Government must do more to tackle violence against women and girls - Christian Aid

Fatima, 35 years, is the mother of four children. From the very beginning of her married life, she experienced violence from her husband’s relatives. Her husband had another wife and was an addict. Apart from severe poverty, Fatima has been threatened by her father-in-law to take custody of her children. Fatima used to be a shy woman with very low self-steam. She used to obey her father-in-law and never raised her voice against him. But, when she started working with the Women’s Silk Producers Company, through Christian Aid partner organisation RAADA, she gained self-confidence and decided to control her own life. She gained power and stood up against her father-in-law when he wanted to force Fatima’s 12-year old daughter to marry. With the money she earned from the silk production, she cured her addict husband. She has taken the custody of her children and is supporting her family. Fatima, who previously was not allowed to go alone even to her relative’s houses, now travels to the city and participates in government meetings as a representative of the silk company. She now represents 750 women in the Women’s Silk Production Company.(Photo: Christian Aid / Emily Garthwaite)

The UK government must use its aid budget and diplomatic influence to promote security for women and girls around the world and especially in conflict zones like Afghanistan, Christian Aid has said. 

In a new report, War on Women, the NGO says that reducing the prevalence of armed conflict is key to eliminating violence against women and girls. 

"Violence against women and girls increases in conflict settings, with the poorest and most marginalised women and girls suffering the most," the report reads.

"We believe less military conflict will lead to less violence perpetrated against women...An overly militarised response is more likely to result in war."

It adds: "The UK should also reflect on its own experience of conflict and military intervention and incorporate lessons from this – good and bad – into a clear policy."

Recommendations in the report urge the government to address the underlying structural causes of war and violence, engage in demilitarisation and disarmament, and reduce armaments spending while increasing funding for peacebuilding efforts. 

Christian Aid partner, Wassa, (The Women Activities & Social Services Association), runs a Radio programme, educating about women's issues, which Zahra, 24, has been listening to for 3 years. The Radio is more efficient than social media in Afghanistan. She says: 'I studied law but I still didn't know what was happening in my country. Before listening to Wassa's Radio programme I had no idea about the plight of women in Afghanistan. I am shut off. Women are cut off. Radio is the only way to find out. I am an advocate for women's rights and want to give women the opportunity to have their voices heard. I try to educate people that wearing the full veil is not correct Islam. Women are not wrong for wearing normal hijab. I am well educated and privileged and yet I am shamed for pushing up my sleeves and showing my ankles or speaking to a man. I feel I am wasting my time because outside the home I cannot live my life. I am disgusted by the violence against women. When I see women, I want to hold these women. I am a social worker. I feel their pain. When I was 7 years old my father wanted me to marry my cousin and stop me studying. He was in the Military and very conservative. We re-educated him. We encouraged him to listen to the Radio and think about gender equality. My mother and sister helped him to understand and fought for our rights. I am closer to my father now. We listen to the radio together. I changed my father through this programme. The power to empower. Every change needs a powerful force'.(Photo: Christian Aid / Emily Garthwaite)
Ranjita, 30 years, is a Dalit. She has three children, one 18-year-old son and two daughters aged 13 and 8. She started accompanying her mother, who was a manual scavenger when she was 9 years old. She went with her in the hope that she might get some stale bread. The tasks of the 'manual scavengers' of India include removing human excrement by hand. Workers are often rewarded by a few crumbs of stale bread or a few rupees – usually no more than €27 a year. They also endure side-effects like constant nausea and headaches, respiratory and skin diseases, anaemia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Innately demeaning, the practice also reinforces the deeply ingrained Caste trope that 167 million Indians are "untouchable", or innately polluted from birth. They account for 95% of manual scavengers and despite it being outlawed, there are still 1.2 million manual scavengers in India due to poverty and lack of education. She carried on doing manual scavenging even after she was married very young and would clean 10-15 houses for 10-20 rupees (11-22 pence) a month. With the help of Christian Aid partner, ARUN, Ranjita has trained to become a tailor. She now has her own tailoring business and is able to send her youngest daughter, Soniya to school.(Photo: Christian Aid / Emily Garthwaite)

The government should champion the meaningful inclusion of women in peacebuilding initiatives and ensure that its peacebuilding spending is transparent, the report adds. 

Addressing Afghanistan in particular, Christian Aid warns that women in the country are still experiencing high levels of violence, especially those living in extreme poverty. 

It has strongly criticised a peace deal being brokered between the Taliban and the US, which it says risks unravelling years of progress made in the area of women's rights and security by failing to include assurances around the protection of women's employment, education and participation in government. 

On India, the report said that caste discrimination continues to be a factor in gender inequality and other forms of social exclusion, leaving women and girls at increased risk of poverty and violence.

Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, CEO of Christian Aid, said: "The stark fact is that violence against women and girls is increased in conflict settings such as Afghanistan.

"There and around the world, the eradication of gender-based violence (GBV) is a major and urgent challenge of our time; there is a growing recognition that violence against women cannot be tackled unless the systemic inequalities which keep women vulnerable are also recognised and work is done to reduce those inequalities.

"While we commend the work that has been done in increasing gender parity since the end of World War Two when Christian Aid was founded, we are convinced that more must be done.

"All governments committed to equality and justice must no longer tinker around the edges in tackling the effects of violence against women, but must focus their energies on addressing the structural issues of discrimination and economic inequality for the sake of all the world's women."