Democratic opposition in Belarus awarded Sakharov Prize for 2020

By: Leah Colgan

On November 22, 2020 the Sakharov Prize was awarded to the Democratic Opposition in Belarus, a movement epitomising the power of bravery, resilience and strength. This prize is the highest recognition given by the European Union to human rights defenders, in the past going to people like Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Malala Yousafzai. Named after Andrei Sakharov, an activist and human right defender on the human rights implications of nuclear weapons, the Sakharov Prize credits those who have given an outstanding contribution to protecting freedom of thought. In addition to this, the Sakharov Prize promotes freedom of expression, the rights of minorities, respect for international law, the development of democracy and the implementation of the rule of law.

The prize recognises individuals, groups and organisations that have tirelessly advocated for their cause and promoted human rights despite the obstacles they have been challenged with. The prize often brings to the forefront activists and groups of activists that are unknown to many people, an important aspect of this particular prize. In a world where the news is catered to a country’s own interests, it is essential that those across the globe championing the human rights ideals we all hold dear and often take for granted, are recognised for their actions.

From an assortment of shortlisted candidates, the European Parliament selected the Democratic Opposition in Belarus. The other deserving candidates included the Guapinol environmental activists and Berta Cáceres from Honduras, Monsignor Najeeb Michaeel, Archbishop of Mosul, Polish LGBTI activists Jakub Gawron, Paulina Pajak, Paweł Preneta and Kamil Maczuga, founders of the website Atlas of Hate and Mgr Najeeb Moussa Michaeel.

So, what set the Democratic Opposition in Belarus apart? Represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures, the Democratic Opposition in Belarus protested against a brutal regime fuelled by an illegitimate election result. The anger and frustration caused by authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s disregard for democracy led to an uprising against him and subsequently, a brutal crackdown on protestors or anyone who dare speak in dissent. President Lukashenka’s rule has been characterised by violence, cruel repression, torture and now a brutal crackdown against peaceful protestors. Belarus remains an exception to the Eurocentric notion of democracy. Lukashenka is frequently referred to as Europe’s last dictator.

His main opponent was Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya who, along with much of Belarus, remains adamant that the election was rigged. Tsikhanovskaya is thought to have received more than half of the actual votes, although official figures show that President Lukashenka won 80%. Following the election, Tsikhanovskaya had to flee Belarus because of a fear for her own and her children’s safety. An act in itself that clearly demonstrates the dire human rights conditions in Belarus under President Lukashenka’s rule.

This fraudulent election has not escaped international attention. The EU Parliament has adopted new recommendations calling for a comprehensive review of the EU’s relationship with Belarus. Due to the close proximity, it is imperative that the EU is not a passive bystander and acts against this challenge to the democratic process. The EU is calling for new, free and fair elections to be held in Belarus under international supervision. The practicality of this remain to be seen but the election results are not recognised by the EU. When voting on the issue there were 602 votes in favour, 44 against and 44 absentees. However, the fact that there were 44 votes against this supports the view that democracy remains fragile even in Europe.

Tsikhanovskaya maintains the ongoing Belarusian uprising is not a geopolitical revolution, not pro or anti-Russian, not pro EU or anti EU, it is simply pro-Belarus and democratic revolution. The strength of the Sakharov prize lies in its ability to pressure governments to address their human rights violations. This is exactly the sort of tool the Democratic Opposition in Belarus needs to enact meaningful change.

Worryingly, threats to democracy have been a significant feature of 2020. With Donald Trump’s refusal for a peaceful transfer of power, even countries that have traditionally been global advocates for democracy have fallen victim to leaders with personal agendas rather than public interest agendas. The fragile nature of democracy has come to the forefront on international attention and this warrants serious analysis. Human rights are conditional on a free and fair government, a rise of authoritarian regimes would be catastrophic. Seemingly democracy has fallen victim to attack, this is why the work of the Democratic Opposition in Belarus is so vital and why they are such a deserving winner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: “Everyday Politics in North Korea”


Everyday Politics in North Korea: 

Understanding, Tracking, and Theorizing Change

PI: Alexander Dukalskis, University College Dublin

Funded by: Korea Foundation



This is a call for paper proposals for a small workshop to be held in Dublin, Ireland on the theme of everyday politics in North Korea. Successful applicants will receive funding for travel, accommodation, and a small honorarium to present a paper and participate in a workshop in Dublin on either October 26–27 or January 28–29 (dates to be decided as the covid-19 situation solidifies). Ultimately the papers will be part of a proposal to a special issue of a journal, so by applying you are committing to producing an academically rigorous paper for the workshop and being willing to include it in the special issue proposal.

