Peace Needs Powerful Women

by Outreach ~ January 26th, 2015. Filed under: News.

In 2015, violence against women continues to be of epidemic proportions worldwide. Women make up half the world’s population and yet represent 70% of the world’s poor. We still live predominantly under a patriarch paradigm, a framework of reference, where being born a woman is still felt and experienced as a social and economic disadvantage.

This disadvantage is contextually specific. Inequalities between the sexes can be found from the cradle to the grave. Depending on the country, religion and the culture women find themselves in. Some disadvantages are relatively minor such as hitting the economic glass ceiling in the west but others include denial of even the most basic of social and economic rights such as access to education, bank accounts, employment, personal transport and freedom to walk the streets without harassment.

As part of a progressive discourse, it is clear that peace builders, from the bottom up, need to continue to actively facilitate and support empowerment of women so that they can gain equal rights as afforded to men. A more peaceful world will only be achieved when sexual violence against woman is no longer a common indicator of impending conflict but rather an anomaly.

There is an old German proverb which states “When poverty comes in the door, love flies out at the window”.

As poverty destroys relationships, the oppression of women further adds to the deprivation of society, reinforcing the negative cycle of dependency and inequality. Any country that finds itself removing 50% of the labour force from participating in the workplace will forever be behind in the global race of capital.

Economic inequality in the UK still exists and this can be considered one of the main reasons that partners stay in abusive relationships, as they feel trapped or are unable to achieve what that want to through lack of means.

This predicament in the UK is worsening in low income families due to the new rollout of Universal Credit implemented by the Coalition Government. Universal Credit, is a welfare benefit which replaces six mean tested benefits and is only to be paid to one member of the family. In most cases this will be the man of the household. Consequently it will be even harder for woman wishing to leave to have immediate financial access and support from the government.

In the developing world the instance of rape and violence against woman is a massive problem. For example, in India according to the National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1% since 2010. It is estimated that in India one woman is raped every 20 minutes. Violence is not just prevalent because of the attitude of men towards women, or just because of the gap between rich and poor but also because women do not tend to appeal to the legal system for fear of recrimination.

One of the more extreme solutions to this has arisen on a grass roots level, in the form of the Gulabi Gang in India. They are a women’s movement that started in 2006. They intervene and campaign on behalf of women. Amongst their many functions they help women to set up cottage industries as a way of gaining financial independence. In the most extreme of cases they have been known to “Fight rapists with lathis (sticks). If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again” Sampat Devi Pai, the group founder said. Clearly this is a desperate response to series of policy failures that have resulted in the Gulabi’s being forced to take justice into their own hands.

Access to money is also a huge barrier for women in gaining equality in the developing world. The Grameen bank in India is one of the best economic solutions currently available. It has purposefully provided access to savings accounts, credit and investment opportunities for those who would not normal qualify for such financial tools. This has enabled and continues to enable women to develop their own businesses to lift them out of poverty.

Violence against women can take many forms. Some of the most influential world leaders marched for peace in Paris in solidarity after the 7th January terrorist attacks. Some ultra-orthodox Jews decided to photoshop the women out of the march. Although the internet responded to this in many humorous ways, it still highlights that to some groups around the world, women are still considered to be second – class citizens that don’t even have a right to be recognised in the public sphere.

There are many current campaigns and petitions to raise awareness and to enable an end to violence against women such as the aptly named ‘End Violence Against Woman Campaign’. Hearteningly, there is some success and movement towards women gaining empowerment and accessing the help that they need. Indeed The Grameen Bank and Gulabi Gang are just a few great examples of what can be achieved.

Emma Watson said famously in her speech to the United Nations: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Inequality of gender, like that of race or creed, belongs in the middle ages. Let’s leave the past where it belongs.

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