despite what we see on TV, Donald Trump isn’t the only news event on Earth

For those who are as irritated by the incessant wall to wall coverage of US politics – and their president – as I am. For The Guardian:

When I enter a room where CNN is on, I ask for the channel to be changed or the television to be switched off. I admit it’s an odd kind of political act, but in Nigeria, where I live, CNN reports only one story: Donald Trump. And it is a story that needs to stop crowding out the rest of the world.

It’s not just CNN – the international news media are global in name and audience reach only. Always tilting more to the US and Europe in terms of coverage, they have become increasingly obsessed with the new president, as have many people around the world. From newspapers and television to social media feeds and the conversations we have, the latest in the Trump saga is never far away.

This critique is not so much directed against those living in the US as it is at the rest of us. Given the scale and scope of the decisions being made and their impact on everything from women’s rights to racial justice to national security, it is understandable why those living there are completely consumed by what is happening in the White House. But for the rest of us this dominance at the expense of a more holistic global picture is profoundly troubling.

President Trump’s executive order keeping out refugees for 120 days and barring people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from entering the country for three months triggered outrage and protests across the world, and quite rightly. Untold column inches, tweets, airtime and conversations have been given over to discussing this decision, the protests against it and judicial rulings since. However, similar outrage and actions seem conspicuously missing in other areas.

Exactly a week after the executive order was announced, two United Nations reports documented events happening elsewhere that have all but gone unnoticed. In Afghanistan, the 2016 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in a single year since records started in 2009. There has been a 24% increase in the number of children killed and injured compared to 2015.

More human rights violations documented against members of the Rohingya community in Myanmar include the burning of houses and the destruction of property, looting, beatings, sexual violence, forced disappearances and killings. Stories include mothers seeing their children being killed, women being gang-raped by up to eight men, people being rounded up and taken away, and the army deliberately setting fire to houses with families inside.

How many of you reading know this is happening in Afghanistan or Myanmar?

People standing up against Trump’s executive order is a welcome corrective to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and activity in much of Europe and the US in the last few years. However, it seems we only care about discrimination when committed by certain governments.

The focus on the US means there are big stories we continue to overlook. A series of protests in South Korea, which started in October 2016, brought down the president. The rallies, with more than a million protesters turning out on some days, led to a motion for impeachment passed by almost 80% of legislators.

On the same day as the US elections, the Indian government decided that all Rs500 and Rs1,000 (£6 and £12) notes would no longer be valid. Millions formed long queues at banks to redeem their cash, with those without access to banking, especially women, left behind. Yet there was hardly any reporting and analysis of what was happening, and its potential regional and global impact.

On the day of Trump’s inauguration, military forces from Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana had crossed the borders into the Gambia. The country had two presidents: Yahya Jammeh, who at first refused to step down, and Adama Barrow, the winner of the 2016 elections, inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal. That the situation was resolved with only minor clashes is testament to the further entrenchment of democratic practices in west Africa, but these developments went largely unnoticed, even in the region, in favour of the pageantry in Washington DC.

I have had to struggle to keep up with these events, and to find thoughtful analysis of them amid the bombardment of Trump-focused news and commentary. This is not to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to what is happening in the US. In many areas, such as climate change, the position of its government has profound consequences for us all. But the whole world really does not need rolling coverage and analysis, with the minutiae of detail being reported and discussed right now.

I agree it is difficult to tear ourselves away from this strange political soap opera. As much as the horror at decisions and statements being made, the world is captivated by its entertainment value, politics as spectacle. The reach of US culture, its films, television and music, has made many who have never visited invested in what happens, particularly as the news media seem insistent in bringing us a steady diet of Trump.

But, the USA’s influence is decreasing. We are no longer living in the 1950s, in an era of a single global superpower. In the world of 2017, there have been big global shifts in power. China and India will make up 37% of the world’s population by 2030, and have an increasing share of the global economy. Culturally, the influence of Bollywood, Nigerian music and telenovelas reach far beyond their nations and even continents. We are far from equipped to recognise and analyse what all of this means. After all, how many of us can discuss the viewpoints of Trump’s inner circle and what they mean, but fail to even name five influential Chinese politicians? We need to decolonise our news media and our minds, and stop living in the past.

 

Advertisements

what does a feminist internet look like?

I attended a fantastic session on the feminist internet at the AWID Forum then wrote this for The Guardian.