Selection criteria

Selection will be made based on the quality of the abstract, the proposed paper’s fit with the other papers, the record of the applicant, and ensuring diversity of the workshop in terms of gender, seniority level, and geography. Currently there is a budget to fund one new participant each coming from Asia, North America, and Europe, but this may change as the airline industry reacts to covid. We welcome applications from scholars at all stages of their career from Ph.D. candidate and onward.

Motivations and content of the workshop

This project is motivated by several key questions. How do changes at the “everyday” level influence authoritarian stability and state-society relations in North Korea? How do they change economic realities and gender relations for North Koreans? Do they change the modes of control that characterize the North Korean state? How do changes influence policy-relevant thinking about engagement with North Korea? 

The North Korean government has grappled with numerous changes in its international environment and domestic society. These developments influence the elite cohesion and regime resilience of North Korea and this research aims to understand the nature of these changes, and how the government adapts. These developments provide a useful analytical case to understand how changes in everyday life for citizens of a strictly authoritarian state influence politics. In so doing it is necessary to move beyond existing theoretical accounts of authoritarianism that emphasize elite and institutional perspectives. This project does so by bringing together a diverse group of scholars to discuss and present their research about the linkages between changes in everyday politics and how they interact with authoritarian rule. We are interested in academically rigorous proposals that address any aspect of this theme and are open as to the methods and theories used.

To apply

Please send an abstract (maximum 300 words) and an updated CV to Mr. Junhyoung Lee at by Friday, July 24. If you are a Ph.D. candidate, please also include a brief letter of support from your Ph.D. supervisor.  Please also contact Mr. Lee if you have any further questions.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ilham Tohti announced as 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Blog post by Katherine Mars.

This past week, the European Parliament announced the winner of the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Ilham Tohti. Named after Andrei Sakharov, a USSR physicist, dissident, and human rights activist, this prize is the highest award recognizing human rights defenders given by the European Union. Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), considered the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, was concerned about the moral and political consequences of nuclear weapons and became a strong advocate against the nuclear arms race in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, he co-founded the USSR Committee on Human Rights and soon became a critic of the Soviet regime and petitioned for the release of dissidents and fought for fundamental human rights. Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, he was unable to receive his award in person and was exiled to Gorky in 1980, where he lived under close police supervision. To honor his lifetime of advocacy and activism for human rights, the European Parliament established the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1988.

The prize recognizes individuals, groups, and organizations who are frontline activists and advocated for the protection of human rights in their local communities and around the world. The selection process involves multiple rounds of candidate consideration with several different committees, specifically focusing on freedom of expression, rights of minorities, respect for international law, development of democracy, and implementation of the rule of law. The award has honored a myriad of activists, ranging from a cartoonist to civil society activists to political dissidents to mothers and wives. The prize is accompanied by EUR 50,000 endowment for the winner.

The European Parliament selected Ilham Tohti from a shortlist of candidates that also included environmental and LGBTQIA+ activists from Brazil and Kenyan schoolgirls who developed an app to fight female genital mutilation. Tohti is an economics professor and avid defender of human rights for China’s Uyghur population. As an ethnic and religious minority, Uyghurs have been victims of extreme oppression and discrimination by the Chinese government. Over 1 million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained and forced to renounce their religious beliefs and ethnic identity and pledge loyalty to the Chinese government since 2017.

Tohti has been an advocate for this population for over two decades and has been declared a separatist by the Chinese government due to his work. He was sentenced to life in prison after a grossly unfair and dishonest trial in 2014 due to his activism but remains a voice of hope for improving relations between the Uyghur people and the rest of the Chinese population. His work is clearly relevant to the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought because it works to open dialogue between a minority population and a majority population as well as combat a repressive government that is arresting its citizens for non-violent dissent and religious and ethnic differences. Tohti has been awarded or nominated for many international prizes, including the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was awarded to Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director who was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 after an unfair trial found him guilty of plotting terrorist acts against Russian ‘de facto’ rule in Crimea. Both Tohti and Sentsov are human rights defenders that advocate for minority rights against oppressive governments and have been unfairly detained for their work. This prize has the ability to legitimize advocacy work on an international stage, helping to raise awareness and possibly pressure repressive governments to lessen their oppression.

