The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

What Does That Mean?

Community Development workers work in communities, with people, right?  Right.  So why should community workers know something about statistics?

As most community workers will have discovered, in their work they will be involved in surveys, studies, research and demographics.1  If not carrying out such work, community workers are likely attempting to understand and apply such work.  It’s important to know what it all means.  That’s a good place to start – the mean.2

Mean and Median

In statistical terms the mean is what many people think of as the average – a term that most will understand.  The mean (average) is often used in surveys.  For example: the mean wage in the Statville3 community is $35,000.  To get that figure, the wages of every person in Statville are added together and then the result is divided by the total number of people in Statville.  Certainly, that does tell us something.  However, the figure could be quite misleading.  It could be skewed by a small sector of Statville obtaining very high wages, thus increasing the average wage.

One way of discovering whether the mean is unrepresentative is to find out the median wage.  The median is the point at which half the population earn a higher wage and half a lower wage.  Suppose there are 10,000 people in Statville.  If all those people are ranked according to their income, then the wage of the 5,000th person would be the median.  In our fictitious community of Statville suppose the median wage is $20,000 – significantly less than the mean of $35,000. 

What does that mean?  It certainly suggests that most people in that community earn significantly less than the average wage, and also suggests that there is an inequality of incomes in that community.

Errors and Deviations

An aspect of statistics that appears to be poorly understood is that of errors and deviations (more correctly known as Margin of Error and Standard Deviation). Because these are poorly understood, they can be used and misused easily and even deliberately, especially by politicians, decision-makers and lobbyists intent on using statistics to their own ends.

In any population there will be a variation from the mean.  Returning to our mythical community of Statville.  We know that the mean wage is $35,000.  We also know that there will be some who earn more than this and some who earn less.  But, how far from the mean will those variations be?  The standard deviation gives us a measure of this.  Without going into the mathematics of it, standard deviation gives us a measure of how close (or far) from the mean the majority of the population is.

Suppose we are told that the standard deviation is $3,000.  Then we know that around 68% of the population will have an income of between $32,000 ($35,000 – $3,000) and $38,000 ($35,000 + $3,000).  If we widen the number of standard deviations to three standard deviations (ie 3 x $3,000 = $9,000) then we would know that 99.8% of the residents earned between $26,000 and $44,000.

Margin of error is closely related to standard deviation: it is approximately twice the standard deviation.4  Margin of error relates to estimating the true mean of a whole population by determining the mean of a sample of that population.  In Statville we could do a survey of the entire population of 10,000, but that is likely to be time consuming, costly and cumbersome.
Instead we could survey a random sample of those residents.  Now let’s suppose that sample survey found that 40% of them believed that the government was doing a good job.  What does that tell us about the percentage of the total population?  Do 40% of the total population of 10,000 believe that the government is doing a good job?  The margin of error tells us how close we are.

The researcher tells us that the margin of error for their survey is 5%.  That tells us that with a high degree of confidence5 we can say that somewhere between 35% and 45% of the entire population believe that the government is doing a good job.  (i.e. 40% ± 5%)

Now comes the bit where politicians and others are prone to mislead with statistics.  Back to Statville again where one year 40% of the sample said they believed the government was doing a good job.  The following year the researchers ask the same question of another randomly selected sample.  This time, 43% of the sample say that they believe the government is doing a good job.  The researcher again says that the margin of error is 5%.

“Hurrah” cries the government, “survey shows that the percentage of people who have confidence in us is increasing.”  They point excitedly at the two figures – 43% this year, up from 40% last year.

Hang on, hang on.  The catch is in that figure often mentioned at the end of the article, sometimes in fine print, and never mentioned by the politician: margin of error 5%.

The two figures really prove nothing.  They neither prove that confidence has increased, nor do they prove a decrease in confidence.  Why’s that?

Consider this.  In the first year the true proportion of those believing the government was doing a good job could have been as high as 45% (40% plus the margin of error of 5%).  Similarly, this year the true proportion of those having confidence in the government could be as low as 38% (43% less the margin of error of 5%).  As you can see, because of the margin of error, it is not possible to make a definitive statement either way.

Be wary of claims like the one in this example.  They are very common.

A community development worker one does not need to add statistics to their tools of trade.  However, just understanding some basic concepts such as those mentioned above will mean you are less likely to have the wool pulled across your eyes.

