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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Freedom from Tyranny

Freedom from Tyranny

Two armoured vehicles were parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20 km from the city.  The news was received with scepticism and confusion. A military coup taking place in Zimbabwe seemed premature at best. But it was true. Reports that after 37 years, the Mugabe regime had come to an end were greeted with celebrations all around the world. Only a few days earlier, Zimbabweans had been infuriated when one of the President’s sons filmed himself pouring hundreds of pounds worth of champagne over his diamond-encrusted wristwatch, all the while unemployment remains high and the health system collapses.

Reactions from politicians were muted and calm at the time. Britain’s foreign minister refused to be drawn into the Mugabe succession debate, but instead called for free and fair elections to be held as scheduled next year. Chair of SADC (Southern African Development Community) and South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma sent an envoy into Zimbabwe and is believed to have talked to Mugabe whilst calling for calm and restraint. African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the crisis to be resolved in a responsible manner, but also argued that the AU was against “any unlawful takeover of power anywhere on the continent.”

Zimbabwe celebrates as Robert Mugabe resigns / BBC News

Amid the joy of now having ended the 37-year rule of Mugabe, there was some sense of caution. Zimbabwe’s armed forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, had kick-started a process that means Zimbabwe is now one of 40 African countries that have seen coups. Chiwenga held a press conference attacking the manoeuvres by Grace Mugabe that took Emmerson Mnangagwa from the post of vice-president proclaiming that, “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.” Three days later, General Sibusiso Moyo read out a statement on the state broadcaster stating, “What the Zimbabwe defence forces are doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent event.”

The rationale the army is using to justify their actions creates more questions about the future of Zimbabwe than answers. Zimbabwe has been in free fall politically and economically since the late 1990s, reaching fever pitch in 2008 after it is believed Mugabe had lost the presidential elections. Why did the army not intervene during the 2008 general election period, to pacify an unstable political situation which left more than 100 … dead, 200-plus abducted and missing, hundreds more jailed on spurious charges, thousands beaten and tens of thousands forced from their homes? Was the death of so many people in 2008, not a “degenerating political, violent event” as stated by Major General Moyo? There were also a number of reports that in 2008 instead of stopping the violence during that period, Chiwenga reportedly told Mugabe, ‘We can’t lose elections. We can’t hand power to the MDC. We are going to obliterate them,” amid reports that Mr Mugabe was going to accept defeat.

Chiwenga’s statement read at the press conference blatantly reinforced the army’s argument which they have repeated every election year since the rise of the opposition in Zimbabwe, that they will not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone without liberation war credentials. The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai criticised this logic in 2002, saying it was tantamount to intimidation.

Many people will argue that the country has got rid of the biggest obstacle to democracy and peace by the ending the Mugabe regime. However, the replacement chose by ZANU-PF assisted by the army could continue the situation Zimbabwe has been in for the last few decades. The belief among academics and analysts who know of Emmerson Mnangagwa is that there is a little chance that he will walk away from power after two terms (according to Zimbabwe’s constitution) after he is sworn in today in Harare.

Zimbabweans will celebrate the end of the Mugabe regime and rightly they should after all these decades. For many Zimbabweans, Grace Mugabe becoming president would have been the worst thing to happen for the country. However, the army has taken away a raw moment of celebration and freedom from the Zimbabwean people and given them an illusion which could dissolve into more years of despair. Emmerson Mnangagwa did not receive the nickname ‘the crocodile’ for his pacifist persona. As history has shown us, coup leaders don’t always live up to the promise of instilling democracy, and many coups result in an upturn in human and constitutional rights abuses.

Find out more:

Zimbabwe is free of Robert Mugabe, should the world celebrate? | The Economist
https://youtu.be/UOmtHF_61DE

 


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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Despite exploitation, we keep buying.

Despite exploitation, we keep buying.

The international clothing industry is worth an estimated $3 trillion and employs millions of people across the world. Here, Anja Nielsen outlines the exploitative conditions that lie behind much of the industry, and offers a potential solution in light of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, will at this very moment be garbed in clothing made by people from Indonesia, Thailand, and China. And that’s okay. In fact, as major industries in all three countries (as well as many others in the Global South), it borders on the inevitable. What isn’t okay is that these people do not enjoy the same working conditions, security, and Human Rights as workers in other sectors or countries. What really isn’t okay is that we know that, and we keep buying.