The power of this award is deeply embedded in its ability to pressure governments to address their domestic human rights concerns. The Chinese government has a long history of human rights violations and the oppression of the Uyghur population and those in the Xinjiang region is just the most recent chapter in their book of injustice. The Chinese government has created reeducation camps and are arbitrarily arresting Uyghurs, cloaking the camps in secrecy despite the government’s vow to be more transparent. These camps have drawn international attention and criticism, including comments from the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence stating that the camps are inhumane and Chinese censorship is unethical. Veiled as a “war on terror”, this systemic targeting of Uyghurs utilizes the latest technology to exclude the population from accessing public services in the Xinjiang region. The Chinese government is facing increased criticism as protests in Hong Kong occur concurrently with the continued persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. However, it is still unclear whether international pressure alone will be enough to propel the Chinese Communist Party to address these human rights violations or if domestic pressure will need to rise to a boiling point for any real change to occur.

For additional information about the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, visit

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New book by Prof Jennifer Todd: Identity Change After Conflict

Identity Change after Conflict: Ethnicity, Boundaries and Belonging in the two Irelands by Prof Jennifer Todd.

This book is a comparative study of how ordinary citizens in nationally and religiously divided societies respond to major social and political change. It is based on very extensive qualitative research in both parts of Ireland with a control study in France, and it uses new measures, methods and concepts of analysis. Its focus on individual identity innovation – set against analysis of social boundaries and cultural grammars – allows comparative empirical analysis of incipient processes of identity change in very different social settings. Its typology of identity change, oriented to project, content and argumentation, shows the obstacles specific to each type of change and the existence of social traps, where individuals’ resources and opportunities lead them to types of change almost certain to fail. Its conclusions go against contemporary wisdom. Identity change is pervasive, even more so in conflict-ridden situations than in consensual ones. It takes a limited number of forms, working from given national and religious bases rather than rejecting them. And it meets predictable social traps. Thus we can build in analysis of micro-level change as one part of a multi-levelled processual analysis of social transformation, where its impact differs in different contexts. So, for example, gradual cumulative micro-level change has led to threshold-like cultural transformation in the Republic of Ireland; more extensive, intense and radical micro-level change in Northern Ireland has ended in social and political stasis. The book argues that pluralist and cosmopolitan ideologies have failed to grasp the process and that there is a need for : constitutional signposts beyond identity politics.

The book was published as an ebook November 24, 2018 by Palgrave Macmillan and should be published in hard copy in mid December. Further details on the Springer site.


Posted in SPIRe Announcements, SPIRe staff | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Repeal of the 8th Amendment’ Referendum on Abortion

by Prof David Farrell

On May 25 all Irish citizens (who are registered to vote) will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to allow the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament) to legislate for abortion in Ireland.

The focus is on article 40.3.3, which was inserted into the Constitution as a result of a referendum in 1983 (‘the 8th amendment’). It reads as follows:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The purpose of this referendum vote on May 25, therefore, is to determine whether to leave the existing article 40.3.3 as it is, or to replace it with the following wording:

“Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”

The outcome of the vote on May 25 is clear enough:

  • If the majority vote No, then the current constitutional and legislative framework remains in place, which allows for terminations of pregnancies only under very limited circumstances (where there is real and substantial risk to the life of the woman including the risk of suicide).
  • If the majority vote Yes then the Oireachtas is free to introduce new legislation regulating the termination of pregnancy. The government has already indicated the sort of legislation it would like to introduce, though clearly that would be dependent on Dáil support, which is a big ask with this Dáil!

The outcome may be clear but what is certainly not clear is the ballot paper we’ll be presented with at the polling station. It is hard to conceive of a ballot paper design that could be more confusing than this!

But don’t let the ballot paper confuse what is ultimately a straightforward choice. Put simply, the choice on May 25th is over whether to vote No, and keep the current situation (of highly restricted access to abortion) in place, or to vote Yes, to allow the Oireachtas to introduce a more liberal abortion regime.

Objective information about this referendum is available on the website of the Referendum Commission.

