Violence against women: the most ignored obstacle for development?

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 09:52
Several weeks ago a colleague was surprised when I wrote to him that violence against women is an integral component of poverty reduction. “Is this an ideological position or literally true?” he asked me.
Poverty is about power and unequal power relations lie at the heart of violence, whether suffered in the home or outside, during conflict or times of “peace”. The link between violence and poverty seems self-evident to me. But prompted by his reaction, I set out on the task of finding a “factual” basis for my claim.
ActionAid comes up against violence against women and girls in every aspect of our programming work. Violence prevents access to political and economic opportunities, both of which are central to overcoming women’s marginalisation from decision-making and to increasing their economic power. 
The physical and psychological aspects of violence against women are literally barriers to participation, when violence or the fear of violence stops women from attending community meetings, or reaching markets unharmed, or safely taking a bus to work. 
Violence is also an indisputable barrier for girls attending and completing school. Research undertaken by ActionAid in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania as part of two girls’ education projects found that up to 86% had reported some form of violence against them in the previous 12 months. 
The Women Won’t Wait Campaign: End Violence against Women and HIV, of which ActionAid is a member, spent years demonstrating to governments, donors and international policy makers that HIV and violence against women are indisputably connected, with the latter both a cause and consequence of HIV. Violence plays a devastating role in increasing the risks to women of HIV infection. At the same time, women and girls living with HIV are frequently targeted for violence, discrimination and human rights violations. It is now well recognised globally that HIV exacerbates poverty and yet the role of violence seems to fall off the radar. 
Generally categorised as a “woman’s issue”, violence against women has been deemed the responsibility of the likes of agencies such as UN Women or ministries of women and gender equality, despite the relationship with a range of other poverty dimensions. It has been excluded from key global policy debates. HIV and AIDS, education, women’s political and economic empowerment all found a space in the Millennium Development Goals and continue to be development priorities for the EU External Action Service, alongside migration, conflict, humanitarian aid, energy and trade. So where is violence against women? 
If health, education and economic empowerment are all recognised as key indicators of poverty and addressing them is an integral component of poverty reduction, violence against women must be seen in the same light. The clear links between violence and poverty must be recognised. 
On 25 November, ActionAid commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women globally. ActionAid staff and partners in countries across the world mobilised to seek an end to violence against women. This included the demands of social movements in Brazil for changes to strengthen the Maria da Penha domestic violence law, radio talk shows in Cambodia which discussed violence against garment workers and town hall meetings across Nigeria which were held to discuss sustainable solutions to ending violence.
Violence against women is a global problem of epidemic proportions. As we enter a new year, we hope to see better recognition and renewed commitment from EU member states towards prioritising a violence-free life for women and girls globally.