Marissaorton/Creative commons license
Marissaorton/Creative commons license

The daily conditions of workers are often appalling. Verbal and physical abuse, dirty drinking water and harassment continue in places such as Bangladesh, where the garment industry provides four million jobs. Many workers receive impossibly low wages, and even those who earn minimum wage do not earn a living wage. And we keep buying.

The issues, unfortunately, extend beyond the working age population (defined in the UK between 16 and 64); children are not immune to these conditions. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has defined ‘hazardous child labour’ as ‘work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions that could result in a child being killed, or injured and/or made ill as a consequence of poor safety and health standards and working arrangements.’ Sadly, in fact devastatingly, the ILO has identified that more than 115 million children work in such conditions, ‘in sectors as diverse as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, service industries, hotels, bars, restaurants, fast food establishments, and domestic service.’ These are the daily conditions of millions of children. And we keep buying.

Appalling conditions are not the only devastation that exploitation in industry causes. You may recall the tragedy that happened in Bangladesh in May 2013, when 1100 individuals lost their lives, and 2000 more were injured, in a garment factory collapse. That same year, three workers in a trainer factory in Cambodia died when the floor collapsed. A further six were injured. More recently, in 2015 a tannery in Tamil Nadu, India saw a wall collapse that drowned ten workers in ‘toxic sludge’. And we keep buying.

We keep buying in the face of these facts, in the face of our reality, and in the face of the many organisations that campaign for the rights of those employed in the garment industry. Human Rights Watch, Labour Behind the Labour, and the International Labour Organisation are just a few of the groups that work hard to educate those who implicitly perpetuate this cycle of abuse.

It is tempting to simply throw in the proverbial towel and fall back on the excuse of inevitability. And perhaps, for this generation, it may indeed be the reality we have chosen. But the next generation does not have the same force of habit, yet, and that is how we could begin to address this massive global inequality. Despite exploitation we keep buying – but they don’t have to.

Education is so often cited as the key to change, and this case is no different. By educating young people right from their first comprehension that all children and all people are the same and deserve the same rights, the pattern can change. If a child in Florida understands that their

United Nations Photo/Creative commons license
United Nations Photo/Creative commons license

Anna and Elsa dolls were made by a child like them or a mother like theirs, and that those individuals will never have the chance to play with Anna and Elsa dolls because of their working conditions, it seems feasible, even inevitable, that they will question the supply chains of their toys. And from toys, they will question clothing, and from clothing – everything. This is one way we can finally begin to address the appalling inequality of the global supply chains.

In the next 15 years as the Sustainable Development Goals are pursued, we have a ready-made platform through which to teach young people that all global citizens, no matter who they are, where they were born, or what language they speak, deserve to live a happy and healthy life. The world should not miss this opportunity to change a dynamic that sees millions of people subjected to unfair working conditions, perpetuated by the ignorance of others. By using the SDGs as a catalyst for change and educating young people about the truth behind present supply chains, we can shift the narrative. Because we may keep buying, but they don’t have to.


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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Refugees and the narrative of choice: why language matters.

Refugees and the narrative of choice: why language matters.

Here, Sam Wigglesworth distinguishes the important differences between two terms which are often used synonymously, ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’. What may seem like a somewhat trivial difference actually has tremendous repercussions about the way we perceive the news and these people.

I like the Economist. Sure, it’s missing the hyperbolic headlines and questionable truths given by some publications,  but my preference is for more logical, less hysterical, political analysis.

This time, however, while I was reading an article about the recent EU agreement on ending “irregular migration” from Turkey to the EU, I found myself both familiarly weary and angry at the language used. The article makes repeated references to both refugees and migrants, the terms used interchangeably. The writer no doubt had a difficult job, balancing the need to echo the language of the agreement,  while also clearly wanting to speak about the movement of vulnerable people being deported “back to their home countries.”

