How Rights-based approach to development helps to improve Gender-based violence in Asia

In our 2022-23 masters students' blog series, Xiaoxue Weng explores gender equality in Asia.

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Due to the deep-rooted patriarchal ideology and the preference for sons over daughters in most part of Asia, male to female sex ratio at birth in Asian countries has always been higher than in Western countries (Almond, Edlund and Milligan, 2013). According to World Bank data in 2012, the male to female sex ratio of newborns in mainland China was 119, the highest in the world. Underneath such a serious gender imbalance lies female foeticide and the abandonment of female babies. But integrating a rights-based approach to gender and development work can go a long way to addressing this issue.

A rights-based approach to development aims to use available resources to help vulnerable groups, in this case, women, equally assert their rights to these resources (Koutouki, Lofts and Davidian, 2018). While gender-based violence in Asia is structural and cannot be ameliorated by the efforts and charity of a small group of people, it is important to promote systemic change, and a rights-based approach to development shifts the discourse from needs to rights, focusing more on what women should have rather than what they lack, making women agents of development as well.

From 2011-2018, the Chinese National Family Planning Commission and the United Nations Population Fund carried out a pilot project on gender equality in Changfeng County, Anhui Province. In the project, traditional concepts and conventional practices were broken down time and again. For example, a local gender reform was introduced in 2014, providing an incentive of 1,000RMB for taking the mother's surname, thereby diluting the sense of the father's surname and addressing the root causes of boy preference. This has also significantly reduced Changfeng County's high sex ratio of 171 in 2010 (Gao, Yao and Kang, 2017).

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Through Changfeng's gender equality practice, we can clarify the important role of a rights-based approach to development in which women are both informed about and able to claim their rights, and the state provides guarantees for women to make demands on the state and to hold the state accountable for them, making important links between participation, accountability and citizenship (Cornwall and Nyamu‐Musembi, 2004).

A rights-based approach is an approach to development that promotes the recognition of human rights that go beyond legal rights (Carella and Ackerly, 2017). Accountability, on the other hand, is a strong system for guaranteeing such human rights, with women as rights holders who need to know and claim their rights, such as women in Changfeng County gaining the right to participate in politics and thus fight for more rights for local women, and the state and society as duty bearers to guarantee the smooth implementation of gender equality actions.

The rights-based approach to development opens up new spaces for women. The approach to development is not a handout, but rather empowerment. It means giving people what they deserve. On the other hand, the participation of women in the development process, stimulating their subjective power to drive changes in social attitudes and norms and transforming their economic status. From this standpoint, it is the significant way to reduce all kinds of gender-based violence and for gender equality to take hold.

Reference list

Almond, D., Edlund, L., & Milligan, K. (2013). Son preference and the persistence of culture: Evidence from South and East Asian immigrants to Canada. Population and Development Review, 39(1), 75–95.

Carella, A., & Ackerly, B. (2016). Ignoring rights is wrong: Re-politicizing gender equality and development with the rights-based approach. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19(2), 137–152.

Cornwall, A., & Nyamu‐Musembi, C. (2004). Putting the ‘rights‐based approach’ to development into perspective. Third World Quarterly, 25(8), 1415–1437.

Sobritchea, C. I. (2009). The rights-based approaches to gender and development work in Asia. Asian Journal of Women's Studies, 15(2), 87–106.

Gao, H., Yao, T. and Kang, X. (2017) ‘Population forecast of Anhui province based on the GM(1,1) model’, Grey systems, 7(1), pp. 19–30. doi: 10.1108/GS-11-2016-0044.

Written by Xiaoxue Weng

Xiaoxue is currently a student on the International Development Masters in Public Health.

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