A very worrying feature that has come to prominence in this referendum campaign more so than in any other is the lack of regulation of the internet and social media, which allows unscrupulous campaigners to use inappropriate surreptitious campaign methods to seek to influence undecided voters. (See here for more on this). We’ve already seen how this sort of activity played out in the recent US Presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum.

We can only hope that this doesn’t unduly influence the outcome of this referendum.  It shows, yet again, why Irish elections and referendums need to have a much stronger regulator in operation.  The rather quaint, minimalist and cautious role provided by the Referendum Commission needs to be replaced by a well-resourced, professional and permanent Electoral Commission.

Let’s hope that government inaction in this area to date doesn’t have unfortunate consequences for this referendum.






Posted in SPIRe staff | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Paradoxical Survival of Monarchy in the Middle East: Why do some regimes fall and others survive? The case of the Saudi Monarchy

by Saleh Alharbi 

The Arab Spring of 2011 ended several authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Other authoritarian regimes, especially the gulf monarchies like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remained largely undisturbed. On one hand, the popular protests – which toppled long-existing dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, led to the killing of Libya’s four-decade-long ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, and triggered a prolonged civil war in Syria – marked an unprecedented political change in the region.  While authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria came under attack, others, especially the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia were largely untroubled.  How do we account for this paradox? What enables the monarchies in the Middle East, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to withstand the threat of democratic change?

To understand this, it is necessary to look at the question of regime survival within a perpetually contested process of state-making, evolution, and – quite possibly – unmaking. At the domestic level, the state is a product of successful domination by a political organisation or force over all other forces seeking hegemony. The process of domination also meets resistance from sectors of society that are negatively affected by the dominating forces. Thus regime survival is a question of how a state’s dominant political actor or group of actors manages political contestation within the state’s borders. In other words, the survival of certain regimes is something actively and continuously created.

This is a conceptualisation of the state which is simultaneously a conceptualisation of the political, or of the-state-in-society. Describing the nature of the state – how it came into being and how it self-reproduces – cannot be fully disentangled from examining what constitutes the realm of politics. This juxtaposition allows us to think about the persistence of some regimes, to account for the breakdown of others, and perceive potential threats to those that still manage to survive until today.

In order to understand the survival of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia it is important to elicit those struggles – the clashes, negotiations, tactical coalitions, and deliberate incitement of conflict between different groups – that have contributed to the seeming impossibility of democratisation. The state-in-society theory of Joel Migdal provides an apt framework for this purpose. The uniqueness of the Saudi Arabian political landscape, however, calls for a specific concept – the double standard coalition a strategy of domination – which, though aligned with the broader state-in-society framework, particularly describes Saudi Arabia’s state-society relations. The double-standard coalition allows us to examine the important groups who have competed for power and who have demanded and resisted reform. The coalition that emerges has allowed the Saudi monarchy to manoeuvre towards its survival.

Two dominant, but competing, social forces, groups that could potentially usher in political change in Saudi Arabia, have emerged from the history of tribal and religious society. On one hand, the Islamists have traditionally been influential in Saudi Arabia, because of the deep entanglement of government and religion in the country. As the law of the state draws on Islamic laws, the state and religion have formed a mutually sustaining relationship. On the other hand, Liberal fields have emerged in society during recent years with the rise of new intellectuals, artists, students, and women’s rights advocates, all trying to have an influence within Saudi society.

These two ideological camps, with their own ideas of an acceptable social order, have since competed for political influence. Both, however, assume an attitude of scepticism towards democracy in Saudi Arabia. Both the Islamic and the liberal forces have avoided democratic reforms as each camp assumes that democracy will politically benefit the other.  The incumbent Saudi monarchy has capitalised on these influential forces’ attitude towards democratisation and has deliberately fuelled disputes between them, or kept conflicts unresolved. It has maintained “double standard” coalitions with both camps and has simultaneously enjoyed their support. Meanwhile, both forces have sought agreements with and concessions from the Royal Family in order to maintain their influence in determining a future social order. This kind of strategic interaction between the Royal Family, the Islamists, and the Liberals reinforces the resilience of the status quo as well as the popular perception that the monarchic regime is durable.

