Barbara Dockalova, our Policy Manager for Violence Against Women and Girls, blogs about the increasing attacks on overseas aid and what this means for women and girls
Attack on aid is an attack on all of us. There is no denial: overseas aid for developing countries is under attack. I remember back in 2007 when many organisations in Europe were calling on rich countries to invest 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) on official development assistance to tackle extreme poverty. I remember the celebrations when the UK government met the 0.7% target in 2013.
Ten years have passed and, what was once a proud achievement, is under sustained attack from skeptics concerned about how taxpayers’ money is spent and the trustworthiness of organisations. We are living through challenging times; the need to engage positively with the world’s problems has never been more urgent.
While attacks on aid are nothing new, the criticisms today seem to signal a more concerted effort to change attitudes and the way we look at the world and development. The media plays a big role; we are often confronted with cynicism and narrow viewpoints that the majority of Britons do not share. More than 8 out of 10 people
in the UK agree that helping people from developing countries is important and more than two-thirds believe that aid to developing countries should increase. Well targeted overseas aid works – not only as poverty alleviation but also in enabling people around the world to enjoy their fundamental rights.
Projects by organisations, including our partners, reinforce the impact of aid on women and girls. In 2015/16, Womankind and our partners provided a safe space for 110,810 woman survivors of violence
. In Zimbabwe alone, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association
supported 16,486 women and children to rebuild their lives after violence. These projects fundamentally support women to survive, yet they also go beyond, investing in education, empowerment and challenging social norms in communities.
Chronic underfunding for women’s rights
Womankind’s impact report (2015-2016)
shows that globally over 13.9 million people have been informed about women’s rights issues, changes in law, policies and practices thanks to the hard work and dedication of our partners. Services provided by women’s rights organisations produce better outcomes in terms of protecting and advancing women’s rights, and also have far-reaching consequences for the wider society and economy. They give women the opportunity to access legal services and receive the support they need to lead independent lives.
Yet the women’s rights organisations that carry out this vital work are chronically underfunded and always working with limited financial resources. I often hear horror stories from organisations that provide shelters for survivors of violence. They are running way beyond their staff capacity and are having to turn women away due to limited space. In Ethiopia for example, where 48.7% of women experience physical intimate partner violence and 59% of those women reported sexual violence, there are only 12 shelters available in the whole country.
Commitment to the 0.7%
We need to praise the efforts of governments and organisations that are fighting for gender equality, justice and human rights. The UK government has been a leading champion for gender equality and women’s rights, and is one of six countries that has met the 0.7 % GNP commitment to overseas aid.
Whilst scrutiny of overseas aid, as in any government practice, is important, sadly much of this is currently expressed as attacks on impactful work. Recently we have witnessed media attacking a girls’ empowerment project in Ethiopia which supports a girl band show called ‘Yegna’ aimed at inspiring change for girls. There has also been a lot of scrutiny around the cash transfer scheme in Pakistan. The attacks on these projects come with little understanding of the context and the impact they have on people’s lives. Thousands of poor and marginalised people benefit from UK government funding and rely on aid to help them realise their full potential and develop sustainable livelihoods.
Challenging inequality not aid
Rather than contesting the great work that is happening on the ground, the media could usefully examine the distribution of wealth and the gap between the rich and poor. For example, the rich people like the eight men who own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world, as revealed in Oxfam’s report. The income of the richest 1% of population has increased 182 times as much between 1988 and 2011, but the income of the 10% poorest population has increased by less than $3 a year.
The UK has always been a nation of people who generously support international development work. Most would agree that one of the world’s richest nations should play a leading role in the global fight against poverty. The government’s commitment to the 0.7% is a credible success and something that shows our commitment to humanity. We need to be looking at the real perpetrators of injustice and inequality in this world and not attack the resources and programmes that bring positive changes to the lives of the poor and society as a whole.