BY Matluba Umurzakova, Saidbek Djurabekov
The Uzbek government is concerned about how the public perceives corruption in the country, and with good reason. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which scores countries based on how corrupt their governments are believed to be, Uzbekistan ranked 157 out of 180. In 2018, the Uzbek General Prosecutor’s Office stated that 1,561 officials in the public sector were prosecuted on charges of corruption. For the last two years, the government of Uzbekistan has been working non-stop to put an end to long-term corruption which pervades various sectors. An effort championed by President Mirziyoyev, corruption is a persistent national concern in Uzbekistan. In the words of Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is “far from such concepts as justice, honesty, responsibility, meeting the needs and serving the people.” The challenge that Uzbekistan faces in tackling well-ingrained corruption cannot be overstated, but the silver lining here is the case that we are building for using blockchain to combat corruption. Addressing Old Problems with New Tech According to a Presidential Decree signed July 2018, from 2021 blockchain will be incorporated into Uzbekistan’s government transactions to improve public services and ensure transparency and accountability. In response to this statement, we at the UN in Uzbekistan (namely, UNDP, UNICEF and UNODC) joined forces, with support from the UN Development Coordination Office, to explore how blockchain can limit corruption in national public and private sectors. We took the cue from other regional efforts to combat corruption with blockchain. For example, Georgia recently used blockchain to counter land title fraud. In our case, we chose to pilot blockchain solutions in areas long impacted by corruption, with leaders committed to change, and with the technical readiness available to implement new technology. We chose two areas of focus: School certificates: The current paper-based system makes it easy for workers in public school institutions to issue invalid school certificates. Since school certificates are kept in each school and there is no central digital database to check the validity of each certificate, it’s difficult to monitor and keep tabs on who’s issuing and who’s receiving invalid school certificates. To help counter this problem, the UN team created a web service for the Ministry of Public Education (MPE) to create digital records of the issued certificates and a private blockchain to make sure that the records in the data based are not manipulated through the publicly accessible service for online certification. At the moment, the web service is integrated with the private blockchain deployed on the MPE servers and running preliminary tests within the agency itself. After testing this approach, we are going to make it available at public education departments and schools throughout the country. Land cadastre: The way that Uzbekistan’s State Cadastre works makes it easy for committee inspectors to manipulate records in central digital databases by altering the stated real-estate size, lowering tax bills, and changing the legal status of properties before buying or selling takes place. To test possible ways of detecting these fraudulent schemes, our team, along with the state cadaster committee, developed a demo blockchain application that prevents the unauthorized manipulation of the real estate data in the central government database. Citizens are also able to verify their property records online through a public portal making the agency’s activity more transparent. The blockchain app is being deployed in the committee’s servers and is undergoing internal tests. The next is to pilot the implementation of the blockchain system with real data. To advance these applications beyond the pilot stage, our team is working with national partners to establish an enabling institutional and regulatory framework. We know that to effectively introduce blockchain systems in the public education space and land cadastre, we will need to see change happen at the agency-level administration as well in legislation to define the legal status of blockchain-stored data. Are you working on a similar innovation? Talk to us!
