Growth, Austerity and Geopolitical Shifts

On 9th November 2012 the United Kingdom (UK) announced that it will end its financial aid to India by the year 2015. New “programmes will take the form of technical assistance,” while “investments in private sector projects” will be expected “to generate a return,” according to its Department of International Development. The UK government goes on to note that the “shift reflects India’s successful transition to become a key part of the global economy.”

This policy shift has also to be contextualized within the current economic situation in the UK, in particular, and Europe more broadly, viz creeping economic downturn and the implementation of sweeping austerity measures.

At first glance, and for those with knowledge of the history of the two countries, this mutually agreed decision marks both the end of an era, and to some degree, the culmination of a complex relationship which spans trade (1600s), colonialism (1858-1947), and aid (post 1948). According to the UK government, the period marking the end of aid to India will entail a focus on trade and technical assistance.

In laying out its rational for ending aid to India, the UK government highlights that in “2010, bilateral trade between the UK and India grew by 20%”, with a “total to £13 billion.” It is important to note that UK goods exported to India grew by 37% while goods imported from India increased by 27%. In addition, Indian investment to the UK is also growing, with several notable deals, including the purchase of Jaguar Land Rover by Tata for £1.15 billion in March 2008.[1]  These recent deals, as well as the decision to end aid, are concrete examples of India and the UK’s economic transitions and a larger geopolitical shift, with implications for trade, international relations and global governance. 

Specifically within the context of development finance, India, as a member of the BRICS,[2] is involved in talks to establish a development bank. To date, with the exception of Russia, a majority of financing is focused on infrastructure development, for mutual benefit in the spirit of South-South cooperation. It remains to be seen, given their differing positions on conditionalities and tied aid, and their national economic interests, the extent to which the proposed bank’s policies and approach will diverge from the ideology of the Washington Concenses.    

The UK’s efforts to embrace “trade not aid” by 2015 in India, which many development advocates and activists have been promoting can be encouraging if there is a level playing field. However, the extent to which this shift will result in a departure from protectionist measures by the UK, such as agricultural subsidies and intellectual property, must be evaluated in part against its bilateral and regional trade policies with India.

In addition, much touted and linked to India’s increasing economic success, albeit uneven geographically and in terms of distribution within its population, specifically along caste and gender lines, is that India’s development efforts have resulted in approximately 60 million people moving out of extreme poverty in the last years. However, even the Indian government acknowledges that inequality and poverty remain challenges to its development, which makes the following question pertinent: will the current Indian development model and increasing neoliberal approach to economic growth result in sustained reductions in poverty and inequality?

by Savi Bisnath, Associate Director, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University
___________________________ I will leave it to the post-structural theorists to comment on the implications of a brand traditionally identified with Englishness being in the hands of the “other.”

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

Invest in Peace and Redefine Security

Have you ever wondered about your government’s spending on the military and the ways in which it impacts the availability of critical social resources? On the first day of the CSW, Monday, March 4, 2013, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership along with partners, the Global Fund for Women and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, convened a panel discussion on the intersections of human security, militarism and violence against women. With a packed room, presenters and the moderator Madhu Mehra, APWLD, stressed the need for a more people centered approach to security as well as the importance of the human rights framework in the shaping of fiscal policies.

Radhika Balakrishnan, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, highlighted that the realization of economic and social rights requires much more than rhetoric to be achieved; it necessitates financial resources. She shared that expenditure and revenue needs to be unpacked in an effort to better understand the ways in which governments are supporting or undermining human rights. One question we all need to ask our government is how does the spending on military and defense compare to the spending on education and health?


Investing in peace requires governments to reallocate financial resources towards initiatives that advance the women, peace and security agenda and Security Council resolution 1325 national action plans, which Azza Kamel, Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development (ACT) and WILPF representative, touched upon during the panel. The increasing militarism, arms flow and violence against women in Egypt threatens women’s rights and the realization of women’s economic and social rights.

