Achieving gender equality is key to ending extreme poverty. The evidence is clear: When women and girls have a quality education, access to health care, sustainable livelihoods, and a seat at the decision-making table, economies shift. Communities escape poverty permanently. There are many forms of gender inequality that perpetuate the cycle of poverty, and they all must be eliminated in order to make true progress. Here are seven examples.
1. Gender bias in education
There are many ways that girls’ education benefits economies and societies. Yet an estimated 130 million girls will never set foot inside a classroom. This not only means that they’ll lose out on opportunities for better futures, but that the same will happen to their own children. Children of mothers who completed at least basic primary education generally have better access to quality education and healthcare themselves. These are two of the basic building blocks of an empowered community.
Child marriage, lack of adequate sanitation (especially for girls who are of menstruating age), and gendered violence in the classroom are some of the obstacles specific to girls when it comes to this very basic human right.
2. The gender pay gap
Financial and economic empowerment is one of the key factors in keeping the gender balance… well… out of balance. A 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF) report suggests that, if we keep at our current pace of correcting this imbalance, it will be another 100 years until women receive equal pay for equal work.
This isn’t necessarily an issue that’s divided between high-income and low-income countries, either. While that same WEF report ranks Burundi and Austria at approximately the same level of progress to closing their overall gender gap, Burundi is actually ahead of Austria in closing the gender wage gap by nearly 30 percentage points. Rwanda, which is one of the top 10 countries making progress towards closing the gender gap, still has work to do on closing the pay gap, and outranks the United States in both overall and wage gap-specific progress.
Ensuring that women not only earn the same salaries as their male counterparts but also get the same access to economic independence boosts economies. It also means that other basic needs, like healthcare, education, and adequate food and water, are more likely to be available for the whole family.
3. Gender disparities in agriculture
Women make up nearly half of all farmers (possibly more), yet they have less productive fields than men. Why? Gender disparity.
Reports show that women have less access to critical tools and resources like fertilizer, seeds, training, and farm labor. Even when they receive equal access to these resources, it often doesn’t lead to equality of income. As the primary caretakers of children, women struggle to get their goods to market, particularly in rural areas. Reduced harvests and access mean reduced income, which is all the more damaging because women tend to reinvest their earnings back into their families and their community. When women don’t earn as much, everyone loses.
Understanding this basic question has led us to join the Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance. One of the Alliance’s primary goals is to empower women farmers ensuring they can increase their productivity. Last year in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, we distributed seeds, tools, and training to over 3,000 women for use in 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 appropriate to their environment and also proven to fight malnutrition. The resulting vegetable and fruit gardens covered over 1,200 acres of land.
4. Poor access to healthcare
It isn’t surprising that people living in poverty have less access to quality healthcare. But it’s not just a symptom of poverty; it’s also a cause of poverty. This is particularly true for women and girls, as gender inequality contributes to high levels of female mortality. Each day, almost 1,000 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. The chronic absence of healthcare, combined with the ongoing, unnecessary loss of so many women result in massive negative impacts on families and communities. Children of sick mothers are less likely to access healthcare themselves, and older siblings are usually forced to drop out of school to take care of younger siblings and contribute to the household.
Concern is working every day with communities across the world to change this tragic narrative. For example, through programs like Chipatala Cha Pa Foni in Malawi, we have demonstrated how to improve home-based care using mobile phone technology, while also helping women know when and where to go if they do need medical treatment.
5. The high price of collecting water
Simply put, water is a women’s issue. More than 2 billion people worldwide don’t have access to clean water at home. According to UNICEF, women and girls spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water every day. This is time that they could spend studying in school, in employment, or running their own businesses. One study shows that school attendance increased by as much as 12% when water was available within 15 minutes of home. For every minute that a woman spends collecting water, a minute that could be used to earn and save money is lost.
6. Child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence
According to UNICEF, today, more than 700 million women were married before they turned 18. More than a third of them — about 250 million — were married before the age of 15. Compare that to 156 million boys married before the age of 18, and it’s clear that child marriage affects girls much more than it affects boys. But how is child marriage linked to poverty? Girls who marry young are less likely to receive a complete or quality education, and child brides often suffer from higher discrimination, violence, and increased maternal mortality rates.
Forced and early marriage is one of the many forms of violence against women and girls. This includes sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and honor killings. All forms of GBV contribute to the belief that men and women can be treated differently, based on gender stereotypes that vary from culture to culture. While these harmful practices remain in place, the rights of women will continue to be tied up with the false belief that these forms of violence are part of the norm.
7. Lack of representation for women and girls at the policy level
Keeping women away from the decision-making table means that legislation and public policy is unlikely to be created equitably. Consider, for instance, the lack of recognition for unpaid care and domestic work. Or consider, at a higher level of severity, the threats that women face every day based entirely on their gender.
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. In Tanganyika Province, we’re working with extremely poor and marginalized households through our Graduation program, building sustainable livelihoods one-by-one. Part of that process hinges upon women playing a full role in the decision processes at home and for their communities. Our annual survey showed that two-thirds of both men and women in the community said that women were more involved in decision making. It’s a small step, but a giant leap for women’s equality in this country.
Concern and Gender Equality
The United Nations identifies gender equality as Goal #5 of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to hit by 2030. To reach this, our approach at Concern is to address the root causes of gender disparity. Many of these causes are similar to the factors that perpetuate global poverty and hunger.
The closer we can get to work that’s transforming gender inequality versus simply being aware of it, the closer we can get to actual gender equality.
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