Why gender equality matters
The United Nations identifies gender equality as Goal #5 in its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to hit by 2030. Gender equality is a basic human right, but it’s more than that. It’s also a key element to eliminating extreme poverty. When women and girls are given quality education, access to health care, sustainable livelihoods, and a seat at the decision-making table, economies shift. Communities escape poverty.
There’s still a lot of work to be done in this field. On average, 1 in 3 women around the world will experience some form of gender-based violence, including at least 200 million girls and women who have been subjected to female genital mutilation. UNICEF estimates that approximately 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
When women and girls are given quality education, access to health care, sustainable livelihoods, and a seat at the decision-making table, economies shift. Communities escape poverty.
To address gender-based violence and foster gender equality, our approach at Concern is to address the root causes. Many of these are similar to the causes of global poverty and world hunger. How has that taken shape in recent years? In 2018 we worked with over 12 million women and girls with greater access to education, livelihoods, health, emergency and development programs. Read on for 5 ways we’re fighting for gender equality.
1. Bringing education to girls and women in Afghanistan
As of 2018, over 34 million girls of primary school age weren’t in class. There are many barriers to education, and some that are specific to girls’ education, but one of the foundations of gender equality lies in ensuring that girls are given as much of a quality education as boys.
In Afghanistan’s Takhar Province, many homes are far away from the closest classroom. This leaves parents reluctant to send their children — male and female — to school. We’ve responded by establishing or supporting over 30 community-based schools. These classrooms bring education to the villages that need it the most. Parents are more comfortable with sending their kids to school when they know they’re close by. And more parents are also comfortable with sending their daughters. We’ve also worked in Takhar to build and renovate separate latrines for girls and boys, which means that when girls are menstruating they have safe access to hygiene resources.
We also work with Takhar’s adults, both in offering over 30 literacy classes for women and recruiting and supporting over 60 quality teachers. All of this has resulted in almost 6,500 children, women, and men reached in 22 villages.
2. Keeping Kenyan girls in school
Getting girls into school is only half the battle. Around the world, girls as young as 9 or 10 can be taken out of school permanently and married off by their families. We work with communities to ensure that child marriage won’t end a girl’s education. Fathers’ groups in Malawi enforce the country’s law that sets the legal age of marriage at 18 for girls.
In Kenya, our education program “Let Our Girls Succeed” supports female students in Marsabit County. There, 70% of the population is illiterate. Of those children who do attend primary school, only 39.5% go on to secondary school. Working through a network of communities in Marsabit throughout 2018, we saw 205 girls mentored across 20 project schools. 86% of these young women went on to either secondary school or a vocational training center.
3. Supporting female farmers in Ethiopia
Situated in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is severely affected by drought and resulting massive food shortages. In order to properly address the nutritional crisis that comes as a result of hunger, especially critical for children during their first 1,000 days, we need to bring women to the table.
In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, we distributed seeds, tools, and training to over 3,000 women to practice backyard gardening. The goal was for them to diversify both their own diets and those of their children. They could grow a range of plants that suited the land and also fight malnutrition.
The resulting vegetable and fruit gardens covered over 1,200 acres of land, and yielded a wide variety of produce including Swiss chard, carrots, beetroot, mung beans, and bananas. The increased food production means higher food consumption. And the ease of farming for women meant that they had more time to feed and care for their families.
4. Building skills for Syrian refugee women living abroad
Even in times of peace and prosperity, Syrian women are the glue that hold their families — and communities — together. For Syrian refugee communities living in neighboring countries like Lebanon (which estimates 1.5 million Syrians displaced in the country), maintaining this bond is even more crucial. Many middle-class families now struggle to get by with very little, and the host communities struggle with the population influx.
Concern currently works in northern Lebanon offering a sort of work-study program for both refugees and members of the host community. The aim is to build income-earning skills for local women. Many of these skills will be crucial for those like Khadija*, who hope to someday return home and help rebuild Syria after years of civil conflict. In the meantime, these skills also help to accommodate resource needs in host communities. In 2018, we supported nearly 5,000 Syrians in Lebanon to earn a sustainable income.
Up to 52% of women in the DRC are survivors of domestic violence. Nearly 40% reported being threatened or injured.
5. Giving women decision-making power in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Decades of armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have, by UN estimates, left over 1 million women the victims of gender-based violence and assault. Up to 52% of women in the DRC are survivors of domestic violence. Nearly 40% reported being threatened or injured.
To help the entire country work its way out of poverty, women must be involved in the decision-making process. In Tanganyika Province, we’re working with extremely poor and marginalized households through our Graduation program, building sustainable livelihoods one-by-one.
As part of bringing the Graduation program to over 481 households in Tanganyika, we focused on ensuring that women play a full part in the decision-making process for their communities. Our annual survey showed that two-thirds of both men and women in the community said that women were involved in decision making. It’s a small step, but a giant leap for women’s equality in this country.
*Name changed for security purposes.