Dance like nobody is watching, sing like nobody is listening and email like it will be read out in court. Or so Nadine Moawad of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) joked. Feminist activists from around the world were in a conference room in Brazil, discussing what a feminist internet might look like. How did we get here?

The number of prosecutions for violence against women and girls in England and Wales is at record levels. According to a report published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last week, 2015-16 saw a 10% increase on the year before. A rising trend is the use of the internet, social media and other forms of technology to harass, intimidate, humiliate and control women and girls.

And this is not just a UK phenomenon. These findings match the results of a study released in May this year that found more than 6,500 individuals had been subjected to 10,000 aggressive and misogynistic tweets over a three-week period in the UK, and 80,000 people had been targeted by 200,000 such tweets internationally.

Although the violence women and girls experience online has received growing attention from the media, politicians and technology companies, what is often missing from conversations is the fact that some women are fighting back. Activists are taking action against online abuse and working towards a feminist internet. When discussing women and the internet, we need to also talk about how feminists are working to reclaim the space.

Last week, I attended the 13th international forum organised by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development in Bahia. The AWIDForum brought together feminist activists from across the world to imagine feminist futures. We spent an entire day working to #ImagineAFeministInternet – and preventing and responding to violence against women and girls was just one part of what this looks like.

Sessions were led by the APC. In 2014, the APC brought together activists to develop the feminist principles of the internet. They were revised and published in August this year and cover themes of access, movements and public participation, economy, expression and agency. They state that a feminist internet is one where women and LGBT people have affordable and equal access and are able to create, design and use technologies to challenge sexism and discrimination. It is one where feminists’ use of the internet is linked to resistance in other spaces and where the internet allows us to connect and demand accountability.

In this future, there are more feminists and LGBT people in internet governance, making decisions and creating technologies, in contrast to the current male domination of this space. According to Facebook’s own figures released in 2015, men made up 68% of all employees, 77% of those in senior leadership and 85% of those working in technology. Twitter’s 2015 figures reveal that men make up 66% of the company, 87% of those in tech jobs and 78% of those in leadership. Google is no better – men make up 69% of all employees, 76% of those in leadership and 81% of those in technical jobs.

These three companies are indicative of the sector as a whole. There is a problem with ethnicity as well as gender, particularly when it comes to who runs companies. At Google for example, even though white people make up 57% of those in tech positions and 59% of the company overall, they hold 70% of leadership positions. This is despite women spending more time on social media than men globally – 5.88 hours compared to 4.75 hours – and the history of women in computing and technology. It was women like Ada Loveleace after all who were the pioneers of computer programming and women made up over two-thirds of those working at Bletchley Park during the second world war.

A feminist internet also enables us to challenge the ways capitalism plays out in technological spaces and underlies the drive towards profit, privatisation and control. What does it mean when the primary spaces for so many public and private interactions, including activism, are owned by corporations from one part of the world, run by mainly white men? We need to create alternative forms of economic power around technologies. Using and sharing information about free and open-source software, tools and platforms is key to this.

A feminist internet also allows us to harness the power of the internet to convey the realities of women’s lives to the world and to ensure freedom of sexual and gender expression. It takes agency and consent seriously, designing them into thinking, planning and technology. Women need to be able to make informed decisions of what information about themselves will and will not be online, to realise their rights to privacy, digital security and full control over their data. The Snowden revelations about the extent of surveillance are a feminist issue. Surveillance has been used to police black communities for centuries and to restrict women and their movement, speech and activism. It is a real threat to women who defend human rights. This needs to change

And yes, a feminist internet is one where online violence against women is taken seriously and addressed. This year marks 10 years of the groundbreaking Take Back the Tech campaign, during which thousands of activists have come together in creative ways, online and offline, to prevent violence against women and girls. Examples include the Women of Uganda Network’s SMS campaign mobilising individuals to speak out and stand against violence against women and girls, and #MyFirstHarassment, which spurred thousands of women in Brazil, Mexico and other countries to talk about sexual harassment and abuse online and with families and friends after sexual comments were made about a 12-year-old girl on the Brazilian version of Junior MasterChef.

As Zara Rahman writes, there are a number of tools today that support feminist ideas, from Are Men Talking Too Much, a handy way to check who’s dominating the conversation, to Gender Decoder or Textio, which checks bias in job adverts and reveals the language that encourages different people to apply.

