Development policy aims to redress the imbalances that exist between the developed and developing worlds, taking from the world’s richest and giving to the poorest. It is a policy based on fairness, aiming to help those who are less well developed to catch up with those who are more developed. But if it is a policy that is trying to promote fairness, why is it so sexist?
In recent decades the efforts made by philanthropic forces to help the developing world have multiplied. Richer countries have become far more committed to helping their less affluent counterparts confront the problems that are threatening their health and wellbeing. But paradoxically in too many cases they fail to achieve this, as they use the structures and dynamics that already exist within society, which privilege those who are most fortunate and bypass those who are the most vulnerable.
Across the developing world women are treated as second class citizens. Despite making up half the population, invariably they are denied the right to a full education and a free choice of their destiny. Society too often dictates that a woman’s role should revolve around getting married, raising a family and a hermitic existence maintaining a household. And as a result in many countries it is rare to find a woman of childbearing age still in education or professional employment. Women are to be found in the home, deprived of the professional and personal liberties that their husbands will enjoy.
And the battle that women are confronted with is not just one based on ideology; for the reality of the segregated and pre-decided existence that they are forced to endure will often be brutal, consisting of systematic rape from the early teens, greater risk of contracting HIV than men, early pregnancy against their will and the single greatest danger that all young women in developing countries will face: early childbirth. This is far greater than the fight that European women were involved in one hundred years ago.
Denied access to most areas of society, in turn young women will not be found in the structures and institutions that bring people together. And it is these structures that will tend to be the recipients of development aid, seen by the West as neat, cost-effective and sector-specific means for channelling their funds. So in turn women will be bypassed by the majority of development aid, and it has been calculated that they will receive less than two cents in every development dollar.
But there is a message of hope, which we, the French Parliamentarians in Action, are calling upon G8 Leaders to hear in their negotiations. Women have been proven to use money more wisely than men, reinvesting 90 percent of their income in their family, whilst men will only reinvest 30 or 40 percent. Furthermore, educated young women have been shown to have fewer children than their non-educated counterparts, and their children will be healthier.
For this reason on 16th and 17th May Members of Parliaments from around the world who support the importance of women in population and development issues will gather with experts from the academic and professional communities at the National Assembly in Paris, France. Ahead of the G8 Heads of Government Summit in Deauville we will be discussing the importance of acting to prioritise “Girls and Population: the forgotten drivers of Development”, and generating a global call to the G8 leaders to recognize and address the importance of girls in population dynamics. For they are our most vulnerable and valuable asset, and are at the root of all development challenges.
I therefore hereby call upon members of the international community to put girls at the heart of their development agendas. It is time to end the victimization of the developing world’s most valuable asset.
Danielle Bousquet, MP, is Head of the French Parliamentarians in Action and Vice- President of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development.