Points of Progress: Where good news happened in 2019

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Monitor correspondents spent 2019 with their fingers on the pulse of progress. Reflecting on a year’s worth of news, they mark promising trends that include poverty alleviation to emboldened democracy.

Beijing bureau chief Ann Scott Tyson notes how China is closing in on its goal of wiping out extreme poverty by the end of 2020. By the end of 2019, about 95% of the country’s poor population will have been lifted from poverty, according to the State Council Poverty Alleviation Office. The government has allocated $16 billion for 2020 to support the country’s poorest areas.

Why We Wrote This

Relentlessly negative news makes it tempting to disconnect. That’s why we’re celebrating progress made in 2019. More than feel-good news, these highlights present credible steps forward on five continents.

In the European Union, the bloc is boosting protection for whistleblowers who flag breaches of EU law, reports correspondent Dominique Soguel. Approved in October, the directive covers data protection, public health, nuclear safety, and other sectors.

And when Tunisia held presidential debates ahead of its September election, it was the first time any Arab country had leading candidates debate policy and defend their records, Middle East correspondent Taylor Luck reports. “This is a moment of pride for us Tunisians,” says Walid Ben Mohammed, a Tunis taxi driver. “A chance to remember why our revolution and struggle was all worth it.” 

Stay tuned for more global good news in 2020.

For this end-of-the year installment of “Points of Progress,” we asked six Monitor correspondents to survey their regions and tell us what they saw as the significant steps of progress made there in the past year. What follows is the result. 

We began this weekly feature in response to the fact that the news media tend to report on new initiatives – intentions to make progress, program announcements, and the like – but rarely revisit them to celebrate concrete accomplishments. We’ve found that reports of measurable progress require some digging to unearth. We hope you’ve been enjoying this feature. Let us know at editor@csmonitor.com. 
– Owen Thomas / Editor, Monitor Weekly

1. Canada

Why We Wrote This

Relentlessly negative news makes it tempting to disconnect. That’s why we’re celebrating progress made in 2019. More than feel-good news, these highlights present credible steps forward on five continents.

When Canada’s Parliament was elected this fall, attention focused on minority underrepresentation. But in an analysis by Andrew Griffith, a senior fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute, Canada is doing a much better job of getting “visible minorities” elected. While the minority population of Canada is 23%, he calculates that the proportion of minorities who are Canadian citizens is 17.2%. Parliament, which reconvened in December, is 15% “visible minority.” That’s higher than in other Western democracies, including the United States and United Kingdom, and suggests “a greater resilience here to the type of anti-immigrant populist sentiment that has proliferated elsewhere,” according to Mr. Griffith. 
– Sara Miller Llana / Staff writer

2. Latin America

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
An elementary school student in Tamaula, Mexico, studies the lesson on the blackboard. More Latin Americans are staying in school longer.

More Latin Americans are studying beyond elementary school, something that helps decrease wage inequality in the region and underscores the high rate of return on investment in education here. In 2004, about 66% of Latin Americans studied beyond elementary school, a number that grew to nearly 80% by 2014, according to a United Nations report. Education plays a much larger role in determining earnings among workers in Latin America and the Caribbean compared with members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 34 mostly developed economies. Scores on the PISA – the OECD test given in 79 participating countries every three years – are improving at a faster pace here than in OECD nations. Despite the progress, there is still work to be done to improve the quality of education in the region. 
– Whitney Eulich / Correspondent

3. Sub-Saharan Africa 

Sub-Saharan Africa has a higher percentage of women on corporate boards than any other region in the world, according to a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute. That’s good news, since appointing more women to boards tends to lead to a more gender-equal workplace overall, and even higher companywide productivity. At 25%, Africa far outpaces the global average of 17% women on corporate boards, but the McKinsey report also cautioned against reading too much into the statistic. It was a success story for “women at the top of the pyramid, but not for millions of ordinary African women” working at lower rungs of the economy. 
– Ryan Lenora Brown / Staff writer

4. Tunisia

Courtesy of Munathara Initiative
Candidates for president of Tunisia participate in the second of three debates in Tunis on Sept. 6, 2019. This was the first election in Tunisia to feature candidate debates.

Tunisia held presidential debates ahead of its Sept. 15 presidential election, the first time any Arab country had leading candidates debate policy and defend their records. The debates were the result of five years of campaigning by the Munathara Initiative, a Tunisia-based organization, and the format was based on Colombian and Mexican models in which candidates have 90 seconds to respond to moderators’ questions. “This is a moment of pride for us Tunisians – a chance to remember why our revolution and struggle was all worth it,” says Walid Ben Mohammed, a Tunis taxi driver. “Rather than our next head of our state acting like they are the boss of us, he or she has to plead with us as if they are applying for a job.” 
– Taylor Luck / Correspondent

5. European Union

The European Union is boosting protection for whistleblowers who flag breaches of EU law. Approved in October, the EU whistleblowers directive covers money laundering, tax fraud, data protection, public health, nuclear safety, and environmental protection. Companies with more than 50 employees or with annual sales exceeding €10 million ($11 million) will be required to establish confidential whistleblower channels and clear reporting mechanisms. The directive also covers the public sector with reporting requirements for state and regional administrators and municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants. If the authorities fail to act within three to six months, whistleblowers may go public. EU member states have two years to adapt their national laws. 
– Dominique Soguel / Correspondent 

6. China

Reuters/File
A man transports quilts to be recycled as his son sleeps atop them in Xiangyang, central China. Poverty is being aggressively cut in China.

China is closing in on its goal of wiping out extreme poverty by the end of 2020. By the end of 2019, about 95% of the country’s poor population will have been lifted from poverty, according to State Council Poverty Alleviation Office Director Liu Youngfu. At the same time, more than 90% of poor counties will have their “hats off,” or no longer be designated as impoverished, Mr. Liu said. “The poverty problem that has plagued the Chinese nation for thousands of years will be solved,” he said. China’s poor population decreased from 98.99 million in 2012 to 16.60 million in 2018. The government has allocated $16 billion for 2020 to support the poorest areas, mainly in western and southwestern China. 
– Ann Scott Tyson / Staff writer

 

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