So the next time there is a discussion of women in tech, online bullying or misogynistic trolls, look at Take Back the Tech and GenderIT.org for ideas and inspiration, re-read the feminist principles of the internet – and join the many activists working to make a feminist internet possible.

the Chibok girls are just one part of the ordeal of women in north-east Nigeria

Written for The Guardian in the wake of a video released showing some of the Chibok girls and demanding the release of fighters in exchange for them.

Are they the Chibok girls?” Every time there is news of the women and girls held by Boko Haram – as Jama’at Ahlus-Sunnah Lida’awati wal-Jihad (JAS) is commonly known – this is always one of the first questions; and the answer is usually no.

Then last Sunday JAS released a video apparently showing some of the girls, and demanded the release of fighters in exchange for them.

don’t forget the girls kidnapped in Nigeria: they need help more than ever

On women and girls kidnapped (including but not limited to those from Chibok) for The Guardian:

Nigeria makes headlines all too often these days – for the wrong reasons. Indeed, for the past 18 months whenever I have been outside Nigeria, people always want to know: “What happened to those girls?” They are talking about the 276 girls taken from Chibok government secondary school in April 2014. They form part of a total of at least 2,000 women and girls kidnapped between January 2014 and April 2015, who have sparked protests around the world and the intervention of high-profile figures and celebrities ranging from Michelle Obama to Chris Brown.

But almost two years on the political statements and media reports have yet to translate into meaningful help for the women and girls who come back. Report after report has documented the brutal realities of their existences under the control of Jama’at Ahlus-Sunnah Lida’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram: they are forcibly married to fighters and subjected to rape and other sexual violence. But it is important to not only see the women and girls involved with Boko Haram as victims. Many try to escape. Others choose to ferry weapons, indoctrinate and recruit or will take part in attacks. While the focus on women’s involvement with Boko Haram has been within the context of abductions, it is important to remember that many women and girls choose to join for reasons ranging from economic to ideological in motive, just as men and boys do. There is a spectrum between force and choice, victimhood and agency that belies simplistic assumptions based on gender stereotypes.

Not much is known about the situation once the women who were abducted, and their children, are back in their communities. A report by International Alert and Unicef published today is the first to examine what happens next. I was part of analysing the key findings with researchers and believe they have much to say about what needs to happen.

In general, survivors of violence usually want and need healthcare, counselling and help reintegrating into their families and communities. The report found it was no different in Maiduguri. However, although assistance was reaching survivors, researchers found this was far from adequate given the breadth and depth of the women and girls’ needs and the trauma they had experienced. It was also uneven. People spoke of those who arrived at internally displaced camps first or were in older camps having better access and quality of services and goods. Women and girls living in host communities reported not receiving any services at all. Importantly, abortion is only permitted to save the life of the mother, leaving women and girls who have become pregnant with few choices. Although a majority of women interviewed wanted to continue their pregnancy, not all were willing or able to care for the children while some had tried to abort the pregnancy using local methods.

These women and girls are stigmatised and feared by many. Referred to as “Boko Haram wives” or annoba (epidemics), people are afraid they have been indoctrinated – and will spread these views. Some husbands divorced wives on their return. Given the lack of economic opportunities, this leaves them facing destitution.

The children they have given birth to, whose biological fathers are Boko Haram fighters, are also viewed with fear and suspicion. They are considered “hyenas among dogs”, to have bad blood and are assumed likely to be the next generation of fighters. After all, “a child of a snake is a snake”. As a result, children, including babies, and their mothers are being ostracised and left at risk of further violence.

However, many family members have shown acceptance. Much depends on whether the woman or girl left willingly or was abducted, how long they had been married to their husbands and whether they had children together. Many cited Qu’ranic verses that men should take back their wives if they are in captivity for less than five and a half years and accept any child born as their own. Most people viewed the women and girls as victims – but felt they needed to go through a deradicalisation and rehabilitation programme before reintegrating back into the community.

It is easy to know what to think about “innocent” women and girls who are abducted and in captivity. There is less certainty when they return when there has been some element of choice or when they have played some part in attacks. Community reactions are understandable if women and girls have played active roles and given the trauma communities themselves have experienced. These fears have been exacerbated by stories circulating of women and girls returned from captivity murdering their parents.

