These days, when the going gets tough, women “increase the peace.” From U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the international community has learned that women’s leadership can contribute a different voice to fostering peace, alleviating poverty, and fighting for the rights of the oppressed.
›June 20, 2013 // By Kathleen Mogelgaard
A woman sat crouched on the side of a busy road in Dakar, a baby in a sling on her back and a basket of peanuts in front. I know only a little French, and no Wolof, but I decided to try anyway. “Bonsoir,” I said, and smiled at the toddler beside her. “Combien?” I asked, pointing at the peanuts.
She smiled back at me, we negotiated a sale, and in exchange for the coins in my pocket I walked away with a few bags of the small, tasty nuts that are grown throughout the “peanut basin” of central Senegal.
›Liberia is a case study in post-conflict violence against women, said panelists at the Wilson Center on July 24. “Confined merely to performing household chores and childrearing duties, from early childhood, women and girls have been socialized into subservience and powerlessness and acceptance of domestic abuse as a norm,” Annette Kiawu, deputy minister for research and technical services at the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development, told the audience. [Video Below]
Kiawu was joined by Pamela Shifman of the Novo Foundation and Esther Karnley and Elisabeth Roesch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). They discussed the prevalence of domestic violence in Liberia after the 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003.
Violence Stemming from Changing Norms
Kiawu pointed to women’s changing roles in Liberia as a source of household tension. She noted that women are increasingly “demanding a greater role in household decision making,” which some men see as “encroachment on their sphere of influence.”
“According to the LDHS [Liberia Demographic and Health Survey], the persistence of domestic violence is directly linked to the increased status of women on the one hand and men’s [perception] of loss of power and authority on the other,” she said. Some men’s urge to assert dominance is exacerbated by higher levels of alcohol abuse and a tendency towards violence learned during the civil war.
There has been legislation against gender-based violence – including the Rape Amendment Act, also known as the “revised rape law,” the Revised Gender-Based Violence Action Plan, and the African Union Protocol – as well as action plans and community-based groups meant to decrease the rate of domestic violence, like the Gender-Based Violence Network, an initiative designed to increase community ownership of domestic violence issues and improve response at the grassroots level. But despite these advances, Kiawu stressed that there still is a long way to go, saying that increased funding and coordination between domestic and international agencies and the Liberian government is necessary to have a real impact on the lives of the “countless women” whose lives are threatened by domestic violence.
Making Reality Match Rhetoric
Pamela Shifman agreed that domestic violence prevention programs need more funding. “So often in conflict-affected settings we hear that we need to address other issues first…that domestic violence is a back-burner issue,” she said. Domestic violence is often perceived to be “not that serious” when compared to other issues in conflict-prone and post-conflict countries.
But Shifman argued that divorcing domestic violence from other types of violence is problematic. “Violence in the home normalizes violence in the street, normalizes violence in the community, and normalizes violence by the state,” she said.
NoVo is one of the few private organizations which prioritizes domestic violence and gender equity, Shifman said, but she asserted that all humanitarian organizations should devote time and money to these issues, saying that “if we ignore domestic violence, all of the other investments we make to improve the quality of life for communities will suffer.”
Empowering women can have significant results for the whole community. Shifman remarked that “investing in women is smart economics,” citing studies which suggest directing funds towards women “pays off at huge levels” for women’s families and communities. But when women experience violence, “their potential is thwarted,” she said. “They suffer, their families suffer, their community suffers, the entire nation suffers.”
Programs targeting domestic violence need greater awareness, more long-term commitment, and more funding, she said. “We don’t expect that violence is going to end overnight – no deep-seated social problem will be solved that quickly,” she said. “In order to make a dent in improving the lives of girls and women and ending violence against girls and women, we need more direct funding” from private and public sources.
“To put it bluntly, I think the reality needs to match the rhetoric,” Shifman concluded.
