Points of Progress: US Navy honors Doris Miller, and more

Staff
Places where the world saw progress, for the Oct. 26, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

The newest supercarrier will be named the USS Doris Miller after the African American sailor who helped save his injured captain and crewmates at Pearl Harbor. During the 1941 attack, Miller also opened fire on Japanese planes, despite the fact that being Black limited him to the job of messman, and he was not trained to use weapons. Most supercarriers are named after U.S. presidents, and this marks the first time an African American or an enlisted sailor has received the honor.

ROD AYDELOTTE/WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD/AP
Former sailors salute a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Doris Miller during an unveiling ceremony on Dec. 7, 2017, in Miller’s hometown of Waco, Texas.

The Black press fought for his recognition back in 1941 – seven years before the government committed to desegregating the military – and his actions were immortalized in poems by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. Still, many in the Navy are unfamiliar with Miller’s story. Former acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said the tribute was long overdue, and reflects the Navy’s diversity today: “We have about 340,000 active-duty sailors, and they come from every part of the country, every skin color, every ethnicity.” (NPR)

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

2. France

France’s Ministry of Ecological Transition announced a series of bans to improve animal welfare throughout the country. Traveling circuses will no longer be allowed to use wild animals such as tigers, bears, and elephants, and marine parks can no longer breed or obtain dolphins and orcas to keep in captivity. The new policies also bring an end to mink farming in France by 2025.

REGIS DUVIGNAU/REUTERS/FILE
Elephants perform at the Arlette Gruss Circus in Bordeaux, France, on Feb. 4, 2014.

Some of the changes go into effect immediately, while others will be implemented over several years. “It is time to open a new era in our relationship with these [wild] animals,” said Barbara Pompili, the environment minister. The government is dedicating $9.4 million to help marine parks transition into sanctuaries and find new jobs for circus and marine park workers. (The Associated Press, Green Matters)

3. Togo

Togo has a record number of women in the upper echelons of government after a recent cabinet reshuffle. Women have been appointed to 30% of the country’s 33 ministerial positions, including Prime Minister Victoire Tomegah Dogbe and Defense Minister Essozimna Marguerite Gnakade – a first for each post. While some hesitate to celebrate since President Faure Gnassingbé – a controversial figure who continues his 15-year rule despite growing opposition – is still in power, others say the historic lineup gives them hope. Ms. Dogbe in particular has led efforts against youth unemployment and poverty, and is widely respected throughout the country. Human rights activist Mimi Dossou Soedédjé said the appointment sends “a strong signal to our young girls and women that they have the right to dream big.” (Reuters, CNN, Deutsche Welle)

4. Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan took an important step toward abolishing the death penalty with the signing of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There are now only three countries in Europe and Central Asia that have not signed the document: Russia, Tajikistan, and Belarus. Kazakhstan has been gradually narrowing the scope of capital punishment. The courts generally stopped imposing the death penalty in 2004, but can make exceptions for acts of terrorism. A man convicted of a 2016 mass shooting remains the only person on death row today. In his speech to the United Nations, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stressed that “Kazakhstan is committed to the implementation of the fundamental right to life and human dignity,” according to a Kazakh Foreign Ministry statement. (Amnesty International, New Europe)

5. Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s latest transitional housing initiative is helping low-income families live with dignity. In one of the world’s most expensive and crowded cities, thousands are waiting an average of 5 1/2 years to access public housing. Transitional homes built on idle land offer a short-term solution. Nam Cheong 2020 is Hong Kong’s first modular home project, whose prefabricated dwellings can be moved and reused when the lease is done. 

TYRONE SIU/REUTERS
The four-story modular homes in Hong Kong are made from prefabricated parts.

Although temporary, the 290-square-foot apartments have already made a huge difference for families such as Lau Kai Fai, his wife, and their teenage son. They recently swapped their 80-square-foot “coffin home” for a spot in Nam Cheong 2020, paying 60% of their old rent. They can cook, eat meals together, and do homework at an actual desk. “It feels like a home,” Mr. Lau said. “The previous flat was only a place to sleep.” (Reuters)

World

Rights of nature laws are gaining momentum around the world, empowering communities and bringing fresh arguments to court. Based in Indigenous thought, this approach affirms the rights of rivers, reefs, and other forms of nature to exist and thrive. Under the current paradigm, say environmental activists, nature is treated as property, limiting the ways in which people can defend the planet against pollution and overuse. At least 14 countries have adopted rights of nature laws in recent years, sometimes through judicial decisions, international resolutions, or constitutional amendments. From Bolivia to Bangladesh, these measures allow residents to sue for harm done to nature on behalf of their local ecosystems. “This is a new area of rights, but it’s also a growing movement,” said Monti Aguirre, Latin America coordinator with International Rivers. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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