It’s been 50 days since 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for the rights of girls to go to school in Pakistan. The country has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world, after Nigeria – and two thirds of them are girls.
In fact, girls are less likely to be enrolled in primary school compared to boys in virtually every country in the developing world. (pdf)
While the international community has been actively trying to address this problem via the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it has failed to tackle one of the core reasons girls are out of school: violence.
Research by ActionAid and the Institute of Education in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania found that up to 86% of girls had reported some form of violence against them in the previous 12 months. This violence in turn was found to directly affect whether girls attended or completed school.
Just a few days after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announced a new pot of funds specifically focused on tracking what works in responding to violence against women and girls. The £25 million fund will operate over five years in ten countries in Africa and Asia and will have a priority emphasis on prevention – stopping violence in the first place.
This new investment is critical. Up to 70% of women face gender-based violence at some point in their lifetime. This violence affects women of all cultures and classes in all countries, and is one of the core reasons women are more likely to be living in poverty. It denies women choice and control over their lives and is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world.
And yet change is possible. A five year ‘Stop Violence Against Girls in School’ project by Action Aid running in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique for example has seen consistent – and in some cases dramatic – improvements in girls’ enrolment in school. From 2008 to 2011, the percentage of girls enrolled went up by 20% in Ghana, 60.7% in Kenya and 59.5% in Mozambique. Dropout rates have likewise improved across the life of the project.
In Afghanistan, ActionAid trained women paralegals to provide legal and psychological advice to other women. With this training, they successfully brought 480 cases of violence through the justice system; only eight cases had ever been previously reported. And in Zanzibar, ActionAid set up four shelters, providing survivors of violence a safe place to stay where they can access legal support services. Previously, there were none.
The key to this work being successful is ensuring there is adequate investment in the necessary ingredients for change. As this Theory of Change (pdf) explains, there are four ingredients:
1. Empowering women and girls
2. Changing the social norms that condone violence against women and girls
3. Building political will and legal and government capacity to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls
4. Providing comprehensive support services to survivors of violence – including appropriate medical help
It is past time to acknowledge how violence is undermining progress on all of our development and social justice ambitions and yet is not included at all in our targets for change.
We need now to hear the Government confirm that it will fight for a dedicated target on how to eliminate violence against women and girls in the framework that comes after the Millenium Development Goals too.
The discussion was wide-ranging, with some excellent speaking from Diane Abbott MP, Abortion Rights and Education for Choice. One of the topics I raised and I’d like to explore further is the ethical – and political – case for women’s access to abortion.
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I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about domestic violence within the Muslim community in the UK and the issue of why some Muslims resist discussing what they know is happening in the company of non-Muslims.
In my friend’s view, challenging Muslims, and Muslim men in particular, about domestic violence in such an open space, where non-Muslims are present, is problematic because of the current socio-political climate within the country, including widespread Islamophobia. She felt that a public naming of the problem would be hijacked by those with a racist agenda to further demonize Muslims in the eyes of the UK public, for instance by accusing Muslims of having barbaric cultures.
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I’m a little bit tired. I’m a little bit tired of arguing about why equality is important. Why human rights matter. Why poverty is not ok.
I’m a little bit tired of spending so much of my time defending the most basic principles of what I stand for. It serves to distract. What I need is a safer space where I don’t lose so much energy justifying why social and environmental justice are worth spending a lot of society’s money on.
What I want is a space where these ideas are a given and the debate is about how best to actualize them. Where a frank discussion about the nature of power and who gains and who loses by not changing things is as necessary as air. I want to be challenged to be the most radical humanitarian in the room. Instead of rolling around in a fog that dangerously confuses the over-policing of some with ‘freedom’ and where indifference is rewarded. I want to be inspired by the good and the great to imagine what is possible – in that place where all life prospers.
I want to have conversations with people that are constructive, compassionate and rigorous. Conversations that are both logical and passionate, because they are focussed on how best to make the world a better place so that no one is left behind.
I want to learn from anyone or any movement that has something useful to share on this. This includes single-issue based campaigns though they are none of them sufficient on their own. It is in the spaces between them, where there are links that connect them, that I would like to spend some time building a movement.
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