Points of Progress: From Alaska to Nepal, edging towards equity

Places where the world saw progress, for the March 16, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Joining Maryland and New Hampshire, Alaska became the third state to prevent employers from paying a subminimum wage to workers with disabilities. Before the change, employers could apply for a waiver to pay workers below the state’s minimum wage – a step very few companies actually took. “Historically, minimum wage exemptions were considered necessary to help people with disabilities gain employment,” says a statement released by the state’s labor department. “Experience over the past two decades has shown that workers with disabilities can succeed in jobs earning minimum wage or more.” (Anchorage Daily News)

Rashah McChesney/ Peninsula Clarion/AP/File
Sarah Mohorich, an intern working through a program that provides job training for people with disabilities, stocks a salad bar in Soldotna, Alaska.

2. Britain

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State schools and colleges in England will offer students free sanitary products through a program funded by the country’s Education Department. Designed to fight “period poverty,” which can lead girls from low-income families to miss school, the program will make the products available to an estimated 1.7 million students. It also aims to reduce stigmas associated with menstruation and raise awareness about the issue. England follows Scotland’s similar legislation from 2018. At the time of publication, Scotland’s legislature had also preliminarily passed a bill to provide free sanitary products in designated public places – becoming the first nation in the world to pass such legislation. (The Guardian, Reuters)

3. South Georgia

Researchers spotted an “unprecedented” 55 blue whales during a survey around the coastal waters of South Georgia, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. After only two of the critically endangered species were seen during a similar survey in 2018, the findings suggest the area remains a valuable summer feeding ground for blue whales, the researchers say. Blue whales were nearly hunted into extinction during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when, according to some estimates, their numbers dropped by almost 97%. Since then, stricter whaling regulations have led to a slow population recovery. (The Independent)

4. Senegal

Senegal opened West Africa’s first major wind farm in the rural area of Taiba N’Diaye, meaning 30% of the country’s electricity will come from renewable sources. One-third of the farm’s 46 turbines are now operating, with the rest poised to come online by June. At full capacity, the farm will generate a sixth of Senegal’s total energy, provide enough power for 2 million people, and save more than 300,000 metric tons of carbon emissions a year. A representative from the state power company says the next goal is to expand access to electricity, which currently reaches just 60% of the population. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

5. India

Faced with mounting agricultural costs posed by climate change, more than 1,000 farmers in India’s state of Odisha have begun resowing indigenous seeds, which advocates say bring ecological and social benefits. Compared with the high-yielding variety of seeds distributed by the government, the traditional seeds are more resistant to shifts in climate and less likely to cause environmental degradation, studies show. Farmers in the 18 villages that began planting the seeds last year in partnership with the nonprofit Nirman have reported higher yields, restored ecosystems, and a renewed sense of community centered on long-held farming traditions. (Mongabay)

6. Nepal

Nepal will for the first time count LGBTQ people in its next census, scheduled for July 2021. The change, which adds a category of “others” to the existing options of male and female, will likely help the country’s LGBTQ people gain better access to health care, education, and welfare services. Still, activists criticized the government’s conflation of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite continued discrimination against more than 900,000 LGBTQ people within the country, Nepal has grown increasingly progressive on issues relating to gender and sexuality – following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that required equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Niranjan Shrestha/AP/File
Participants march in a gay pride parade in Kathmandu, Nepal.
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