In Kenya, free cash is the latest solution to poverty

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72-year-old Samson, a villager of universal basic income study, drives his car in Bondo region, western Kenya, on October 3, 2018. (AFP)
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30-year-old Monica, a villager of universal basic income study, poses with her child at her home in Bondo region, western Kenya, on October 3, 2018. (AFP)
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25-year-old Molly, a villager of universal basic income study, poses at her home in Bondo region, western Kenya, on October 3, 2018. (AFP)
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Caroline Teti, External Relations Director of NGO Give Directly Kenya, poses in front of a household's home selected for universal basic income study, in Bondo region, western Kenya, on October 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2018
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In Kenya, free cash is the latest solution to poverty

  • Molly began receiving a no-strings, fixed monthly donation of 2,250 shillings ($22, 19 euros) two years ago, and since then “everything has changed,” she says
  • According to the World Bank, over a third of Kenya’s nearly 50 million citizens live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day

BONDO, Kenya: Until recently, Molly struggled to imagine life beyond the end of each repetitive day: work in someone else’s fields and earn enough to eat, rinse, repeat.
“It was a vicious circle I could not escape,” says the 25-year-old villager in the Bondo region of western Kenya.
Her hardscrabble, rural existence is the same for many in Siaya County where people eke out a living farming maize, millet and cotton in the ochre soil.
But that was before the introduction in her village of a cash handout known as “universal basic income.” It’s part of a large, intensive, multi-year study aimed at discovering a new way to end poverty in Africa.
Molly began receiving a no-strings, fixed monthly donation of 2,250 shillings ($22, 19 euros) two years ago, and since then “everything has changed,” she says.
“I was able to save to study to be a nursery school teacher,” she says proudly inside her tin-roofed cement home as chickens pecked outside.
“It was the little bit of help that turned my situation around.”
With a paid internship at the village school Molly has built on the foundation of universal basic income to see her monthly income more than double to $50, broadening her horizons.
“Before, I barely had enough money to survive but now I have plans... I even go to the hairdresser once every two months,” she says with a smile.

According to the World Bank, over a third of Kenya’s nearly 50 million citizens live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day.
Molly’s village — which is not being identified in order not to stir envy or skew the study — is one of scores in the area chosen by the US charity Give Directly to test the universal basic income theory.
The region was selected because of its poverty, but also its stability and, crucially, the effectiveness of Kenya’s mobile money transfer system, M-Pesa, that allows the easy distribution of payments.
Founded in 2010 and working in six African countries, Give Directly sends money straight to the poor allowing them to choose their own priorities, rather than outsiders “deciding instead of them,” explains the non-profit’s spokeswoman Caroline Teti.
Previously, recipients were given a single lump sum, but now monthly payments are being trialed.
“When you give people money monthly, will they stop working? Will they take risks in the way they invest knowing they will have an income whatever happens? How does that affect their aspirations?” says Teti of some of the questions their program is testing.
“There is a global debate about universal income and we want evidence to move forward,” she says.
The study is the biggest in the world and will involve a total of 20,000 people in western Kenya.
Residents of 40 villages will receive $22 a month for 12 years, a further 80 villages will receive the same amount for just two years, while another 76 villages will receive two lump sum payments of $507 spaced two months apart.
Molly’s neighbor, 29-year-old Edwin, hopes to replace his mud hut with a cement home, while Monica and her husband have invested in small-scale chicken farming.
“We have a new enclosure and a few chickens,” says Monica, 30, wearing an elegant black dress, mended in several places. She hopes to be able to send her three children to school so that they won’t “live in poverty, like us.”
Without patronizing prescriptions from donors, “everyone in the village is using the money differently,” she adds.

Give Directly believes universal basic income is useful, but not a panacea.
“When you are in a conflict situation, you may have been affected beyond basic (needs), you may not have a place to sleep, you’re more vulnerable to disease,” says Teti.
“In that context, basic income can be a part of a solution, but it cannot be the sole solution.”
Nor, she adds, is it a substitute for the state’s obligations to provide life’s basics such as schools and health care.
For villagers involved in the basic income experiment, the money is an assist not a solution, and also an opportunity, to be seized or squandered.
“2,250 shillings is not enough to buy useless things,” says Judge Samson, 72, explaining why villagers are not wasting their cash handouts. “It’s just enough to feed you and get out of poverty.”
Monica has invested her money to benefit her family, but worries that if the basic income trial is a success, others might prove less thrifty.
“Maybe in the future some will forget what we went through and start buying stupid things,” she warns, but then adds: “I don’t think that will be the case.”


Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

Updated 17 July 2019
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Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

  • Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues
  • “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power

When Wu Ke-xi was looking for a frightening plotline for her latest film, she didn’t need to look further than her own industry.
The Taiwanese actress and screenwriter’s latest movie, “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power.
Wu found herself closely following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, and decided to write something for women affected by sexual assaults in the entertainment industry. Directed by Midi Z, it was selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival.
“After 2017, after the year the Harvey Weinstein stuff occurred, I read a lot of documents and interviews. I was so purely curious about what happened,” said Wu. She said she has been threatened in her career, but never sexually assaulted. “It’s still a humiliating experience,” she said.
“So I felt really connected to those women.”
Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues that have upended entertainment careers in the United States and beyond.
Earlier this year, the K-pop scene was shaken when two male stars were accused of sexual misconduct in South Korea. Solo singer Jung Joon-young faced allegations he secretly filmed himself having sex with women and shared the footage on a mobile messenger app; he apologized to the victims. And Seungri, the youngest member of the quintet Big Bang, was accused of trying to steer sex services to business investors. He denied the charges and retired from the group.
Last year, in India, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta came forward with details of a 2008 complaint she filed against actor Nana Parekar for alleged sexual harassment, which he denied. A flood of stories of sexual harassment and assault followed on social media from Indian actresses and writers.
Indian actor, singer and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, a United Nations “He For She” ambassador with his own “Men Against Rape and Discrimination” initiative, says there is unease in the industry.
“Fear runs down the spine of everyone, thinking that, ‘Oh my God, maybe I’ve done something in the past that might come back to bite me,’” he said.
He encourages other women to come forward and speak out.
“Nobody can do it for her. Nobody can out her story and put her in a position that maybe she doesn’t want to be in,” he said. “But when she does, then it’s important that people rally around her so that she feels she’s done the right thing. And through her, through that conversation, and through her words she will hopefully inspire, motivate many more people to come out. And that’s the way the system will be cleaned.”
Screenwriter Zhou Xiaoxuan did speak out. She became a central figure in China’s #MeToo movement after an essay she wrote privately, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a TV star, went public on the social media platform Sina Weibo last summer. A prominent television host, Zhu Jun, sued her for defamation and Zhou followed with her own suit, for infringing on her personal rights. Women’s rights advocates in China are following the case.
Zhou says the movement has only reached so far in China, affecting mostly a group of high-profile, well-connected men.
“They were frightened by the #MeToo trend and they stopped. But most people in this society, they’ve never heard of #MeToo,” she said.
“I’ve actually been lucky because Zhu Jun is well-known,” Zhou said. “It’s extremely difficult for women who have been assaulted by their friends, colleagues or partners to seek legal recourse.”
Japanese TV journalist Shiori Ito said she experienced months of trolling and shaming after she revealed in May 2017 that she had been raped. That was before the #MeToo movement got under way in the United States.
“I’m very grateful to all the other women that have spoken up because I felt very lonely,” she said. She said she has felt a change in Japan and in her own family “who were really against me speaking up, and then they started saying, ‘You know what, maybe she’s right.’“
An emotional television interview with South Korean prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun in January 2018, in which she said she had been assaulted eight years earlier, is credited with starting the #MeToo movement there. Seo has since won a court case for abuse of power against her alleged assaulter. She said that watching women reveal their stories in Hollywood helped give her the courage to speak publicly. Supporters marched in the streets with candles and #WithYou banners.
“I told myself that, ‘Yes, this was not my fault and that I should not be ashamed at all,’” she said.
In Pakistan, dancer, theater director and activist Sheema Kermani is campaigning against sexual abuse, trying to make the movement there more than a moment.
“When actresses, big actresses, started calling out big names of actors for sexual harassment, I think it gave Pakistani women and women in media . the courage to speak out,” she said.
In Thailand, model and TV personality Cindy Sirinya Bishop launched the “Don’t Tell Me How To Dress” campaign after receiving a wave of support for a “social media rant” — her response to an article advising women not to wear sexy clothes for the Thai New Year in order to avoid sexual assault.
“It all started when that clip that I posted went viral overnight with the support of many, many women all over Thailand, chiming in, commenting, sharing and saying ‘Yes, this is exactly what we feel.’ Why are we always the ones that have to cover up, or why, when we are harassed or assaulted, is it somehow our fault?” she said.
Bishop also created an exhibition displaying clothing worn by sexual-assault victims. “We have university student outfits to toddler’s clothing to sweatpants and T-shirts,” she said.
She says her movement would have happened regardless of the stories arriving from America. But she adds: “In some way, the #MeToo movement has collectively empowered women without our knowing it, all over the world.”