Female Genital Mutilation

For all of my blog posts now I have been discussing different forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV). GBV can take place in many ways, one of which is female mutilation. This is an oppression of women’s sexuality that still affects us today. To begin my research I read a policy brief by UNICEF that discusses abandoning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I then found an article by the World Health Organization (WHO) that provided some key facts and information about FGM. I then read an article in the New York Times that gives a first account of this experience. Finally, I found an article from the Middle East Forum (MEF) that further discusses FGM in the Middle East.

Female Genital Mutilation refers to any “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO). This usually involves full, or partial, removal of the female genitalia. These procedures can cause severe bleeding, infections, and later, complications such as cysts and increased rates of newborn deaths. There are no medical health benefits to FGM. “FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women” (WHO).

This procedure is a social construct made to suppress women’s sexuality and pleasure. Many who survive the procedure suffer from significant trauma afterwards. This affects women all over the world, “FGM occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa. And in Arab states such as Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation,[3] both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit” (MEF). People often hold that there is a religious aspect to FGM. While others argue the “practice as rooted in poverty, lack of education, and superstition” (MEF).

These women don’t want to continue this practice. In a New York Times article, there is a personal account by Leyla Hussaian, a girl from Saudi Arabia, who was cut at age 7. She was not aware of the procedure until the day of. She recounts, “She was telling me part of my vagina was going to be taken away. While she’s explaining I could hear this screaming inside of the house, which was my sister being cut” (New York Times). She referred to the event as child abuse; regardless of religious or social contexts.

There are efforts being made to combat this horrible procedure, however, many cultural norms are holding us back. Often, having this procedure defines the marriageability of the daughters. UNICEF proposed a policy to combat this dilemma, specifically in Ethiopia. This approach looks at the social norms surrounding FGM. The pre-intervention phase looks at who is for, vs. against, FGM. The intervention phase conducts “community conversations” to increase awareness using the social convention theory. This theory looks at the social conventions and norms within a society and aims to help inform them of the harmful facts about FGM. (UNICEF).

We need to help.






GBV Reform

Throughout my last few blog posts I have been discussing different topics within the area of gender inequality and gender based violence (GBV). In this post, I will explore different types of GBV reform, again with a focus on Africa. I began my research with a news article called “Security reform key to protecting women” from an African magazine, AfricaRenewal. I then read a policy brief on gender justice written by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR). I also found a scholarly article in sage journals titled, “Violence against women in South Africa”. Finally, I read an article from News24 titled, “The fight for gender equality needs men”.

GBV is defined by the UN as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women… whether occurring in public or private life”. This can include physical harm, sexual exploitation, and much more. In 1996, the Human Rights Watch estimated over 50,000 cases of sexual assault in South Africa. By 2007, this number skyrocketed to more than 52,000 (SAGE). With such large numbers, it is obvious something must be done. Unfortunately, the police push a lot of GBV, especially sexual abuse, under the rug. In the same study mentioned above, only 7% of those assaults in 2006 were prosecuted.

Luckily, many things are being put into place to combat this problem. In Uganda, the United National Security Council Resolution 1325 was set in place to deal specifically with women’s rights and GBV. Uganda along with many other countries are setting up laws to criminalize GBV. For example, “Under Penal Code Cap. 120 in Ugandan statutory law, some acts of sexual violence against women are legally viewed as crimes against morality” (IJR). In South Africa, they have implemented two laws to combat GBV: Violence Act No 116 and Criminal Law (Sexual Offense and Related Matters). Both laws pride are very inclusive of many aspects within GBV. The first outlines the penalties of physical violence against women and the second outlines the penalties for sexual assault and related incidents.

However, even with legislation in place, we still often fall short; ““the security sector in Africa “finds itself falling short in its responsibility” to protect women, and “is itself often a direct threat to the security of women”” (UN). We need more awareness and active prevention. Not only do women’s groups need to step up, but men. “Promoting equitable gender norms and developing public policy aimed at engaging men and boys helps achieve equality at the household, community and societal levels” (News24). Women can only do so much in this Man’s world; we need their help to get more done.

If we all work together, men and women, developed and underdeveloped countries, then we can put an end to GBV.










Human Trafficking (& Africa)

trafficking pic

During my last two blog posts I have been exploring different ideas surrounding gender based violence (GBV). I started with the general idea of GBV then narrowed it down to GBV in Africa. For this blog, I am delving even deeper into these ideas by focusing specifically on human trafficking in Africa. I began my research by reading a scholarly chapter written by the World Bank association that talks about many aspects of human trafficking. I then found an issue brief on human trafficking and migration in South Africa. This led me to find a news article about South African trafficking by the IRIN, a news agency based in Geneva. But I wanted more than just facts I wanted a face, something to make this issue seem more personal. I eventually found an article in BBC news that shares one Nigerian women’s story of having been sold into, and getting out of, human trafficking.

