The Forgotten Victims of Gender-Based Violence

The Forgotten Victims of Gender-Based Violence
Source: Tasnim News Agency

The Rohingya Crisis continues to make headlines, as more and more evidence of shocking human rights violations comes to light. Gender-based violence has been prevalent throughout the crisis. ActionAid’s country director in Bangladesh spoke recently about her experience visiting refugee camps in the country, ‘to speak to the women and girls who have borne the brunt of the crisis in many ways.’

Many Rohingya women arrive in the refugee camps alone, or are now the heads of their families. In fact, it is now estimated that 70% of Rohingya refugees are women and girls. Reading the accounts of these women, who have experienced and witnessed such unimaginable horrors which no-one should ever have to endure, a nagging question slowly begins to emerge: if most Rohingya refugees are women, where are all the Rohingya men? Reading further into survivors’ accounts provides an answer…

‘Two weeks ago, the military arrived in our village. They entered every house and rounded up all of the young men.’

‘Soldiers killed my brothers in front of me and raped me. They shot my father.’

‘Marium, 60, recounted how the security forces rounded up all the men in her village and took them away. She never saw them again.’

‘We saw them slit throats and bellies, shoot our men, and rape our women. They killed the older men, and then the men my age.’

‘The soldiers separated the men from the women. The villagers pleaded for their lives and dropped to their knees, hugging the soldiers’ boots. The soldiers kicked them off and methodically killed all the men, said Rajuma and several other survivors from Tula Toli…

…many of them are dead.

It is becoming increasingly clear that thousands of Rohingya are being systematically slaughtered, not only because they are Muslims, but also because they are men.

The history of gendercide

Sadly, the systematic targeting of male civilians for execution during conflict is nothing new. The 2005 Human Security Report states that ‘There is…compelling evidence that non-combatant males ‘have been and continue to be the most frequent targets of mass killing and genocidal slaughter as well as a host of lesser atrocities and abuses’.’ Even from just the past 50 years, examples abound of gender-based mass killings perpetrated against male civilians – so much so that they begin to look less like isolated incidents, and more like a common feature of modern conflict:

  • The 1971 genocide in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) during which an estimated 2.4 million out of 3 million Bengalis killed were adult men.
  • The 1988 Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan, the principal purpose of which was the extermination of all adult males of military service age.
    Memorial to the Rwandan Genocide
  • The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, during which, according to the Rwandan government, over one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the overwhelming majority of whom were men and boys.
  • The 1998-1999 Kosovo War, during which ‘an overriding tactic was evident in Serb military strategy: the gender-selective detention and mass killing of ethnic-Albanian men, especially those of “battle age.”’
  • And many other examples which are too numerous to list here.

Defining gender-based violence

Definitions of gender-based violence are highly varied, but most are variations on the theme of ‘violence targeted to a person because of their gender, or that affects them because of their special roles or responsibilities in the society.’ Going by this, the examples listed above would very closely match the definition of gender-based violence. A common theme is the deliberate targeting of males based on their gender; many accounts describe men being purposefully separated from the women within a community before being killed. It also seems highly likely that men as a group – particularly men of military age – were chosen as targets of violence because of their traditional gender roles as fighters and protectors. As outlined by the Human Security Centre in their explanation of the targeted killings of civilian men during the Kosovo War: ‘The explanation? Part revenge and part bleak strategic logic: killing battle-age males minimises future threats to the victors.’

‘It’s what a man’s got to do’ – US Selective Service leaflets.

Using this definition, combat deaths could also be classed as gender-based violence against men. It has long been understood that men constitute the overwhelming majority of combat fatalities – and, after all, these men are only put in the firing line as a result of their traditional gender roles; be that through cultural pressure to volunteer, or through forcible conscription by their government or occupying force. For example, even today the United States only requires men to register for the military selective service.

However, despite the gender neutrality of the term ‘gender-based violence’, and the relevance of the term with regard to the experiences of men listed in the section above, many organisations simply see it as synonymous with the term ‘violence against women’. For example, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) writes on its website: ‘The terms are used interchangeably throughout this website and EIGE’s work, as it is always understood that gender-based violence means violence against women…’ This serves to deny the lived experience of the untold number of men across the world who have suffered violence as a direct result of their gender.

The case is often made that gender-based violence primarily – or uniquely – affects women and girls ‘as a result of unequal distribution of power in society between women and men.’ It is beyond doubt that women and girls are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence during conflict, and that this is rooted in dynamics of gender and power. But it must equally be recognised that the selection of men as targets of mass killings also stems from the unequal distribution of power in society between women and men. The societal power which men traditionally hold ironically makes them more vulnerable to being intentionally killed during conflict, as they are seen as inherently more threatening and capable of resistance than their female counterparts. This is particularly true in low-intensity conflict and counter-insurgency operations.