That it has to maintain alliances with ideologically diverse but socially-influential groups, while deliberately keeping them in conflict, points to the constructed nature of the Saudi ruling regime. That is, the hegemony of the Saudi monarchy is preserved by the competitive interaction of different stakeholders each articulating their own interests and pursuing their respective objectives. The perceived credibility of the Saudi regime’s enforcement capacity emanates more from the state actors’ constant engagement with the mutually opposing dominant social-political forces. The Royal Family’s double standard coalition strategy allows it to make compromises, accommodations, and alliances and, hence, to develop into relative durability.

It is possible to understand why the Saudi Monarchy has remained stable while other authoritarian regimes have fallen. It is also possible to understand why democratic change has been slow in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it becomes possible to understand the paradox of why some of the most famous liberals in Saudi Arabia oppose democracy. 

Saleh Alharbi

Saleh Alharbi is a third year PhD candidate at the School of Politics & International Relations, UCD. His research focuses on Politics of the Middle East, political reform, democratization, terrorism, Islamic political thought and human rights. Saleh had a Master of International Relations from University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. And a Bachelor of Political Science and Global Political Economy from King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia. Previously to joining UCD, Saleh worked for three years as a lecturer and a teaching assistant in the department of Political Science, and as the deputy head of Media and Public Relations unit in the Faculty of Economics and Administration in King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.


Posted in SPIRe seminars | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Acknowledging Cross-Cultural Variations in Perceptions of Mental Health and Illness

by Emma Mathias

“Madness has been and remains an elusive thing … it is equally possible to think in terms of the manufacture of madness, that is, the idea that labelling insanity is primarily a social act, a cultural construct” (Porter, 1987, p. 8)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2014) estimates that one in four people across the globe will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, with an estimated 80% of these people living in developing countries (Jacob and Patel, 2014). With the recent inclusion of mental illness in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an opportunity has arisen for these individuals to receive increased assistance. The WHO (2001; 2013) estimates that up to 85% of people in developing countries do not receive any treatment for mental illnesses, and has called for international action in order to effectively implement their recommendations on mental health legislation, policies and programmes. There is talk of ‘scaling up’ services with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ applied to mental health services and policies, often without due consideration for the appropriateness of the services that are to be implemented (Fernando, 2016). There is currently a lack of adequate guidelines as to how mental health resources should be utilized in developing countries, and a lack of understanding of mental illness in non-Western cultures in general, making this a difficult task.

There has been a dearth of research to date into the different ways in which mental health is conceptualised in different cultures across the globe. Large discrepancies in the accumulation of knowledge on Global Mental Health issues are glaringly obvious when we consider that approximately 90% of all research is conducted with 10% of the population, mainly within Western cultures (Kirmayer et al., 2014; Sharan, Levav, Olifson, de Francisco & Saxena, 2007). Presuming that the results of studies conducted with Western populations are directly transferable to those from different cultural and social backgrounds may lead to inappropriate service interventions if research is not counterbalanced with a substantial amount of high quality studies in non-Western contexts (Fernando, 2014; Mills, 2014).

A number of researchers (e.g. Fernando, 2014; Mills, 2016; Oloyede, 2002; Ventevogel, Jordans, Reis & de Jong, 2013) have recently argued that a global approach to mental health service provision is likely to do more harm than good, as mental health is socially and culturally determined. Therefore, mental health services need to be developed within the cultural and social settings in which they occur (Fernando, 2014; Mills, 2014). Mental illnesses as we understand them in the West are based on psychiatric concepts that have been developed in the US and Europe since the early 1900’s (see Bleuler, 1913; Kraepelin, 1919). We may be dealing with a ‘basic error of validity’ by assuming that mental health is conceptualised in the same way across all cultures, and this may be counter-productive in efforts to attempt to address the issue (Berg, 2003; Kleinman & Good, 1985; Ventevogel et al., 2013).

The majority of researchers investigating mental health in developing countries have taken a universalist approach, however, starting from the presumption that categories of mental illness are applicable across the globe, and have presumed a biochemical basis for mental illnesses. Many of these studies have attempted to adapt psychological measurement scales to assess the incidences of mental illnesses in developing countries. However, other researchers argue that transferring measurement scales for use in a completely different context may render them inaccurate and of little value if there is doubt about whether they are testing what they claim to be (e.g. Mendenhall, Yarris & Kohrt, 2016; Summerfield, 2008).

