecohealth-funded research projects, applicants are strongly encouraged to visit our website at  prior to submitting their proposal.

Eligibility criteria:

• citizenship of a developing country, Canadian citizenship, or landed immigrant status in Canada;
•full-time enrolment in a graduate programme at a recognised university in Canada or in a developing country for the duration of the award period (letter from the registrar or program chair);

• a signed Declaration of Support from an academic supervisor indicating their acknowledgement and acceptance of integrating ecosystem approaches into the applicant’s proposed research (see form attached);
• proficiency in one of the two official languages in Canada (English or French);
• proficiency in the official language(s) of the country of research;
• field research preferably in a developing country;
• affiliation with a host organization (university, NGO, municipal government, or research institution) in the country where the research will be conducted;
• for successful applicants, attendance at a one-week workshop in Ottawa on Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health from August 22 to 26, 2005   (attendance is compulsory; travel and accommodation costs will be covered by IDRC, independent of the Award).

Awards will be announced by June 30, 2005.

Conference Attendance:

After completion of the research, each winning awardee could access a budget of up to 4,000 CAD to attend an international conference where the research findings will be presented.   This funding will be contingent upon receipt of a satisfactory final report, approval of the proposed presentation by the conference organizers, as well as IDRC approval of the proposed plans and expenses associated with the conference attendance. The conference attendance funding will be available to awardees up to August 2007.

Summary table of key milestones for the Ecohealth Awards 2005


Deadline for submission of Award applications

May 16, 2005

Announcement of Awards

June 30, 2005

Training week in Ottawa

August 22 – 26, 2005

Signing of Awards contracts

August 22 – 26, 2005

Commencement of field work by awardees

Before August 2006

Submission of final reports to IDRC

Within 6 months of returning from the field but no later than August 2007

Submission of request to attend an international conference to present the work supported though the Ecohealth Awards

By August 2007



EcoHealth Awards

Centre Training and Awards Program
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Street Address: 250 Albert St., Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6M1
Mailing Address: PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario K1G 3H9
Fax: (613) 563-0815
Telephone: (613) 236-6163 ext. 2098

Summer Course on Refugee Issues at the Centre for Refugee Studies, York University Toronto, June 11-19, 2005

The Summer Course on Refugee Issues organized by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University is an internationally acclaimed 8-day training for academic and field-based practitioners working in the area of forced migration.  The course involves a rigorous schedule of lectures, panels and discussions, and a
simulation exercise held at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Toronto.  The course draws from academic and field-based experts for its faculty and, reflecting the Centre's mission, serves as a hub for researchers, students, service providers and policy makers to share information and ideas.

Topics and presenters* confirmed for the 2005 Summer Course include:  


* Specific presentation titles are confirmed on an on-going basis, refer to for updates.

On the 7th day of the course (Friday, June 17), simulated refugee hearings will be held at the Immigration and Refugee Board Toronto. In this intensive exercise, course participants will be assigned roles to carry out mock refugee hearings. Participants will be provided with background material pertinent to their roles on the first day of the course, which they are to gain sufficient familiarity with by the time of the simulation. The goal of the exercise is to develop an understanding of the different duties and obstacles faced by each participant in the hearing. The hearings are closely modeled on the framework of the Canadian refugee determination system.

Course Fee: $850.  After March 31, 2005: $950
Sponsored applicants may be eligible for the $850 fee past March 31 if proof of sponsorship is provided before this date. Fee includes course and all course materials.  Food and accommodation are not included. A limited number of tuition subsidies are available.

For further information and application materials go to or E-mail:
Contact: Bruce Collet, Summer Course Director
Centre for Refugee Studies, York University
Suite 315, York Lanes, 4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario MJ3 1P3

Hosts Needed!

Billets needed for international participants at the 2005 Summer Course on Refugee Issues, June 11-19

Host an international participant! Each year, the Summer Course on Refugee Issues attracts participants from all over the world who are in need of accommodation.  If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, please consider hosting one or more of our guests. Billets often make the enrolment of our international students possible, and serving as a host can be an enriching experience for both parties.