The internationally recognized definition of human trafficking, as defined by the UN, is, “ The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (World Bank). In simpler terms human trafficking is moving people against their will in order to exploit their labor, one way or another. This can be done in many forms such as domestic servitude, slavery, and even child soldier enrollment. However, the most common form of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation, or forced prostitution.

My first question was how, besides forced drug use, would you get a girl to do such a thing against her will? IRIN news explained, “In many cases, women and children are lured to South Africa with promises of jobs, education or marriage, only to be sold and sexually exploited” (IRIN). Traffickers create situations in which the victim does not have any choice but to obey. Other than false promises traffickers use debt-bondage, starvation, abuse, imprisonment, threats, and forced drug use to enlist victims. Sometimes women are even sold off by their families, husbands/ boyfriends, or kidnapped.

“The image of human beings being sold into virtual or actual slavery creates a moral imperative to act that seems inhuman to refuse,” (IRIN). Although it is hard to get a real statistic of how many people are exploited by this industry the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that between 1995-2004 2.45 million people around the world were sold into human trafficking. An overwhelming 80% of which were women. The worst part is, between 1999-2005, only around 7,700 of those victims were helped (World Bank). This is not okay!

So what is being done? The World Bank has made many steps towards prevention of human trafficking. There is a movement to strengthen regional work with migration and labor, monitoring and improving the analyses of rates or incidence, and increasing awareness (World Bank). South Africa is enlisting the help of the media to spread awareness about human trafficking and how to help survivors (IRIN). In 2008, Mozambique became the first country within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to formally criminalize human trafficking. Although they were the first to pass a specific law, 12 other countries in the SADC recognize the Palermo Protocol. This calls for combatting human trafficking and aiding the surviving victims (IRIN). In 2010 South Africa created the Prevention & Combatting of Human Trafficking bill, although it has not yet been put into action (FMSP).

Although we are starting to do a lot to stop this horrible industry, we still have a long way to go. The human trafficking industry makes between 7 billion and 12 billion US dollars a year, making it the third most lucrative criminal activity (IRIN).

Kemi, a woman from Benin City Nigeria, shared her story with BBC news. She was promised a better job in Italy so that she could support her family. Once there, however, she found herself faced with a job in prostitution. At first she refused but after being starved she finally complied. She ended up working for 3 years before she was able to escape. Even after Kemi had escaped she didn’t truly feel free. She was too ashamed from her experience to return home to her family with no money. She said, “They are wicked…the woman that sent me has two girls. She is sending them to the best schools with the money that I earned with my body” (BBC). This quote shocked me. The trafficker who sold Kemi into three years of forced prostitution has 2 daughters! Does she think consider this morally acceptable; what if it had been her daughters?

The human trafficking epidemic is not just statistics from “over there”. This affects women and children everywhere. Each woman sold into this kind of exploitation has a face, a family, and a life.






Gender Based Violence (& Africa)



In my last blog post, I introduced the topic of gender inequality. One theme within this topic that stood out to me was the high prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV). This week, I decided to look further into this concept. I began my research by looking up more general information about GBV, starting with a scholarly article by Andrew Morrison and Maria Orlando. I then followed up by reading an issue brief on GBV by GBC Health. When searching for news articles, I found one entitled Africa Leads in Gender-Based Violence by eNCA. The high rates of GBV in Africa caught my eye so, for my last article, I read a piece from AfricaRenewal, an African news magazine.

The United Nations first defined GBV in 1993 as, “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women… whether occurring in public or private life” (Morrison & Orlando; 5). This can include: beatings, forced marriage, dowry-related violence, marital rape, sexual harassment, intimidation at work or educational institutions, forced pregnancy, forced abortion or sterilization, and even human trafficking.

Technically, GBV can affect any gender, however, when most people mention GBV they are referring to violence against women. This gender difference is mostly due to society’s ideas about women. In Africa, beating, or physically intimidating, your wife is a “deeply held conviction” by men (AfricaRenewal). The shocking part is that it is not just men with these ideas. In Tanzania, “60 percent of females and more than 50 percent of males aged 13 to 24 years believe it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife under certain circumstances” (GBCHealth; 2). With such beliefs being so common, no wonder the rates of GBV are so high.

