News blog

Insight, debate and development news from ActionAid's media team

Indian elections: remember the promises made on violence against women

People enjoying musical contributions to One Billion Rising in New Delhi, 2013
Women come out onto the streets during the One Billion Rising event in New Delhi
Photo: Florian Lang/Actionaid

A few weeks ago I was in India visiting ActionAid projects. It was just one week before the elections and India was in full campaigning mode, with posters for the different parties everywhere, wall to wall TV coverage and election talk everywhere I went – from the slums of Nangloi to the coffee shops of Khan Market.

The voting takes place over six weeks, ending on 12 May, with votes being counted on 16 May. Today (Thursday) is the fifth day of voting and the biggest day of all, with people in 121 constituencies casting their votes.

ActionAid in India is non-partisan and does not endorse any of the parties or candidates running for election. But what we do care about are the poorest and most excluded communities, including women, and one of the issues closest to our hearts is violence against women.

ActionAid believes the root causes of violence against women stem from inequality and works to promote greater economic and social equality, employment and property rights.

Long live daughters!

In August 2013, ActionAid India launched a nationwide campaign, Beti Zindabad (Long Live Daughters) to raise awareness of and put a stop to practices of sex-determination and selection, female foeticide, early marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls. Because sons are valued so much more than daughters, women are forced into aborting baby girls before they are born, resulting in a shocking ratio of just 919 girls per thousand boys in India.

In addition following the public outcry after the brutal gang rape of the woman known as Nirbhaya in Delhi in December 2012, the political parties and police promised that action would be taken to ensure the safety of women and girls -  but not enough has been done.

The election womanifesto

ActionAid is supporting a “womanifesto” set out by women’s groups from across India - a six-point plan which sets out what needs to be done by the next government in the next five years to improve conditions for India's women and girls.

The six points are:

  • educate for equality
  • make laws count
  • put women in power
  • appoint police for the people
  • enact swift, certain justice
  • ensure a flourishing economy

Remembering the Rwanda genocide twenty years on

Jane Moyo's picture Posted by Jane MoyoHead of Media Relations
Elizabeth (second left) and four of her children
Elizabeth (second left) with four of her children born after the genocide
Photo: Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ActionAid

In 1994, in Rwanda, in the space of 100 days between 800,000 and one million people – mainly from the Tutsi minority group but also several thousand moderate Hutus – were killed by Hutu militias.

The Rwanda genocide was a calculated act, fuelled and perpetrated by Hutu extremists in the then ruling government. Numbers and percentages are often difficult to get right, but up to one in five of the population were horrifically massacred. 

What is not disputed is that the genocide against the Tutsis was one of Africa’s defining moments, and one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the late 20th century, sending a shockwave across the world that still echoes today.

Elizabeth’s children were slaughtered before her eyes

Elizabeth, who ActionAid supports, has an all too typical story to tell. Her husband and two children aged two and nine months were slaughtered, her children before her eyes.

She said: “My children were brutally murdered. They smashed their heads, breaking their skulls and their brains gushed out.”

Elizabeth herself was repeatedly raped and suffered dreadfully from both the trauma and from subsequent medical problems for years afterwards.

This atrocity was committed by neighbours, one of whom was Elizabeth’s own cousin.

It is therefore not surprising that twenty years on, the genocide continues to dominate Rwandan and regional politics and also the Rwandan people’s psyche.

Rwanda was brought to its knees; the entire socio-economic and political fabric was virtually destroyed, with women and children in particular left to bear the burden of a devastated society.

It is important to look to the future

Despite everything, it is important to look to the future, to look at what has been achieved in the wake of such tragedy, as well as what still needs to be done.

Elizabeth, now 45, has remarried and has six children.

Whilst her heartbreak is still apparent, Elizabeth is a member of a women’s cooperative funded by ActionAid. She successfully farms her land, which she reclaimed, with our legal support, from the people who took it.

And like Elizabeth, Rwanda too has seen success in the last few years. Poverty reduction has been matched by strong economic growth.

With the help of overseas aid, there has been impressive progress on the provision of basic services such as healthcare and education, as well as agricultural support and infrastructure development.

Rwanda has a young population – the average age is 19 with nearly two in three of the population under 25 – so the country’s future depends on the next generation getting the support they need to protect their rights and work their way out of poverty.

Meeting people’s rights

As a matter of principle, ActionAid is committed to meeting people’s rights by helping them to demand their basic needs. We see this as a key part of the route out of poverty and injustice.

For despite progress, Rwanda is still a very poor country. It has no natural resources and has a predominantly rural economy.

In what is Africa’s most densely populated country, nine in ten Rwandans earn their living from the land – farming just enough to feed themselves and their families – and nearly half live in extreme poverty.

That is why we focus our work on the rural poor and women-headed households in particular. ActionAid makes no distinction, ethnic or otherwise, between the people we help.

With neighbour destroying neighbour twenty years ago, and virtually every family affected, Rwandans today understand that restitution must lie within the justice system that has been put in place and also with a commitment to a united Rwanda.

No-one within Rwanda wants the killings to return. As Elizabeth, her friends and the government of Rwanda know, there is too much to lose.

3 reasons to celebrate the UN Arms Trade Treaty

Deepayan Basu Ray's picture Posted by Deepayan Basu RayResilience and Emergencies Policy Adviser
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf celebrates the Arms Trade Treaty in June 2013 at the UN Headquarters in New York
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf celebrates the Arms Trade Treaty in June 2013 at the UN Headquarters in New York
Photo: Deepayan Basu Ray

As the UN Arms Trade Treaty closes in on becoming binding international law, there are many positive implications to celebrate, including placing human rights above profit, putting an end to armed violence against women and children and gender based violence, and making the global arms trade transparent.

On this day last year, a Special Session of the UN General Assembly successfully voted through a resolution with enormous global implications. 154 countries voted in favour, 3 voted against, and 23 abstained.

The resolution formally adopted the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and opened it for signature and ratification by UN Member States.

For the first time ever, a global legally binding treaty had been created to put controls on the global sale of arms and ammunition – a 60 to 80 billion dollar industry annually!

Why is this important to ActionAid? 

It is important because once in force and properly implemented, this treaty will have profoundly transformative positive impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people in the global south.

For too long, armed violence and the prevalence of weapons has held good governance hostage, reversed development gains, and impeded the rule of law. The ATT is set to become one of the first global legally binding instruments to halt and reverse some of these destructive trends.

There are three legal obligations in this treaty that give us particular reasons to celebrate:

  • the legal obligation to uphold human rights and humanitarian law;
  • the legal obligation to prevent arms sales that could be used to perpetrate acts of gender based violence (GBV), or armed violence against women and children; and
  • the legal obligation on governments to be transparent about their activities.

Human rights over profit

The Treaty demands that before any arms can be transferred, a comprehensive risk assessment be carried out to determine if there are risks that these arms will be used to abuse human rights. In other words, arms cannot be allowed to be sold to tyrants, to militias, to those who wield weapons to impose their will.  Obvious? Yes, but now it’s set to be the (international) law.

The treaty places adherence to human rights above profit, a veritable sea-change in the way the arms industry operates.  In many cases, this will result in sellers having to re-assess – and in some cases stop outright – many questionable arms deals in future.

Tackling gender based violence, and violence against women and children

The second obligation of major relevance to organisations like ActionAid is that for the first time, measures to reduce incidences of gender based violence and violence against women and children now have binding obligations on states.

This is a step farther than UN Security Council Resolution 1325, or even the Commission on the Status of Women’s annual outcome documents – which are just political obligations.

Article 7.4 of the ATT demands that arms sellers have to conduct an assessment on whether or not the weapons to be transferred will be used to perpetrate acts of GBV or violence against women and children. If such a risk is found, then the deal cannot be completed.

The importance of this cannot be overstated! For too long, within UN debating chambers, no legally binding frameworks have been agreed that put a stop to such practices.  Finally, we see the tide turning.

Improving transparency

And this change in tide is further reflected by the parts of the ATT that enable Civil Society to hold states to account. Once the treaty is in force, NGOs can demand transparency over questionable arms transfer decisions, such as ones that have negatively impacted on women and girls. 

How close is the treaty to becoming international law?

In order for all this to be implemented comprehensively, the treaty has to enter into force – which requires at least 50 countries to formally absorb the treaty into their national laws, and then submit an ‘instrument of ratification’ to the UN. 

Since June 2013, 118 countries have ‘signed’ the treaty – signalling their intent to formally ratify the treaty at some point.  13 countries have already ratified the treaty.