Perspectives from the Field: Social Isolation
Esther Karnley described the results of interviews conducted with Liberian women, both survivors of domestic violence and fellow community members. She found that a key reason women stay in abusive relationships is financial dependence. “Most of them said, ‘it’s because we depend on the men for everything… we don’t have any money, we are not empowered financially, we depend on the men for everything. Because of that, we remain in that relationship and we get killed.’”
She added that social isolation means that many women lack the resources to leave a relationship. “We are isolated socially, we don’t have access to services, we are all by ourselves,” they told her. Without support from friends, relatives, or organizations, it can be difficult to find the means to relocate.
Part of the problem in Liberia is the prevalence of informal education, especially Sande bush schools – schools run by a traditional women’s society designed to prepare girls for marriage, teaching them traditional housekeeping methods and culminating in female circumcision. Girls leave home to attend these traditional schools for several months, which severely curtails their access to formal education. Kiawu reported that “over 60 percent of girls attending Sande school drop out of regular school.” This means that “successive generations of young children, especially young girls, are expected to forgo formal education in favor of attending the Sande school.”
In addition to formal education, Karnley said financial empowerment and legislation holding perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their actions would enable more women to leave abusive relationships.
Reaching Both Women and Men
Each of the panelists recognized that working against domestic violence requires comprehensive societal reforms. Karnley stressed that the impetus to begin working with men came from Liberian women. “Initially when we started working on GBV issues, we talked to women, and then the women came and said, ‘OK, you talk to us every day, and when we go home, we go and meet fire. Can you also talk to our men?’” In response, the IRC developed a 16-week program designed to change men’s behavior and views about violence and relationships. Karnley also mentioned a desire to reach out to the religious community to change the constant focus on the man as the head of a relationship to one based on love.
The Liberian government is also working with churches and mosques to change norms that encourage the subjugation of women, including work with a network of religious leaders known as Christian/Muslim United against SGBV (sexual and gender based violence). Kiawu said this organization emphasizes partnership within a marriage and teaching equality to children in the home. The panelists also mentioned additional efforts to increase the responsiveness and sensitivity of the police and judicial system to domestic violence issues, as well as the need for resources like safe houses to provide relief to survivors.
“The family, far from being off limits, has to be a priority for us in the humanitarian community as we help to rebuild nations where peace not only exists between nations, and among nations, and among communities, but among families,” Shifman contended. Kiawu agreed, adding that without interventions, violence and isolation prevent women “from taking advantage of opportunities that peace presents.”
Event Resources: A woman prays during a Sunday morning service in Monrovia, courtesy of Bruce Strong/Newhouse School.
›January 9, 2012 // By ECSP StaffThe original version of “Governance, Security, and Culture: Assessing Africa’s Youth Bulge,” by Marc Sommers, first appeared in the International Journal of Conflict and Violence, Vol. 5 (2), 2011.
Although Africa has a youth-dominated population, African government policies are often not youth-centered and African governments and their international supporters are frequently under-informed about the priorities of most youth. Reliance on the “youth bulge and instability thesis” leads to distorted assessments of everyday realities. Examination of the lives, priorities, and cultural contexts of African youth, and the cases of youth in Rwanda and Burundi in particular, shows that the nature of relations between the state and massive populations of young, marginalized, and alienated citizens directly impacts the governance, security, and development prospects of African nations.
Learning from Liberia
If ever there was a youth-dominated conflict in modern times, it was Liberia’s long and grueling civil war (1989-1996 and again in 2000-2003). Ignited by Charles Taylor’s Christmas Eve incursion from neighboring Côte d’Ivoire late in 1989, together with perhaps one hundred other men, the conflict soon took the form of youth-led chaos. “What initially was seen as a revolution…fought with sticks and cutlasses,” Mats Utas writes, “was eventually transformed into a war of terror where young people started fighting each other” (2005: 55). In fact, some youth continued to view the war as their revolution, for as long as they were able to take advantage of the opportunity that armed conflict afforded. The civil war provided them with “a chance to become someone in a national system that had marginalized them, but also a chance to get rid of the load of work and expectations that the parental generation had laid on them” (65). Some of the more successful young soldiers, sometimes goaded by their girlfriends, “felt so affluent that they could wash their cars in beer – a beverage most could not even afford to drink prior to the war – and that they could drive a car until it ran out of gasoline and then just dump it for another one” (66). The result was a war that wreaked colossal destruction. By 1997, civil war had already left a nation of perhaps two and a half million with up to 200,000 dead, 700,000 refugees, and much of the remaining population internally displaced (Utas 2008: 113).