Results from researchers working from a more relativist position indicate that different cultural explanations are given for mental illnesses in various different cultural settings, and that distress is often expressed in different ways across cultures. These studies provide invaluable insights into the ways in which mental health is conceptualised amongst members of non-Western cultures, and give us clues as to how best to address these issues. These results have significant consequences for the delivery of mental health services across the globe, emphasising the necessity of culturally appropriate mental health assessments and service provision that will address the unique needs of different populations accordingly. Expanding on research studies such as these will be essential to designing the most appropriate mental health services for individuals in developing countries to ensure that SDG 3.4 to “reduce by one-third pre-mature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and wellbeing” (United Nations, 2016) is reached by 2030.


Emma Mathias is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Sustainable Development Studies, UCD, and an Assistant Lecturer in Applied Psychology in the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT). Emma holds a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Development Studies, and has over 15 years’ experience working in the field of Mental Health and Intellectual Disability. She is currently working on an interdisciplinary PhD project entitled ‘Exploring the Phenomenology of Mental Illness in sub-Saharan Africa: A Case Study of Ghana’, bridging her expertise in the area of mental health and international development.

This blog is posted in advance of her SPIRe seminar on ‘Exploring the Phenomenology of Mental Illness in sub-Saharan Africa: A Case Study of Ghana’, discussant Tobias Theiler, on Wednesday, 25th April at 2pm.



Posted in SPIRe seminars | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is the Open Ballot a Closed Door to Women in Parliament?

by Mary Brennan, University College Dublin

Around the world millions of women celebrate 100 years since they joined the ranks of the electorate… but not the ranks of the Parliamentarians!!

As Yvonne Galligan consistently points out, the suffragettes did not suffer discrimination, incarceration and horrific systems of force-feeding simply for the right to put a mark on a ballot paper.  From the beginning these women fought for the equal right of gender to take part in political decision making. The almost international centenary of the vote is indeed an anniversary to be celebrated, but it is also a moment to take note, celebrate how far we have come, but realise the suffragette cause has not yet been won.

Table 1 Average Percentage of Women in Parliaments of the World

Source: Inter Parliamentary Union[1]

The Inter Parliamentary Union site shows the average female representation in the parliaments of the world.  The universally consistent under representation of half of the world’s population is some evidence that both the supply and demand for women politicians is artificially repressed (Krook, 2010).

Does it matter?

There is a valid argument that you don’t have to be a woman to do the right thing, make the good decisions, govern justly.  Much has been achieved in terms of improving the lives of women over the past 100 years, particularly in the areas of legal reforms and employment legislation. In terms of work, the marriage bar was a common piece of legislation in all four countries included in the table above. The marriage bar was a law that required women to resign from their employment after marriage. This loss of the right to work was argued to be reasonable because under the marriage contract it was the husband’s obligation to provide for the wife and family.

Source: Author’s own research

This obligation is also attached to the notion that a man is entitled to a living wage, which is a wage that provides enough to sustain the man, his wife and family.  The wage for a woman was needed only to provide for herself or if a working wife was regarded as merely a supplementary income. As shown in Table 2, it wasn’t until the second wave of feminism that married women secured some level of equal protections in the work place.  However, it is depressing to note how long it took in all states to criminalise sexual violence within marriage.  The legal logic behind this injustice can be traced back to British common law and the 1735 judgement of Sir Matthew Hales, who ruled that:

A husband cannot be guilty of rape upon his wife for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind to her husband which she cannot retract.’ (Featherstone, 2016)

Does it matter? – Yes, it does!

Which is why my research centres on the topic of women in political representation and particularly.

How does variation in intra-party processes, party culture and party leadership mediate the impact of quota regimes on female candidate selection?

The aim of this research is to identify if, and if so, how, a gender bias is informally maintained, even when formal barriers to female candidate selection have been removed.

Come and hear some of my findings on whether a technicality in the electoral system – in this case specifically the ballot paper – can allow parties to hinder the effectiveness of the quota from my paper:

Is the Open Ballot a Closed Door to Women in Parliament?