Today, the UK, along with Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, and 13 other countries will formally ratify the treaty at a special ceremony in the UN – bringing the total number of ratifications to 31. This is an important milestone for the UN, the British and other ratifying governments, and also one for global civil society.

With only 19 more ratifications needed before the treaty enters into force, this milestone could happen by 2015!

Needless to say, ActionAid’s mission to stand in solidarity with people and communities experiencing vulnerability and insecurity will receive a significant positive boost as the ATT beings to be implemented globally. 

Our ongoing work to eradicate gender based violence and violence against women and girls now has a legally binding mechanism to influence state behaviour to be more progressive and proactive.

Which countries have signed the treaty where ActionAid works?

In the 43 countries and territories where ActionAid works, Nigeria was the first to ratify, and another 27 countries have formally signed the treaty. Of the 13 who haven’t signed the treaty yet, 8 voted in favour, 2 abstained, and 2 did not register a vote for the UN General Resolution that formally adopted the treaty.

The USA has signed the treaty as well – they account for nearly 60% of the global arms trade. After today, 5 of the world’s top 10 sellers will have ratified the treaty.

Although not a panacea, the Arms Trade Treaty is an important tool in our ongoing fight against injustice, inequality, and poverty.

ActionAid launches She Can appeal – helping girls overcome poverty and violence

Kembi (Fatime). Mwakirunge Dumpsite, Mombasa
10-year-old Kembi on her way to work on Mwakirunge Dumpsite in Mombasa, Kenya
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

Beyoncé puts it so boldly – “Who run the world? Girls.” It’s a great vision. But we also have to consider some facts. The majority of the world’s poorest people are women. 1 in 3 women globally will experience violence in their lifetime simply because they are women. This has to change. 

When a girl is born poor her life chances are severely reduced. Young women have fewer rights, less access to education, sexual health services, networks, decision making, safety and control over their bodies. They are trapped – trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, violence and inequality

Women are at the very heart of ActionAid’s work

We must all take some responsibility in addressing the injustice girls face.  Women are at the very heart of ActionAid’s work and today we launch our brand new fundraising appeal She Can… to help girls overcome poverty and violence.

What’s more, the UK government has pledged to double all donations to the appeal. With a target of £2.8 million we’ll be able to help more young women and girls and work with them to achieve their potential. We believe that with the UK’s support She Can… be anything.

Our She Can… campaign will help girls such as Kembi, 10, escape a life of grinding poverty and degradation. In order to raise money to help feed her family, Kembi scavenges on one of Kenya’s largest rubbish dumps in the port city of Mombasa.

Every day, Kembi has no choice but to work on the site which is unsafe, poorly lit, with mounds of burning and toxic waste. She is in danger of sexual harassment, violent assault and serious health hazards.

ActionAid funds education and protection facilities

ActionAid is funding a local women’s network that provides education and protection facilities for girls and women who work at the dump.

Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, said:

“By matching all public donations pound for pound, we could improve security for over 60,000 girls and women living in some of the world’s poorest urban slums. Safety from violence will help them finish school, get a job and take control of their own lives, so they can lift themselves out of poverty for good.”

With the help of the UK public we can create change

We have a huge fundraising target, but we know that with the help of our incredibly generous supporters and the UK public we can achieve this and make a difference globally. In 2013, we – with government matched funding – raised £2.7million for our disaster preparedness work worldwide which helped thousands of the world’s poorest people prepare to survive the next disaster.

This years’ She Can... appeal runs for three months, from 26 March to 25 June 2014.

Donations will go twice as far to help more girls

Please donate to the She Can... appeal. The donations will go twice as far and ActionAid can help more young women to live free from injustice and harm, so that they can fulfil their potential, and work themselves and their communities out of poverty.

Double your donation to help girls escape the poverty trap

How female genital mutilation is linked to poverty and other forms of violence

Jane Moyo's picture Posted by Jane MoyoHead of Media Relations
Eveylin from rural Kenya has refused female genital mutilation and is determined to stay in school
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

Last year the Department for International Development (DFID) launched a £35 million programme working across 17 countries to support Africa-led movements to end female genital mutilation. This and the UK government's upcoming July event aimed at empowering girls to reject mutilation and forced early marriage are to be applauded.

As ActionAid has pointed out in our #endfgm campaign, female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage are very closely linked.

Often girls undergo female genital mutilation as a precursor to early marriage: in many communities, girls are seen as ready for marriage once they are mutilated and drop out of school soon after.

