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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The unseen dilemmas of the sudden rise of Asia from a Southeast Asian perspective

The unseen dilemmas of the sudden rise of Asia from a Southeast Asian perspective

Bridget Jeanne shares her experience growing up in Singapore, and discusses the costs and the dilemmas her Asian neighbours and herself fight to establish themselves in the world.

I grew up in Singapore (a small Southeast Asian country situated between Malaysia and Indonesia) and saw the country change profoundly from the days of my childhood to the industrialised city today. Despite its young age and small land mass, Singapore saw itself grow rapidly and with its fellow Asian neighbours even more so in the recent decades. From the 1990s, countries in the Asia Pacific saw their living standards improve multi-fold and raised many out of extreme poverty. In 2013, China and Japan were home to the world’s second and third largest consumer markets respectively with at least 13 other Asian countries following not too far behind in the highest hundred. As consumer markets patterns shift from Europe to Asia, the western superpowers are critically re-assessing their foreign policies and trade agreements so as to grow alongside their Asian counterparts. But as western leaders and policy makers work with Asia, they neglect the unseen dilemmas that came about Asia’s rapid rise – for example, the impending loss of language and the racial hierarchy in the commodification of Asian culture.

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For youth in Asia, the influx of western products and culture have quickly become part and parcel of daily life. In Singapore, English was made the language of instruction to cut across language barriers and encourage racial cohesion. Not necessarily a bad thing but alongside public policies to aid the rapid economic growth, we saw British and American television shows dominating our screens and the common use of speaking only English even at home, leading to an erosion of local programmes and the younger generation not being able to speak ethnic languages. While Japan and South Korea retain a stronghold in local programming, the loss is apparent for smaller countries which struggle to find a balance between using English and local creoles. The number of young people in Singapore who are able to speak their native language and/or local creoles are dwindling (with my own ethnic language almost gone) – it may be interesting to note however an increase in interest in learning Asian languages as opposed to Western languages among my peers. To prepare for 2008 Beijing Olympics, China went on a massive campaign to learn English. Here we see the largest Asian country preparing themselves to bridge the language gap with foreigners, a sentiment our western counterparts rarely express. Growing up my parents encouraged me to learn Chinese because it would afford me greater opportunities but ironically English has afforded me to go further. Language is a vehicle for cultural growth and because its capacity for growth is not seen equivalent to the languages of our western counterparts, it may lead to the erosion of less prominent Asian languages.2014-09-24-15-29-24

As Asian youths become progressively accustomed to western culture (including the use of English) they are also simultaneously becoming more aware of how western culture engages with Asian culture and the racial hierarchy. We noticed the lack of critical coverage on the Chinese policeman shooting the young African boy in the U.S. as we got bombarded with the black-and-white fight. The West also has a history of commodifying Asian culture and traditions – demonstrated by the series of food and cultural videos home to BuzzFeed’s YouTube channel. Sometimes in those videos, they aren’t accustomed to the different food and culture and though it may simply be a difference in taste buds, it can come across and often does as ignorance. The West glorifies Korean beauty but looks down at the consumption of bugs in Asian demonstrating a selective commodification without a critical lens – encouraging the racial hierarchy that already exists in Asia. It’s admittedly difficult to breakdown and even then with no complete certainty of how the West’s portrayal of Asia has impacted the diverse Asian population, but from my observance it has definitely created a dilemma for people in Asia – of who we are and where we stand in the world.

 

 


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Cambodia election 2013: support people, not parties

After Cambodia’s fifth general election on Sunday, DiA blogger Joe Buckley asks who really sticks up for the poor in the country’s political system

Who sticks up for Cambodia's poor? Photo by mistagrrr/ Creative Commons
Who sticks up for Cambodia’s poor? Photo by mistagrrr/ Creative Commons

On Sunday, Cambodia held its fifth ever general election. The winner is no surprise: Hun Sen, the rather authoritarian leader of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), remains as the county’s Prime Minister, extending his 28 year rule. But the number of seats that the CPP has in the National Assembly, Cambodia’s parliament, has been reduced significantly, from 90 to 68 out of 123. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s main opposition, has won 55 seats. Keep reading →


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Shutting down the EVAW debate: a setback for women’s rights in Afghanistan?

