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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Feminist Economics: What they don’t teach you in an Economics Degree

Feminist Economics: What they don’t teach you in an Economics Degree

Sam Wigglesworth highlights a feminist economics critique of mainstream economics. In particular Sam shows how women in the global economy are disadvantaged under the approach to economic thinking.

 Money makes the world go around. Or perhaps the phrase should be that the global economic system makes the world go around. We have infused it with an enormous level of value and left it free to paint the world red. With it, however, we’ve let a few problematic tendencies go; (probably because it helps to make money for a lot of powerful people) like the reality that for the system to work, certain, more informal types of work have to happen quietly, in the back, with little acknowledgement going towards the people doing it.

This is because, for the economic system to ‘work’, we need some people to quietly raise the next generation on their own and look after the growing aging population, with preferably little to zero state support. Ideally, they need to also work while doing this, otherwise they are statistically unproductive to the global economy.

It could be men doing this type of work, but the other reality we are dealing in is that they aren’t. Time after time, study after study, from Europe, to the United States, to India, to Asia, women at on the global level are doing more of unpaid work than their male counterparts.

Laura Forest / Creative Commons License
Laura Forest / Creative Commons License

This means that the economy, for all it’s bells and whistles, is at it’s core, a “value system in which all good and activities are related only to their monetary value”. In other words, the way the economic policies are organised places no value on the work that primarily women do, and yet the entire economic system relies upon their ability to do this work and not be recognised for it.

In the UK, this is a debate that is gaining attention and traction, particularly in the wake of austerity justifications. The Fawcett Society, a group working to advance women’s rights, took the Lib Dem/Tory Government to court over their 2010 ‘emergency budget’ to find out whether there had been due consideration about the ways in which different measures impact differently on men and women.  It was a unique interpretation of  the Gender Equality Duty, now replaced by the 2010 Equality Act, which places an obligation on public authorities to ‘assess the impact of their current and proposed policies and practices on gender equality’ and produce what is commonly known as a ‘Gender Equality Impact Assessment’ (GEIA).

As it turned out, the Government hadn’t but little has seemingly changed. The Huffington Post  highlighted that that under the Lib-Dem/Conservative government from 2010-2015, “more than 80% of the revenue raised by the Treasury from tax and benefit changes came from women’s pockets.”  Cuts to local governments budgets have seen domestic services close down, and women are experiencing higher levels of violence, no doubt a result of the austerity policies implemented in the wake of the financial crisis. Some cry that women are in more jobs! Well yes, but there isn’t much talk about what these jobs are, as the Fawcett Society stated: “Jobs growth is welcome but our economy is disproportionately dependent on low paid part-time work and insecure employment [and]  75% of part-time workers are women.” It goes without saying that these impacts become worse for black and minority ethnic (BME) women.

Gender Summit / Creative Commons License
Gender Summit / Creative Commons License

However, it isn’t just the UK. International institutions are culprits too, accused of simply “ignoring women, their activities, their work and their various contributions to the societies in which they live.”  The IMF and World Bank has a long history of promoting economic policies that impact women’s economic lives in a negative way, from the structural adjustment policies of the 1970s to conservative fiscal policies in the aftermath of the 2007 global financial crisis.

Solutions however are being discussed. Most cited is Diane Elson’s “triple “R” approach” which involves recognition of the unpaid work women do in the global economy; reduction of unpaid work and the redistribution of this work within the family.

However, despite the existence of practical ideas to solve these issues, it’s hard not to realise that the implementation of these solutions are sketchy at best. Arguably because women don’t feature in any of these institutions. There is a lack of understanding about the reality of women’s experiences in the global economy which has meant that policies, both at state and international levels have repeatedly failed to create, enhance and protect initiatives that support women’s economic development. To change this, we need more than a few token women thrown in for the perception of equality and we need to address the assumption that the economic system is gender neutral and effective, because when it only factors in the work of half the global population, we can barely maintain with the straightest of faces that it’s working at all, and it’s long time we stopped.


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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Unpacking the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Pledge that “No One will be Left Behind”

Unpacking the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Pledge that “No One will be Left Behind”

The newly released Sustainable Development Goals mark a turning point in the development trajectory. Here, Zoe Nutter problematises the links between changes in discourse and policy implementation.