Understanding and nuance is needed in response. The concerns of communities need to be addressed, but the solution is not to view all women and girls with suspicion, stigmatise and marginalise them further and infringe on their human rights. They need high-quality, long-term, ongoing care as well as conscious efforts to address and respond to community fears. The current insufficient and partial nature of services available needs to be redressed. This includes the right to choose whether to continue pregnancies. At minimum, alternative care systems for children that are monitored and regulated should be established. Concerted efforts are needed to address the biological determinism that affects how these children are viewed, not just now but at various stages over the next few decades as they grow up.

So far, the scale of needs has outstripped response. If urgent action is not taken then this trend is only set to increase as more women and girls return. In 2014, abductions in Nigeria captured the attention of the world’s media, politicians and public. It’s now time to translate some of that into meaningful and long-term support for the women and girls – and their children – who have come back.

why strategy in Northeastern Nigeria needs to shift from the state to the people

Written for and published by Ventures Africa back in early December. Since then, the government has declared mission accomplished up in the NE. Hmmm….

We have under a month left before peace and security reign in the North East of Nigeria. Or so President Muhammadu Buhari would have us believe. Since assuming office, the President has repeatedly pledged to defeat Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati wal Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, by December. Although this deadline is quickly approaching, and the Chief of Defence Staff recently confirmed Operation Lafiya Dole is on course to meet this target, it doesn’t appear that it’s time to start the countdown just yet.

During his inauguration announcement, Buhari started to outline his strategy for defeating JAS by stating plans to move the Command Centre to Maiduguri. He later appointed service chiefs with knowledge of the region, increased troop presence and intensified army action. While Buhari’s actions show his commitment to ending the violence and this increased focus and political will is welcome, saying the conflict may be over by the end of December seems wildly optimistic at best.

Many people view these pronouncements with profound skepticism. Timelines for military victory are notoriously difficult to predict. Setting a firm deadline and focusing strategy on military action also shows poor understanding of the nature of the conflict. We are no longer fighting wars where states fight to control territory, but rather battles where opposing forces struggle to gain people’s allegiances to their side. This means a step change in thinking is needed to bring about sustainable peace and security to the region. Fundamentally, the administration needs to make people believe it cares about them and puts their interest first. Moving military strategy from merely fighting JAS to a holistic people-centred approach is not just better for the individuals and communities, but is crucial for operational effectiveness and mission success.

Indeed, given the average insurgency of this sort typically lasts around fifteen years, it proves imperative not to make grandiose claims highly likely to fail. These statements will be seen as the PR tricks they are. Nigeria needs to learn from its own experiences as well as those of other countries if the people of the North East, and those elsewhere in the country who have experienced violence, are to stop suffering. The government must tackle the frustration at inequality, corruption and human rights abuses that drive recruitment into JAS, rather than aiming solely to kill JAS fighters.

The peoples of the North East have suffered greatly over the past few years. In 2014, Nigeria recorded the second highest number of deaths related to terrorism worldwide after Iraq, with 7,512 people killed and JAS noted as the group associated with the most fatalities globally. Although not all of these people killed lived in the North East, the region has seen some of the most intense violence in Nigerian history. An estimated 15,000 civilians have been killed in the region in total. JAS abducted at least 2,000 women and girls between the start of 2014 and April 2015. Boys too have been abducted, forced to join the group and killed in their beds, as in Buni Yadi in February 2014. Over 2.2 million people have been displaced from their homes. With increasing numbers of people fleeing violence and a lack of systematic support, there is a heightening emergency, with concerns around how people will have enough to eat. In recent weeks we have seen attacks on mosques during prayer time and a potential escalation in bomb blasts detonated by female and male suicide bombers against a background of intensifying military action.

Unfortunately, even though most people believe JAS is the one that has perpetrated the majority of harm to them and their families, they also feel the impact of security force action. There is mutual distrust between security agencies and communities. Agencies tend to assume all civilians are potential JAS members and act accordingly. Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) spoke to civilians in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe and Yobe. Their recent report found security forces have failed to protect vulnerable communities from violence and failed to prevent collateral damage during counter JAS operations.

Security forces have directly targeted civilians with unlawful detention, harassment, destruction of property, sexual violence, indiscriminate targeting of certain groups such as young men, torture, and excessive use of force causing injury and death. The CIVIC report is the latest in many reports to show how security forces have unlawfully killed, arrested suspects without cause and held people in detention without safeguards against murder, torture and ill-treatment. For example, more than 7,000 people, mainly men and boys, died in military detention between March 2011 and June 2015.