Unfortunately, good intentions make for little clarity and the reader is left with the impression that migrants and refugees are one and the same. This is problematic, given that is weakens valid criticism of an agreement, widely condemned by human rights and aid groups.

Nonviolent Peaceforce / Creative Commons License
Nonviolent Peaceforce / Creative Commons License

It might seem like a small thing, ‘tomayto, tomahto’. But it allows for a more insidious problem to develop. It becomes part of a dangerous meta-narrative and our collective subconscious, justifying a pathetic lack of action. Not only that but it reduces the capacity of aid and peace efforts to work. This is because we’ve changed the narrative from one of vulnerable people seeking help and sanctuary to one of people choosing the circumstances of their situation. The former insists upon on our basic humanity, the latter does not.

So, it might seem like a harmless word choice, but when anybody contributes to this debate and talks in terms of migrants, you’re implying that the one million people who have fled to Europe, as of December 2015,  have freely exercised their right to choose their current situation.

You’re saying, in not so many words, that at some point, a family freely  made the decision to pay someone to ferry them and their children across the Mediterranean. A journey they know will likely take their life. Just so they can, what exactly? Steal your jobs and benefits? Let’s get real.

Just to throw some facts into a discussion that has been sorely lacking in rational logic and because the entire world has seemingly misplaced their dictionary, migrants are defined by the United Nations Human Rights Council as people who have made a choice to move, “not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.”

To think those who are making this journey meet the above criteria is ignorance at it’s finest. Human Rights Watch, for example, released a report noting that that people are fleeing Syria because they’re being bombed; schools are being destroyed; children are being recruited into armies; people are being targeted, kidnapped and killed by extremist Islamist groups, such as Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s affiliated Jabhat al- Nursra.

So take a minute and imagine that it’s you. Now remember that people are saying you’ve freely made a decision to flee. It’s like being between a rock and a hard place except you’re between probable death by a bomb or maybe death by a boat.

Of course, for some people, this isn’t hypothetical. It’s reality. Given that, I think the least we can do is to start talking about the crisis in the correct terms and start referencing to refugees and asylum seekers. People who are “so recognized precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they need sanctuary elsewhere.”

International Organization for Migration / Creative Commons License
International Organization for Migration / Creative Commons License

Publications, politicians and governments are inherent to achieving this change. However, certainly the last two have the most to lose, because I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they are calling refugees migrants for a much more mercenary reason: They are bound by international law to start affording refugees basic rights. Migrants? Not so much.

Of course, we’ve flouted international law  so much, it barely means anything. But yet the establishment is still singing the song. Wording is carefully crafted, as illustrated by the EU-Turkey agreement, talking vaguely about the movement of migrants, never refugees.

Language has the unique ability to both connect us and destroy us, so it matters how it’s used. When utilized in the right  way, it can be a powerful tool for change. There’s still a long way to go, but correcting how we speak about some of the world’s most abused and vulnerable people is as good a place to start as any. It’s time we met our obligations, not just under under international law, but as fellow human beings.


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 Baha’I community perseveres under an oppressive Iranian government.

The Baha’I community perseveres under an oppressive Iranian government.

Recently media coverage has highlighted the oppression of the Baha’I community under the Iranian government. Carlos Aguilar analyses this and discusses how the minority group is being coerced to provide its education through unconventional – yet necessary – means.  

The article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “Everyone has the right to education. The Baha’i community not only recognizes education as a right but also as a duty, “Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone”. Maybe this is why the Iranian Government, signatory of the Declaration, decided to build up walls between Baha’is and education in Iran.

The Bahá’í faith is one of the youngest of the world’s religions. It was founded by Bahá’u’lláh in Iran in 1863, who according to them is the most recent Manifestation of God although not the last Messenger. There are about 6 million Bahá’ís in the world and they constitute Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority (approximately 300,000 members).

The Baha’i faith is based on certain ideas perhaps “inconvenient” or too progressive for the Iranian regime.  For example, they accept all religions have true and valid origins. The Baha’i strongly believe in the equality of rights for men and women, the importance of social and economic equality, and perhaps the most “objectionable” of all, the dissolution of the clergy and its replacement with “Spiritual Assemblies”. If analysed, one can understand the Iranian Government (extremely linked to the Shi’a clergy) continuous harassment and explain its reasons for trying to avoid Baha’is development, especially regarding their education.