[2] Removed by Australian Federal courts in 1966 but not removed from State of Victoria until 1973


Mary Brennan is a Government of Ireland Scholar, whose research interest is in the comparative study of gender in political decision making.  Her current research centres specifically on the interaction of electoral gender quotas and political parties.  Mary holds an MSc in Politics and a BA (Hons) Politics (major) Psychology (minor) from UCD.  Mary is currently based in Brussels as an affiliated scholar to the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) Belgium. Her recent joint publication with Fiona Buckley, is The Irish legislative gender quota: The first election, Administration, Vol 65, Issue 2, pp. 15-35, DOI: 10.1515/admin-2017-0013.


Posted in SPIRe seminars, UCD SPIRe students | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

American Innocence and the Ethics of Patriotism

by Prof Roberto Sirvent

If you’re a player in the United States’ National Football League (NFL) and you’ve decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem, you have been called many things: unpatriotic, ungrateful, and even a “son of a bitch.” That these words came from the sitting U.S. President Donald Trump should come as no surprise. Having made a promise to “Make American Great Again,” Trump has forced philosophers to rethink commonly held notions of American patriotism.

In this talk, Roberto Sirvent argues that interrogating the ethics of patriotism requires much more than condemning it as a philosophical mistake. Rather, he shows that a critique of patriotism (in the U.S. context) must involve a critique of ideologies that undergird and fuel patriotic attitudes. Two of these ideologies, he argues, are American exceptionalism and American innocence. These twin ideologies inform not just political rhetoric but historical memory as well.

Both conservatives and liberals draw on these narratives of innocence and exceptionalism constantly. It’s present in Donald Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” but also in Hillary Clinton’s rebuttal that “we don’t need to make America great again. America never stopped being great.”  The mainstream, corporate media are also active propagandists for American exceptionalism and innocence. For example, in a New York Times editorial, the staff acknowledges the “mistakes” of US foreign policy yet reaffirms its exceptional character: “There’s no doubt that the United States has made terrible mistakes, like invading Iraq in 2003 and torturing terrorism suspects after Sept. 11 [but]… in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy.”

How is it that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is seen as a mere “mistake”? How did the entire editorial board of the New York Times become convinced that the U.S. military enters wars “to promote freedom and democracy?” How does one maintain belief in the U.S. as a force for good in the world in light of the genocide of its indigenous people, slavery, and decades of imperialism around the globe? What ideological work is involved to view these actions as mere “mistakes”, “aberrations”, “necessary evils”, or even “things of the past,” rather than as constitutive of the U.S. State itself?

Throughout the talk, Sirvent explores how ideologies of American exceptionalism and American innocence are tied to the way many people in the U.S. venerate the military, flag, law, and Constitution. Thus, not only is a critique of ideology required to properly philosophize about the ethics of patriotism; a critique of idolatry is required as well. To be sure, there is much at stake in debates about patriotism, especially since the stories we tell ourselves – whether it’s about slavery, genocide, colonialism, or empire – have significant implications in struggles for social justice. After all, if the system is broken, then it needs to be fixed (or reformed). But if the system is working exactly as it’s supposed to be, then it needs to be dismantled. And it’s time to start imagining what a new world might look like.

Roberto Sirvent is Professor of Political and Social Ethics, Hope International University, Fullerton, CA. This blog is written in advance of his Dublin Political Theory Workshop on Friday, 6. April 2018, 13:15-14:15, in G316 Newman Building.


Posted in Dublin Political Theory Workshop | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The international development civil society sector in Poland: from beneficiary to agent of change

by Dr Galia Chimiak, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have emerged over time as the entities considered best equipped to initiate “development from below” (Hart 2001). Yet in the 1990s it was professed that their popularity with donors will not last forever and “at some stage NGOs, like flared jeans, will become less fashionable” (Edwards and Hulme 1996). National and international NGOs remained the favoured child of donor agencies up to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, 2001 (Howell et al. 2006). The superseding development-security nexus had an impact on states’ and other donors’ strategy towards NGOs, which has been evidenced in the pursued disciplining and taming of civil society worldwide.