Although overlooked and under-reported, there are also reports that security forces are engaging in sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and violence of women and girls. Friends in Maiduguri tell me of soldiers ‘misusing our girls’ with women and girl hawkers in particular at risk. For example, in their report, CIVIC published the account of a student who saw a military official raping a young female hawker.

In addition to these abuses, slow response also encourages mistrust between security agencies and communities. Both civilians and security officials believe security agencies are deployed only to defeat JAS, not to protect civilians. The military has either done nothing or been slow to act when communities have raised the alarm about potential attacks or asked for assistance in their aftermath.

What happened around the abductions from Chibok in April 2014 is symptomatic of this. People in other communities have also detailed potential targets, such as unprotected schools, abandoned checkpoints and unresponsive security forces when needed. Communities are suspicious this delay is due to JAS fighters’ infiltration of security forces. There are also rumours that politicians and senior military officials are financing JAS.

These dynamics risk alienating the population, meaning people are unlikely to either come to officials with security concerns or help military actions. This leads to further danger of radicalising the population. If communities feel victimised by security forces, they are likely to obstruct operations or even to support JAS.

It is important to retool military strategy to gain the trust and support of communities enduring the most of the violence. People in the North East are the primary victims and survivors of JAS attacks, Nigerian military abuses and the actions of forces of neighbouring states. People feel violence by JAS has intensified due to security forces’ aggressive campaign, which has not only failed to protect civilians but also caused significant direct and indirect harm.

The government may succeed in reclaiming all territory by the end of December. But this is not the same as ‘defeating’ JAS. The group has shown it is capable of morphing to adapt to changing dynamics. After Mohammed Yusuf was killed, the sect dispersed. The military thought that killing its leader was enough to deal with the threat. In 2013, nobody would have believed JAS would attempt to hold territory and succeed. The consensus was that there would never be suicide attacks in the country: people thought Nigerians love life too much. Sadly, developments over the years show how false these assumptions were.

Without addressing the root causes of why JAS exists and what is driving recruitment into the sect, it is likely that, come January 2016, JAS will merely mutate into something new. For example, we may see an uptick in bomb blasts and suicide attacks. Unfortunately, we seem to have become inured to bombs going off in Abuja, Adamawa, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Yobe – but attacks may start taking place outside the ‘usual’ areas. Alternatively, JAS may pursue a strategy of infiltrating government, business and civic life, as Al Shabab have done in Somalia.

In thinking through how to deal with the situation, we would do well to remember why JAS was so popular in the first place. A protest movement against corruption perceived by followers as resisting inequities and injustices of ‘Western’ governance, its call for a return to a ‘purer’ way that Islam was seen to offer, had support from many in the general population. This is the reason why so many people in Borno have at least one family member who is or was a member. Furthermore, President Buhari himself in his inaugural address noted the extra-judicial murder of Mohammed Yusuf by the security forces was influential in its rise.

The history of the armed forces in Nigeria has been one of protecting the state not the people. Sixteen years after the transition to democracy, this needs to change. The focus should now be on human security not state security. This means ensuring security forces act above reproach, follow human rights and humanitarian principles in all operations and address frustrations at inequality and corruption as well as trying to gain military victory. As the military steps up, it is important to remember what, or rather who, it is fighting for and keep its eyes on the prize. After all, success means not just winning the hearts and minds of the population but safeguarding their very lives and well-being as well.

 

women, disability and conflict – why we should say and do more

The number of documents I have read on the experiences of women and girls with disabilities during times of conflict and violence in all my years of peacebuilding do not take even two hands to count. And I have gone looking for them. This lack of evidence is one of the main reasons why I am so happy to have been involved in the study What Violence Means to Us: Women With Disabilities Speak. Led by women with disabilities themselves, this research examines the situation for women in Plateau, one of Nigeria’s most conflict affected states.

Grace Jerry (one of the report’s co-authors) and I discuss research findings in this recording.

We also wrote conflict deepens dangers and worsens exclusion for women with disabilities for The Guardian:

Conflict can be both a cause of disability and a devastating complication for those already living with disabilities. Although all disabled people are affected, women face intersecting discrimination because of their gender and disability.

There is little research on the experiences of women and girls living with disability in conflict. To fill this gap, Inclusive Friends, a disability rights organisation, and the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme studied the implications of violence for women and girls living with disability in Plateau state, where there has been sporadic violence along ethno-religious lines and between farmers and pastoralists for the past 15 years.