For more information, email Bruce Collet, Summer Course Director, Centre for Refugee Studies at  or phone (416) 736-5423.


Asia Op-Ed: Dilemmas of democracy in Bangladesh

By AKM Abedur Rahaman

The Daily Star, 2005-03-13

Plato called democracy a "charming form of government full of variety, disorder and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike." In recent years the variety and disorder seem to have outweighed the charm for a number of countries in Asia and Africa including Bangladesh. The Western style parliamentary democracy was imposed on the people of the Indian subcontinent, without having regard to their socio-economic conditions, political traditions, and pre-requisites of democratic institutions.

The people found it difficult to accept such alien institutions as they were not deep rooted in their political traditions. After the independence of Bangladesh, its constitution makers adopted a parliamentary form of democracy based on the same model as the 1956 constitution of Pakistan. I would now like to discuss the problems of democracy in Bangladesh. Some of the problems are shared by the other emergent democracies in Asia, while others are peculiar to her. I will make an attempt to make a comparative study of the working of democracy in the West with the nascent democracies in Asia and Africa with particular emphasis on Bangladesh.

In the West, the transition from autocracy to democracy was a slow and gradual process, and was carried on in a far less complicated conditions than those which confront the democracies of Asia and Africa including Bangladesh. As democracy demands people's participation in the affairs of government, it requires a higher standard of living among far more people than do other forms of government. In the under-developed countries of Asia and Africa, including Bangladesh, the priority of the people is to strive for economic emancipation, whilst trying to preserve the democratic values and traditions at the same time. It is a difficult task to maintain a delicate balance between political freedom and socio-economic progress.

In the West, however, people with economic means and political weight, who need not have to fight for survival, can easily participate in the political affairs. Such participation has gone a long way to contribute towards the successful working of democratic institutions. A society divided between a small favoured elite and a large impoverished mass in Bangladesh may not be suitable to develop democratic values and traditions. The economic conditions are mores conducive to oligarchy than to free democratic institutions.

Moreover, the political history of the people of the Indian subcontinent is more associated with oligarchy and despotic rule than democratic institutions. Despite the fact that they were familiar with some form of rudimentary parliamentary democracy since 1919, they found it difficult to adjust themselves to such free democratic institutions, which they considered was insecurely grafted upon their older and more deep-rooted system of authority. Consequently, the experiment of such new political institutions exhibited certain disquieting features, hampering the growth and development of democratic institutions.

The small favoured elite groups, who had been familiar with the concept of Western democratic institution, were responsible for its imposition in Bangladesh. These elites, including some top army officials, bureaucrats and politicians, who happen to exercise the real power in Bangladesh, have miserably failed to deliver the fruits of its independence to the masses. They have been reaping its benefits since independence, creating a society with a wide difference between the haves and have-nots. Such economic disparity between the rich and the poor has led to the creation of an environment not favourable for the growth and development of free democratic institutions.

As perhaps 90 percent of the people of Bangladesh are Muslims, the impact of religion on politics cannot be ignored altogether. Although the religious groups would prefer to hold onto Islamic culture and tradition, they have reluctantly accepted the imposition of Western democratic institutions. It is true that the elites are trying to understand and appreciate the genius and traditions of the masses and the religious groups are also making an effort to meet the challenges of modern science and technology. There is still a long way to go before they can reach an agreement. They must try to reconcile their contrasting views on politics so that a compromise is made for the creation of a society where synthesis can be made between our fundamental belief and the requirements of our modern life. Such society, if created, will certainly facilitate the growth and development of free democratic institutions.

The political party is regarded as one of the fundamental requisites of a democratic form of government, be it presidential or parliamentary. In the West, both the ruling and the opposition parties play their respective parts in order to ensure that the process of democracy can work successfully. The opposition party abides by the decision of the ruling party, while the ruling party also recognise the rights and grievances of the opposition party. Such exchange of views and mutual respect for each other has contributed towards the successful working of democracy there.