The region of sub-Saharan Africa has the most youthful population in the world. Of the 46 countries and territories where at least 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30, only seven are not in sub-Saharan Africa. With this in mind, one of the most striking aspects of contemporary Africa is how male African youth have so frequently been viewed as threats to their own societies. However, the view from below differs dramatically from the largely quantitative analyses from above and from outside the continent. Again, the Liberian example is illuminating. A nation long renowned for grasping leaders and withered government institutions has more recently provided truly upbeat signs of forward movement. That said, most youth continue to be left far, far behind. Fieldwork in rural Liberia uncovered a widespread fear of “rebel behavior youth” – youth who had assumed the attitudes of wartime combatants and became socially sidelined. Liberia’s post-war youth unemployment has been estimated at the astonishing rate of 88 percent. Taking all of this into account – a widespread sense of estrangement and social distance felt by many youth and an economic recovery that is passing most of them by – one could certainly argue that Liberian youth are among the world’s most peaceful populations.
Continue reading in the International Journal of Conflict and Violence.
Marc Sommers is a fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Africa Program and visiting researcher at Boston University’s African Studies Center.
Sources: Government of Liberia, Population Action International, Sommers (2007), Utas (2005 and 2008).
Photo Credit: “RPF rally in Gicumbi, Rwanda,” courtesy of flickr user noodlepie (Graham Holliday).
›The original version of this article, by Jake Naughton, appeared on the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting blog.
The Pulitzer Center launched its collaborative reproductive health-reporting project at this year’s International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Dakar, Senegal. The project brings together four journalists from Africa and four from the United States who will collaborate to enhance local and international reporting about reproductive health across the continent.
The African journalists are Mae Azango of Liberia, Estelle Ellis of South Africa, Sam Olukoya of Nigeria, and Ken Opala of Kenya. Their U.S. counterparts are Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jina Moore; New Yorker editorial staffer Alexis Okeowo; and the Pulitzer Center’s managing director Nathalie Applewhite and visual media coordinator Jake Naughton.
More than two thousand reproductive health professionals and hundreds of journalists from all over the world participated in the conference, which sought to shine a spotlight on the unmet need for family planning services worldwide, and to focus on integrating family planning into general health services.
Continue reading on the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting blog.
Video Credit: “Meet the Journalists: Dakar,” courtesy of the Pulitzer Center.
›November 22, 2011 // By ECSP StaffThe original version of this article, by Jill Shankleman, appeared on the United States Institute of Peace’s International Network for Economics and Conflict blog.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), launched in 2002, now has 35 participating countries that have committed to publish annual, independently verified reports on all mining, oil, and gas payments made by companies to governments and all revenues received by governments from these extractive industry companies. The EITI is based on the premise that making public reliable information about extractive industry payments will make corruption and theft of “resource rents” more difficult and will enable informed debate amongst citizens and politicians about how to use resource wealth. While initially some governments could object to joining on the grounds that EITI was “a bad boys’ club,” Norway is now a fully engaged member; the United States has just announced that it will participate; and Australia stated it will pilot-test the system.
The participants in EITI also include Liberia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire, which, as post-conflict states, depend more than most on effective management of their resource wealth to establish the foundations for sustained economic growth. Citizens, journalists, and government officials in all the EITI countries now have access to some information on what extractive industry companies are paying to the government and what the government is receiving.