Yet the trajectory of development of the civil society sector in former socialist states in East-Central Europe departs from the presented above evolution of NGOs in the advanced industrial countries. Before the toppling of the previous regime in Poland, only supervised by the one-party-state voluntary organisations were allowed to be registered whereas independent civic initiatives remained un-institutionalised or underground. After 1989 the civil society sectors in the region began to grow, also due to the external support provided from public and private donors alike. Poland and Hungary received the largest share of foreign foundations’ involvement with democracy assistance (Quigley 1997). Polish NGOs did not limit their internationalisation to the cooperation with foreign donors. The Polish civil society sector was one of the first to engage in trans-border cooperation with the other East-Central European countries undergoing transformation at the time. In 1992 Janina Ochojska of the Polish Humanitarian Action organized the first convoy of humanitarian aid to Sarajevo. The Polish NGO sector subsequently got increasingly engaged in democracy assistance and development cooperation, thus initiating the transformation from recipient of Official Aid to Official Development Assistance provider.

Given the singular history of the emergence and institutionalisation of civic initiatives in the former socialist bloc, the question arises as to how the NGO sector has fared on the background of the previously presented general environment enabling the functioning of the civil society sectors worldwide. This seminar will seeks to answer questions regarding the circumstances conditioning the development of the internationally-oriented NGO sector in Poland and the impact its civil society sector has exerted on the priorities and modalities of the governmental Polish aid program. These issues are so the more pertinent given that in old donor countries it has been NGOs that used to be the objects of socialisation in public institutions’ effort to further policy transfer and norm appropriation (Smith 2011), rather than the other way around. In the case of NGDOs in Poland, it will be argued that NGDOs themselves played a seminal role in the appropriation of norms and practices in the area of development cooperation by the line ministry.

The engagement of societal actors in international cooperation and the involvement of the Polish state in development assistance were taking place in a parallel fashion up to the end of the 1990s. The synergistic effect of the cooperation between these two stakeholders was facilitated by the prospect of EU membership. The various roles Poland played in development cooperation, from becoming a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1949 through receiving Official Aid after the toppling of socialism in 1989 to becoming an emerging donor with EU accession in 2004 and finally joining the forum of established donors OECD-DAC in 2013, are indicative of the complex history of the engagement of the country in this area. Yet, as this seminar will endeavour to demonstrate, the contemporary Polish aid has been shaped not only by geo-political circumstances. Polish aid has namely benefited from its cooperation with the already relatively well-developed NGDO sector, which willingly shared its hands-on experience and know-how in providing humanitarian aid, development cooperation, and global education with state institutions responsible for development assistance.

The research can be broadly situated in the field of sociology of development. As it is interdisciplinary in nature, it also relies on insight from other social sciences such as psychology, international relations and political studies, inter alia by taking into account theoretical insight from these disciplines. The study assumes a micro perspective as it focuses on the actors’ viewpoint. As such, this research rests on the premises of supply-side theories of non-profit organisations. These theories highlight the pivotal role NGOs’ activists’ motivations and background play in the establishment of such organisations. The theoretical underpinnings of this research furthermore draw on constructivist thinking and specifically on the second generation of constructivist scholars.

Polish NGDOs’ strengths were found to lie in the continuing legacy of the Solidarity movement of the 1980s, the Polish aid professionals’ hands-on experience with transformation and cooperation with foreign funders alike, and the ensuing credibility of Polish NGDO activists. The perceived community of fate with other nations, who continue to live under a totalitarian system, keeps fuelling this cooperation. There is an added value of development cooperation provided by Polish NGDOs given that these organisations themselves have benefited from external assistance. The country’s in-between developmental status has been identified as a factor accounting for the legitimacy and integrity of Polish aid provided by Polish NGDOs. Unlike aid professionals in donor countries with colonial past (Lewis 2013), Polish aid professionals can and do freely move between sectors, which also facilitates the travel of ideas and know-how between internationally-oriented NGOs and national NGOs.


Dr hab. Galia Chimiak is an associate professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Her research interests are in societal self-organisation and international development cooperation. In 2008-2009 she worked for UNDP in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Since 2004 Galia Chimiak has taught at several universities in Warsaw as well as in Trinity College Dublin. She is a member of the International Society for Third Sector Research and the Development Education and Awareness Raising Multi-stakeholder Group at DG DEVCO of the European Commission. In 2014 Galia Chimiak was a visiting fellow at UCD SPIRE. Her book The Growth of Non-Governmental Development Organisations in Poland and Their Cooperation with Polish Aid came out last year.

This blog is posted in advance of her SPIRe seminar on “The international development civil society sector in Poland”, discussant Prof. Paul Walsh on Thursday, April 12th at 1pm.

Posted in SPIRe seminars | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment