Indian activists from the Social Unity Center of India shout slogans against the state government in protest against the gang-rape and murder of two girls in the district of Badaun. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We need to do go much further to end sexual violence in conflict

This week's summit must not be the culmination of the government's efforts.

This week, London will host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. It is to be co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and by Angelina Jolie in her capacity as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Angelina Jolie has an impressive record when it comes to her humanitarian work and raising the profile of difficult issues that could not be further removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. William Hague has also played a key role in bringing this conference to London. He hasn't always received the credit he deserves from some in his own party on this issue, but he will receive Labour's support for his efforts to put sexual violence on the international agenda.

Representatives from across the globe will come to London to agree action to tackle the use of rape as a weapon of war, to end impunity for those who resort to sexual violence with no thought for the victims and no fear of reprisals, and to help the survivors of such an abhorrent, cowardly act.

I hope it proves a landmark success - we only need to look at the brutal reports of the conflict in the Central African Republic, where conflict-related sexual violence is described as epidemic, to know that the stakes could not be higher. There are countless other countries struggling with the legacy of sexual violence in conflict, or failing to end its systematic use today.

In Colombia, six women every hour were the victims of sexual violence and an estimated 12,809 women were the victims of conflict-associated rape between 2000 and 2009; few will have received support, let alone seen justice. In Burma, there are terrifying reports of the military's use of sexual violence, particularly against ethnic minority women and girls; the victims are often killed, while the perpetrators can carry on with impunity. In Somalia, sexual violence is pervasive, particularly in the camps for those who have lost their homes, but they do not have the medical services or justice systems to support survivors or secure justice and protection. According to UNICEF, one third of the victims of sexual violence in Somalia are children.

War Child reports that one in three men fleeing the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have suffered sexual violence, while sexual violence has also been used against men, women and children in the Syrian conflict. Tragically, the list goes on of conflicts in which bodies have been taken as a prize and people have been violated as a means of warfare. So we cannot underestimate the importance of this summit for those still living in terror, or living with the scars of vicious attacks.

I hope, too, that this international focus on sexual violence in conflict can provide a springboard for a more concerted focus on sexual violence in other contexts and on other abhorrent acts of cruelty being committed against women across the globe.

Over the last month alone we have been appalled by the case of Meriam Ibrahim who was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy because she had married a Christian man and refused to recant her Christian faith. She gave birth in prison, where she is being held with her 20 month son. Meriam, her husband and now the whole world are waiting for the outcome of her appeal; waiting for a court to agree she can fall in love with whoever she wants and is free to choose her own religion.

We have been horrified, too, by the public stoning of a pregnant woman in Pakistan. Farzana Parveen was killed by her family outside Lahore High Court because she had married against their wishes. The viciousness of the attack, and in such a public place, has rightly attracted the world's attention, but Farzana's murder should highlight wider problems in Pakistan, where there are hundreds of "honour" killings every year.

And then we have the two teenagers in India, whose bodies were found hanging from a tree after they had been gang-raped. Sexual violence is an increasing concern in India, but Indian citizens protesting about the shocking prevalence of such a heinous crime were confronted by a water cannon.

These are just three high profile examples from the last few weeks. There have been many, many more whose plight we will never hear about, just as there are so many thousands who are silently recovering from sexual attacks inflicted during conflicts that have devastated their countries.

In too many countries women are living in fear of horrific acts of gender-related violence, and facing cruel and inhumane punishments for "transgressions" that we would consider basic rights. So I hope that this week's summit is not the culmination of the UK government's efforts, and they will have Labour's support in their work going forward. We must make it clear that such abuses cannot be tolerated, just as the survivors need to know that they are not alone.

Kerry McCarthy is the Labour MP for Bristol East and the shadow foreign minister.

Photo: Getty
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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.