However, examination of country EITI reports reveals several shortcomings in reporting. What do the reports tell us beyond the headline numbers (i.e., total revenues and the size of any discrepancy between what companies report paying and what governments report receiving)? What do they tell us about revenue trends or about the significance of these revenues in total government receipts? How many countries have a pattern similar to Tanzania whereby the largest contribution documented in their first report was through companies collecting payroll taxes on behalf of the government? What is the value of “social investments,” training levies, or research and development contributions made by extractive industry companies? Where, and to what extent, do oil, gas and mining companies make payments to local governments?
Continue reading on the International Network for Economics and Conflict blog.
Jill Shankleman is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former senior social and environmental specialist at the World Bank.
Video Credit: “Transparency Counts,” courtesy of vimeo user EITI International.
›June 22, 2011 // By Kellie FurrFood and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) latest State of Food and Agriculture report, which this year is sub-titled, “Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development.”
“Women are farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs, but almost everywhere they face more severe constraints than men in accessing productive resources, markets, and services,” write the authors. “This ‘gender gap’ hinders their productivity and reduces their contributions to the agriculture sector and to the achievement of broader economic and social development goals.”
Barriers to Productivity
Globally, women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in southeastern and eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report. But despite their significant global presence, female farmers face gender-specific constraints that hinder access to productive resources, financial support, information, and services required to be viable and competitive. “The yield gap between men and women averages around 20 to 30 percent, and most research finds that the gap is due to differences in resource use,” write the authors.
Generally, women are more likely than men to hold lower-wage, part-time, or seasonal positions and tend to get paid less even when they are more qualified. Furthermore, domestic and occupational lines are blurred for women, who are often not compensated for work that is closely related to domestic food preparation. Most significantly for agricultural productivity, women across the developing world often lack access to quality land, sometimes being barred from land ownership. This ban precludes female farmers from exercising managerial discretion over farming activities, such as entering contract farming agreements. Women also generally own less livestock and contract for less labor – two crucial assets for marketable agricultural production in many developing countries. Moreover, because of insufficient land and resources, women farmers are also more vulnerable to climate shocks.
Resource barriers for female farmers extend to education, finance, and technology as well. The authors observe that “female household heads in rural areas are disadvantaged with respect to human capital accumulation in most developing countries, regardless of region or level of economic development,” which represents a historical bias against females in education. Despite notable success observed in finance projects involving female farmers, gender bias exists in the financial system, which prevents women from bearing initial financial risk in order to increase long-term productivity gains. Sources of gender bias in the financial sector include legal barriers, cultural norms, lack of collateral, and institutional discrimination by public and private lenders. Due to the aforementioned lack of credit, labor, and education, women farmers are deficient in all aspects of technology, such as the acquisition of new equipment, information about new seed varietals and animal breeds, pest control measures, and management techniques.
Closing the gender gap could have profound implications for easing world hunger. According to the FAO, approximately 925 million people are currently undernourished, most of whom live in developing countries. If women were given all the inputs and support as men, agricultural output could increase by 2.5 to 4 percent in developing countries, potentially reducing the world’s hungry by 100 to 150 million people. “This report clearly confirms that the Millennium Development Goals on gender equality (MDG 3) and poverty and food security (MDG 1) are mutually reinforcing,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf argues in his introductory remarks.
Increasing the economic viability of women farmers may also translate into better infant and child health indicators – when women control additional income, they tend to allocate more of their earnings toward the health and well-being of their children. Closing the agricultural gap is “a proven strategy for enhancing the food security, nutrition, education, and health of children,” Diouf asserted. “Better fed, healthier children learn better and become more productive citizens. The benefits would span generations and pay large dividends in the future.”
Finally, the FAO notes that in addition to reducing child mortality rates, increasing female education and economic prosperity helps lower fertility rates, which over time increases human capital and can help drive a demographic transition towards lower dependency rates and higher per capita growth.