MPs in Afghanistan shut down a recent debate on violence against women. DiA blogger Courtenay Howe reports on the Law to Eliminate Violence Against Women and the implications of its implementation

EVAW was enacted through a decree by President Karzai in 2009
EVAW was enacted through a decree by President Karzai in 2009

On 18 May, a debate held in the Afghanistan parliament on the Law to Eliminate Violence Against Women (EVAW) ended after just 15 minutes following calls from traditionalists for the law to be scrapped.

EVAW was enacted through a decree by President Karzai in 2009 – but it failed to gain MPs’ approval. It outlines 22 forms of violence against women and mandates punishment for those who commit acts such rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage and denial of the right to education. Keep reading →


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“I have never seen so much enthusiasm and happiness in people’s eyes when they cast their vote”: reports from the historical Pakistan elections

This weekend Pakistan went to the polls to hand over power, for the first time in the country’s history, from one civilian government to another. Mohammed Ahmed considers the change that Pakistan needs and explores how the nation has dealt with such a historic event

Voters queue up outside a polling station in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Naj Sakib
Voters queue up outside a polling station in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Naj Sakib

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan went to the polls on 11 May in what has been called one of the most historic elections in the country’s 65 years of independence.

A nation that has an entangled history of military rule has served its first full term civilian government headed by the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Keep reading →


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The impact of climate change on the developing world

Climate change is a problem that has mostly been created in developed nations and exported to the developing world. DiA blogger Adam Routledge explores the challenges facing developing countries

flood india
Flooding is becoming more common due to climate change. Photo by barry.poussman

The effects of the rapid alteration of our climate vary across the world. There’s no doubt that the weather in the UK has become more sporadic in recent years: colder and more dramatic winters than previous decades; more frequent floods with greater ferocity. This, however, is little compared to the impact that climate change is causing, and will continue to cause, on parts of the developing world. Keep reading →


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Human Rights Watch Film Festival: Jai Bhim Comrade

In the third of our series of reviews from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Richard Moran reviews Jai Bhim Comrade, a film which explores the caste system in India.

 

In a year where inequality has been pushed to the front of the global agenda, Anand Patwardhans’ documentary Jai Bhim Comrade shines a light on the Indian caste system. This social structure has, for hundreds of years, sustained conditions of social exclusion, bonded labour and limited opportunity for millions of Indians born as Dalits (or “Untouchables”) –  the lowest of India’s scheduled castes. Following the lives of this diverse group of people over 14 years, the film explores the idea of identification and identity, how these have been used to maintain the caste system and how they are being used to challenge it today. Keep reading →


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Human Rights Watch Film Festival: Salma

In the second of the DiA Blog’s series of reviews from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013, Louisa Jones reflects on Salma, the story of a Muslim Tamil woman in India who is marginalised for striving for success.

 

Salma becomes a role model for women in her community. Photo: mckaysavage/ Creative Commons
Salma becomes a role model for women in her community. Photo: mckaysavage/ Creative Commons

From a young age, we are taught to make sense of our world through facts, figures and trends. British schoolchildren will forever remember the haunting mantra, “point, quote, explanation”, encouraging fastidious analysis of fact over feeling. It was therefore with an initial sense of unease that I watched the UK premiere of Kim Longinotto’s Salma at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London last Thursday. This unassuming documentary tells the bittersweet story of thirty-something-year-old Salma, a fearless Tamil Muslim who has escaped her community’s harsh customs of female seclusion, yet despite her success as a poet and politician, continues to face daily prejudice from her closest relatives.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival: The Patience Stone

In the first of a series of reviews from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013, blog editor Emily Wight finds a moving account of one woman’s story in Afghanistan.

About a month ago Shinkai Karokhil, a member of parliament in Afghanistan, claimed: “The woman of Afghanistan today is absolutely different from the woman of Afghanistan from yesterday.”

Women in Afghanistan have faced turbulent times for decades. Photo: isafmedia
Women in Afghanistan have faced turbulent times for decades. Photo: isafmedia

It is this conviction, that women in Afghanistan are on the cusp of a new dawn, which influences Atiq Rahimi’s film The Patience Stone, based on his novel of the same name. Our protagonist is an unnamed woman – the significance of which is ambivalent: it indicates a lack of identity but also, conversely, a blank canvas on which she can start her life afresh – in an unnamed country where the sound of gunfire and the sight of tanks on residential streets are routine.

