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Gender equality takes center stage — but will resources reach the grassroots?
an article by Anna Patton, Devex

A month ago, London drew the world’s attention to sexual violence in conflict, with former United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie leading a huge public campaign to end impunity.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during the Girl Summit 2014 in London. Photo by: Paul Shaw / Number 10 Gov / CC BY-NC-ND

click on photo to enlarge

Another high-profile event — the Girl Summit — held in the city last Tuesday [July 22], pushed for an end to female genital mutilation and child marriage within a generation. This unprecedented attention to women’s and girls’ rights — with ministers, ambassadors and first ladies attending last week — was widely welcomed by NGOs.

Sarah Cornish, a gender adviser for Save the Children who has been working on women’s rights and gender-based violence for the past 15 years, told Devex advocates in this area were “lone voices” until relatively recently, and described the summit as “groundbreaking stuff.”

Driven in part by Secretary for State for International Development Justine Greening, the U.K. has had a bumper year for women and girls.

In spring, lawmakers approved legislation requiring all development actions to be gender sensitive. Alongside other commitments made at the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit in June, London is also funding a 35 million pound ($59.43 million) campaign to end FGM in Africa, while the Department for International Development announced last week additional funds of 25 million pounds over five years to help end child, early and forced marriage in 12 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

But with new data revealing the extent of both longstanding practices, representatives from organizations based in the “global south” questioned whether promised resources would actually trickle down to those working directly with communities at risk.

Estimates from UNICEF indicate that 700 million women alive today were married as children, while over 130 million girls and women in the 29 most at-risk countries have undergone some form of FGM. Some countries have made remarkable progress in reducing FGM prevalence; in others, though, it remains widespread. In Somalia, for example, some 98 percent of women are affected.

“If they want to [end] this within a generation, a lot of resources will be needed — not only financial but also human resources,” Peter Ndonwie, co-founder of the Pan-African Organization for Research and Protection of Violence on Women and Children in Ghana, told Devex. “The NGOs have human resources; they are ready to do it — but if they don’t have the finances to go out and do the advocacy, to meet with communities, or support the families, how do you expect they will achieve it?”

Funding concerns are particularly acute for those working in remote areas. Resources are scarcer the further one gets from cities and main roads, said Moses Ntenga from the Ugandan NGO Joy for Children, even though child marriage is more common in rural areas.

In India meanwhile, declining external funding is also placing a strain on organizations. And yet, Arvind Ojha, CEO of the Rajasthan-based NGO Urmul Trust, told Devex: “The quantum of the problem is huge. We have to scale up the small initiatives ... We can’t wait for 20 or 30 years.”

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DfID’s latest idea to support initiatives to end child marriage promises to establish local community-based programs and, according to an official spokesperson, the department is currently “consulting with different groups to find the best way of making sure funding reaches civil society and grassroots organizations.”

Indeed, supporting communities is among the commitments listed in an international charter to which over 235 organizations including 30 national governments have now signed up. Recognizing that “legislation alone is not enough,” the charter also commits signatories to investing in services and gathering better data.

“[Gender equality] is not just my job, it should be everyone’s job,” said Cornish. “We need every health provider on the frontline to be screening for FGM and CEFM. We need the people providing regular services — health, education, all the big pillars — addressing this like it’s their ethical mandate ... We need it to be completely embedded throughout everything we do — otherwise we reach a fraction of the girls that need us because we’re not working through the big institutions and the big programs.”

And for Colin Walker, campaigns manager at Plan UK, FGM and child marriage cannot be addressed as isolated issues; rather, they are just two of the many manifestations of discrimination against girls.

“When boys reach adolescence, the world opens up, opportunities open up. For girls, the opposite happens,” he told Devex. “When a girl reaches puberty, she starts being seen primarily through her reproductive and sexual [roles] ... [She may be] pulled out of school, forced to marry early, forced into household chores. . ...more.

This report was posted on July 30, 2014.