Closing the Gender Gap
“The conclusions are clear,” write the authors:
1) Gender equality is good for agriculture, food security, and society; andThough they note that “no simple ‘blueprint’ exists for achieving gender equality in agriculture,” the authors do recommend some basic principles to the development community, including working towards eliminating discrimination against women under the law, strengthening rural institutions and making them gender-aware, freeing women for more rewarding and productive activities, building the human capital of women and girls, bundling interventions, improving the collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data, and making gender-aware agricultural policy decisions.
2) Governments, civil society, the private sector and individuals, working together, can support gender equality in agriculture and rural areas
Recognizing that “women will be a pivotal force behind achieving a food secure world,” the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has actually launched initiatives aimed directly at closing the gender gap. The Feed the Future initiative, announced last spring, includes a heavy focus on gender equity and integration with small-scale farming initiatives. For example, the Office of Women in Development is supporting a three-year project in Liberia, “Integrated Agriculture for Women’s Empowerment,” that aims to train and support 1,500 small farmers in Lofa county, two-thirds of whom are women. And in Rwanda, USAID helped the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources – headed by Dr. Agnes Kalibata – develop a national investment plan, which has been successful in bringing in donor support.
However, the FAO report does not offer specific feedback on programs like Feed the Future, which is arguably a crucial component of a truly comprehensive assessment on the current state of agriculture. Though they write that the State of Food Agriculture series is intended to simply be “science-based assessments of important issues,” the infancy of these food security efforts and the immediacy of the problems examined (see recent food price instability) creates an excellent opportunity for critical input. “Women in Agriculture” offers perhaps the most comprehensive report on the gender gap and development to date, but more specific critiques on the current efforts of USAID and others might make more of an impact in a field where the issues at play have been fairly clearly enumerated many times before.
Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization, The Hunger Project, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Population Action International, USAID.
Photo Credit: Adapted from “Ngurumo Village-Ntakira (Kenya),” courtesy of flickr user CGIAR Climate.
›Since 1998, the International Reporting Project has been a pioneer in the “non-profit journalism” movement that seeks to fill the gap left by much of the mainstream media’s reduction in international news coverage. IRP has provided opportunities to more than 300 U.S. journalists to travel to more than 85 countries to produce award-winning reports. This month on the Wilson Center’s Dialogue program, host John Milewski speaks with guests Sunni Khalid, Ed Robbins, and Teresa Wiltz. They recently participated in an intensive fact-finding visit to Liberia under the auspices of the International Reporting Project where they produced stories on the country’s ongoing development and women’s empowerment efforts (among other topics).
Sunni Khalid is managing news editor for WYPR in Baltimore, Maryland. Previously, he worked for Time, The Washington Times, USA Today, Voice of America, and NPR.
Ed Robbins is an independent, multi-award winning director, writer, producer, and videographer. Outlets for his work have included PBS, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, ABC, and the BBC.
Teresa Wiltz is a senior editor for The Root, where she helps oversee the production of the African-American web-magazine. She previously served as a staff writer for The Washington Post’s style section.
The full 30 minute interview is available at the Wilson Center.
To hear more about their projects, see The New Security Beat’s “A Lens Into Liberia: Experiences from IRP Gatekeepers.”
Join the Conversation
- Eastern Europe’s Most Difficult Transition: Public Health and Demographic Policy, Two Decades after the Cold War Wednesday, August 20, 2014
- Underage: Addressing Reproductive Health and HIV in Married Adolescents Wednesday, July 30, 2014
- National Security and Climate Change: What Do We Need to Know? Tuesday, July 29, 2014
- India faces criticism for blocking global trade deal, but is it justified?
- Women hurt by lack of say in South Asia's environment policy
- Is soil the new oil in Africa's quest for sustainable development?
- South Africa opens space for traditional rulers to claim land
- Does Ghana’s oil boom spell the end for its fishing industry?