Friday, 14 June 2013
Over decades many billions of pounds have been spent on aid to developing countries which many question as failing to be efficacious on any meaningful level, and all too often worsening a local situation. Many are the posited reasons for this tragic shortcoming, such as ubiquitous corruption at every level in the recipient countries, the curse of tribalism and sectarianism, civil and international war and the huge loss of revenues through global corporation tax avoidance, aided by an international tax regime badly in need of overhaul. Trade practices by developed countries, which discriminate against exports from developing countries, also add fuel to the fire. But one key issue that seems to have been overlooked and is crying out for robust reform is male (mostly sexual) violence against women and girls.
This age-old problem in developing countries has been highlighted by the second report from Britain's House of Commons International Development Committee, "Violence Against Women and Girls,"* released on June 13, 2013. It calls for the Department for International Development (DFID) to review its funding channels so as to raise funding to women's organisations. Additionally, it asks that DFID makes violence against women and girls a central focus of its humanitarian operations, ensuring that the protection of women and girls is a priority from the outset. It specifically asks that refugee camps be designed to be a refuge not a place where women are at risk of rape and other forms of violence. The "DFID must also get tough with multilateral aid agencies who fail to prioritise this, as too often they do," recommends the report.
Britain, says the report, can be proud of its recently increased efforts to tackle violence against women and girls overseas following its 2010 Call to Action on Violence Against Women and Girls. The DFID has a strong policy framework in place to achieve change for women's lives but the UK's international leadership is weakened by its failure to address violence against women and girls within its own borders, particularly female genital mutilation (FGM) from which 20,000 girls within the UK are at risk and 66,000 women are living with its consequences. Despite being illegal in Britain since 1985, FGM has not resulted in any prosecutions, even though there were 148 referrals to the police since 2009. To counter this lamentable record, robust action should be taken against political correctness, urges the report.
The many forms of male oppression against women add up to a colossal loss of economic output, which if eliminated would go far to reduce the need for overseas aid. FGM, for example, has afflicted 140 million females globally, according to estimates from the World Health Organisation. It is generally carried out by unskilled practitioners who use unsterilised instruments and no anaesthetics, risking potentially lethal infection. Other consequences include severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth and psychological trauma. The problem is not confined to the 42 or so African counties but is also widespread in some Asian countries and the Middle East.
Other forms of violence against women and girls include child marriage and domestic violence. According to a World Bank study, rape and domestic violence are more dangerous than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria. Violence also constrains women and girls' ability to learn and flourish, to be active members of their families and communities, and to contribute to their countries' growth and development. If, instead, there was investment in adolescent girls there would be long-term benefits, as women with economic and decision-making power will tend to choose to have fewer children, have them later and invest more in their health and education.
Domestic violence against women takes many forms and among the most fatal are the so-called dowry disputes in India, leading to "accidental" kitchen fires in which the wives are deliberately immolated. Far worse is India's female foeticide and infanticide rates. One activist group estimates 8 million female foetuses were aborted following ultrasound scans over 2001-2011 simply because they were female and so considered a financial burden. India's odious dowry system, a key driver behind female infanticide, that so demeans women was outlawed in 1961 but so rampant is the practice that the law might as well not exist. The results is that the old methods of infanticide which were easily detectable have given way to a 'scientific' approach through such methods of induced pneumonia shortly after the child's birth. Figures for female infanticide are hard to come by but what is certain is that girls under one year are 50% more likely to die than boys, often through negligent homicide. Sadly, the figure for the many forms of female infanticide must run into millions.
The crass parental attitude that favours male children over female are already beginning to pose serious social problems in countries like India and China. India's ratio of girls to boys is one of the world's worst after China and its Prime Minister described female foeticide and infanticide as a "national shame."
The root causes of violence against women and girls are the same; inequalities between men and women and damaging social norms that condone or tolerate the subjugation of women and girls, says the report. Man's sins are many but few can eclipse his base treatment of women down through the ages on so vast a scale. The problem will never be fully solved unless the offending males begin to cherish women instead of treating them callously.
*Violence Against Women and Girls", HMSO, London, £20