1. Demographics are statistical characteristics of specific populations, e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, income etc.
2. As my biography states I have been involved in community development work for over 40 years.  However, I do also have a degree in mathematics and have tutored statistics at first year University level.
3. Statville is a fictitious community name used in this post as an example only.
4. If one wanted to be pedantic, the margin of error is 1.96 times the standard deviation.
5. At the 95% confidence level (for those who want to be accurate).  I won’t go into confidence levels as that can start to get a bit confusing.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict

Angelina Jolie and William Hague at
Global Summit to End Sexual Violence
in Conflict (London, June 2014)
A few days ago a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was held in London.  Hosted by the UK Foreign Secretary (William Hague) and Angelina Jolie the conference drew 600 delegates from over 100 countries along with representatives from more than 100 NGOs.

Over countless centuries war has been followed by two further atrocities – pillage and rape.  So much have pillage and rape hung onto the coat tails of war that the three are almost like triplets: war, rape and pillage.  Understanding that rape has been used as a weapon of war historically, US Secretary of State (John Kerry) told conference delegates that it was time to “banish the crime to the history books where it belongs."

It is laudable that a senior government representative and a Hollywood star want to get rid of one of those triplets.  Angelina Jolie rightly condemned rape being used as a weapon of war.  Noting that rape is used as a weapon of war against civilians, she proclaimed that “it has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power.”  Absolutely right Angelina.

It is easy to focus on instances of rape in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and other such places.  This conveniently forgets that rape has been used by western nations also, in both World Wars, the Vietnam War and more recently by western forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

All military forces, it seems, are culpable.  It is a problem within the military.  It is a military problem.  It is a problem about power (as Jolie states).

There is the problem, right there: power.  The desire on the part of one person to gain domination over another, or one nation to gain domination over another, or (in this context) also the desire by one gender to gain domination over the other.1

So Let’s Not Stop There.

Yes, rape must be condemned as a weapon of war.  Moreover, rape must be condemned as a weapon per se, whether it be used in a war setting or in peacetime. 

If the violence of rape can be condemned as a weapon of war in conflict situations, why can we not condemn all forms of violence?  In the next few years, how might we (to use John Kerry’s words) banish warfare to the history books where it belongs?

Let’s stop all violence in war.  Jolie is absolutely right.  The problem is not about sex, the problem is about power.  War is the ultimate expression of power.  So, if we want to get at the heart of the problem, let’s find ways to resolve conflict, without recourse to warfare.

1. This should not be read as suggesting that same-sex or rape of men by women does not exist.  Most rape however, is perpetrated on women by men.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

4 Inspiring Indigenous Women

Clockwise from top left:
Whina Cooper, Sally Morgan,
Vandana Shiva, Gladys Bissonette
Many of those looking for solutions to the crises that confront humanity are discovering the wisdom of indigenous cultures.  For too long indigenous cultures have been robbed, brutalised and neglected by colonising nations.  As humanity and the Earth perch on the edge of an abyss, the wisdom of the oppressed may be what saves all of us.

It has also been said that behind every great man there is a great women.  That may be so, but more importantly, there are many great women that stand in their own right, rather than in the shadows of men.

Here are four short stories of just such inspiring indigenous women.

Dame Whina Cooper

In the land at the bottom of the world, Aotearoa (New Zealand), one woman stood up to the domination of the European colonisers.  More than stand, Whina Cooper marched.  At the age of nearly 80 Whina Cooper marched at the head of the 1975 Māori Land March that began in the far north of the country and ended on Parliament steps over 1,000 kilometres to the south.  In doing so, she became a household name in New Zealand.

The idea for the hikoi (march) had been Cooper's.  When, at a national gathering, Māori groups had asked her to lead a protest against the further theft of Māori land, she agreed and proposed the march that was to make her a national figure.

But, Whina Cooper had been an inspiration within Māori society for decades.  In 1951, for example, she became the first President of the Māori Women's Welfare League, an organisation that became enormously important for the welfare of Māori women and families throughout the nation.  When she stepped down from the president-ship the League bestowed on her the title Te Whaea o te Motu (Mother of the Nation) – an honour that not only Māori, but also Pakeha (Europeans) came to respect.

Dame Whina Cooper was awarded many honours and died in 1994 at the age of 98.

Sally Morgan

Sally Morgan came to international prominence in 1987 with the publication of her book, My Story.  For many outside of Australia, and even many within Australia, this was one of the first times that the story of being aboriginal was being written down by an aboriginal woman and made accessible to non-aboriginal people.

The story tells of growing up without knowing that she was an aboriginal woman, with links to the Bailgu people in Western Australia.  The book has attracted controversy, partly for suggesting that aboriginality can be written down so as to become accessible to non-aboriginal people.  It is perhaps worth repeating that the title of the book is My Story, and was possibly not meant as the story of a whole peoples.