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The blogging of a people who will not be slaves again? Resistance to Vietnam’s crackdown on bloggers

Vietnam is becoming more and more integrated into the global market, but its human rights record is worse than Burma’s and its government is cracking down on anyone who dares to voice their concerns online. A DiA blogger who wishes to remain anonymous reports

Photo by Arian Zwegers/ Creative Commons
Photo by Arian Zwegers/ Creative Commons

Vietnam is a one party, nominally socialist state run by the Vietnamese Communist Party. The government has resisted democratic reforms, and protests, dissident voices, and criticisms of the party have been met with fierce repression. Since the late 2000s, the Vietnamese government has realised that the internet is an increasing threat to its monopoly on power, engaging in an extensive attempt to block websites and jail bloggers.

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Reflecting on attitudes towards women in India

Two weeks after a medical student was gang-raped and killed in Delhi, Daniel Hinchliffe, who is volunteering with Seva Mandir in Udaipur, reflected on what he’s seen of attitudes towards women in India. Since he wrote this post, six men have been arrested for a second gang-rape in the Punjab region. Daniel shares his thoughts below.

Why is there such a struggle for equality for women in India? Photo by Daniel Hinchliffe
Why is there such a struggle for equality for women in India? Photo by Daniel Hinchliffe. See more at www.indiadan.co.uk

Since arriving in India, I’ve wanted to write a blog post on gender issues in the country. But I’ve always found myself confronted with a vast topic, which I feel barely competent to address. Most of what I have to go on is based on what I’ve seen or heard from those much more knowledgeable and experienced than myself, but I hope I can do the topic the justice it deserves.

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After “Damini”: the Delhi gang rape and women’s empowerment in India

The recent gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23 year old woman in Delhi has sparked condemnation all over the world. Former DiA 2-month India volunteer Louisa Jones considers the tensions between India’s rapid economic development and its attitudes towards women.

One of the many protests that have started up around India. Photo by ramesh_lalwani/ Creative Commons
One of the many protests that have started up around India. Photo by ramesh_lalwani/ Creative Commons

India’s meteoric rise on the world economic stage in the last few decades has brought considerable benefits to a small, well-educated proportion of society. The boom of IT and related industries has given birth to smart metropolises bristling with foreign investment and an insatiable appetite for commercialism. The egalitarian gender roles of this pseudo-Western world have thrown upwardly mobile women a life raft, helping to break down the stigma that would have once clung to them had they dared aspire to a life outside the home.

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India experiences the joy of giving

As the UK announces plans to halt its aid to India and NGOs draw funding out of rural areas to focus more on the burgeoning towns and cities, DiA’s 5-month India Volunteer Sam Oakley, who is volunteering with partner organisation Seva Mandir, reports on a local big society initiative that has taken the subcontinent by storm.

People gather at the mall. Photo: Sam Oakley
People gather at the mall. Photo: Sam Oakley

For the majority of September and October, Seva Mandir was involved in the India Giving Challenge, India’s first solely online fundraising campaign. It was the second time that this online campaign has been run, something which has stemmed from the gradual rise to prominence of Joy of Giving Week (JGW).

JGW is a now annual event beginning on 2 October, with the premise of expanding the culture of giving back that is perhaps slightly absent from the emerging Indian middle-class. It’s a fascinating concept which shows just how India’s attitudes towards charity are changing. Keep reading →


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How can India’s political parties best embrace the country’s development?

Following this year’s World Economic Forum in India, Keval Dhokia considers the route ahead for Indian national politics. Keval is currently studying an MA in Journalism at City University.

Will India’s politics be able to break away from the Congress party? Photo by foxypar4

The World Economic Forum made its annual appearance in the north Indian boom-city of Gurgaon earlier this month, with the usual spate of commercial-types manning the invite-only event.

The conversation with the most potential was the closing plenary session which involved the former president of the Oxford Union Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who leads India’s planning commission, but rather predictably the actual level of debate was poor. The chairmen of Nestle and Infosys both used the platform for public relations, while the $400,000-a-year CEO of Save the Children International, Jasmine Whitbread, had decided to recede into quietism bordering on anonymity.

