International Development CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by FORWARD

1. Executive Summary

1.1. FORWARD is a dynamic go to African Diaspora women’s organisation with a big agenda to safeguard the dignity, health and human rights of African women and girls. We respond to gender based discriminatory practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and related health disabilities such as obstetric fistula. Our philosophy for making social change happen is based on a process of collective action, personal empowerment and agency. FORWARD vision is that women and girls live in dignity, are healthy and have choices and equal opportunities. We prioritise the needs of girls and young women especially the vulnerable, marginalised and those who live in resource poor settings.

1.2. FORWARD welcomes the new IDC Inquiry on Violence against women and girls and the UK Department of International Development (DFID)’s renewed focus on VAWG. The opportunity for civil society organizations working on VAWG to input into this inquiry process is very much appreciated.

1.3. Naana Otoo-Oyortey Executive Director of FORWARD has worked for the last 20 years in the field of sexual and reproductive health rights and women’s issues as an advocate, trainer and speaker. Naana has played an instrumental role in lobbying for global action to end child marriage and FGM and the rights of African girls and young women.

2. Summary of Key recommendations

2.1. We recommend that the UK strengthen its national FGM strategy in order to demonstrate consistency at international level through the adoption of a comprehensive national action plan which build bridges with countries of origin and safeguards all children at risk globally.

2.2. We propose that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and DFID work alongside European and African governments to develop programmes to support multiple forms of VAWG including child marriage, FGM and honour forms of violence and tackle prevention and support programmes aimed at reducing the triple burden that faces girls in many communities.

2.3. FORWARD recommends DFID continue to invest in and acknowledge the added value of working at grassroots level. We also recommend DFID develop programmes to strengthen civil society Organisation’ at grass roots level—in particular young women’s lead organizations, to enable them to build their capacity in programming and advocacy. This should include facilitating in-country learning, monitoring and evaluations and sharing of work on VAWG.

2.4. This submission calls for DFID to identify innovative ways to engage diaspora communities and civil society organizations in the UK to strengthen their capacity and build on their expertise in tackling particularly cultural forms of VAWG issues in the UK and in their countries of origin.

3. Introduction

3.1. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) has in the past ten years come up on the global development agenda including DFID’s new international development agenda. VAWG is a global human rights violation that affects the lives of millions of girls and women. However, this extreme form of gender discrimination and inequality manifests in different realities in different cultures and settings.

3.2. VAWG encompasses physical, sexual and emotional forms and manifests at every level of society. Some forms of violence such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and honour based violence are often perpetrated in the name of culture, tradition or religion. A number of women and girls are at risk of, or experiencing these manifestations of VAWG alongside domestic and sexual violence. These contexts present different challenges, which need to be taken into consideration in the UK’s development response to VAWG.

3.3. The UK government—namely DFID and the FCO—has taken some notable steps to situate VAWG within its foreign policy agenda. Nonetheless, there are some important gaps which the Government can address to ensure a more comprehensive and effective approach.

4. The Context of VAWG in the UK

4.1 The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has taken a lead role globally on work on forced marriage including the creation of a dedicated Forced Marriage Unit and policy direction; operating both in the UK and internationally. There are a number of valuable lessons to share both at the European level and at the international level.

4.2 In 2012 the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health organized a parliamentary Hearing on child marriage which heard expert witnesses and written submission on child marriage. The recommendations from the event offer valuable guidance for DFID, and the national Government, which should be incorporated into DFID’s VAWG work.

4.3 In 2011, followed by an update in 2012, the Home Office published the VAWG Strategy and Action Plan (The Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls)1 which includes government commitments for VAWG issues on an international level. This strategy also acknowledges the importance of collaborative work between the UK and other nations, and acknowledges the presence of cultural forms of violence which have deep roots in countries of origin.

4.4 DFID’s inclusion of VAWG as one of the four pillars for action in DFID’s strategic Vision for Girls and Women as well as the appointment of a Ministerial Champion for VAWG Overseas highlights the valuable role of coordination and integration as central elements of the VAWG approach.

4.5 In a national context, the Home Office’s “Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls Action Plan: Next Chapter” includes four FGM related action points. Yet, despite this inclusion these action points lack any clear policy commitments. Of particular relevance to this inquiry, the lack of any defined commitments between the FCO, Home Office and UK Border Agency is especially concerning. FGM is a migration, asylum and human rights issue, which affects many women immigrating to the UK from Africa. It is worth noting that two sites of current geo political unrest—Mali and Egypt have FGM prevalence rates as high as 90% 92% respectively.2

4.6 Other developments nationally include the UK Government signing the Council of Europe’s Declaration against VAWG (Istanbul Convention), which provides a comprehensive framework based on prevention, provision, prosecution and protection. Ratification of the Convention will further strengthen the UK’s VAWG related policy framework, and will be a significant symbol internationally of the UK’s commitment to ending VAWG at home, and abroad.

4.7 In the area of FGM, the UK government has had a law in place since 2003. We are now in the 10th anniversary of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. The act, which replaced the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, clearly states that the need to protect UK citizens and permanent residents from being taken abroad for the purpose of FGM. However there is no integrated approach to enforcing the law and key statutory agencies don’t have a statutory obligation in relation to safeguarding children from FGM.

