Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Combating Obstetric Fistula

by Isobel Coleman
An Ethiopian woman sits on her bed inside a clinic for obstetric fistula in Bahir Dar on March 10, 2007 (Eliana Aponte/Courtesy Reuters). An Ethiopian woman sits on her bed inside a clinic for obstetric fistula in Bahir Dar on March 10, 2007 (Eliana Aponte/Courtesy Reuters).

Today is the first International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. To be honest, I was not very familiar with the tragedy of fistula until about a decade ago, when I met the remarkable Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who has devoted her life to treating the problems of fistula in Ethiopia. More on her work below, but for those of you who don’t know what this terrible condition entails, I refer you to the UNFPA explanation: Read more »

Putting an End to Child Marriage

by Isobel Coleman
Child bride Krishna, 12, stands at a doorway into her compound in a village near Baran, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, India on July 30, 2011 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters). Child bride Krishna, 12, stands at a doorway into her compound in a village near Baran, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, India on July 30, 2011 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters).

Today, CFR published a new report, Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives. The report looks at the scope and causes of this practice, what it means for U.S. foreign policy, and ways the U.S. might tackle child marriage through policy. Read more »

Debating Hillary Clinton’s Legacy as Secretary of State

by Isobel Coleman
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) meets with Afghan women during a Civil Society roundtable discussion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul October 20, 2011. From left are Selay Ghaffar, Maria Bashir, Fawzia Koofi, Clinton and Dr. Sima Samar (Kevin Lamaruqe/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) meets with Afghan women during a civil society roundtable discussion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul October 20, 2011. From left are Selay Ghaffar, Maria Bashir, Fawzia Koofi, Clinton and Dr. Sima Samar (Kevin Lamaruqe/Courtesy Reuters).

In light of the ongoing controversy over Benghazi, the New York Times’ Room for Debate asked contributors to weigh in on Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state. Read more »

Women and Sports in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman
Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar (R) starts her women's 800m round 1 heat during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Lucy Nicholson/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar (R) starts her women's 800m round 1 heat during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Lucy Nicholson/Courtesy Reuters).

Last summer, I wrote about two young women from Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar, who were the first Saudi women ever to compete in the Olympics. They had to endure criticism from conservatives at home and lots of discussion about what they would wear to compete, but they served as a powerful symbol of a better future for Saudi women’s athletic participation. Read more »

Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa

by Isobel Coleman
Graph by author. Data source: World Bank. 2010 data for Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. 2009 data for Morocco. 2008 data for Tunisia and Iran. 2007 data for Lebanon. Graph by author. Data source: World Bank. 2010 data for Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. 2009 data for Morocco. 2008 data for Tunisia. 2007 data for Lebanon.

While the Arab revolutions were underpinned by a demand for greater political freedom, economic frustrations–particularly among the region’s large youth population–were also a factor. Millions of young people with university degrees languish for years unemployed, with no hope of getting a job that meets their expectations. Millions more are not completing sufficient years of school to master basic literacy and numeracy skills. As the 2002 Arab Human Development Report noted, adult literacy in the Arab world is shamefully low–and lower than the average in developing countries. Read more »

USAID, Water, and Food Security

by Isobel Coleman
A Sudanese farmer prepares his land for irrigation on the banks of the river Nile in Khartoum on November 11, 2009 (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh/Courtesy Reuters). A Sudanese farmer prepares his land for irrigation on the banks of the river Nile in Khartoum on November 11, 2009 (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh/Courtesy Reuters).

With its recently released Water and Development Strategy, USAID highlights some practical and potentially powerful initiatives both to improve health by expanding access to clean water and sanitation and to improve food security through better water management in agriculture. With respect to food security, the report singles out two areas for action: Read more »

Graph: Sovereign Wealth Funds

by Isobel Coleman
Numbers come from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute's Sovereign Wealth Fund Rankings (last updated March 2013). Asterisks indicate where the assets of a country's multiple SWFs have been added together. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute notes that one of the Russian funds "includes the oil stabilization fund of Russia" and that the figure for China's largest fund "is a best guess estimation. Numbers come from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute's Sovereign Wealth Fund Rankings (last updated March 2013). Asterisks indicate where the assets of a country's multiple SWFs have been added together. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute notes that one of the Russian funds "includes the oil stabilization fund of Russia" and that the figure for China's largest fund "is a best guess estimation.

Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Above, I show which countries have the largest sovereign wealth funds, and below, I show how these countries’ funds rank on a per capita basis. Data about the funds comes from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute’s Sovereign Wealth Fund Rankings, and I calculated per capita values primarily by using World Bank population data. It’s interesting to note that: Read more »

Developments in U.S. Food Aid Reform

by Isobel Coleman
A worker loads humanitarian aid onto a truck before it is sent to Lebanon from Amman, Jordan on August 31, 2006 (Muhammad Hamed/Courtesy Reuters). A worker loads humanitarian aid onto a truck before it is sent to Lebanon from Amman, Jordan on August 31, 2006 (Muhammad Hamed/Courtesy Reuters).

American food aid to countries in need is one of those broken policies that seem like such a no-brainer to fix. Yet despite well-intentioned efforts to do so, vested interests insist on maintaining the status quo, with ill effects. The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, is again trying to bring some sense to food aid, but prospects for reform are low. Read more »

Guest Post: Women in the Workforce in the Arab World

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
Students study in the laboratory at the Faculty of Science at the University of Misrata December 19, 2011 (Esam al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters). Students study in the laboratory at the Faculty of Science at the University of Misrata December 19, 2011 (Esam al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

Women in the Middle East stand to play a vital role in the region’s economic and political future, if given the opportunity. This week at the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank’s senior adviser to the chief economist for the Middle East and North Africa, Nadereh Chamlou, spoke about women’s economic empowerment in the Arab world. Today, my colleague Reza Aslan–author of books including No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations—writes about Chamlou’s remarks and the challenges to women’s participation in the workforce. Read more »

Questions About the BRICS Development Bank

by Isobel Coleman
(L-R) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a family photograph during the fifth BRICS Summit in Durban on March 27, 2013 (Rogan Ward/Courtesy Reuters). (L-R) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photograph during the fifth BRICS Summit in Durban on March 27, 2013 (Rogan Ward/Courtesy Reuters).

The announcement last week by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa to launch a new international development bank has raised many questions. At their annual summit, hosted in Durban, South Africa, the leaders of these dynamic economies gushed that this was the beginning of increased cooperation and “a structural shift in the global economy.” In a piece published today on ForeignPolicy.com, I ask ten questions about the structure and purpose of a potential BRICS development bank and its implications for international development and the global economy. I write: Read more »