Child Marriage in Ethiopia: an Analysis of Critical Junctures

By Kelsey Bischot

Mahoney argues that when the choices of key actors are critical juncture points, it leads to the formation of institutions that have self-reproducing properties. Critical junctures are choice points when a particular option is adopted from among two or more alternatives. These critical points in time then lead to the structural persistence of institutions.

Critical junctures are usually thought of on a large scale, affecting central institutions and their countries, but I pose the importance of smaller critical junctures such as ones in villages created by “plain folk.”

When Aberash Bekele was 14 years old she had to make a decision that would impact not only her future, but the future of her village and women’s rights. Bekele was abducted from her home in a small village in Ethiopia (child abduction is an accepted method of marriage in Ethiopia) and was faced with a dark menu of options: either accept it like all the other girls in her village did before her, or escape and make her own future. In the end, she killed her abductor, but was arrested immediately and it took three years until the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association was able to fight her case and release her. After this event, things changed dramatically in Bekele’s village. For the next seven to eight years, not one girl got abducted, because people knew that there were consequences. Thus, the institution against abduction changed from being widely disregarded to slowly becoming more accepted and followed in this small village. This could potentially be an institutional example for the rest of Ethiopia.

Mahoney argues that critical junctures will lead to the persistence of the institution, which so far has been the case in this small village in Ethiopia, but only time will tell if it truly produces an outcome of institutional change. 

Can Slavery in the Islamic World be justified by the Quran?

By Kelsey Bischot

As Lovejoy and Acemoglu and Robinson have made apparent in their works, slavery didn’t truly end in the 19th century with the abolition. Modern slavery still persists today in the form of child slavery, forced marriage, trafficking, bonded labor and more. I will briefly try to uncover why the institution of slavery continues to gain strength and power across the Islamic World.

When the Islamic world became the heir of slavery, it was a means of converting non-Muslims (Lovejoy). This institution has now distorted into ISIS enslaving thousands of innocent people, especially Yazidi women and children. ISIS claims that rape and sex slavery is admissible because the Yazidis are not Muslim. They blame this on the fact that the Quran accepted the existence of chattel slavery as a fact of life at the time of its revelation (CNN). ISIS uses many of the Quran’s verses to justify its violence and celebrate sexual assault and enslavement. Koran 23:5-6 says: Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame (Memrijttm). ISIS interprets this to able to rape innocent women as a prayer to God in accordance with Halal.

The institution has gained more followers as ISIS has started using the institution as a recruitment tool to lure men from conservative Muslim societies where casual sex and dating is forbidden (New York Times).

As the institution of slavery continues to gain ground in Islam with the power of ISIS, it is important to realize that the Quran does not actually justify slavery and instead exhorts believers to free their slaves as an exemplification of their piety and belief in God (CNN). Studying history has revealed that the institution justifies its acts based on its initial intent of converting non-Muslims, but has changed in its role from production to the exploitation of women.

History matters

By Kelsey Bischot

Spending six weeks in a hut in the mountains of rural Thailand, I left feeling quite pessimistic about the state of the country and its institutions. I can’t help but wonder what countries like Thailand would have been like if it had been colonized like all of its neighbors. Likewise, it is hard to imagine what the world would be like today if there had been no colonization.

History matters and it is important to be critical of our history such as colonialism, which I will show is not the only path for past institutional change. Ferguson claims that the British disseminated many features in their colonies such as: the English language, the common law, and the idea of liberty. This is exactly what Thailand seems to be missing in its institutions so it would be easy to say that it would have gained these features, had it been colonized. Yet, we must look at history and institutions critically. Yes, it would be more likely that the living standards would be higher but it is important to realize that Thailand could have or will “naturally” gain these features without the British’s bloody path to modernity. Japan for one, is known to have high living standards like many Western nations although it escaped formal colonization.

This is where I disagree with Ferguson. Colonization is not the most successful way to create the above-mentioned features in an institution. As it may seem that many of the British Empire’s colonies have the characteristics of a “democratic or successful nation,” the empire built these institutions on oppression and exploitation.

Hence, it is important to understand history but it is likewise crucial to be critical of history’s effects.