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Aid to India: the end of an era

Following Justine Greening’s announcement last week that the UK will halt funding aid to India from 2015, DiA volunteer Nate Barker considers whether she has made a huge mistake

Although India has the 10th highest GDP in the world, it is still home to one third of the world’s poorest people. Photo by Emily Wight

With the 2015 target for achieving the Millennium Development Goals fast approaching, and discussions for the next EU spending programme (the Multi-Financial Framework, 2014-2020) underway, not to mention the severe impact of the global recession on the developed world, Western nations are keen to re-evaluate their aid commitments.

And last week’s news that the UK will halt all aid to India from 2015 represents a new direction for India and its position on the global stage. Keep reading →


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India volunteer updates: November 2012

In September Development in Action waved three volunteers off to their placements with grassroots charities in India. Here are their updates of what they’ve been doing so far

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Cultural observations: the concept of “India time”

DiA India volunteer David Carzedda reflects on the frustrations he felt when getting to grips with the subcontinent’s different attitude towards time – and how he came to cope with it.

Photo by Davide Carzedda

You’ve just arrived in India and a car is supposed to pick you up at 4pm – you find yourself sitting with the driver drinking chai at 5pm. You were told you would get to your next destination at about 7pm, but it’s past 8pm and you’re still not there. Someone was supposed to meet you at the other end, but they’re late and when they get there don’t even apologize. You set up a meeting with someone and they’re “not here, please come back in twenty minutes”. Keep reading →


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UK policy in Sri Lanka: saying one thing, doing the other

Where next for Tamil deportees? Photo by trokilinochchi/Creative Commons

Three years after Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war ended, both sides are still feeling the repercussions. Nate Barker reports on the British government’s hypocrisy in its policy towards the country.

Recently, the media has been reporting that Sri Lankan deportees from the UK are at risk of arrest and torture by the authorities for alleged ‘terrorism’ links. While it’s no secret that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers) received support and funding from the Tamil diaspora during the long civil war, many Tamils deplored violence on both sides with equal measure. Now, the UK has been happy to resume deportations claiming that with the war’s end, the security situation is now improved. The UK used similar logic in 2005 regarding Iraqi citizens, claiming the removal of Saddam Hussein had made that country safer. Keep reading →


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Live Positive, love positive: HIV and the right to marriage

Melava+ matchmakes people living with HIV. Photo by Prasad Yadav

DiA volunteer Lydia Greenaway reflects on the stigma faced by people with HIV in India and a remarkable programme in Pune, where she has spent two months volunteering.

There are a number of human rights issues that concern people living with HIV, including the right to marriage and reproduction. With rife misinformation and misconceptions about the virus, many people fear HIV, and believe that a person with the virus should not be allowed to marry or have children. Sometimes attitudes go so far as to think that people with HIV should not be allowed in public areas, use public toilets or attend public education, often stemming from unfounded fears that the virus can be spread through touching or sharing food.

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Nearby, far away: reflections on globalisation in the Spiti Valley

The Spiti Valley in the Indian Himalayas. By Louisa Jones

After returning from the Spiti Valley in the Indian Himalayas, DiA volunteer Louisa Jones reflects on the effect that globalisation is having on the area

We’d been introduced to the inimitable Indian head-wobble during our orientation. At first this fluid, non-committal response to almost every conceivable communication was difficult to decipher, not least to replicate ourselves. But just a week later, wedged astride the hard middle seat of a run-down 4×4, arms braced for impact and with the constant thud of metal on rock chipping away at my nervous system, I was its involuntary master. Since 3am we’d been rattling along the narrow track from Manali to Kaza as the driver wrestled against the loose rubble of hairraising switchbacks and triumphant passes. This journey of just 132 miles would take us a tortuous 12 hours. Blocking our path, ridge after ridge of megalithic desolation. The sheer gravity of rock seemed to press in on us from every angle. Our crude trail was dwarfed within this colossal landscape, barely leaving a scratch on the brilliant diamond of the Transhimalaya. Yet it is a lifeline for the 10,000 inhabitants of Spiti, a desert valley cradled amongst these foreboding mountains, and our final destination.

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