The power of words

The exclusion of men from the definition of gender-based violence is not merely of academic importance; it has a profound impact on the allocation of funding by international organisations. For instance, the United Nations has a whole host of programmes, and even an international day, dedicated to the elimination of violence against women. Yet no equivalent programme exists for the elimination of violence against men.

‘Leave no one behind’: logo for the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

On the ground, it can lead to men being excluded from efforts to protect civilians during conflict, as they are not considered sufficiently vulnerable. Take the below example given by a UNHCR Official in 2002:

Officially refugees were not allowed to cross the Afghani border into Pakistan last year, only ‘vulnerable’ groups, only women and children. But in fact the men were perhaps the most vulnerable and the women themselves were most concerned about the men who had the risk of being conscripted to the Taliban at this time.

It also has implications within the realm of international law. The International Labour Organization’s Forced Labour Convention of 1930 – which is still in force today – absolutely prohibits the use of forced labour if its victims are women and children, yet under some circumstances permits the use of men aged 18 to 45. Furthermore, military conscription and prison labour (which overwhelmingly affect men) are excluded from forced labour regulations. If forced labour and military conscription, which together have directly led to the deaths of millions of men throughout history, were more widely recognised as forms of gender-based violence, there would be a strong case to challenge this discriminatory legislation.

Cultural blindness to male victims of violence

The tendency in some international organisations to view gender-based violence as a phenomenon solely affecting women and girls reflects a recurring attitude throughout Western culture (and many other cultures for that matter) which views maleness as antithetical to vulnerability. Although this attitude is better suited to the Age of Chivalry than to the 21st century, it is still highly prevalent, even in countries where much work has been done to combat harmful gender stereotypes.

It can be seen in the media response to Boko Haram’s attacks on schoolchildren, with the eruption of global outrage and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign when 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped, yet barely a ripple when news emerged, both before and after this incident, of the murder of hundreds of school-age boys and the kidnap of thousands.

Daily Mail (left) and Daily Express (right) coverage of the arrival of male Syrian child refugees in the UK

It can be seen in the response to the arrival in the UK of the first wave of Syrian child refugees, who were lambasted as undeserving in the reactionary press because they were predominantly male and looked too ‘adult’. So, despite having fled a conflict where 75% of civilian casualties have been adult men, they were deemed not vulnerable enough to deserve sympathy or sanctuary.

Although many rightly recoil in disgust at the attitude of the likes of the Daily Mail towards male refugees, we perpetuate the same outdated gender stereotypes when we exclude male victims from definitions of gender-based violence. Lots of important work has been done in order to better understand the role which gender plays in violence against women during conflict, so that we can better understand and eradicate that blight upon the world, yet the role of gender in violence against men has been largely ignored.

There are thousands upon thousands of men who would still be alive today if they had been born female. For their sake if nothing else, we can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Concerns about overpopulation, or the ‘population explosion’ as it’s sometimes called, are widespread at the moment. The logic surrounding these concerns is understandable – it seems as if there aren’t enough resources to go around in developing countries, therefore sharing them out amongst more people is only going to make the problem worse.

From this perspective, it appears that overseas aid is fuelling the problem of overpopulation by ‘artificially’ keeping people alive whose environment can’t support them, who then go on to have even more children whose environment can’t support them, and so on.

However, aid spending is actually helping to reduce the number of children being born per family rather than increasing it.

It’s important to understand why people in some developing countries tend to have lots of children. Because there is little or no welfare or pension provision in these countries, people have to rely on their children to look after them if they become too sick or old to work. Because so many children die before they reach adulthood, these parents need to have lots of children to guarantee that enough of them will reach adulthood to be able to look after their parents. For them, having lots of children is both an economic burden and an economic necessity.

The way to encourage people living in such countries to have fewer children is not simply to tell them not to have as many babies. By improving child health and economic security, foreign aid is helping to remove the incentives to have so many children.