As a result of increased militarism worldwide and lack of 1325 implementation, women and girls are left out of peace building processes. Eleanor Nwadinobi, Regional Representative of Sub-Saharan Africa for the DPI/NGO Executive Committee, stressed the importance of including women in peace building processes as well as explained the gendered effects of militarism on women, and the ways in which gender-aware budgeting can help offset some of the negative effects on gender relations caused by militarized societies.

Since the CSW theme was focused on violence against women, panelists made connections between the arms trade and gender-based violence and the unfortunate reality for many women in the world: that peace does not exist and a new definition of peace must be articulated. The linkages between the flow of arms, budgets and gender-based violence are obvious and governments must commit to reallocating resources that support women’s rights.

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Economic Policy is a Women’s Rights Issue

Economic and social rights provide a fundamental standard of decency for evaluating our economic system and holding governments and private actors to account. These human rights are inalienable – individuals cannot have their rights taken away due to political changes or economic crises such as the one we are currently experiencing. The recent global economic crisis is evidence that the economic policies of the past three decades have not worked. In fact, they now threaten the security of basic human rights. The devastation that the crisis has already wrought on the most vulnerable households in the Global North and the Global South is a reminder that the formulation of economic policy and the realization of human rights have, for too long, been divorced from one another.

This is why on March 12th at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) in partnership with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) jointly organized a panel discussion focused on the status of women’s rights during the recent financial crisis, 20 years after the Vienna Conference on Human Rights was held. Although the theme for the 2013 CSW was on the elimination of violence against women, CWGL and OHCHR saw the need to reframe the discussion to include the ways in which economic policies can both support and undermine women’s rights and a life free from violence. The event was moderated by Savitri Bisnath, CWGL’s Associate Director and drew a standing room only crowd, demonstrating the importance of this type of discussion. Panelists made linkages between the economic crisis, budgets, militarism, migration, macroeconomic policies, and economic and social rights.


In times of crisis, people’s access to basic human and financial resources becomes threatened. The linkages between the financial crisis and increases in violence against women were reflected on by Rashida Manjoo, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women its causes and consequences and the featured speaker at the event. As governments decrease spending on social services, there are fewer resources available for vital women’s crisis centers that seek to support survivors of violence and prevent future cases from occurring. She gave a specific country example from Cambodia in which the situation of violence against women is increasing and specifically domestic violence as a result of the financial crisis. Violence against women and austerity policies significantly impede the realization and enjoyment of freedom and equality for women.

Panelist Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, the Executive Director of Isis-WICCE, an international women’s rights organization based in Uganda, noted the ways in which fiscal policies and budgetary allocations of a country in conflict/post-conflict impact women’s access to basic services. She spoke about the impact of militarism and violence on women’s livelihoods and their ability to achieve economic autonomy. One example she provided was that of a girl gang raped by 16 military men. As a result of the rape, the young girl had fistula and HIV which led her to being ostracized; she became homeless, and lacked access to water/sanitation and critical health provisions. “This situation is the same for thousands of women,” Ruth explained. Clearly, more funding is needed for women’s rights and not the military and as a result of these experiences CWGL has begun a project to redefine security. The security project seeks to collect data from women’s rights group worldwide and redefine security in an effort to demonstrate to governments that their budgetary allocations do not match up with the priorities of women.

Speaking from her experiences with WOREC in Nepal, Renu Rajbhandari, stressed the significance of ending impunity in seeking justice for women who experience violence at the hands of the local law enforcement. Renu also reflected on the life of migrant women and the continuous discrimination and exploitation they endure by state and non-state actors. It is the compounding of human rights retrogressions, neoliberal trade agreements, and pervasive violence as well as customary laws that keep women as second class citizens in Nepal and in the region. These cases are at the center of what is wrong with economic policy.