In Bangladesh, on the other hand, the role of the political parties is marred by dirty political intrigues, lack of discipline and organisation, and greed for power. The role of the opposition party has not yet been properly appreciated or understood. The tendency of the ruling party is to brand the opposition as anti-state and subversive, while the opposition has not yet learnt the limits of constitutional opposition. There seems to be much confusion and misunderstanding between opposition to the government and opposition to the state. Democracy requires people to participate in the affairs of the government. As it is not possible for the people to take part directly, public opinion should be formed to criticise the government and make their wishes known in respect of the formulation of its policies. Democracy, therefore, provides scope for the people to form their opinion and at the same time an opportunity to the opposition party to generate alternative policies. Such fair play of power between the opposition and the ruling party is the main essence of democratic institutions. The well-organised public opinion depends for its existence on a responsible and free press, and a literate, serious and educated public. Bangladesh, like most of the other nascent democracies in Asia and Africa, lack these requisites.

Periodical elections should be held to determine the kind of government the people want. Such election can be held either on the basis of universal adult or restricted suffrage. The adoption of universal adult suffrage amongst people majority of whom are illiterate or semi-illiterate is beset with formidable difficulties and obstacles. The adoption of universal suffrage in Bangladesh, while disregarding the fact that a substantial portion of its population are still illiterate or semi-illiterate, was a step in the right direction. In the Western democratic countries, the extension of franchise had been gradual and was accompanied by a corresponding expansion of education.

Whatever arguments may be put forward against the adoption of adult suffrage without the extension of universal education, such adoption has done more good than harm to the cause of democracy in the new democracies. It has raised the level of alertness and political consciousness among the masses and it is through the trial of elections that people will learn the art of self-government. Such elections should be free and fair so that the will of the people can be reflected in the formation of the government. The rigging of elections by the ruling party is still widespread in emergent democracies of Asia and Africa. The incorporation of the provision of a caretaker government in the constitution of Bangladesh was intended to ensure that free and fair elections could be held. Such caretaker government, if composed and operates properly, will ensure that the elections are held independently without the interference of the ruling party. Such provision for a caretaker government should be phased out with the extension of universal education, when the masses acquire the qualities to form their own judgement in exercising their right of vote without any outside influence.

Regular military intervention, undue interference of the head of the state, heterogeneous nationalities, tribes and languages, which adversely affected the working of the parliamentary democracy in Pakistan, did not have any impact on Bangladesh politics. Nevertheless, the military intervention to take over the civil administration following the chaos and confusion created in the country after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib cannot be ignored altogether.

Fortunately, Ershad's misrule for long 9 years perhaps put an end to the prospect of any military intervention in the future. It is true that the socio-economic conditions, political traditions and the absence of the pre- requisites of democracy did not help the growth of the democratic institutions in Bangladesh. Such difficulties and obstacles perhaps could have been overcome by the existence of one province, homogenous nation, race, religion, language and tribe to create an environment for the development of democratic institutions if the politicians were tolerant, well organised, disciplined and perhaps less greedy for power. The analysis of the working of the parliamentary democracy from 1991 to 2004 revealed certain disquieting features differentiating it from its counterpart in the West. The decision of the main political parties in Bangladesh to boycott the parliament and resort to violence and hartal in order to force the ruling party out of power clearly speaks of their intention to capture power without having regard to democratic values.

The fate of democracy in Bangladesh as in many parts of Asia and Africa depends upon the development of a strong and sound footing amongst the people. This may be termed as the infrastructure of democracy, which means the movement for democracy must grow with education and economic improvement. The ultimate success of democracy in new countries including Bangladesh will come only with economic and educational progress, when the importance of democracy as a form of human relationship and as a process permitting changes within a frame of stability can be appreciated by the people.

AKM Abedur Rahaman is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR). For further information, contact Ste. 270 York Lanes, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON  M3J 1P3. URL: