There is evidence to suggest that there is a connection between gender related issues and the level of overall development in societies and cultures.
This is particularly apparent in relation women under the headings of:
- Decision making
In a significant number of cultures women have traditionally had a limited role in the decision making process at the household, village and national levels. Their needs, interests and the constraints under which have to live are very often not reflected in policy-making and laws. This is especially important in relation to poverty reduction, food security and environmental sustainability. In many cases one of the main causes of women’s exclusion from decision making is closely linked to their reproductive roles and the associated household workload, which account for an important share of their time. In reality this is a sort of “catch 22” situation in that before they can take action to improve their lot they must be afforded the time to influence the decisions and they cannot get the time to do this without having the necessary influence.
Thus one of the most effective ways of improving the status and well-being of women is by ensuring their full, equal and effective participation in decision-making at all levels of political, economic and social life. This approach promotes and protects women’s human rights while allowing society to benefit from the diverse experiences, talents and capabilities of all its members.
ElectricAid is particularly involved in furthering the status and equality of women through their support of women’s enterprising groups. The aim of these groups is to further the economic status of women, by training them in the skills that will enable them to generate an income and thus contribute to the economy. Many of these groups are based in the developing world and it is one of the few times in this part of the world that women have an advantage over man. These groups are quite successful in their applications because many feel that things will get done, as the group is run by women and is for women.
Although the impact that women have on the economy is rising it is still not at the same level as men, and this is also affecting the last two areas covered in this piece – Health and Levels of Violence.
Research has found that improvements in household food-security and nutrition are associated with women’s access to income and their role in decisions on household expenditure. This is because women tend to spend a significantly higher proportion of their income than men on food for the family.
Women’s purchasing power may not only be used to buy food and other basic assets for themselves and their families, but also to pay for the basic necessities. Thus, to improve conditions for the household, greater priority has to be given to increasing women’s participation in market as well as other income-generating ventures.
The impact of economic wellbeing is also very evident in relation to HIV/AIDS. Today more than half the people living with HIV/AIDS are female. Before HIV came to light girls were already less likely to go school than boys. Today children are being taken out of school to care for their AIDS affected families and the majority of those children are girls. These girls are denied the opportunity to learn necessary skills that will help them earn money. This often results in a situation where many of these girls believe that selling sex for money is their only economic option and together with the grinding poverty this makes them more susceptible to infection. So once again we see a sort of “vicious circle” appearing.
In developing countries where access to HIV/AIDS medication is hard to obtain, it is even more limited more for women. A study has been carried out to determine if in an ideal world, where men and women had equal access to medication, would there be any difference in the “clinical, virological and immunological parameters of men and women at baseline and during antiretroviral treatment”.
The study followed 2620 patients over a 12 month period. The results showed that when the patients started, with no drugs on their system (baseline); women had a lower viral load and a more favourable clinical profile than men. When the drugs were administered it was found that women had better immunological and similar virological responses compared to men. The rates of clinical progression or death were also lower in women. The conclusion of the study was “women have more favourable clinical and viroimmunological patterns than men both at baseline and during antiretroviral treatment. Sex has a small but significant influence on the clinical and laboratory outcomes of HIV”.
So the evidence would seem to suggest that women respond better to treatment and thus the more effective use of the scare drugs would be if they were targeted at the female population. This is the opposite of what is actually happening on the ground.
The area of HIV/AIDS plays a major part in ElectricAid’s funding. We fund numerous projects each year that deal with women who have been widowed by AIDS and who have young families to care for. Recently we funded a project that provides food parcels to those families. The food parcels have enough food that last the families one month, this lowers the need for mothers to send their children out to work to earn money for food and means that their children can stay in school and get the education they need.
Violence is another area that ElectricAid would deal a lot with, particularly violence against women. In May this year we funded a project that set up a centre of assistance and support for women who are experiencing interfamilial violence. The project was funded for over €10,000 and it is proving a great success. Within the centre there are personnel who can help the victims and they also run workshops for all those who are affected.