The UK went through a similar process in its history. During the 18th century around 4-6 children were born per woman but only 2 of these survived to adulthood. As healthcare and living standards improved, fewer children died and there was therefore less of an incentive for families to have lots of children, leading to the stable birth rate the UK has today. Present-day developing countries have been able to achieve the same results in a fraction of the time. For example, 7 children were born per woman in Bangladesh in 1970. By 2012 that figure had dropped to 2.2, the level required for a stable population.[1]

By helping developing countries to move through the same process that the UK did in previous centuries, and which Bangladesh did between 1970 and 2012, foreign aid is not fuelling population growth but is actually helping to slow it down.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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The Paradox of Corruption: Can there be ‘good’ corruption? Part 2 (Country Studies)

The Paradox of Corruption: Can there be ‘good’ corruption? Part 2 (Country Studies)

The importance of healthy institutions is a center piece of successful development policies. Everyday citizens are effected by corruption because it takes money from the public treasury that could be spent on maximizing everyone’s well-being, to private bank accounts. In Part 1, Alexei Ivanov discussed the nature of corruption and how it’s one-tailed definition is hurting our abilities to treat it at the source. Using case studies, this part aims to discuss unhealthy institutions and healthy institutions in order to exemplify the equivocal nature of corruption.


A recent major corruption scandal has been the $1 billion oil exploration case by the Nigerian Government against Shell and ENI. These companies were taken to court for supposedly bribing officials in order to get access to an exclusive highly profitable oil block called, OLP235. From the total $1bn fees paid by Shell and ENI to the Nigerian government, $800 million from this deal went to the private accounts of various government officials. What was left of the remaining  $1bn, went to a small off-shore oil company belonging to the oil minister of Nigeria, Dan Etete.

©Marcel Oosterwijk/Creative Commons License
©Marcel Oosterwijk/Creative Commons License

While the finer details of the case is in the hands of the Nigeria Judicial System, we can make light assumptions. From the 2009 Worldwide Governance Survey, Nigeria had one of the lowest rankings for accountability, rule of law, violence, and other indicators to signal the health of Nigerian public institutions. Unhealthy practices within the Oil Ministry have allowed for situations such as this, the Head of the Nigerian Oil Ministry, to award his personal company oil fields.


We can make the connection that since the quality of institutions is low and economic freedom is high, this type of corruption has hindered the growth of a country. The role of the Oil Ministry as an institution is vital in this certain case and has obvious economic outcomes. In a country where 2/3 of the population live on $1.25 per day, a billion of dollars into the hands of one man isn’t fair. This money shouldn’t just be given out to people, but spent on social programs.

What could be done?


Textiles and garment are one of Bangladesh’s biggest exports. Informal transactions are a type of corruption, but searching through Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’ (BGMEA’s) history, not one case of major corruption has ever shown up. BGMEA more importantly has set out goals of: ‘a healthy business environment for a close and mutually beneficial relationship between the manufacturers, exporters and importers’.

A closer look shows:   ‘…foreign buyers were aware of these arrangements and happily participated in them. This meant that arbitration using formal procedures would have been difficult in these cases anyway, and informal arbitration had a great deal of credibility because industry insiders had the knowledge to find acceptable solutions.’

These ‘informal’ dealings of the BGMEA are corrupt by definition. However, from the same 2009 World Governance Survey that rated Nigeria so badly, Bangladesh considerably did better than Nigeria. By allowing for informal ‘talks’ at the BGMEA, the economy has grown through bypassing inefficient regulations, ‘greasing the wheels’. This has made BGMEA to play a major role in rising Bangladesh’s economic development.


Despite the Ugandan government scoring 96 out of 100 on legislative framework for governance and corruption control, 8 out of 10 citizens think that corruption is the countries biggest problem. A recent step taken by the Inspectorate of Government (an NGO) in Uganda was to address the ghost worker problems, people having fake jobs for real salaries(would be nice wouldn’t it?). After a public audit on this payroll, the government first decentralized payroll system to be given to each government agency this power.

©futureatlas/Creative Commons License
©futureatlas/Creative Commons License

This was reinforced by the salaries being put up online and on boards displaying who works for what and for how much. Through this type of transparency, corrupt individuals can’t make up job rolls for their peers anymore, as well adds to the cost of getting caught, making it less appealing. Furthermore, this will save the government at least $20 million in revenue. Uganda has fought corruption by employing technology, but more can still be done.


The effects of corruption can be felt by everyone. From bribing doctors to get better medical care to millions and billions of public money going into private bank accounts. Since corruption is so diverse and depends on the country, the case can be made for the importance institutions. Furthermore, ‘corruption can’t be generalized on all levels in emerging market’s’ because the evidence shows mixed results on corrupt practices, some are beneficial to better business, some are not good and harm the public via the restriction of economic development.