Sally Morgan, though, is inspiring for her endeavour to discover who she is in the face of a colonising force that was intent on wiping out indigenous Australians.  It is noteworthy that it had only been 20 years before the book was published that aboriginal people had been automatically included in the Australian national census.

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva has been one of the world’s foremost proponents of indigenous wisdom.  Calling on her own cultural roots in India, Shiva has published numerous books dealing with environmental issues, globalisation and women’s and peasant farmer’s rights.

Vandana Shiva is the founder of Navdanya (meaning Nine Seeds), which has a special interest in protecting seed diversity, encouraging organic farming and promoting fair trade.  The organisation has worked with over 5 million farmers encouraging and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Besides working alongside farmers Shiva is a vocal critic of globalisation and transnational agribusiness.  She is a prominent eco-feminist, proclaiming that
“We need to strengthen women’s role in agriculture both to remove hunger and empower women. We need to redefine development from women’s perspective to ensure no one goes hungry or thirsty on this planet.”1
Vandana Shiva has written over 20 books and has appeared in numerous films and documentaries.
Gladys Bissonette

The battle of Wounded Knee is well known in American history.  What is less well known is the Wounded Knee Incident, and perhaps less than that again, the role of women in that incident.  Gladys Bissonette was one of three First Nation women (along with Ellen Moves Camp and Agnes Lamont) who became known as the Grandmas of the American Indian Movement (AIM). 
In 1973 over 200 Oglala Lakota and others took over and occupied the village of Wounded Knee, partly in protest at the US government’s failure to fulfil treaties.  The occupation inspired other First Nation peoples and caught the attention and gained the support of many prominent US citizens, including Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Angela Davis and Johnny Cash.

But, it was the women that inspired this action.  Leading up to the occupation the situation in the Oglala Lakota reservation had been deteriorating and at a meeting of traditional elders and AIM leaders, it was Gladys that helped motivate the men to action.
“For many years we have not fought any kind of war, we have not fought any kind of battle, and we have forgotten how to fight.”
she declared.  Following her speech Chief Frank Fools Crows announced that the group would go to Wounded Knee to protest.  The site (Wounded Knee) was deliberately chosen because of its symbolic value.  It had been the site, in 1890, when 300 First Nation people had been massacred by the US 7th Cavalry.

Forty years after the occupation at Wounded Knee, the American Indian Movement continues to seek justice and the fulfilment of treaties.

1. Dr Vandana Shiva, Empowering Women, BBC World Trust, June 2004.  This article was written by Shiva on a train from Punjab, India.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

We, Us, Our

I thought I should post a comment about the use of we, us or our in these blogs.  I use these pronouns to refer to a collective sense of the terms.  The collective being the western, rich societies because that is my experience.  I had the fortune to be born into a rich western nation (New Zealand) and also the fortune to have parents of European descent.

When I look at the world I see numerous interconnected issues facing these western, rich societies.  I also see the impact rich western societies have on other societies and cultures.  In particular I see:
  • A glaring inequality between rich and poor, which is steadily widening.  Often too, the “middle class” is being stretched in between.
  • The marginalisation of indigenous cultures and experiences.
  • The threat of climate change.
  • Rampant consumerism that threatens to divert us from who we are.
  • Minorities (people with disability, gays, homeless, unemployed) treated with indifference.
  • The concentration of economic and political decision-making into the hands of a small elite.
  • The extinction at an alarming rate of plants and animals.
  • Our sources of information and news being controlled by fewer and fewer transnational corporations.
  • The coming of Peak Oil and all that entails.
Many of these issues have been created by the very societies into which I was born – western, rich nations.

That is why I use the pronouns we, us, our:  Because we are mostly responsible and the solution to many of these issues lies in our hands and minds.  We must stop, we must slow down, we must become generous, we must be mindful of our impact on our fellow human beings and upon the earth.  The point is not that any one of us is responsible but we collectively share a responsibility.

David Loy, the Buddhist scholar and writer, has coined the term wego to describe the collective ego that inhabits western, rich societies.  It is a useful concept.  Loy describes wego as a “deluded sense of the collective self” which sets up an us versus them collective identity.  This wego is never satisfied; not rich enough, not powerful enough, not big enough.  In order to satisfy this longing for more we put ourselves in conflict with others – human and non-human.

It is, says Loy, this feeling of never being satisfied that is at the core of many of the world’s problems.  Thus, to tackle these problems we need to look into our own sense of self – individual and collective.  We must discover our ego and our collective wego.  That, asserts Loy, is a spiritual* journey.

* Note that Loy uses the term spiritual – not the term religious.