Women with disabilities led and participated in the research, which found that women’s experiences during conflict were an extension of the difficulties they lived with during peace time.

Daily life for those with disabilities in Plateau, and elsewhere in Nigeria, is bleak. Families rarely send disabled children to school and many keep them indoors to protect them or to hide them. Women said healthcare is often inaccessible – physically, financially and because staff have little knowledge of how to manage care for patients with disabilities. Workplaces are also inaccessible: many employers presume that disabled women have poor intellectual skills, and customers may be reluctant to buy goods from them.

Violent conflict exacerbates this reality. Women with disabilities find it difficult to flee violence and are often left behind. The study found that in one village in Riyom, members of the community locked all those who were elderly or had disabilities in a room before an attack; but the room was set on fire when the attackers came.

People with hearing impairments might not hear warnings, gunshots and sounds of others running away, and so remain behind, in danger. People with visual impairments might not know what is happening, exactly where they are, or how to escape. We heard of visually impaired women who were deliberately left in unsafe areas. We also heard of women who mistakenly ran towards the attackers and were raped and killed.

The family of Godiya* left her behind when violence broke out. Unable to walk, she tried to crawl along the ground to escape. But then she fell into a river and almost drowned before someone walking by rescued her. She told us she still wonders what would have happened to her had the passer-by not come to her aid.

Even when they are able to escape, women with disabilities might have to leave behind mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, medicine and hearing aids. This can lead to long-term health consequences and restrict their independence. If their caregivers have left the area, the women may become completely dependent on others.

Camps for internally displaced people (IDP) are often difficult to navigate for those with mobility problems or other disabilities. We have heard of men forcing disabled women and girls to have sex with them in exchange for “help” getting food and water. In the Jos North district, 15 out of 35 women with disabilities spoke of violations in IDP camps.

During peace and conflict, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience gender-based violence but are less likely to be able to escape, speak up, to be believed, or to access services. Globally, women with disabilities aretwice as likely to experience domestic violence and up to three times more likely to be raped by a stranger or acquaintance.

Because women with disabilities rely on those in power, the risks of sexual violence and abuse are greater. When asked to identify perpetrators of violence, most of the women we interviewed named caregivers and family members – followed by security agents. We heard of female students experiencing violence from those charged with helping them. In one case, a student who was supposed to be helping a visually impaired woman to transcribe her notes raped her. She became pregnant and had to drop out of university.

When Uhuam* went into labour, her family were shocked and confused, as she had been confined to a room in the family home. They later found out that a male neighbour had sneaked in when no one was around and raped her. During our research, we heard from girls with mental and intellectual disabilities whose parents had injected them with contraceptive implants in case men raped them.

Godiya and Uhuam were among many women who felt that no one was helping them. They said they were not included in existing projects, and definitely did not benefit from programmes designed for them. Most said they received no assistance from community leaders or social services. When we spoke to people working in civil society, almost four-fifths said their organisations had no programmes to mitigate violence against women with disabilities.

The main reason decision-makers do not take these realities and needs into account is because women with disabilities are not involved in policymaking. Although there is increasing recognition of the need to put women at the centre of peace and security efforts, women and girls with disabilities are rarely included explicitly.

This general exclusion leads to further marginalisation, and undermines any hope of maximising their unique perspectives, skills and talents. Worldwide, people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, making up 15% of the global population, or one billion people. Three-quarters of people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries are women.

As development, security, peacebuilding and women’s rights activists, professionals and officials, we need to start thinking about women with disabilities when designing and implementing laws, policies and interventions. Our work has to protect, empower and include them. If we do not, we are failing.

The report is available to read here.

bombs ready to explode? unearthing the relationship between Africa’s youth, unemployment and violence

At the top of my list of lazy assumptions people make about peace and security that I hate (should really create that list one day) is that violence is caused by high numbers of ‘idle youth.’ I wrote this for Ventures Africa examining the extent to which it is true.

A hungry man is an angry man.’

This phrase is often used to connect youth unemployment, poverty and violence. A dire warning, it is meant to act as a call to action. But, is there any evidence to prove this link exists?

Half the current population of Sub-Saharan Africa is under 25 years old. In Somalia, 62.9 percent of the population is under 24. The median age in Nigeria is 14.

A country with more people of working age can be good for the economy and development. However, rather than viewing these demographic changes as positive, there seems to be an unyielding anxiety of what this ‘youth bulge’ could mean in terms of peace and security.