Rather than securing the basic well-being of all, governments are putting forth austerity as a solution to the crisis which is not only unacceptable, but has been shown to not even produce the desired outcomes to reduce debt and increase growth. It is clearly time to assess economic policy using the ethical lens of the universally-recognized human rights framework and Maarit Kohonen Sheriff, on behalf of OHCHR, did just that in her presentation. She provided an overview of legally binding international human rights obligations to guarantee the realization of human dignity and those rights that promote dignity such as the right to food, housing, health, education and work. The framework which is articulated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), makes clear links to the human rights principles progressive realization and non-retrogression; and while 160 Member States have ratified this treaty, the existence of gross human rights violations is an enduring reality in all countries.

Finally, Radhika Balakrishnan, CWGL’s Executive Director, concluded the panel with a call for the UN and advocates alike to see macroeconomic policies as a women’s rights and feminist issue. Even amid plenty, levels of inequality persist and while countries rhetorically agree with human rights, policies and implementation practices remain weak. Fiscal policies and monetary policies impact available jobs and social spending which can increase levels of inequality and severely hinder the realization of economic and social rights. Radhika stressed that, “austerity is not working for us,” and although governments are committing to human rights, their practices are significantly undermining people’s ability to live with dignity as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The event provided a space to unpack the connections between economic and social rights, militarism, women’s rights and economic policy. Panelists explained the stark reality of people’s lives and the gaps between policy and implementation. If economic policy is not addressed when discussing the achievement of gender equality and financial resources are not allocated, then government’s actual commitment to women’s rights is naught.

by March Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

More Than Just a Theme: Violence Against Women and Girls

The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women began earlier this week with Member States coming together to discuss and reach an agreement on this year’s theme of “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls” and on the review theme of “the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”.

Civil society organizations, inter-governmental bodies, and human rights activists are here to observe and advocate with Member States to do the right thing and make concrete conclusions that will respond with due diligence toward violence against women and girls, domestic and intimate partner violence, and will ensure that all women and girls have access to health services and have ownership of their bodies and reproductive rights.

In observing the statements made by Member States these past few days, I have heard a lot of repetition of support for the theme. Almost all Member States support comprehensive work on this theme. Many have spoken about major gains their countries have made in expanding the rights of women, especially in terms of protection and support services in the cases of rape, HIV/AIDS, domestic and intimate partner violence, and reproductive health. The truth of these statements is not clear because data collection and monitoring and evaluation in most countries is weak or severely lacking.

It is shocking that all of these Member States support the elimination of violence against women and girls when they are at the UN table, but in every region of the world, many women vulnerable to violence and discrimination continue to live on the margins of their communities. In order to change this negative state, governments must first honestly engage with the problem by identifying its root causes of patriarchy, economic inequality and lack of access, harmful traditional practices, and use human rights based solutions. They must remember that violence against women and girls is not just a theme to consider for two weeks, but that it is a lived reality for women and girls across the world.

Something that has stuck out is the number of states and regional organizations that have indicated the family as the center of resolution of violence against women, failing to consider that in many cases, violence against women begins and ends within the family. European, Central and Latin American, South East Asian, and North American countries are some that have spoken of reproductive health and rights. Beside the European Union countries, there hasn’t been impressive verbal support calling for an end to discrimination and violence against LGBT communities nor for women’s reproductive rights, especially abortion. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) have been completely left out of the conversation, save for the statement made by Ireland for the European Union, and the civil society organization Latin American and Caribbean Committee for Defense of Women’s Rights.

As the CSW57 enters its second and final week, there will hopefully be not only a set of agreed conclusions on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, but that we will have real and substantial support for implementation measures on access to health and reproductive rights and services, protection from honor, culture, tradition as an excuse for violence against women and girls, protection of women human rights defenders from state and non-state perpetrators, a steadfast resolve to end impunity and ratify and implement CEDAW, UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions, and other human rights agreements. 

by Zarin Hamid, Consultant, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University


As the global coordinator of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership is doing its part at the 57thsession by working in solidarity with likeminded national and international groups fighting for an end to gender based violence, an end to impunity enjoyed by state and non-state actors, fulfillment and protection the human rights of all people, and an end to the culture of militarism that reinforces gender inequalities and violence in our communities around the world. We have submitted our written statements to the CSW57 directly urging Member States to act through substantial means to protect, prevent, and promote.