With one of the largest “youth bulges” in the region, Saudi Arabia’s demographic landscape is undergoing significant change. So too is its religious landscape. In the first installment of a five-part series for GlobalPost, Pulitzer Center grantee Caryle Murphy reports that ultra-conservative Wahhabism, the kingdom’s official version of Islam, is being challenged by a growing chorus of internal criticism.
“Those who publicly criticize Wahhabism today have a larger audience than their predecessors did because of the Internet, which has opened Saudi minds and melted the kingdom’s isolation,” writes Caryle. As a result, there is a growing recognition among young people that the anti-intellectual Islam of the Wahhbists “acts to dampen Saudi creativity and impede government modernization programs.”
Some of the critics are careful to keep below the thin-skinned government’s radar, but others are quite open. All of them are at risk of retaliation, says Caryle, “depending on how daring or political their writings are.”
WHO'S MINDING THE NANNY’S KIDS
Each year, tens of thousands of women from the Philippines face the difficult choice of leaving their own children for extended periods in order to take jobs as nannies or care-givers in the wealthy countries of Europe and the Middle East. Journalist Ana P. Santos, our 2014 Persephone Miel fellow, says that while many of these women become skilled at long-distance parenting, Skype is no substitute for actually being there.
In the first installment of her three-part series for The Rappler, Ana watches as a 24-year-old woman named Neth Manguerra fusses over the hair of one of her younger sisters. “And I began to understand,” Ana writes. “The attention, care and effort Neth pours into fixing her siblings’ hair is the fulfillment of a silent vow to never let them feel the void left by their mother’s absence—it is her way of being the mother she didn’t have.”
VICTORY FOR AN ARMY OF WOMEN
One of the great global health success stories of the past generation is India’s eradication of polio, a disease that once crippled 100,000 victims every year. In January 2014, India marked three years without a single new polio case.
As Pulitzer Center grantee Esha Chhabbra notes in her Daily Beast story, much of the credit goes to an army of 2.3 million health workers, most of them women, who helped vaccinate 170 million children under the age of five.
Now, according to Esha, that same army is being mobilized for other immunizations—measles, TB, hepatitis, rubella: “As polio’s story comes to a close, India is gearing up for a similar effort for routine immunizations.”
ANOTHER ARMY OF WOMEN
Pulitzer Center grantee Ken Weiss, writing in The Guardian, reports on another global health triumph—again led by an army of female health workers. Half a century ago, a modest family-planning program was tried in a poor community not far from Dhaka. The idea was to hire and train women as health care workers to explain the benefits of family planning to other women.
The approach proved effective, and within a few years it was implemented throughout the country. “The results suggested family planning was a cost-effective way to improve public health and help lift people out of poverty,” writes Ken. “And it showed that communities do not have to become wealthier or better educated before birthrates can fall—if contraception is made available in an appropriate way.”
The national birthrate has dropped from six children a woman to slightly more than two, “and Bangladesh has become one of the first impoverished countries to meet the UN millennium development goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds,” says Ken.