After all, high economic growth, seen in many African countries, has not led to job creation. This is true in Nigeria where the last decade has seen both economic growth of 7 percent and double the rate of unemployment. At the same time, modernity and globalization have increased the gap between the hopes of young people and their realities. Once you see how others are living, you tend to be less satisfied with your own lot in life. Adding to this, state and non-state institutions have weakened and are struggling to cope. These changes are taking place against a backdrop of increased insecurity and violence, with young people at the center of these conflicts.

The combination of these factors has led to oversimplified assumptions about the relationship between increased youth populations, high unemployment and violence.

“People say that young unemployed people cause armed conflict,” said Kimairis Toogood of International Alert, a peace building organisation. ‘They say this without any nuance, without looking at the different factors contributing to youth frustration and grievances and without any evidence backing this up.”

‘Youth’ have become a threat and a source of worry. ‘Idle youth’ are seen as ticking time bombs, ready to be activated at any moment. They form a ‘ready pool of recruits’ for armed movements and criminality alike. They are a problem waiting to happen. This narrative has led to panic, with politicians scrambling to come up with solutions (or at least claiming to do so).

It is understandable why people think this way. After all, we have seen many violent groups and gangs across the continent made up largely of young people. With only an estimated 16 percent of young people across Sub-Saharan Africa employed in waged jobs in the formal sector, unemployment seems a likely cause of why they join these groups. As Ms. Toogood said, “They cite any civil war and say ‘see all those young boys with guns? They were probably unemployed.’ And then it’s done. People don’t want to take the time to ask nuanced questions. People are generally too lazy to do that.”

Indeed, this way of thinking has a fundamental flaw. Study after study says there is no evidence to support this assumed correlation. A review of research on the topic found no evidence on the effect of creating jobs on stability for countries with a history of violence. For example, support for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (commonly referred to as the Taliban) did not decrease in Afghanistan once young people found jobs. In Somalia too, young people getting jobs did not lead to decreased support for armed groups.

It seems that, although unemployment can cause frustration and marginalisation, it is not the only reason young people join violent groups. Indeed, research finds young people take up the gun not because they are poor, but because they are angry. It is these experiences of injustice that drive involvement in political violence, not poverty. These dynamics are heightened by failures of the state.

“We need to acknowledge the heterogeneity of youth,” said Ms. Toogood. She noted that grievances which, lead to youth involvement in conflict are diverse and linked to many socio-economic and political factors. “It is more about systemic, structural inequalities that are institutionalized. These trump whether a young person is employed or not,” she said.

Grace Jerry, Executive Director of Inclusive Friends, a disability rights organisation in Plateau, agreed. She talked to me about the realities for young people with disabilities. “When people are marginalised for too long, they become perpetrators of violence. They want to just break free. They want to do something. They want to prove a point,” she said.

Indeed, while young people can accept unemployment- corruption, discrimination, feeling cheated or humiliated and abuse by security agencies leads to them feeling angry. Given the wide gap between the rich and the poor, young people see the differences between their lives and those of the elite, rich or connected. While others attend good schools and are provided jobs, they struggle to survive, are cheated by employers and harassed by the state.

Indeed being automatically judged as potential threats can heighten feelings of frustration and alienation. As Ms. Toogood said, “It makes them constantly perceived as ‘perpetrators’ by the system and those in power and also the victim at the same time.”

After all, most young people do work. They cannot afford not to. They need to feed themselves and their families. However, working in farming or the informal sector, they are not necessarily engaged in what people view as ‘jobs.’ Despite the money they earn and the hours they work, they themselves say they are ‘unemployed.’

David drives a taxi when he does not ‘have work’ in the hotel service industry in which he gets temporary work. Although he earns money when he drives, he does not consider this as real work. He sees this rather as a short term measure for economic survival. He talked about how this kind of work is looked down upon by family and friends.

As a result of this kind of thinking, young people spend years ‘technically’ unemployed without achieving recognition or status despite substantial contribution to their families and communities.

This gap between aspiration and reality is heightened by the barriers and challenges they face while engaged in these precarious jobs.

For example, despite the employment okada riding creates – revenues for government, income for those engaged in repairs and cheaper cost of trading – okada riders are often viewed as irresponsible, (potential) criminals, earning money only to buy alcohol and drugs. In both Ghana and Nigeria, research found no evidence for the link between okada riding and criminality. However, many places have banned okadas, especially in cities, tarring all riders with the brush of a small minority. Not only has this destroyed the livelihoods of millions of young people and their families across Africa but it has added to the transport costs of those now struggling to afford alternative forms of transportation.

