Gender violence must cease to be a common currency, IDLO Director-General Irene Khan has said. The statement came during a debate hosted by the World Food Programme in Rome, involving all main international organizations based in the city – FAO, WFP, IFAD and IDLO). “Economic policies that push out smallholders,” Ms. Khan added, “contribute to a damaging feminization of poverty. In this process, young girls, in particular, find themselves at the sharp end of gender violence.”
The WFP-hosted event, which focused on the negative impact of violence against women on food security, also heard from panelist Lourdes Tiban, an Ecuadorean lawmaker of indigenous descent. Gender violence, she said, is not ordained by destiny. Ms. Tiban called for profound cultural shifts at the level of the family, involving the education of children in the spirit of equality. But, she stressed, public policies must also rise to the challenge. “The worst violence done to women in the developing world comes from poverty – from inadequate access to land and to water. There must be cheap credit, and policies that empower rural women.”
The event was opened by WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. She later spoke to IDLO’s news editor, Andre Vornic, about the rationale behind today’s event.
Q: Can you detail the link between violence against women and food security – or rather, food Insecurity?
A: Food security is the ability to have enough food to eat. The reality is, food security is really about inequity. And what inequity is about is lack of power. We know that because women lack power, they often find themselves victims of violence. They’re victims of violence in their homes, they’re victims of violence in their communities, and as a result they cannot provide for their children or for the greater society.
Q: What would you say to a skeptic who might say that it’s a slightly spurious link – and perhaps just a way to ‘sell’ women’s rights to countries that won’t have them otherwise?
A: I’d say they’re wrong. It’s as simple as that. Because we recognize that it is about women having rights, but it’s also about women having opportunity. It’s about women having equitable access to resources. It’s about women having access to land. So it’s not just one issue of ‘women’s rights’. You cannot suggest that if we provide rights to women, they will definitely be food-secure. What we must also provide is power for women to grasp the opportunity that is available to every member of society. And when given these opportunities, women will provide for their own food security. But when they don’t have access to land, or the right to resources in their community, they cannot provide food security for their children. It’s a direct link.
Q: Where do we go from here? After the fine words, what lies ahead?
A: We keep doing the work. Every event like this is a stock-taking. It’s an opportunity to see whence we’ve come, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, but most important, how we go forward. And what excites me about opportunities like today is that they energize people to say, ‘We are making progress, but we must do more. Because the women of the world are depending on us.’