In Nigeria, the evidence suggests that companies and government agencies are involved in shady contracts, but steps are being taken to address these problems. In Bangladesh, we saw that informal negotiations are actually driver of better economic activity. And lastly in Uganda, corruption is strong, but being tackled through technology, opening up to new ways of dealing with corruption. By creating a dynamic understanding of corruption, we can adopt technology and other methods to eradicate the problem at it’s source, the institutions.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Positive and destructive activism, the two faces of politicized youth in Bangladesh

Positive and destructive activism, the two faces of politicized youth in Bangladesh

Civil society and governments all over the world are pondering over how to engage youth as positive agents of change. The energy of youth can be harnessed for constructive steps towards positive change, but at times it can also be violent, impressionable and even extremist. Here, Paula Williamson looks at two snapshots of different forms of youth activism in Bangladesh.

Democracy comes in a kaleidoscope of forms within which youth are playing innovative and diverse roles. The importance of engaging youth in democracy has long been touted, from the UN Youth events to the recent allowing of 16 year olds to vote in the Scottish referendum. There is much talk of the lack of voting turnout in the UK particularly amongst young people. But is a focus on voting taking precedence over other, more important areas?

Youth club members Trishita Chakma, Ripon Chakma and Milon Chakma running their Right to Information service in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts © ??
Youth club members Trishita Chakma, Ripon Chakma and Milon Chakma running their Right to Information service in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts ©

Student Demonstrations

The concept of student protest and youth as forces for change is deeply rooted in Bangladesh’s self-identity. The seeds for the 1971 liberation war, from which the nation of Bangladesh was born, came from student demonstrations. The student leaders of that era would then go on to become the political leaders of an independent Bangladesh.

Today, however, students and youth also play a well-publicised role in the darker side of politics in Bangladesh. Student political activism can verge on the militant and press coverage of student political factions battling with hockey sticks and knives, sometimes even guns and incendiary bombs, is not uncommon.

It is a poorly kept secret that this violence is condoned and even financed by Bangladesh’s main political parties. The parties fund strong student wings and political partisanship in state universities can be pervasive, from the student unions even down to the allocation of dormitory beds. In public discourse students are depicted as political “muscle” or the foot soldiers for the political parties.

Some of the reasons touted for why students engage in violent politics range from privileged access to political party funded facilities, such as better dormitory rooms, feeling connected to a nation-wide cause, as well as the belief that violence maybe justified in engendering change.


Volunteering is a tradition and in alienable part of Bangladesh people because they have deep feelings for helping others.”(Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2010)

In stark contrast to the self-interested rioting in some universities, many youth club members have a strong sense of social responsibility and community awareness.

Young Star youth club members Ripon Chakma, Milon Chakma, and Bidorshan Chakma were active in running a Right to Information support service for their community. In 2011, market sellers in their Khagrachuri district were suffering from illegal levies. Milon Chakma led an investigation through Right to Information and he and his fellow youth club members posted their findings in public places throughout their district.

With access to accurate information on their legal rights, market sellers were empowered to start resisting illegal levies. Another example of the service provided by Milon Chakma and fellow Young Star Club volunteers was a Right to Information investigation into what medicines the local hospital is legally obliged to provide for free. The health sector is known for being a corrupt public body in Bangladesh and community members were unwilling to seek medical treatment as the local hospital was frequently charging patients for drugs they should receive for free. Young Star club found 77 drugs that should be free and distributed the list to community members.

Through such initiatives, youth club members are helping to empower community members to hold government authorities to account. The public sector in Bangladesh has a reputation for poor quality service and lack of transparency; however many of these youth club members are trying to challenge this status quo with democratic tools.

It is also worth pointing out that the Chittagong Hill Tract’s indigenous communities that Ripon and Bidorshan are from have ongoing tensions with Bangladeshi authorities over indigenous rights. Research shows that youth often turn to violence when they feel discriminated against. The fact that these youth club members are demanding their rights through peaceful methods is exemplary as a constructive alternative to violence when pursuing change.

Ripon Chakma, pictured center, and other members of Young Star Club attend Right to Information workshops to raise awareness and to teach others how to write requests petitioning Bangladeshi public authorities for information. © ??
Ripon Chakma, pictured center, and other members of Young Star Club attend Right to Information workshops to raise awareness and to teach others how to write requests petitioning Bangladeshi public authorities for information. ©

Lessons for engaging young people

Research by Mercy Corps in Somaliland, suggests that economic engagement and increasing young people’s voices is not enough to deter them from political violence. Instead, youth development projects need to offer peaceful avenues through which youth can see measurable change (MercyCorps, 2013).