Don Shall / Creative Commons License
Don Shall / Creative Commons License

 

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Baha’is have been systematically persecuted as a matter of government policy. During the first decade of this persecution, more than 200 Baha’is were killed (executed), hundreds were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands lost jobs. Many lost other rights, including the access to education.

After the Islamic Revolution only those who identified themselves with one of the four religions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism – recognized by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, have the right to study.  Thousands of teachers and students have been barred from higher education being fired or expelled.

This is why in 1987, Baha’I teachers, students and general volunteers joined forces to create the BIHE (Baha’i Institute of Higher Education), an informal school – nearly clandestine – meant to provide their community what the Government denies them – education.

Since the beginning, the BIHE has faced difficulties. Authorities have sought to close down the institute (among other efforts). Many students and teachers have been subject to arrests, raids, confiscation of school equipment and persecution. Many of its “campuses” have been shut down. In 2011, seven teachers were sentenced for up to 5 years of prison for their involvement with the BIHE.

However, in what the New York Times called an “elaborate act of communal self-preservation”, the BIHE has still remained intact. Despite being forced to operate under the radar in discreet locations. Often using private houses as “unofficial campuses” and sending education material vía post.

The telecommunications explosion in the 1990s allowed academics from all over the world to offer their services as tutors through the Baha’i Affiliated Global Faculty (AGF), a growing international body of top notch professors holding PhD degrees who give their time and expertise to the service of BIHE. These volunteers work and reside in North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia and have been critical to the institutes development.

The BIHE, its volunteers in Iran and abroad, and the global supporters have led to many international universities recognising the BIHE degrees when graduates want to continue their studies elsewhere. This gives them the chance to go for a Masters or PhD degree in countries such as the United Kingdom.

The Baha’i situation has been flagged up by the United Nations. In March 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, told the Human Rights Council that discrimination against minorities in Iran, including Baha’is, continues “unabated”.

The report says that “not a single recommendation that had been accepted by Iran with regards to the Iranian Baha’is has been implemented”, and that “the violations against them are now much more intense and severe”.

Although the Baha’i International Community and the UN have a close collaborative relationship, the Baha’i situation in Iran needs much more attention from the international community. The new Government led by President Rouhani is not substantially different from its predecessors regarding the Baha’is who still suffer the lack of many opportunities.

In 2014, the film To light a candle, a documentary by Maziar Bahari was released as part of the global campaign Education is not a crime. Both, the film and the campaign show the delicate presence of the Baha’i community in Iran and their fight against Government barriers not only to study but also to develop themselves.

Currently the BIHE continues growing with a staff size of 700 people, 37 programs (undergraduate and postgraduate) and growing number of partnerships with higher learning institutions from around the globe. However, their students, teachers and volunteers are still treated like criminals, when their only crime happens to be a peaceful fight for education.

Carlos Arturo Aguilar holds an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Sheffield. He is freelance researcher and writer. Carlos is particularly interested in security, migration, sustainable development, and education affairs.


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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Decriminalizing sex work: the pros and cons

Decriminalizing sex work: the pros and cons

Following Amnesty International’s decision to decriminalize all aspects of sex work and prostitution in order to help protect the human rights of sex workers, there have been countless rows in the media about the pros and cons of implementing such a policy.

Here, Anna Hiller summarizes and discusses the arguments for and against a policy that decriminalizes sex work. She argues that whilst decriminalization of sex work is an important step towards strengthening the rights of sex workers, the problems of increased human trafficking and potentially “benefiting the pimps” should not be overlooked.

Pro: Prostitution is a job just like any other and sex workers should be given access to basic rights

Kay Thi Win, coordinator for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers argues that decriminalizing sex work is a crucial step in strengthening sex workers’ rights and improving their living conditions. Decriminalizing sex work involves giving sex workers the rights to associated and organize, to be protected by the law, to be free from violence and discrimination; the rights to privacy, health, movement and migration, and above all the right to work and to freely choose the nature of that work.