And as the government says, female genital mutilation is also linked to low levels of economic development. Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.

Effectively, female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage reflect deep rooted inequality between men and women and violate the rights of girls and women, whether in the UK or overseas.

A global problem, to which we need a global solution

The mutilation of hundreds of thousands of girls’ bodies is undoubtedly a global problem, to which we need a global solution.

Between 65 and 70 per cent of all women and girls coping with the devastating effects of female genital mutilation live north of the equator in Africa. It is also true that many of the British girls at risk of mutilation will be taken to have it performed in their parents’ countries of origin.

The truth is: we cannot eradicate female genital mutilation in the UK without ending it everywhere else it happens, which is why the UK government’s commitment is crucial, as is DFID’s focus on girls and women under Secretary of State, Justine Greening’s leadership.

It is also why international aid agencies have a key role to play in the fight against female genital mutilation. 

ActionAid works in countries where female genital mutilation is rife. That’s why, at the request of local activists, we are educating whole communities about its devastating effects, and seeing real results. We provide direct support to girls escaping mutilation and our education programmes and campaigns reach thousands of survivors, their families and communities, and continue to save lives.

Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right

Our experience shows that if we are to see an end to the mutilation of girls in our lifetime, we must combat female genital mutilation and all other aspects of violence against girls and women wherever it takes place and with every tool at our disposal because freedom from violence is a fundamental human right.

For female genital mutilation, female infanticide, domestic violence and even accusations of witchcraft at the end of life are all part of the spectrum of violence that women face throughout their lives. And every day.

ActionAid has long believed that the denial of basic human rights to women and girls is the common thread that underpins all aspects of poverty.

Supporting improvements in women’s lives – ensuring women’s access to a decent education, better healthcare, economic and social security and most importantly to freedom from violence – is the best way to end poverty for good for everyone.

'I raise my hand against sexual violence.' Audiences in London react to theatre production Nirbhaya

Gang-rape, beatings, kerosene attacks – enough is enough! Theatre production Nirbhaya leaves a powerful impression on audiences in London.

Last night we bid farewell to an incredible group of people we've had the pleasure of working with for the last week. Director Yael Garber and an inspiring cast from Nirbhaya the Play have left their home at the Southbank after an eight-show run. They now head to India for the next phase of their journey. 

The idea for the play was born after Jyoti Singh - known in India as Nirbhaya or “fearless one” – was brutally gang raped on a bus in Delhi on December 16 2012 and died of her injuries 13 days later.

We want to thank Yael, the cast, the producers and the Southbank for putting on such a powerful, engaging and important piece of work - and for letting us be a part of it.

Fearless: sharing stories of violence against women

So many people shared their stories on ActionAid’s FEARLESS wall and ‘raised their hand’ in solidarity with women globally who are affected by violence simply because they are women. We heard astounding stories, which made us angry and more determined to stand up and say enough is enough. 

The audience praised the actors for sharing their personal stories and called for an end to violence against women. Watch our video and read their reactions below.

I raise my hand against sexual violence 

Ira Guha, Bangalore:

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so attached to the theatre and stirred to actually do something about the issue myself. What I wrote down on my card, is that I raise my hand against sexual violence in marriages in India, which continues to be legal. It is legal for a man to rape his wife and this is a major issue that has not been changed within the law and which we need to address.”

You should speak because someone is listening

Davija, Campus Editor at the University of Westminster:

“I wrote on my card that I would try to get more involved and not be a part of the silence. I think for a very long time, I distanced myself from anything that I saw because I felt that nobody would care even if I did speak out and that’s part of the problem.

"The second you become indifferent; you are part of the problem. You are not going to help; you are not going to be part of the solution. I think even if you don’t think your words are going anywhere, you should definitely speak because someone is listening, even if you don’t think they are.”

Thank you for giving a voice to millions of women

Shambhavi Bhat, Bombay:

“One of the most moving theatre pieces I’ve ever seen. It’s something that resonated with me and I would definitely recommend it. If you are a woman who wants somewhere to voice your opinions then it’s really good. On my card I wrote 'thank you for giving a voice to millions of women and girls aren’t allowed to speak out, I raise my hand in solidarity’.”

One in three women will experience violence in their lifetimes. ActionAid focuses on ending violence against women all around the world, because we know violence traps women, their families and whole communities in poverty.