Street traders and hawkers too have been instrumental to economic growth, particularly that of cities across the continent. In recent times, more young people have joined the older women who make up the majority of traders. However, they too complain of challenges: evictions, ongoing harassment, abuse of authority and extortion. According to David, “you need to know how to avoid the police but sometimes, you just cannot escape and get caught.”

By seeing young people as threats, we fail to see these realities.

The youth necessitates violence narrative also means that ‘youth’ becomes shorthand for ‘young able-bodied men’. All the programmes and politicians focusing on trying to create jobs for them often ignore the marginalisation and disenfranchisement young women and young people with disabilities experience.

After all, frustration with inequality and difficulties providing for families are reasons young women as well as young men join armed groups. In recent months, women’s involvement in Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati Wal Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, has hit the headlines due to the number of women carrying out suicide attacks. This is just one example of the ways in which women play direct and indirect roles in all conflicts, from taking part in the violence themselves to encouraging others to do so.

Ms. Jerry talked of the anger that builds up when a young person with disability sees others getting opportunities that are blocked to them because of their disability. They notice others looking at their disability first rather than their skills or expertise and what they can contribute. “A youth in that situation will become angry. And when they get angry, they become violent. In some situations, you can’t blame them. They have been marginalised. They have been left out for way too long,” she explained.

She told me of an incident where community members were shocked that a person with a disability was among those who committed violence. “When he was asked why he did that, he said he wanted to prove a point. ‘They think I can’t kill. They think I can’t carry a gun? Well, let me prove to them.’ He had been marginalised for too long and he needed to do something” she said.

People also often fail to see the realities of young men in context. In many contexts, being ‘a man’ means providing for families, being married and generous with the community. Achieving these signs is often hard, particularly in contexts of corruption, inequality and marginalisation. Although these routes to manhood may be blocked, the pressures on young men do not decrease. Many young men are trapped in places where they are no longer ‘children’ but they are not ‘adults’ either. Violence may be seen as a source of addressing this frustration to gain respect and be seen as ‘a man.’

An un-interrogated narrative ignores these structural factors. It also shifts responsibility from the powerful and influential in society, including governments, and displaces it to the vulnerable. After all, it is older, richer men that send the young and poor to die in their battles for power and supremacy. Young people may be the majority in many countries but are on the fringes of society. They are low in societal hierarchies compared to their elders – but they see these same people who they are expected to respect taking opportunities meant for them for their own ends.

James is studying part time while he works so he can support his family now and provide better in the future. His wife has just given birth to their second child. “It’s not the youth, it’s the rich men,” he said. “Look at my community. For the last year, people have not been living there because of the conflict. The politicians sponsor the fighting because they want control over the oil that is there.”

The panic around ‘idle youth’ blames young people for violence rather than seeing the needs and interests invested in their mobilization. It also ignores the reality that not all young people are violent. Many of them work for peace and the development of their communities.

Mariya collects food and clothing from people in her community to distribute to those who have been internally displaced due to violence. She has been doing this for the last two years. She said, “They live in our community. I have to do whatever I can to help them.” She also solves disputes, acting as an informal mediator, and reaches out to girls who have experienced violence.

Chukwuma has just started a computing center in his town. It is a place where people can come to surf the internet or learn how to use a computer. He runs classes free of cost for children, making a particular effort to reach out to those from poorer families. He tells me about his excitement in doing this work, knowing the potential of computing skills to create opportunities for young people in today’s technological world.

Mariya and Chukwuma are working for the wellbeing of their communities. They help people learn and live in peace. People seldom think of those like them – or like David and James – when they think of youth.

Trying to prevent violence by focusing on youth unemployment treats the symptom not the cause. It stigmatises and scapegoats young people, further adding to their marginalisation. Evidently, even employing all youth would not necessarily curtail violence if fundamental issues of inequality and injustice remain unaddressed.

Preventing young people from choosing violence requires addressing difficult issues. These include improving security, creating meaningful educational and employment opportunities, rooting out corruption and tackling prejudice. Taking action on these areas is much more difficult than simply creating jobs, but it is also much more effective.

After all, an angry man (or woman) may be more likely to be involved in violence – but it’s not hunger alone that makes people angry.