Points of Progress: New Zealand elects diverse gov’t, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Nov. 9, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. Canada

A nationwide initiative is helping First Nation and municipal leaders redefine their relationships. Funded primarily by Canada’s federal government, the First Nation-Municipal Community Economic Development Initiative aims to promote regional problem-solving, joint economic development, and reconciliation between neighboring communities. With the help of third-party mediators, participating partners have been able to confront the painful history of colonialism – including ignored treaties, exclusion from major development decisions, and forced assimilation – and right past wrongs. “If it appears to be uncomfortable, and you seem almost out of your place, then I think that’s a certain indicator that you’re doing something groundbreaking,” said Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation’s Chief Paul Prosper.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett (on screen) discusses a dispute between commercial and Mi’kmaw lobster fishers on Oct. 19, 2020.

Today, nine partners are finishing the program, having worked together to address water supply issues, improve transit infrastructure, and launch united tourism strategies. The initiative will welcome a new cohort in 2021, with the hope of focusing the partnership model on post-pandemic recoveries. (Reasons to be Cheerful)

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. United States

Violent crime declined in the United States for the third consecutive year, according to new estimates from the FBI. The rate of violent crime – including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault – dropped 1% in 2019, with an average of 367 cases per 100,000 residents. This is the second lowest level since violent crime rates peaked in 1991 at 758 per 100,000. In 2014, there were 362 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program uses data from thousands of agencies at the federal, state, local, university, and tribal level to compile annual reports on crime throughout the country. The overall number of violent crime cases, not adjusted for population, also declined for a third year in a row, with 0.5% fewer reported offenses in 2019 than the year before. In 2015, a Brennan Center for Justice analysis concluded that many factors are each responsible for a small percentage of the drop in crime, and that a range of efforts would be better public safety investments than mass incarceration. (Department of Justice, VOX)

3. Guatemala

Conservation groups in Guatemala are helping a growing number of refugees find work as park rangers. FUNDAECO, a Guatemalan nongovernmental organization that works in national parks and reserves across the country, has partnered with the United Nations refugee agency on the empleos verdes (“green jobs”) program, placing candidates in ecotourism, trail maintenance, and park management positions. 

FUNDAECO is currently employing 55 refugees and hopes to place at least 100 candidates. Rangers who fled gang violence in places such as Honduras now work to prevent illegal activity, such as logging and poaching, in national parks that house important species. To avoid fostering resentment among Guatemalans looking for conservation work, FUNDAECO also hires one local for every refugee placement. Alexis Masciarelli, a U.N. refugee agency spokesperson based in Guatemala, said having a permanent job helps “bring back [refugees’] dignity and their capacity to contribute to a new community and feel more settled.” (Mongabay)

4. Tunisia

In a move hailed by anti-racism advocates, a Tunisian court will allow a man to change his name to remove a word associated with slavery. “Atig” – or “liberated by” – is a common part of many family names in Tunisia, having once been used to denote a freed slave from people still in bondage. Black Tunisians make up 10%-15% of the population, and although the country was among the first to abolish slavery in 1846, critics say the government has done little to acknowledge the discrimination descendants face, including unequal employment opportunities and racial stereotypes in the media. The ruling will open doors, activists say, for other Black Tunisians to shed the stigmatized label. “Every person born in Tunisia is born free so I don’t see why we keep that on paper,” said Saadia Mosbah, who campaigned for the right to change names. “In history books OK, but not on our identity.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

5. Thailand

Villagers of Ban Boon Rueang are being recognized for their novel approach to community forest management and advocacy. When the government announced plans to infill wetlands for development, the northern village mobilized supporters in academic and conservation fields and presented their case to the national human rights commission, prompting authorities to withdraw the proposal. Nearly 300 families manage the wetlands today, mainly using traditional methods, and protecting their livelihood and culture in the process. 

Evictions from forests and farmlands have risen in recent years in Thailand as villagers struggle to protect natural resources against tourism and mining, but the Ban Boon Rueang victory is part of a growing trend of successful community pushback. The United Nations recently awarded the village its Equator Prize for “outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity,” and for its use of social media campaigns to highlight forestry management models that are inspiring similar communities. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

6. New Zealand

New Zealand is welcoming its most diverse Parliament ever. Of 120 parliamentary seats, the ruling Labour Party won 64, more than half of whom are women, and 16 are Indigenous Maori. The incoming Parliament will feature the country’s first Latin American, Sri Lankan, and African MPs.

A remarkably diverse roster of new members will soon join their colleagues in the Parliament Buildings in Wellington, New Zealand, pictured here on July 5, 2020.

It also has the highest percentage of LGBTQ representation in the world, with 10% of the seats to be held by openly LGBTQ candidates, which surpasses the percentage in the United Kingdom’s Parliament. Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley noted the new leaders include several millennials as well. “What we have seen is a departure of many of the older, male, white MPs including some who have been in Parliament for over 30 years,” he said. (Reuters, Radio New ZealandAustralian Broadcasting Corp.)

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