UN Member States recently approved a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a “universal Agenda”. These goals were initially adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit and seek to redress the failures of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Resolution adopted by the General Assemble calls for “bold and transformative steps” in order to shift global trends and embark on a “collective journey” – one in which “no one will be left behind”. And the means required for implementation involve a “revitalized” Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, focused particularly on “the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable”. Still, it is not entirely clear what will change in practice. The grave and controversial disconnect between official policy and effective implementation is of primary concern. Any goal concerning the reduction of inequality will prove a farce if the “unwavering commitment to economic growth” is not supplemented by the resolve to redistribute “gross global and national inequalities in wealth and income”.

The SDGs aim to realise the human rights of all, achieve gender equality and promote the empowerment of all women and girls through a balanced approach, rooted in the principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability. There is a pledged commitment to “all human beings”, such that they can “fulfill their potential in dignity and equality” – “in a healthy environment”. For the purposes of this brief critique, I will focus on Goal 5: the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, and Goal 17: the strengthening of the means of implementation, as well as the revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development built upon “principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre”. Oxfam and like-minded groups insist, it is crucial to unpack the ways in which associated groups will effectuate their like-minded strategies in a way that is unambiguously rooted in a comprehensive understanding of women’s human rights.

UN Women / Creative Commons License
UN Women / Creative Commons License

Clearly, one of the most important aspects for the implementation of this Agenda is to address “structural barriers to women’s economic participation”. This has been echoed by the World Bank Group (WBG), which released its very own gender strategy for 2016-2023 – entitled “Gender equality, poverty reduction and inclusive growth” – in December of last year. The key issue is to correct “uneven” progress among “least developed countries”, where the Millennium Development Goals failed to achieve an impact that extended to “the most vulnerable” – principally, women. The UK Gender and Development Network has been particularly critical of the Bank’s lack of strong systems of accountability to ensure that their work is transparent and the International Planned Parenthood Federation has consistently urged the Bank “to balance what can feel like an instrumentalist approach to women’s contribution to economic growth and poverty alleviation”. Admitting that not all pathways to growth promote gender equality marks a promising step in the right direction. Economic growth is a “gendered process”.

Of equal importance is the need to “mobilize, redirect and unlock”, what is described under Goal 17 as, “the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources”. This involves long-term investments – most notably, foreign direct investment (FDI) – in critical sectors, such as sustainable energy, infrastructure and transport, as well as information and communications technologies. Governments are required to set a clear direction: change must involve both regulations and incentive structures that simultaneously attract FDI and reinforce sustainable development. And yet, in the wake of this new Agenda, it is undetermined whether enough attention has been directed to what Oxfam describes as the “flawed system of measuring development impacts of financial intermediary lending”. Even the WBG’s Independent Evaluation Group has criticised this system based on “proxy figures” as one in which there is limited knowledge about the underlying impacts on end-beneficiaries.

World Bank Photo Collection / Creative Commons License
World Bank Photo Collection / Creative Commons License

The WBG is a longstanding partner of the UN. Given that official development assistance stood at $135.2bn in 2014 and that the International Finance Corporation alone invested $36bn in financial intermediaries in the four years leading up to June 2013, the WBG’s development strategies should be closely evaluated and adequately restructured. Development finance institutions’ overall commitment to the private sector reached $67.9bn in 2013 – roughly half of total ODA in the same year. Their involvement is “rapidly accelerating”. Investments in the financial sector significantly outstrip the WBG’s lending to essential social sectors: averaging about 50% more than direct lending to health and three times the sum lent directly to education during the same period. It is necessary to determine whether they are able to successfully implement a “comprehensive results and reporting framework” – whether they can effectively rectify the disconnect between global policy and priorities and what is happening in specific country programs. If this does not happen, the failures of the MDGs will persist: progress will be uneven and women will suffer. Furthermore, any policy recommendations that neglect the ways in which “gender inequality is not only weakened but also recreated and sustained by capitalist development” will be dubious.


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 West boasting Gender Equality to the developing world – throwing stones in a glass house

The West boasting Gender Equality to the developing world – throwing stones in a glass house

Gender mainstreaming has been the buzz word in the international development sphere for the past two decades, but has it actually achieved anything? Luke Humphrey questions whether the West’s boasting of their ‘gender equality’ has led to its failure in the developing world.