If sex work is made decriminalized, all laws which prevent sex workers from working safely are removed. Sex workers will be able to freely report crimes to the police without having to state that they or their clients have been committing a criminal offense. Zones where sex workers practice can be regulated more efficiently and medical testing facilities can be established.

Win’s arguments are supported by networks of sex workers and those working with sex workers all around the world. There is evidence collected by academics and international organizations such as the World Health Organization, Human Rights Watch and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women that suggest that criminalizing any aspect of sex work makes sex workers more vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence, forced rehabilitation, arrest, deportation and contracting HIV.

Luca Stevenson from the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe further states that criminalization of sex work reinforces both the social stigma and the material conditions that put individuals at risk.

The social stigma of sex work and the material conditions that make individuals take up such work is even more evident in developing countries: While decriminalizing sex work will not eliminate poverty, it may at least improve sex workers’ living condition by changing moral and religious frameworks. Feminists of the global south have long argued that the right to sell your body is a basic human right that is not tolerated by society in most of the developing world. Decriminalizing sex work will make marginalized groups and there problems visible that otherwise would only operate in clandestine spaces.

In the developed world, sex work has been legalized in Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands. In Britain, it is illegal to approach someone in a public place to ask for their services as a prostitute or to offer sexual services. Renting or allowing the use of a property as a brothel is forbidden, however, paying for sex is allowed if the person is over 18 and hasn’t been forced into prostitution, apart from in Northern Ireland.

Contra: Pimps will be the only ones to benefit from decriminalizing prostitution

Apart from those condemning prostitution for religious and moral reasons, supporters of the counter position such as the coalition against trafficking in women argue that prostitution laws do not strengthen the rights of sex workers, but the rights of pimps making it easier to take advantage of them and their work. This is backed by the results of one academic study by University of Heidelberg which looks at the link between prostitution laws and human trafficking rates. The study suggests that legalization fuelled human trafficking to meet the demand of an expanded market. Many individuals from low-income backgrounds will voluntarily join brothels but end up caught in a dangerous web they cannot easily escape. Another poll conducted by Ver.di suggests that legalization reduces the likelihood of raids in brothels, so that brothel owners can force their employees to more risky practices.

Due to dependence of prostitutes on pimps and brothel owners, it is difficult to prove any case of exploitative procurement. Since legalization, there have hardly been prostitutes suing for incomes in court in Germany. It is estimated that less than one percent of them even hold an employment contract.

©duncan c/Creative Commons License
© duncan c/Creative Commons License

Decriminalization of sex work is also supposed to increase sex tourism, not only in developing but also in developed countries. The expanded market decreases individual sex workers’ bargaining power when it comes to working conditions they will be more vulnerable for exploitation. For example, research has shown that since legalization of sex work in Germany, working conditions for sex workers have worsened: more services are offered under riskier conditions and for less money than 10 years ago.

The groups opposing Amnesty’s motion suppose that most prostitutes are victims who sell sex simply to survive and because they have no other option. With regard to the situation in developing countries, it is especially questionable how many sex workers actually choose their profession out of free will and not out of necessity.

Decriminalization the way forward

Decriminalization of sex work is an important step towards strengthening women’s and minority rights in developed and developing countries whilst also helping to remove the social stigma associated with working in this profession.

However, decriminalization has to make sure that the law benefits sex workers and not pimps and exploitation through increased demand potentially fueling human trafficking and undermining individual sex worker’s bargaining power. Policy makers should therefore collaborate with both sex workers and human rights organizations when drafting new laws.

While sometimes being strongly interlinked in practice, when it comes to policy making prostitution and human trafficking should be treated as two different issues. Whilst not making human trafficking legal, decriminalization of sex work may provide incentives for traffickers to increase their supply. On the other hand, decriminalization also strengthens the rights of people who have been trafficked by drawing a clear line between legal sex work and illegal sex work that is subject to prosecution.

As many of the counterarguments against decriminalization of sex work are based on human trafficking, the success or failure of policies that decriminalize sex work may well depend on how the issue of human trafficking is dealt with.


