Points of Progress: US life expectancy increases, and more

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.

Countries where the world saw progress, for the March 2, 2020 Monitor Weekly.


1. Maryland

Maryland unveiled life-size bronze statues of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass during a Feb. 10 ceremony at its State House. Both Tubman and Douglass hail from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and the statues’ dedication comes as the state attempts to better commemorate its black history – by replacing or removing monuments for supporters of slavery. “A mark of true greatness is shining light on a system of oppression and having the courage to change it,” says Adrienne Jones, the state’s first black and first female House speaker. “The statues are a reminder that our laws aren’t always right or just. But there’s always room for improvement.” (The Associated Press)

Julio Cortez/AP
Along with one depicting Frederick Douglass, this statue of Harriet Tubman will stand in Maryland’s State House in Annapolis.

2. United States

For the first time in four years, life expectancy increased in the United States, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which gathered data from 2018. The rise – only a month – is largely a product of lower mortality rates for drug overdoses and cancer. It also ends a three-year period of stable or decreasing life expectancy in the U.S., following decades of a steady rise. Drug overdose deaths fell for the first time in 28 years in 2018. While deaths caused by some overdoses, from such drugs as heroin and painkillers, declined, those from other drugs – namely fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine – increased, leading experts to say that the drug problem in the U.S. is still a crisis. (The Associated Press, The Hill)

3. Chile

Chile’s toughest-in-the-world restrictions on sugary drinks have helped reduce their sale by almost 24% in two years, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The country’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising, first enforced in 2016, bans the sale of sugary drinks in schools, attaches stark black-and-white labels to products considered unhealthy, and restricts marketing of junk food to children. When the law took effect, Chile was the world’s leading consumer of sugary drinks, and its population still struggles with obesity. Chile’s efforts have had a ripple effect reaching a dozen other countries, which have introduced new labeling policies for food and drink packages, experts say. (The Guardian)

4. Finland

In an effort to promote gender equality, Finland will give new fathers and mothers the same amount of paid time off from work. Called a “radical reform” by Minister of Health and Social Affairs Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, the move extends paid paternity leave to seven months, which is equal to maternity leave. The extension is intended to encourage more men to participate in domestic life and child rearing to help boost the country’s declining birthrate. Finland’s five-party coalition government – led almost completely by young women – managed to pass the reform, whereas a previous government labeled it too costly in 2018. (Reuters)

Finnish fathers, like the one seen above with his son in Somerniemi, Finland, will now have more time to spend with their children.

5. Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan made “major progress” in reducing involuntary labor in its cotton picking industry last year, reaching 94% voluntary participation, according to a United Nations report. At just over 100,000, the number of involuntary workers marks a near-40% decrease from the year before. Meanwhile, workers reported higher wages and better conditions, as the government enforces new legislation criminalizing forced labor. Uzbekistan is one of the world’s leading cotton exporters, with about 1 in 8 adults participating in its harvest last year. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

6. Malawi

For the second time in history, an African court has declared an election void due to apparent attempts to rig the vote. After the state electoral commission received nearly 150 reports of “irregularities” during the country’s presidential election last May, Malawi’s constitutional court ordered another vote within 150 days. The ruling follows petitioning from opposition parties and widespread protest from citizens – many of whom hope that the ruling will force political parties to compete on their own merit. More broadly, experts hope that the decision – coming three years after Kenya’s nullified presidential election in 2017 – signals a trend toward freer and fairer elections across the continent. (The Economist)



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