Thursday, 7 January 2010

Girls Count

The Center for Global Development, a US-based organisation, has published its report Girls Count - A Global Investment and Action Agenda. The 100-page document is brand new (December 2009) and nicely presented. It provides lots of gender-disaggregated data (e.g. on schooling, employment and HIV/AIDS), and it promotes the message that investing in adolescent girls is essential for the world's future.
I have not had a chance to read the full document yet, but I am happy it exists! However, at first, quick perusal, I have come across two things that are somewhat disturbing:

(1) Sexual and other gender-based violence at and around schools -an issue frequently raised by adolescent school girls and young women as their number one health and security threat- is not clearly addressed as an obstacle against girls' formal education. It is mentioned on p.59, in the chapter on reproductive health, but swept away with the assertion that women who go to school "are less likely to have sex than those out of school". No identifiable source quoted to support this assertion ("data show that..."). It is upsetting that this extremely serious problem tends to receive so little attention from the "Education for All" crowd.

(2) I am also uncomfortable with the idea that girls are an object to invest in. A recent speech by Hilary Clinton comes with this sentence: "Women and girls are one of the world's greatest untapped resources and a terrific return on investment". Now, while I find it laudable for a senior politician to acknowledge that more resources should be used for women's advancement, I object against being lumped into the image of an "untapped resource" likely to yield a "terrific return on investment". This kind of language, representing women as objects of economic gain, reinforces a logic which is contrary to the idea of women as conscious, autonomous human beings. Women in positions of authority - such as Mrs. Clinton - often end up adopting this "male" vantage point. As you may have noticed, Clinton does not say "we are the greatest untapped resource". I suppose she, too, prefers to define herself as an agent of development - and not an object. In psychology, you call this "identification with the aggressor" or Stockholm syndrome.

Ever heard a phrase of the type "men are one of the world's most ill-used resources, wreaking havoc on our health and security"? Yet...