In South Africa, it is estimated that 45.6% of women have suffered from physical or sexual abuse (eNCA). It is also estimated that one South African woman is killed every 6 hours by their male partner (GBCHealth; 1). And this epidemic is not just in Africa. It has been estimated that 38% of women, worldwide, have been killed by their partners, and another 35% of women across the globe have experienced extreme GBV (eNCA).

So, what is being done to combat GBV? In 1981, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was formed, declaring that violence against women was a violation of their rights (AfricaRenewal). There are laws, in such places as Kenya, which prohibit wife beating and marital rape. However, these ideals are not very well enforced. Often, without physical evidence women’s’ claims are dismissed by the police. Because of this, many women’s experiences go un-noticed. In an attempt to help survivors of GBV, the UN has created a program to help women cope and even prevent further assaults (GBCHealth; 4).

With legislations being so unreliable many people, including myself, believe the only way to truly ensure that GBV stops is to change the social discourse around women’s rights. People need to learn more about GBV and its implications for, not only the individual, but also the community. Many programs are in place to spread awareness but we need more. “We have to get more women to know their legal rights. We have to teach our people why it is important to protect women and how it benefits the entire community when women are afforded better protection,” (AfricaRenewal).







Gender Inequality and GBV in Haiti

I am a sophomore at Clark University taking a class on development. One area of development that I find both important and intriguing is gender inequality in developing nations. Gender inequality is a very broad topic however, so I decided to narrow my research to gender equity in Haiti. I have had a special interest in Haiti ever since high school when I was treasurer of a club to raise money to built houses for Haitians after the earthquake. To expand my knowledge on this topic, I started by looking up a USAID article on gender equity and women’s empowerment. I then found a similar article, called The Safety of Haitian girls and Women Should Be Our Goal, written in the Huffington post. After looking at some western-centered resources I decided to expand my search. I found two articles on a Haitian news site called challangesnews.com. The first talked about the vulnerability of women and girl’s in Haiti while the second talked about one way Haiti is combatting this inequality. All of these articles seemed to share the theme of Gender Based Violence (GBV). In all of these articles they also showed a correlation between GBV and disasters. So for my final article, I read a policy brief about how to address disasters in gender-sensitive ways.

Gender inequality has a long history in Haiti, but it is only now coming into clearer focus. USAID said, “Today, international development policies have an increased focus on gender inequality. This is thanks to decades of lobbying by women’s organizations to improve women’s status and promote equal participation in economic, social and environmental decision-making”.

Women in Haiti tend to have significantly less education than men, on average two less years. According to Haitian news challenges, only 43% of high school students are girls any many are forced to drop out due to poverty or marriage. Once a girl is able to read and write, she is seen as “marriage-able” and then wed-off at young ages. This lack of education produces a large disadvantage in the labor market. Many women can not find jobs in the public sector so, according the Haiti Now, 71% of women make a living off of informal trade. Even if they can find a job, women, on average, make 32% less money than men (Challengesnews.com).

Because of these inequalities many women live in poverty and are malnourished. This vulnerability leads to increased GBV. According to the Huffington Post, 70% of Haitian Women have experienced GBV; one third of which were under 13. After the earthquake in 2010 GBV rates only escalated. Men now used food distribution as a way to “demand favors”. There was a very high rate of assault in camps; originally set up to help survivors of the earthquake. After the earthquake, 64% of teen pregnancies were due to rape (Challangesnews.com). Human right’s activist Anne-Christine d’Adesky said, “Other groups and studies have documented a rise of reports of rape … that represented gender aftershocks of the earthquake. Our survey … confirms that these aftershocks are heavily impacting girls … To us, these findings represent a call to arms to help girls in Haiti” (cdkn.org).

So the question is, what is being done to help women in Haiti? In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women decided that one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to hopefully be realized by 2015, would be the empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality (cdkn.org). There has also been the creation of the Bureau for Gender Equality within Haitian parliament (Challangesnews.com). Other women’s groups such as Women Victims Get Up Stand Up and KOFAVIV promote against GBV. Social protection networks and shelters have been set up to help victims of GBV. Some legislation has even been put into place to help combat human trafficking and promote healthy parenting (USAID). A constitutional amendment was put in place stating there must be a 30% quota of women in all public offices.

To help implement this amendment the Haitian National Police (HNP) have begun integrating women into the task force. The HNP is now has 10% female officers. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti helps to teach the HNP more about countering GBV and aiding survivors. While putting women in the police force is supposed to give women equal footing and decrease GBV there is still a long way to go before they reach gender equality. The Huffington Post article commented, “you cannot simply say to boys and men, ‘Stop raping, please,’ or ‘For the sake of humanity, share your power, include women,’ one thing is certain: Until girls and women in Haiti walk freely without fear of rape, none of us can”.