9 June 2007
The next G8 summit will soon be upon us. The leaders of the world's richest countries will meet in Germany between 6th and 8th June 2007 to plan the world’s priorities for the forthcoming year.
The communiqué on world poverty issued after the Gleneagles meeting in 2005 was a welcome development, but it failed to mention discrimination against women in the global South. Yet, according to a new book by Norwich-based author Geraldine Terry, widespread and deep-rooted discrimination against women in developing countries plays a big part in creating and perpetuating world poverty. It acts as a major brake on development in the world’s poorest regions: South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Geraldine's book, changing this status quo must be at the heart of the G8's deliberations.
Not convinced that women's rights are being denied all over the world? Then ponder some shocking facts and figures showing that even women's right to life itself is being denied on a huge scale.
It is particularly sobering that discrimination can start before birth and deprive a child of life purely because of her sex. Up to 100 million females are 'missing' from the global population, victims of sex-selective abortion and infant neglect in countries including India and China.
In some rural areas, the resulting demographic imbalances are already giving rise to social problems, with young men unable to find themselves a bride. At a later stage in life, poor women are at risk giving birth. A woman dies every minute as a result of problems in pregnancy and childbirth, due to non-existent or inadequate government health services.
Violence against women is also a huge cause of death and disability across the world, yet in some countries domestic violence is not even against the law. Because of such deep-rooted injustices many campaigners see tackling discrimination against women as a key ingredient of international development. After all, what does 'development' really mean, if it is not about promoting people’s rights, including women’s rights, to enjoy decent lives?
One notable achievement of the Gleneagles summit, with a beneficial impact on women's rights, was debt relief. For instance, debt relief enabled the Ugandan government to abolish primary school fees so that thousands of girls to go to school for the first time. In Bolivia, the government used the funds freed up by debt relief to provide birth attendants, reducing maternal mortality.
What could G8 2007 achieve? Probably, the single most useful initiative would be to channel more development aid into educating girls. The right to education was first set out in the universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, yet here we are almost 60 years later with an estimated 62 million school-age girls who have never seen the inside of a classroom. This is a tragedy both for the girls themselves and for their communities, because even a few years’ education can be an effective way of reducing poverty. A recent study found that doubling the proportion of girls educated at secondary school can reduce infant mortality by more than half. From an economic point of view, countries with gaps between the numbers of girls and boys attending school do less well than countries where roughly equal numbers are enrolled. Gender discrimination is not good for economic growth. Policies on economic growth and international trade are key areas where the G8 governments must change their stance.
Currently, the USA and EU are pushing poorer countries into a form of economic globalisation that treats women as cheap labour for big trans-national businesses. They earn low wages, work long hours, endure terrible conditions, so we can buy clothes for a few pounds in the supermarket.
The world needs a different kind of globalisation, one that supports the rights of the world's poorest, most vulnerable people rather than riding roughshod over them. Even where globalised trade has created new jobs for women, they still earn less than men doing similar jobs. Such discrimination contributes to world poverty. Of the world's 550 million 'working poor', 60pc are women.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is hosting this year's G8 summit, has spoken publicly about the need for women to participate equally in political, economic and public life. So, will this year's G8 meeting in Germany mark a real watershed in attitudes to women in developing countries? Or will it be business as usual? Campaigners will be watching carefully, ready to hold world leaders to account.
Women's Rights, by Norwich author Geraldine Terry, is published by Oxfam and Pluto Press in July.