An abridged version of this article was originally publised on Liberal Conspiracy.
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.
According to the UN, Pakistan has the second highest number of out of school children in the world, after Nigeria. And two thirds of them are girls. Unfortunately, this is by no means a unique situation; girls are less likely to be enrolled in primary school compared to boys in virtually every country (pdf) in the developing world.
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 that marks the start of the global 16 Days of Action on Violence Against Women campaign, it is fitting that Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening has just 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. It also blocks girls from school, limits women’s ability to participate in labour markets, and bars them from running for political office or even sometimes voting in elections.
And yet change is possible. Efforts by ActionAid around the world have shown that targeted interventions focused on tackling the gender inequality that fuels violence work. A five year ‘Stop Violence Against Girls in School’ project running in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique funded by Big Lottery for example has seen consistent – and in some cases dramatic – improvements in girls’ enrolment in school:
Dropout rates have likewise improved across the life of the project.
Similar work in other countries just in the last year has produced equally important results.
- 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.
- 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:
- Empowering women and girls
- Changing the social norms that condone violence against women and girls
- Building political will and legal and government capacity to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls
- Providing comprehensive support services to survivors of violence – including appropriate medical help
As we move towards the 2015 deadline for the MDGs and start to think about the framework that will come after, 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.
The UK Government’s work going forward must learn from the lessons this new fund will demonstrate, and ensure that the elimination of violence against women and girls becomes a consistent priority in its international work. The Prime Minister’s commitment to ensuring women’s empowerment is central to the post-2015 framework, which he is leading the development of internationally, is promising.
We need now to hear the Government confirm that it will fight for a dedicated target on eliminating violence against women and girls within the framework.
Image of a cartoon pink hand with the words ‘Stop the violence against women’ above it and ‘Say no! Spread awareness’ below it, by Anna Sapphire, shared under a Creative Commons license