4.8 Additionally the Act does not currently provide explicit protection for temporary residents, or those seeking Asylum. Considering the fact that DFID has been a key contributor to the International donor working group on FGM, and held a meeting in London in December 2012 to share global developments in tackling FGM, it is critical that our domestic laws offer the widest protection possible, in order to demonstrate consistency on the international level.

4.9 DFID has also provided funding for Diaspora organisations through the Common Ground Initiative led by Comic Relief. The initiative provides valuable development funding for Diaspora organisations to strengthen their capacity in the programme areas of VAWG, health and education. However, many Diaspora organisations are too small and lack the capacity to fully access this funding stream and will need innovative small grants scheme to ensure that communities who need to access these funds can be supported to access them.

5. Lessons from FORWARD’s work on VAWG

“I had the interest to continue my education. I miss the school. I feel sorry very much as I failed to continue my education. I couldn’t be successful both in marriage and education. I thought that life would have been easier if get married. But the fact is not like that.

The reason I dropped out of the school is I get married at early age. I didn’t know when I got pregnant. Then I stop going school afraid of others. I wanted to continue my education. Then I give birth. Even after I give birth I had the plan to go back to school but my husband and the villager told me to stay at home to administer my home”

Most people now agree they want to avoid early marriage but still the problem happens with priests and some boys want to get married with young girls. It is difficult for the Government to intervene with the priests as the religion is so much respected here but it is very important. (FORWARD 2012: No Girl should be a Bride; PEER Study in Ethiopia)

5.1. Child marriage has in the last ten years started to appear on the global development agenda. Annually Child Marriage affects 10 million girls worldwide according to data from UNFPA.3 DFID has acknowledged the need to tackle child marriage and early pregnancy in its Four Pillars. However, the focus has been on prevention and delaying first pregnancy. This fails to address the millions of girls already living as child mothers, child brides or child widows. A participatory study conducted by FORWARD in 2012 revealed that development interventions on child marriage continue to focus on girls in schools.

5.2. FORWARD has found that Diaspora communities play an increasing role in effective development work. The temporary or permanent settlement of FGM affected communities in the UK, mean that DFID and the FCO must work together with the Home Office—and on a Pan European basis—to share best practice and strategies for eliminating FGM both nationally, and on an international basis.

5.3. FORWARD also recommends that both DFID and FCO tap into the existing Diaspora networks and local country expertise to build upon on-going development interventions by Diaspora women.

5.4. FORWARD’s programme in Tanzania has shown that even in the case of national legislation criminalising forms of VAWG such as FGM and Child Marriage, the practices may still be prevalent. Thus, FORWARD recommends that DFID adopts a stronger child protection framework as part of its development approach in tackling VAWG in particular cultural forms of VAWG. The predominant focus on social norms approach to FGM ignores the role of government obligations to protect the rights of vulnerable girls and young women

5.5. DFID’s commitments to work to: “delay first [births] and support safe childbirth”; ensure girls have access to secondary school; and prevent violence; are welcome points of focus. FORWARD’s programme work and research in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Ethiopia has discovered a direct link between child marriage, child motherhood and girls being at risk of sexual and domestic violence. This triple burden on girls is often not recognised in development interventions which focus on sole forms of VAWG. Thus, efforts to provide a more comprehensive approach are crucial.

5.6. In addition to this, FORWARD’s work in Africa has also evidenced that there is work to be done with local and national governments in African countries that have a sizeable prevalence of child mothers, and child widows to enable these girls to return to education, access adequate health and social care, and gain economic independence. All these factors are essential in delaying second and third pregnancies as well as reducing the risk of sustained domestic and sexual violence.

6. Recommendations for DFID

6.1. FORWARD recommends DFID alongside the FCO and MoD adopt a comprehensive cross departmental VAWG strategy, which takes account of all forms of VAWG including FGM, child marriage; and also acknowledges the triple burden that some girls and women face as a result of these cultural forms of violence.

6.2. FORWARD recommends that DFID conduct research and commit resources to supporting child mothers and child widows into education, thus enhancing the possibility of economic freedom and helping to reduce the risk of sustained domestic and sexual violence.

6.3. FORWARD recommends DFID develop programme strategies that focus on preventing VAWG and support services for those affected including access to psychosocial support for married girls and young women and their children.

6.4. FORWARD recommends DFID continue to invest in and acknowledge the added value of working at grassroots level. We also recommend DFID develop programmes to strengthen civil society Organisation’ at grass roots level—in particular young women’s lead organisations, to enable them to build their capacity in programming and advocacy. This should include facilitating in-country learning, monitoring and evaluations and sharing of work on VAWG.

6.5. FORWARD recommends that the UK Government ratify the Istanbul Convention, and thus strengthen the UK VAWG policy framework.

February 2013

1 Home Office, Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls, 2012 can be accessed here:

2 UNFPA, FGM: A Statistical Study, 2005, can be accessed at the following address:

3 UNFPA,2012 Marrying Too Young

Prepared 12th June 2013