Bangladesh’s youth club members are examples of how youth can be pioneering members of society and positive agents for change. This article has also depicted violent student politics in Bangladesh as an example of how youth can be vulnerable to exploitation from political groups. These dual forms of politically and socially conscious youth can be found throughout the world. There is scope for further exploration of where and how positive forms of youth activism can be promoted as a viable alternative to violent activism.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Street children: diverse problems and solutions

Street children: diverse problems and solutions

The issue of street children in developing countries is one that is usually met with feelings of sympathy and even pity as one struggles to imagine their living conditions.  Here, Tahsina Khan, who has conducted fieldwork with street children in Dhaka, Bangladesh, discusses the importance of recognising the nuances and diversity of their experiences and networks.

The everyday challenges that street children face are in no way unified. For instance, some children work and play on the street most of the day but return home to sleep at night, whereas for others the street may be a source for shelter as well, with every night requiring the search for find a suitable space to spend the night. Gendered differences are both underexplored and vital for understanding the lives of many of these children.

Settlements: physical security at the expense of emotional?

Settlements have a large population that live very close to each other, this proximity translates into neighbourhood surveillance and community protection, which prevents anti-social behaviour to some extent.

Girls who live in a settlement do not have to face the sexual harassment that girls on the street encounter. This effect is more pronounced for girls who lived with their father, in addition to their mother. Conversely, street life often results in sexual advances from nearby traders, lorry drivers and taxi drivers as these men were aware of the girls’ additional vulnerability. Without a fixed address, these girls were perceived as easier targets.

© Asian Development Bank/Creative Commons License
© Asian Development Bank/Creative Commons License

Defamatory gossip within a settlement is an area where girls bear the brunt. This is because the reputation of a girl is seen to be fragile and easily damaged but, in general, the reputation of boys is not subject to the same social conventions. This is intensified if the settlers are from rural parts of Bangladesh where traditional norms and values are more respected than the urban areas.

The vicinity of the houses and the potential to spy on each other’s household can cause exaggerated, even untrue, ‘scandalous’ rumours about girls to spread like wildfire. As a result, the settlement residents may distance themselves from that household and ensure their children stay away from such ‘bad influence’ too, resulting in possible alienation and social isolation for the girls, and to some extent for the parents too.

The emphasis on ‘reputation’ could be minimised with more equitable treatment for girls living in densely-populated localities. The strength of the community involvement in protecting the girls from physical harm should be extended to combating the malice of gossip. While only possible over time, there needs to be a move towards an increase in tolerance of the girls’ behaviour- whether it be perceived or real.

Sleeping on the street: eroding trust but building innovation?

Competing for limited resources available on the street makes the communalism that exists in the settlements almost impossible. Finding a means of earning money may be difficult enough, but in addition, the fight for a space to sleep at night every night increases the general attitude of mistrust.

When faced with diverse challenges, it makes more sense to develop individualised coping strategies to tackle the hardships as looking out for one’s own needs can be more logical and risk-averse than investing in friendships which may or may not reach fruition.

Jamal, for instance, works as a rag-picker and sleeps at a night shelter. On days he finishes work very late at night, the shelter closes its gates. To ensure a roof over his head, and rather than seeking help from others, he boards trains and sleeps under an empty seat. In other examples, when children cannot afford to buy food, they would forego up to two meals a day rather than asking their peers for assistance- as to do so would be to admit ‘weakness’.

© Rajiv Ashrafi/Creative Commons License
© Rajiv Ashrafi/Creative Commons License

This unwillingness to ask for assistance due to contested space and limited resources prevents the building of friendship relationship networks. In these conditions, even those that desire to build trustworthy friendship groups struggle. For example, during my research, a boy called Karim complained to me that children were selfish, because when he had money he was surrounded by friends who would ask him to buy them food. He would be grateful for the company and gladly buy them food. However, once his money was gone, so too would the children disappear, abandoning him immediately. Clearly, Karim’s peers were strategically utilising his resources for their own benefit, and therefore further increasing the mistrust that exists as a part of street life.

The frequent relocation and mobile lives may be another reason why securing close friendships may prove to be difficult to maintain. Unfortunately, socialisation, and leisure activities are difficult to do without friends. Consequently some children tend to have a loosely-based friendship network, mainly based on participation in team sports.

Different solutions to different problems

It is important to appreciate the myriad subtleties of the daily lives of street children rather than perceiving them as over-simplified subjects, as this will give a better understanding of the lives they lead. This will also allow solutions to be devised and implemented to ensure that these children are able to lead long fulfilling lives.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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