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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International Child Labour Rights 2015: Progress and Challenges

International Child Labour Rights 2015:  Progress and Challenges

On June 12, International Day Against Child Labour was observed under the theme “NO to Child Labour – YES to Quality Education.”  The International Labour Organisation (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to focus attention on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it but what impact has it had? Vanessa Thevathasan investigates.

A new report released by the ILO suggests there are still around 20 to 30 percent of children in low-income countries who complete their schooling and enter the labour market by the age of 15.   This means that today, 168 million children are in child labour, with 120 million of them aged 5 to 14 and as many as five million children are in slavery-like conditions.

ILO global estimates that 58.6% of child labourers aged between 5 and 17 work in the agricultural sector; 6.9% work in domestic work; 7.2% work in the industrial sector including mining, manufacturing and construction, and 25.4% work in services including retail trade, restaurants and transport. Early school leavers are less likely to secure stable jobs and are at greater risk of remaining outside the world of work altogether.

©Henri Ismail/Creative Commons License
©Henri Ismail/Creative Commons License

In Ghana, one of the world’s top ten gold producers, children working in the gold mines are at risk of serious injury, health problems and death. Human Rights Watch has urged Ghana’s mining industry to commit to enforcement of the law to prevent children working in dangerous, unlicensed gold mines. Companies must exert control to ensure the gold they buy is clean from exploitation.

HRW has recommended cash transfer programmes, appropriate youth employment options, and measures to make free primary education a reality in a bid to address underlying causes of child labour. These recommendations are not just specific to Ghana, rather they apply to all countries where children are at risk in the mining industry.  However, the lack of ground-level regulation of mines and enforcement of any of these recommendations will mean that the cycle of exploitation and abuse will likely continue unabated.

In India, one of the worst forms of slavery is bond labour, in which children are forced to work alongside their family to pay back debt from burrowed loans. As a result, millions of India’s children are denied an education and remain trapped in the cycle of poverty. In an effort to enforce a complete ban on the employment of children, amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 was passed in May this year.

This legislation is groundbreaking for banning the employment of children in occupations including carpet weaving, soap manufacture, manufacture of explosives, and gem cutting. However, India remains only one of four to have not ratified the ILO international conventions on child labour, a critical problem given how India is a hotspot for child labour exploitation.

 

©Henri Ismail/Creative Commons License
©ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Creative Commons License

In Egypt, UNICEF reports that widespread poverty forces up to 15 percent of Egypt’s children into the workforce. As a result, the World Food Programme initiative of subsidising poor families to keep their children in school with 80 percent attendance has proven to be effective.  The value of the food items is designed to compensate for the wages a child would earn at work, giving families an incentive to keep children – especially girls – in school. WFP is using 60 million euro ($67.5 million) aid to target 100,000 children from 651 schools in the most deprived areas of Egypt

Particular attention should be given to the 47.5 million young people aged 15 to 17 in hazardous work and the special vulnerabilities of girls and young women around the world. Fairtrade International reports that girls in cocoa, sugar, cotton and tea-growing communities frequently suffer from sexual harassment. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder urges “National policies should be directed towards removing children and young people from hazardous jobs and removing the hazards in the workplace.”

Child labour is a global problem and not confined to lower-income countries. Beyond the regions of Asia, the Pacific and Saharan Africa that represent a large number of child labour practices, 12 million are in upper or middle-income countries. Data is harder to find in these countries since there is often not enough emphasis on child labour in high-income countries.

Ryder argues that keeping children in school and receiving a good education until at least the minimum age of employment, will determine the whole life of a child. It is the only way for a child to acquire the basic knowledge and skills needed for further learning, and for her or his future working life.” The rationale is that early interventions to get children out of child labour and into school as well as facilitating the transition from school to decent work opportunities for young people will prevent routes into child labour.

UNICEF reinforces this view: “Quality education gives children the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills. Offering free, but compulsory education of good quality is, therefore, key to ending child labour over and above eradicating poverty in developing countries.”  Free education is a panacea in many cases for children; since the catch 22 is that they are forced to work in order to pay for school fees, books, and uniforms which are not provided by the government for free.

As it stands, the international community will miss its targets towards the U.N. Millennium Development Goals on education, and the ILO goal to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016. With the consolidation of the Sustainable Development Goals this September, governments, industry, development organisations, ethical certifiers and educational institutions must work together to produce the necessary law, policy and grassroots awareness to promote children’s rights.