Over the past few decades we have seen all manner of attempts to embrace different approaches by numerous development institutions. From human rights to grass roots to participatory development, all have had their merits and failures. However now what seems to have taken the development reins is ‘gender mainstreaming’ (the institutionalisation of gender in development practices). Now it’s not to say that gender equality and feminism are not vital to development, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you do not aim to achieve gender equality, you are excluding half of the population. But the way Western institutions boast this idea of gender mainstreaming comes from a misinformed and hypocritical stance that we, the West have achieved gender equality.

Let’s start with the basics: women on average get  .  A shocking statistic, but even more so when you consider that in the developing countries, The UK is no great exception; their pay gap is in line with the rest of the developed countries – just under 20%. Surely in politics we fare better? Only 29% of our MPs are female, yet in In fact the UK is worse than many ‘third world’ countries including Bolivia, Senegal, Namibia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Only 9% of executive directors are women, only 7% of chief directors in the FTSE100 are women and 12% of jobs in the STEM sector are held by women.

 

jrf_uk / Creative Commons License
jrf_uk / Creative Commons License

 

Dr Lata Narayanaswamy – a highly respected and one of my favourite lecturers at the University of Leeds wrote an article for the online magazine ‘Girl’s Globe’ in May 2014. In this she discussed her experiences growing up being taught that menstruation was “unclean” or “polluted” and that she was “untouchable” during it. What is perhaps most eye opening in this article is the fact that this didn’t happen in some third-world country but in Toronto in the 1980s. But this is what we are to believe isn’t it? That things like that don’t happen in Western societies and if they do its only rare, extreme cases. Yet here we have a case more common than we would care to admit, where a girl of only 11 has been taught by (educated and well respected) parents, that a normal and regular body function is unclean and shameful.

Only a few weeks ago Labour MP Jess Philipps was heavily criticised for her comments about rape culture in the UK in comparison with the Cologne sex attacks on New Year’s Eve. The Daily Mail were filled with outrage, citing “furious responses” from around 3 or 4 twitter users – the equivalent of all of Birmingham according to them. Yet the latest rape statistics show the past year to have the most reported rape and sexual assault crimes since records began in the UK. Of the 88,106 reported rape crimes, victims were most likely to be between 15 and 19, and of the total number of women raped, 30% were under the age of 16 and 25% under the age of 14. So why, in a supposedly developed country which claims the authority on gender equality to preach it to others, is rape and sexual assault on the rise – and most predominantly happening to underage people?

European Parliament / Creative Commons License. Picture of International Women Day 2012.
European Parliament / Creative Commons License. Picture of International Women Day 2012.

 

This is something intrinsically linked with why this approach of ‘gender mainstreaming’ is not in line with the feminist ideology which has pushed it so far into development practice. In many cases the ideas of gender equality have been reshaped and distorted to fit the neo-liberal policy which the World Bank and DfID seem intent on ramming down our throats. By approaching gender development with a neo-liberalist perspective, these organisations fail to understand the unique structure of inequality in each country. Gender mainstreaming for projects in Bolivia (the country with the 2nd highest female to male MP percentage) has arguably worsened equality in local politics. This is because previously feminized community spheres have been opened to men, leading to previously all-women organisations, to become organisations dominated by men (as argued by Suzanne Clisby). Since the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women where gender mainstreaming was introduced, gender equality in nations like India, Bolivia and Afghanistan has continued to stagnate or regress. Market-led development undeniably increases gender inequality and that is what we continue to see.

If gender equality is to be truly tackled, the developed world must first look internally to see where they are failing, understand that the structures of inequality are unique to each country and that neo-liberal gender mainstreaming will never achieve true gender equality in any country – developing or developed.


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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Women in Indian society: reflections from a current India intern

This is the first of a series of blogs done by Holly Peacock, one of Development in Actions India Interns. Holly will discuss her experiences, thoughts, and personal development whilst in India. This blog looks at the treatment of women in Indian society, an issue which has made international news in recent months.

“You’ll never know India, but you’ll fall in love with her.” How right he was, Tony of Kuku Café, Jaisalmer. A jolly twenty-something with a big grin, and a no-doubt well-utilised line – we girls were “Tony’s Angels” (the fact that there were four of us readily overlooked). I know I’ll never fully understand India but I want to try. I want to at least attempt to know this land and her one billion souls. The love part is a given.

