Ending violence against women is the key to ending poverty

13 June 2013

Ending violence against women and girls is the litmus test for whether ‘development’ is working in poor countries such as Afghanistan, say MPs in report by the Commons International Development Committee published today.

MPs endorse a policy framework put in place by UK government to make action to tackle the scourge of violence against women and girls a key priority for the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) in all areas of its work.

Launching the report, Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair of International Development Committee, said,

“ Violence against women expresses a deep-seated contempt that, regrettably, persists in some countries towards women and girls. It has been the ‘forgotten Millennium Development Goal’. The way in which any nation treats its women holds the key to its social and economic advancement. When you treat women as chattels - when you mutilate them, abuse them, force them to marry early, lock them out of school or stop them entering the workforce – you fail to function as a society.”

The MPs urge the UK government to continue  its strong  international leadership on tackling sexual violence through its initiative (1) to curb the use of rape in war , but warn that:

‘The UK’s international leadership is weakened by its failure to address violence within its own borders...Robust action should be taken to counter political correctness and address culturally sensitive practices such as female genital mutilation within the UK.’

The Committee highlights how DFID recently launched a new £35m programmes to address female genital mutilation. “140 million girls and women worldwide have suffered from this harrowing practice, which is usually performed on children by unskilled practitioners with unsterilized instruments and no anaesthetic,” says Sir Malcolm.

“As several witnesses made plain to our inquiry, female genital mutilation often leads to infection (sometimes fatal) and severe pain during urination, menstruation, intercourse and childbirth, as well as lasting psychological trauma.”

Focusing on the UK, the Committee emphasises that at least 20,000 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation today in the UK, and a further 66,000 women live with the lifetime impact of it on their health and wellbeing.

Commenting on this, Committee member Pauline Latham MP said, “We need as a matter of urgency to see cross-government cooperation to tackle all  sexual and physical violence against women, as thousands of women and girls suffer on our streets or in their own homes.”

In particular, the Committee concludes that it is unforgivable for no single prosecution for female genital mutilation to have place in the UK since this form of abuse became illegal in 1985.

“This undermines our own credibility and the programmes we fund to stamp out female genital mutilation in countries like Somalia (2). For DFID to meet its goal to eradicate this brutal practice within a generation, the UK Government  must also act on this issue in the UK, ” adds  Sir Malcolm Bruce.

The report also recommends rapid action by the UK to tackle early marriage through aid projects that it funds. One-third of girls across the developing world are married by the age of 18, a practice that routinely exposes many young women to significantly greater  risks of  domestic violence and marital rape.

Speaking about early marriage, Committee member Fiona Bruce MP said, “We visited Ethiopia where many people tolerate or even condone this mistreatment of young women and where nearly 70% of Ethiopian women believe husbands have a right to beat their wife . We also met girls(3) who’d been despatched to married life as young as seven years old. Hearing of these experiences emphasised how critical work is to change these issues,  and we saw some excellent DFID funded  projects that are changing attitudes towards these damaging practices.”

The report also called on the UK Government to send a clear message to UN and other agencies which run refugee camps that UK funding is contingent on women’s safety measures – such as lockable latrines and safe access to firewood - being placed top of the list of emergency measures when a crisis unfolds.

MPs also urge DFID to further build its own staff capacities and skills to implement new initiatives and programmes in line with the   new policies and guidance on women and violence that the Department has produced.

Commenting further Sir Malcolm added, “It is vital that the tide of rape and abuse that accompanies conflict around the world today is challenged. The UK must build on the position of real leadership that it has carved out for itself on this issue by delivering this message through all areas of its international development work.

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