Every effort must be made to protect against the exploitation of young people and promote their right to education, free from poverty and marginalisation.


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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Magna Carta: under threat by the Conservatives?

Magna Carta: under threat by the Conservatives?

Eight centuries is a long time. Enough time for monarchs to embrace their declining role in public life. Enough time for democracy to become the norm rather than the exception. And enough time for history to decide that the people will always win out over oppression.

Daniel Speirs argues that it is not enough time for those same people to understand or accept the concept of the rights of the individual.

The Magna Carta, originating as a compromise between King John of England and his barons, was a landmark document in the struggle for constraints on state authority.

While many elements of the charter deal more with interactions between the monarch and the aristocracy, several important precedents were established which have inspired reformers and guided policy making in various forms for centuries.

The legal principle of a fair trial for all ‘freemen’ carries through to today. Most democratic citizens accept the benefits of universal entitlement to justice and integrity in the court system. But are these sacred rights coming under threat?

© Chris Beckett/Creative Commons License
© Chris Beckett/Creative Commons License

The Conservative party have in recent years shown flagrant disregard for any notions of individualism with a strikingly authoritarian criminal justice policy.

As part of the coalition, the Conservatives pushed through the Justice and Security Bill in 2013, which extended the practice of ‘secret trials’- previously used only where issues of ‘national security’ were concerned- to any case which the government felt would compromise “public interest immunity” if details were shared. Even special advocates for the defendant were excluded from the trial process.

Essentially, in Britain today, the government can decide whether or not you deserve to be tried by a jury of your peers with respect to any allegation of criminal activity against you. Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary who forwarded the bill, successfully shredded the Magna Carta to an extent which no previous English monarch has managed in history.

The British right has also become obsessed with the European Convention on Human Rights, a much celebrated document when it was passed in 1953. The Tory government of the time was a signatory.

In more recent times, the Tories have faced many issues with their attempts to control immigration and combat terrorism due to the Convention. Abu Qatada’s deportation to Jordan was held up for years over concerns about Jordan’s record on human rights for prisoners. Moves to extend the voting franchise to prisoners and a commitment to free movement within the EU are also major points of conflict with the Conservatives.

Provoked into action by the rise of UKIP’s populist opposition to EU membership, David Cameron has pledged to pull Britain out of the European Human Rights community and draft Britain’s own Bill of Rights. The proposed contents of such a Bill have been entirely left out of the debate, but Cameron has previously earmarked the Magna Carta as a supposed form of inspiration.

He made these comments just days after an event to mark 800 years since the Magna Carta was first presented to King John. Prominent members of the royal family attended the event, including the Queen, an appearance intended to display royal consent towards the document and cement its significance in English and British history.

The government elected by the British people in May, however, is seeking to undermine our fundamental rights as human beings at every turn. Those who composed the charter all the way back in 1215 could never have envisaged its spirit being comprehensively trampled by the elected representatives of the very people it was supposed to protect.


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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Where’s the humanity? Western leaders blinkered view on human rights

Where’s the humanity? Western leaders blinkered view on human rights

In the West, our politicians often focus on the need for humanitarian interventions around the world. The plight of minority groups is paraded on news channels to evoke emotion. But Sean Mowbray believes that behind this facade of caring is the grey and shrouded world of international ‘realpolitik’.

The international stage, despite good intentions, is a world of hypocrisy and layered meaning which masks the true motivations of leaders. While purporting to support the notion of human rights, Western leaders simultaneously commit atrocities of their own all in the name of achieving foreign policy goals. This raises the question of whether these leaders actually care about human rights at all.

There is unfortunately a plethora of examples from the British government’s blatant disregard for human rights abuses. Only recently, the political kowtowing to Saudi Arabia reached new lows when leaders of the ‘democratic’ West flocked to pay tribute to the deceased Saudi King. David Cameron professed that he was ‘saddened’ by the news, while flags were lowered in controversial reverence to the Saudi Monarch who was friendly with his British counterpart. The issue of human rights has never been more prevalent today in Saudi Arabia as the case of Raif Badawi demonstrates. Badawi has been sentenced to 1000 lashes for the crime of posting a blog that supposedly defamed Islam.