Gender based violence can be defined as “violence involving men and women, in which the female is usually the victim and which arises form unequal power relationships between men and women”. This violence evolves in part from women’s subordinate gender status in certain societies. In most of these cultures traditional beliefs, norms and social institutions legitimize and therefore perpetuate violence against women.
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gander based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion of arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”. This includes physical, sexual and psychological violence such as domestic violence; sexual abuse, including rape and incest by family members; forced pregnancy; honour killings; female genital mutilation (FGM); dowry related violence and emotional abuse such as coercion and abusive language.
The most extreme form of such violence is honour killing. This is in effect committing of murder, nearly exclusively of a woman, who has been perceived as having brought dishonour to her family. Such killings are typically perpetrated by the victim’s own relatives and/or community and unlike a crime of passion or rage-induced killing; it is usually planned in advance. In societies and cultures where they occur, such killings are often regarded as a “private matter” for the affected family alone, and courts rarely involved or prosecute the perpetrators.
Some women, who bridge social divides, publicly engage with other communities, or adopt some of the customs or the religion of an outside group, may also be attacked. In countries that receive immigration, some otherwise low status immigrant men and boys have asserted their dominant patriarchal status by inflicting honour killings on women family members who have participated in public life, for example in feminist and integration politics. Women in the family can support the honour killing of one of their own, if they agree that the family is the property and asset of men and boys.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is another form of violence against women. In cultures where it is an accepted norm, FGM is practiced by followers of all religious beliefs as well as animists and non believers. FGM is usually performed by a traditional practitioner with crude instruments and without anaesthetic.
The main reasons for FGM can be categorized into four most common social justifications, and one financial:
- The custom and tradition of becoming a women involves this “right of passage” from childhood to adulthood (ensuring she is good marriage material)
- A desire to control a women’s sexuality (virginity, morality and marriageability)
- A cultural practice that sometimes has religious identification (a female’s honour is a reflection on her entire family, and believing it is God’s will)
- Social conformity to the community
- FGM is a primary source of income for many midwives / practitioners, propagate the practice
Today, the number of girls and women who have undergone FGM is estimated to be between 100 and 140 million. It is estimated that each year, a further 2 million girls are at risk of undergoing FGM.
Such violence not only occurs in the family and in the general community, but is sometimes also condoned or perpetuated by the state through policies or the actions of agents of the state such as the police, military or immigration, the majority of whom are men.
A further contributory factor to violence is related to the issue of masculinity which as previously mentioned the traditional definitions of which are being challenged by changing economic realities.
Masculinity – or masculinities, as there are different forms of masculinity is a complex phenomenon. Masculinity is often associated with characteristics such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, dominance, strength, courage and control.
Men’s violence is a key determinant of the inequities and inequalities of gender relations. Violence is a fundamental dimension of human poverty. Yet men’s “natural aggression” is often invoked as a defining characteristic of an essential gender difference and as an explanation for gendered hierarchical arrangements in the political and economic contexts of richer and poorer countries alike.
It is suggested that changes in the economy, social structures, and the household composition are resulting in “crises of masculinity” in many parts of the world. The “demasculinizing” effects of poverty and of economic and social change may be eroding men’s traditional roles as providers and limiting the availability of alternative, meaningful roles for men in families and communities. Men may consequently seek affirmation of their masculinity in other ways; for example through domestic violence.
In Latin America the violence caused by the “masculinity” of men is called machismo. It is a big problem in this part of the world and ElectricAid knows this and therefore this is one of the areas our funding would go towards.
In conclusion it is only by addressing all the above issues in a coordinated way that real improvements can be brought about. Legal protection for girls must be strengthened. Women’s rights to inherit property and engage in political decision must be guaranteed; violence against girls and women must be ended and women must have fair access to HIA treatment, care and prevention services.