In the short 8 weeks I have been here, I have fallen into some sort of imitation of Indian life – I drink chai and attempt DIY chapatti. I ride in the boot of autorickshaws and expertly sidestep oncoming mopeds as I cross the road, only partly conscious of the blast of (seriously unnecessary) horns. Naturally, this white girl is fooling no one. “Which country, which country?” they want to know. “New Zealand and no, I know nothing about our cricket team.” I’m here to translate my academic learning into to real world experience. That’s what I put on my DIA application form. But really I’m here to learn and reflect. This is what I’m hoping this blogging business is going to portray. Enjoy.

I knew from the outset that India’s (imbalanced) gender relations were going to be the thing I struggled most to get my head around. But I underestimated the frequency by which the patriarchy would jolt me out of my routine papaya-buying, rickshaw-declining, Fatehpura living.

OnchitaS/ Creative Commons License
OnchitaS/ Creative Commons License

I notice it when the guy charged with feeding us at one of the Block Offices takes my bemused “I have no idea what you’re saying, but sure” responses to his incessant chat in Hindi as an invitation to crank out the porn he has stored on his Samsung 1200T. I notice it when a temple sign dictates that no woman on her period should enter ‘as to preserve the sanctity of the temple’. I notice it when I hear directly from village women that a child should speak for a woman at the Caste Panchayat meeting as she is disallowed from speaking for herself. I notice it when I read that Udaipur district’s sex ratio declined by 24 points between 2001 and 2011.

India has 37 million missing women. The reasons for this are varied and complicated, though the neglect of girl-children, female infanticide, sex-selective abortions and female mortality are all partly responsible. Centuries of tradition and religion place women both on pedestals and at the feet of men – their ‘honour’ a virtue so easily toppled. To me it seems that on a societal level women here are yet to be recognised as whole, complicated and multi-sectional human beings; arguably something the rest of the world too struggles to comprehend. I want to explore this inequality further in subsequent blogs, but for now I am interested in the effect this patriarchy has on impressionable young Indian men. Sunny Hundal in his book ‘India Dishonoured’ suggests that by 2020 there will be an extra 28 million men of marriageable age. THIS IS KIND OF TERRIFYING. What will this do to a society which at best undervalues women, at worst downright abuses their human rights? What too, will it do to these young guys, unable to find a bride in a culture which places so much emphasis on marriage?

Steve Evans / Creative Commons License
Steve Evans / Creative Commons License

 

According to sociologists, young unattached males are more likely than others to congregate in groups and as a result, become more willing to engage in unusual risky behaviour (a phenomenon known as ‘group polarisation’). This is bad news. How will all these extra (young) men come to view unmarried women? As a commodity? An object to be traded; property they’re entitled to? What of the women who resist their advances? In the Times of India today, it was reported that children in India are more exposed to risk factors that make them sexually violent later in life compared to countries including Rwanda, Mexico, Croatia and Chile. The survey, carried out by the International Centre for Research on Women “and two other organisations” (quality journalism as always from the Times), found that 24.5% of the 2000 Indian men surveyed had engaged in sexual violence at some point, most of it directed towards an intimate partner. The percentages for Chile (9.4%), Rwanda (9.1%), Croatia (8.8%) and Mexico (4.3%) are positively aspirational in comparison.

While the developed world begins to recognise the importance of conversations surrounding consent even among primary school children, sex education is not a part of the school curriculum in most parts of India. The combination of misinformation, inexperience and early marriage is a dangerous one. A UNICEF survey found that only 36 per cent of young Indian males and 20 per cent of young Indian females were aware of HIV. Reports of rape continue to rise, official government statistics show incidences of rape increased from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013 (likely underestimates given the stigma of reporting rape). This could be representative of victims’ increased willingness to report rape; unfortunately there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in conviction rates (hovering around 28 per cent). Nor has the language appeared to change, today’s page three article reporting on the rape of a woman by a man she had befriended on Facebook begins “Friendship on Facebook with an unknown man cost a woman her modesty.” This implicit victim blaming isn’t uncommon and it’s not hard to imagine increases of these sorts of violent crime in the face of frustrated, peer-influenced groups of guys.

For India to tackle the imminent social ramifications of a society with so many more men than women, first it must start to recognise women as whole, complicated human beings freed from constraints of honour and modesty. It must too recognise the negative effects this imbalance will have on men in a culture so preoccupied with marriage.

 

 


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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FGM: is action finally being taken?

FGM: is action finally being taken?

