VSO response to UN Women’s ‘Progress of the World’s Women: In pursuit of justice’
In Pursuit of Justice is a wake-up call to world leaders who are not providing equal legal rights to their female citizens. In many counties there are still too many gaps in the law, which leave women without adequate protection. For others, the laws are barely worth the paper they are written on because implementation is so weak, or justice systems actively discourage women from using them”.
“This report clearly highlights that too much aid is still gender blind. How can it be that out of $126 billion that the World Bank spent on improving public administration, law and justice, just $7.3 million went to make sure that women had access to these vital services too?”
“When UN Women opened its doors in January, it was seen as a critical step in addressing the neglect and under-funding of half the world's population by donors and governments. Yet six months in, only a fifth of its total funding target has been pledged. The reluctance of major donors like the UK to step up is concerning. The UK Government needs to commit £21 million today. Anything less than this target would be a slap in the face for the world’s women.”
“VSO’s YouGov research shows that there is strong UK public support for addressing injustice experienced by women, with more than one in five saying it should be the top priority for UN Women, the second most important priority behind education . Addressing injustice is a key area that UN Women plans to address, with – but without adequate support it won’t be able to address this issue”.
“The message is clear: women across the world can no longer wait. The UK Government needs to commitment a minimum of £21 million in core annual funding today.”
VSO Case Study: A brave woman’s battle against land grabbers in Bangladesh
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Rupia lives in a mud hut by a river in southwest Bangladesh, an area severely affected by climate change. She has lived on this patch of land for over thirty years. To her it is everything – since the death of her husband and two little girls, she has nothing else left.
Way back in 1988, when Rupia was a young mother, a cyclone hit her village. She, her husband and two daughters were at home. “We had just finished eating,” she remembers. “The house collapsed on us. My husband and daughters took my hands and we began running to the cyclone shelter.”
But before they could reach safety, the cyclone swept Rupia’s husband and daughters away. Their bodies were found days later. Rupia’s house, like all the others in the village, was also swept away. The cyclone killed 576 people and destroyed everything Rupia had.
With nowhere to go, Rupia began sleeping at a nearby college. She was very frightened. Like every girl in rural Bangladesh, she had lived with her father until he found a husband for her, so she had never been without the protection of a man. “I was in a very bad way,” she says. “I didn’t even have money to buy proper clothes, I would have to buy old torn saris and patch them.”
Rupia buried her family where their home had been, and over time found work as a maid. As the years went by she learned how to survive on her own, saving enough to re-build a hut next to her family’s grave to live in. Over a period of many years she built three more huts on the land too, which she rented out to students at the local college for £1.50 a month. It was a lonely existence, but having been through so much, Rupia had become strong.
But tragedy struck again in 2004, when Rupia became a target for local land grabbers, who, seeing that she was vulnerable because she had no male protection, tried to force her off her land by claiming she had no legal rights to it. Land grabbing is common in Bangladesh, where climate change has made fertile land the ultimate commodity – leaving poor people whose families’ never had land registration at risk to being thrown out of their homes.
“They came knowing that I had no one and that I was vulnerable,” she says. They thought they would take over my land and build houses and markets. They knew I was a helpless woman. They intimidated me saying it wasn’t my land. They said, ‘You should go home... Your papers are duplicate. You have no place here’… when I protested they beat me up.”
Rupia was easy prey. The land grabbers knew an uneducated woman would be unlikely to navigate the complicate bureaucratic procedures for keeping hold of the land she was on. After all she had been through, Rupia was at risk of losing everything all over again – her home, her livelihood, and even the land her husband and children were buried on. It was at this point that Chandrika, the Executive Director of Nakshikartha, a VSO partner organisation working in women’s rights, heard about Rupia’s plight. She visited her in her home, and remembers her being in a terrible state: “She could not talk properly and was crying all the time. She had gone to several places to ask for help. It took me three days to calm her down.”
Over a period of five long years, Chandrika and Rupia worked to secure Rupia’s land as her own. The battle seemed like it would never end, and involved a lengthy process lobbying local government officials. But eventually, against all the odds, the two women were successful and Rupia now holds a government order to stay on the land.
During this time Rupia received support from members of Nakshikartha’s Women’s Forum, a group set up by VSO volunteer Barbara Massazza. Meeting once a week it is made up of women in the area who, after years of discrimination, are beginning to understand that they have rights. Some are facing similar problems over land; others suffer because of other gender-based problems such as forced early marriage or domestic violence. All are beginning to question why they have so little control over their lives.
For Rupia, the Forum has provided vital support when she has most needed it. “It’s a learning space where we can share ideas and begin to feel confident,” she says. For other women in the group, Rupia has become something of a heroine: her story a symbol that it is possible for women fight against Bangladesh’s intensely patriarchal systems. “Rupia is definitely a brave lady,” says Rashi, a member of the Women’s Forum. “If I ever faced the same problem I now know I can fight.”
Rupia’s story inspires many women here,” says Chandrika. “Many women have found courage through seeing her case. A group of 17 women are currently in a similar to position. Because of the success we had with Rupia we now know we can help.”
Rupia continues to live in her mud hut by the river. She is still renting the three extra huts to students, which gives her enough money to buy her food and saris. For her the important thing is that she stays on her land until the day she dies. And now, thanks to Rupia, Chandrika, Barbara and the Women’s Forum, other women too are finding out about their rights, and are beginning to exercise them.
Media contact: Rachel Trayner on firstname.lastname@example.org, 0208 780 7265, 07738982122.
About VSO’s UN Women Campaign
VSO has led the Godmothers Campaign which has galvanised the public’s support for the UK Government to contribute £21 million in core annual funding to UN Women. It has also been the lead organisation campaigning for the establishment of the new UN agency for the past four years.
VSO is the leading international development charity that works through volunteers. Since 1958 more than 44,000 international volunteers have worked in over 120 countries. Today VSO has more than 1600 international volunteers and 250,000 national volunteers working in 44 countries around the world. With a focus on highly skilled professionals, national volunteering and youth volunteers, VSO’s work reaches 26 million people a year. This includes helping 14.6 million children to receive a better education, three million people to access better quality health care and two million poor and marginalised people to be able to earn a living. For more information visit www.vso.org.uk or @vsouk