©Amnesty Finland/Creative Commons License
©Amnesty Finland/Creative Commons License

In a report released in 2012, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accused the current government of inconsistency in its use of human rights boycotts. This condemnation was released after the decision was taken not to boycott the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix after government repression of protests. So what is behind this clear and common disregard for human rights abuses?

An example may be drawn from Egypt. After the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s democratically elected government, political violence against his Muslim Brotherhood supporters was ramped up by the military. In a brutal show of force the armed forces massacred over 800 Brotherhood supporters at a protest in August, 2013. This prompted restrained punitive measures from the West which issued tame letters of condemnation and severed military ties to show their disapproval. Egypt’s massacre was the worst loss of human life in a protest since Tiananmen Square.

Only one year later the UK government was expressing its eagerness to work with the military regime of Abdel el-Sisi. It can be supposed that the UK government desired to see a potentially dangerous government removed as elements within the Muslim Brotherhood were driving Egypt towards becoming an Islamist and authoritarian state. This may explain the tentative response to the massacre in 2013 and the show of friendship to the newly established presidency of el-Sisi only one year later. The wider objective of restraining the spread of radical Islam muzzled the response of the UK government and of many others to flagrant abuses of internationally recognised human rights.

In the case of Egypt and other regions, by pursuing foreign policy objectives, the West has frequently degraded its own ability to question the actions of other nation states. Today, any mention of human rights abuses can only provoke active mockery and accusations of unadulterated hypocrisy. Foreign policy objectives are deemed more important as they rise above the individual rights of the global human population because western leaders no longer view those outside their domain as individuals or people at all. It is perhaps for this reason that human rights are subjected to such a low status among world leaders.

©Chris Beckett/Creative Commons License
©Chris Beckett/Creative Commons License

Look no further than the CIA torture report. The report told us little that we did not already know, apart from the more gruesome details of the torture methods that were used. But the report is more than a catalogue of barbarism, it is a powerful symbol of the US and its allies reaching a moral nadir in the fight against terrorism. By becoming deeply complicit in the rendition of individuals for purposes of undergoing ‘advanced interrogation techniques’ against suspected and confirmed terrorists, Western governments showed a blatant disregard for the rights, as agreed by the United Nations and ratified by most of the world, of those it deems to be its enemy.

What then is the solution to this problem? Citizens of other states, particularly enemy states, are considered as mere collateral damage to achieving greater political ends. In essence, their lives, which may be civilian and innocent, are of lesser importance to Westerners. This state of mind is deeply embedded in the psyche of many decision makers and even within much of the electorate of the relevant countries.

It is also clear that the West has little moral right to champion human rights as they have frequently transgressed the values that are supposedly dear to them. In order to have any influence on the actions of others it is essential to hold the assurance that actions committed are not contributing to the perpetuation of abuse. To truly achieve this there can be no more hiding behind the defence of national security. Transparency is needed to restore the image of our own government authorities.

Only then can we begin to rebuild our own national image and perhaps operate a foreign policy that reflects the values and rights of our democratic system rather than one which is disturbingly similar to those nations who would do us harm.


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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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.

Keep reading →


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 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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Toy Soldiers – Russian democracy facing a real test

Photo by endtimesnews.wordpress.com

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As Russia goes to the polls today in a presidential election fraught with tension, Rowan Emslie considers the Kremlin’s decision to ban the use of toys in political protest.

In an attempt to baffle their detractors with a display of Daily Mail worthy self-parody, the Russian authorities recently banned toys from ‘protesting’ on the grounds that they are not citizens and, therefore, do not have the rights of citizens. The protests took place in the Siberian city of Barnaul in response to reported corruption and electoral fraud.

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Burma’s forgotten people

Thein Sein addressing the General Assembly c. United Nations Photo

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Earlier this month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the President of Burma, Thein Sein, to discuss possibilities for democracy. But Burma’s treatment of its ethnic minorities has been somewhat overlooked, writes Aditi Gupta, a researcher for a documentary film company specialising in human rights.

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