It’s cutting season. With the UK summer school holidays, hundreds of girls could be at risk of being sent abroad and subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Claire Dale asks if the world is finally starting to take action to prevent this act.

According to the World Health Organisation, 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.’ Medical complications, as well as the psychological and sexual trauma that this practice causes, remain with girls who are forced to endure it throughout their lives.

Despite being illegal since 1985 in the UK, FGM is still believed to be widely practiced on UK-born girls, at home or abroad. A landmark study by City University and Equality Now published a week and a half ago estimated that 137.000 women are affected by FGM throughout the UK.

©Cabinet Office/Creative Commons License
©Cabinet Office/Creative Commons License

The report also states that almost one in twenty women in the London Borough of Southwark are believed to have been subjected to FGM.  Despite the incidence being lower in other parts of the country, the report finds that no locality in England and Wales is free from FGM.

Despite the efforts of NGOs , such as Daugthers of Eve or Forward uk, to change the mentalities of communities and families about FGM, the practice remains very much a reality in the UK. Until recently, it seemed that the Government’s commitment to eradicating FGM remained largely rhetorical. For instance, even though since 2003 anyone taking a child out of the UK to be cut faces 14 years in prison, there is yet to be a single prosecution.

©UK Home Office/Creative Commons License
©UK Home Office/Creative Commons License

It seems that the Government was reluctant to deal with what was perceived to be a ‘cultural practice’. According to the Huffington Post,  ‘historically, UK doctors and social services have been hesitant to intervene when they see suspected FGM, for fear they would be called racist.’ However, as Plan UK, one of the largest children’s charities in the world, reminds us, not only is the practice carried out for  ‘reasons with absolutely no basis in fact or evidence’, but it also ‘predates all major religions and is not specified in any religious text.’ FGM is not a cultural practice, nor is it a religious one. It is a violation of human rights. The UN goes so far as to define FGM as a form of torture.

This year, however, seems to be marking a turn in the fight against FGM in the UK. It seems that the Government is, finally, no longer willing to accept that cultural sensitivity should prevent fighting child abuse.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 that came into force last month allows judges to issue protection orders when concerns are raised about a girl being at risk of FGM. The Act also allows judges to remand people in custody, order mandatory medical checks and instruct girls believed to be at risk of the practice to live at a particular address so that authorities can check on whether they have been subjected to FGM.

Under this new Act, for example, a father has been forbidden from taking his three daughters aged 6 to 12 to Nigeria, as their mother claimed that they were to undergo FGM there. Bedfordshire police also seized the passports of two young girls who were believed to be set for the same fate. The Government is also looking into making it mandatory for medical professionals and teachers to report concerns about FGM where this involves minors.

The UK’s toughened stance towards FGM seems to be part of a global commitment towards eradicating the practice.

In France, not only is FGM punishable by 10-20 years in prison for the author of the practice as well as for the legal parent of the child, but any citizen (including professionals) is also legally obliged to report any concerns about a risk of FGM. Failure to do so is subject to criminal prosecution.

Further abroad, an increasing number of countries, including Bangladesh, are starting to change the legislation on FGM and in May this year, Nigeria made FGM illegal. However, even outlawing FGM is often not enough to change a community’s outlook on the practice. In Somalia, for example, despite FGM being illegal, over 97% of Somali girls are believed to be affected by the practice.

Plan UK states that FGM is ingrained in communities because it is believed that the practice equates purity, cleanliness and a necessary requirement for marriage.

©DFID/Creative Commons License
©DFID/Creative Commons License

UNICEF (link in French – see End FGM EU for an English list of the reasons for FGM) underlines that FGM is often perceived as indispensable for social cohesion and used as a means to control female sexual appetite. This is why community outreach and the training of social, medical and professionals in education are so crucial.

The UK is finally on the right track and the rest of the world seems to slowly be moving in the right direction. However, as Leyla Hussein, the co-founder of Daughters of Eve, an NGO that protects girls in FGM-practicing communities, claims, forcing people to report FGM, as long as there is no mandatory training for frontline professionals to deal with FGM, will yield little results.

FGM is a radical act of gender-based violence. It may even be the most extreme illustration of gender inequality, since it entails the mutilation of what precisely makes a woman a woman. The reality is that until we achieve gender equality in all areas of life, girls will not be safe from this intolerable practice both abroad and in the UK.


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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