BY Paula López-Abente Vicente, Fatma Soueid Ahmed, Khadijetou Cheikh Lo
Let’s meet Malika, an innovative tool developed jointly by UNICEF and UNFPA to monitor the change of social norms about Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) in Mauritania through surveys and data collection. Malika seeks to confirm whether the decrease in prevalence observed through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and rapid assessment is correct and real; confirm whether the change in the social norm is significant and see to what extent the population deems involving adolescents and young people in the conversations as a decisive point in changing this practice. According to the WHO, FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights of women, especially girls, since it is almost always carried out on minors. MALIKA, which means “queen” in Arabic, stands for Measuring and Analyzing Linkage between Information Technology Knowledge and Advocacy with adolescents to end FGM. A prevalent practice in Mauritania, it affected 53.2 percent of girls under 14 and 66.6 percent of women between the age of 15 and 49 in 2015. Since 2011, UNFPA and UNICEF, with other civil society organizations, have been supporting the Mauritanian government to build a joint program to galvanize people to promote the collective abandonment of this practice. Step one: mainstreaming Malika In November 2018, we conducted a training and a pilot in Nouakchott prior to mainstreaming Malika into our programming. We selected two regions of convergence for the UN Country Team in Mauritania as part of our new UN Development Assistance Framework. The areas which have a high prevalence of FGM are Hodh El Chargui, located in east Mauritania and Assaba, located in the southern part of the country. Through the District Census, defined at the General Census of the Population and Habitat of 2013, we created a random representative sample of 600 households (300 households in each region). We polled a total of 2,863 people, of which 60 percent were women. For this exercise, we partnered up with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and National Office of Statistics, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Childhood and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as several NGOs and youth networks. To do so, we trained 15 young women and four team managers (males) to provide them with the necessary knowledge and attitudes that would enable them to efficiently carry out data collection activities in the field. To collect the data, we used two methodologies. The first methodology involved gathering quantitative data through a survey from the representative sample of households. We had two types of questionnaires, one addressed to the pre-defined households and another individual survey for eligible women between the age of 15 and 49 living in those households. To collect qualitative data that would help us to better determine the persistence of FGM in the communities, we held 19 focus groups with young girls and boys, as well as adult women and men. At the same time, we also had conversations with Imams from these communities. We also invested heavily in building a youth network through these conversations to make sure that old habits don't linger on below the surface and reemerge in a future generation. We also used smartphones or tablets to collect quantitative and qualitative data, which allows us to obtain relevant data in real-time for operational planning. Because we conduct Malika once a year, we are able to minimize the time and costs of conducting surveys and evaluations that are expensive and not done regularly. In this way, Malika complements the MICS, which are conducted every four years, allowing us to react faster and adjust our programming. Step two: unveiling and analyzing the results Out of the 2,863 people that we polled, 72 percent live in rural areas. Forty five percent are under 15 years old and 68 percent of women have not received any form of education. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents confirmed that they are aware of FGM but only 11 percent learned about it in school, while 68 percent heard about it in community events. Education levels also influence the attitudes towards FGM. For instance, 61.3 percent of women who had at least one daughter had already undergone FGM. This is a very important number for us because 29 percent of the women who were surveyed had undergone FGM because it was their mother’s decision. And of this group, 64 percent had never had access to education. We also found a correlation between the place of residence as an influencing factor to continue this practice. Fifty two percent of the respondents in rural areas are in favor in comparison to 48 percent that live in urban areas. In fact, 52 percent of women would prefer to keep this practice, stating three main reasons: better feminine hygiene, social recognition and religious needs. Other reasons relate to social norms, namely the perception that FGM is a prerequisite to be part of society. According to the conversations from the focus groups, 46 percent of the women said that the members of their communities are ready to abandon FGM in part as a result of awareness activities conducted by several NGOs. Step 3: How to move forward with these conversations From this exercise, we gathered a few key takeaways that will help move away from the norms that currently support FGM in several communities: We must consider socio cultural values to be able to strengthen the current strategies to eradicate FGM with the help of the citizens. We have to consider cultural reasoning when conducting awareness activities, training and communication actions among the different actors in order to stop this trend. It’s important to deconstruct arguments in connection with Islam and develop a pitch against FGM. Increase our advocacy efforts and receive more commitments from partners that would encourage abandoning the practice of FGM. Through Malika, we were able to fully understand that there is still a high prevalence of FGM in these two areas of Mauritania, so we need to continue working. We plan to use the data that we gathered to advocate for the abandonment of this practice through new messages in local languages. We will also adjust our national plan roadmap of interventions on this issue. Our aim is to take this initiative at the national level through a campaign against FGM. This project has given us an opportunity to share key information with our partners and to to explore avenues to refine our work and to align our new FGM strategy and action plan with recommendations addressed by Malika. We will continue fighting and protecting our girls!
Note: The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on the map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.