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Mwanajuma Ghamaharo at her home in Makere village in Tana River CountyMwanajuma Ghamaharo at her home in Makere village in Tana River CountyMwanajuma Ghamaharo at her home in Makere village in Tana River County

What does gender equality look like?

What does gender equality look like?
Story31 March 2023

At Concern, gender equality is key to our work of ending poverty. What would that actually look like?

Gender equality is one of the top five sustainable development goals. We know that it’s a key issue to ending poverty, hunger, and other issues that plague our world today, and we know that millions of women and girls in every country around the world are fighting to assert and maintain their most basic human rights. 

But what does gender equality actually look like? If we imagine a world with gender parity, we can come up with 13 points. These are just the tip of the iceberg, but they’re a starting point to envision equity.

1. Lower maternal and infant mortality rates

Gender bias in healthcare means that more than 800 women die every day due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In countries with high maternal mortality rates, infant mortality rates tend to follow suit. 

Achieving greater gender equality in these countries — including challenging norms that restrict women from getting necessary healthcare, providing affordable and quality access to healthcare to the most vulnerable and remote communities, and prioritising nutrition for women who are pregnant, lactating, or of age to become pregnant — prevent millions of deaths.

A South Sudanese woman is examined by a midwife in her ninth month of pregnancy
Chagawa is seen by Concern midwife Rebekka in a remote rural area of Aweil, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Concern Worldwide

2. Equal participation in the classroom

There are many barriers to a girl’s education: gender-based violence in the classroom, early marriage (more on that below), a lack of safe and adequate hygiene facilities, social norms that prioritise boys in the classroom, and a shortage of teachers with proper training. However, when girls and women are educated, economies shift and communities are transformed. A basic primary education sets girls on the right path to build the confidence, public speaking, negotiation skills, and awareness of their human rights — all of which are essential to gender equality.

Aminata (15) and her fellow pupils beside the Girls toilets of Benevolent Islamic PRI School in Yele town
Aminata (15) and her fellow pupils beside the Girls toilets of Benevolent Islamic PRI School in Yele town. (Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide)

3. High literacy and numeracy rates for boys and girls

Part of a quality education means that girls graduate from school able to read, write, and count. UNESCO reports that, despite a steady rise in literacy rates over the last 50 years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world. Most of these people are women. This is a necessary gap to close for gender equality, both for future generations currently in school and adults who missed out on that same opportunity as children. But this doesn’t mean that men and boys should suffer — literacy and numeracy are building blocks of an essential education for people of all genders to understand what equity means and how they can work to achieve and maintain it.

4. Education on what matters outside of the classroom

We mentioned gender-based violence in the classroom above. School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is one of the forms of GBV, but it’s not the only one. Helping men and women as well as boys and girls to understand what constitutes GBV — a catchall term for everything from emotional abuse to rape to female genital mutilation (FGM) — is a key solution to GBV. This is one of the life skills that are essential for young children and adolescents to learn throughout their lives in order to achieve gender equality. Schools can play a large part in this type of education as well, with after-school clubs or other activities that include topics like gender, GBV, and sexual and reproductive health. 

Concern Pakistan is implementing "Support Afghan Refugees in Livelihoods and Access to Markets" (SALAM) in partnership with Indus Culture Heritage Foundation (ICHF) for the Afghan refugee's women in two districts
Concern Pakistan is implementing "Support Afghan Refugees in Livelihoods and Access to Markets" (SALAM) in partnership with Indus Culture Heritage Foundation (ICHF) for the Afghan refugee's women in two districts. Photo: (Mustafa Awan/Concern Worldwide)

5. More women in the workplace

Many women who want to work are prevented from doing so — or are prevented from working for a fair wage and in a safe environment — by the patriarchal structures and dictates of their community. There are other gender issues around the workplace (more on those in a bit), but at the baseline level we first have to ensure that every woman who wishes to enter the workforce is able to do so in a safe and dignified working environment. 

6. Women-owned businesses and land

In many countries where agriculture is the predominant industry, women farm the land but aren’t able to own it. Land passes between fathers, husbands, and sons, leaving women at an economic and financial disadvantage. Changing this will be a major step forward to building gender equality, especially within the workforce.

Malawian farmer standing in her maize field
Esime Jenaia, a Lead Farmer for conservation agriculture, at her plot in Chituke village, Mangochi, Malawi. Concern has been carrying out Conservation Agriculture programming in Malawi since 2012, with the assistance of Accenture Ireland.

7. Financial empowerment and independence

It’s only in the last 50 years that women in even countries like Ireland and the United States were able to open a credit card in their own name. In many countries, financial independence still runs along gendered lines. Likewise, the gender pay gap is still an issue in every country in the world. 

To support more active and equitable participation of women in the economy and land ownership, we will also need to address the lack of financial opportunities currently available to women in dozens of countries. Concern-led like Village Savings and Loans and Women’s Support Groups work to build financial literacy and equity within communities.

Congolese woman counts her profits for the day
Consolata Sifa Bagenaimana (33) is a widowed mother of four and participating in Concern’s Graduation program in DRC. She sells local cooking spices, an income-generating activity that she has developed in Burungu Kitshanga with Concern and her local VSLA. (Photo: Pamela Tulizo/Panos/Concern Worldwide)

8. Waiting to get married

One of the most common threats to education is child marriage. The terms early or forced marriage are a bit more descriptive as it’s clear that marriage for girls (some as young as 15) is not by choice. Often, they’re married to much older men who can provide for them in cases where their own families cannot. This not only opens girls up to losing out on their education, but also exposes them to higher risks of sexual abuse and domestic violence. UNICEF estimates that approximately 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.

9. Partners who are actually partners

Even if women wait to get married, they are more likely to spend more time at home focusing on the unpaid domestic labour — especially with children. Programmes at Concern like Umodzi in Malawi teach the importance of husbands and wives supporting each other. That support includes household chores and splitting childcare duties, but also means emotionally supporting one another as a team. (“Umodzi” means “united” in the Chichewa language, and the full name of the program is “Mutu Umodzi Susenza Denga” —  “One Head Cannot Hold up the Roof.”)

A Malawian couple work together to dry out maize
Since partaking in the Umodzi gender equality program in Malawi, Forty Sakha helps his wife Chrissy with household chores like drying maize. (Photo: Chris Gagnon / Concern Worldwide)

10. More women in leadership

One of the biggest issues around gender equality in the workplace is a lack of women in leadership. A recent study conducted by McKinsey reveals a “broken rung” on the career ladder that is nowhere close to being fixed. For every 100 men promoted into leadership roles, only 87 women reach the same promotion — and only 82 women of colour.

This problem persists in other forms of leadership: Globally, women make up less than 25% of parliamentary bodies. We’ll see gender equality when there’s a greater balance in these leadership roles. 

11. Media and community support for gender equality

Support beyond homes, schools, and workplaces is required for true, sustainable gender equality. This includes how local, national, and international media reinforce the importance of gender equality, as well as how key messages around equity are supported by the community — including religious leaders, elected representatives, and other figures of influence. Gender equality isn’t one-and-done, it requires constant support and maintenance. 

Concern and Theatre For Change have been working with students of Malawi's Chigumukire Primary School and their parents to help highlight the dangers and challenges of gender-based violence
Concern and Theatre For Change have been working with students of Malawi's Chigumukire Primary School and their parents to help highlight the dangers and challenges of gender-based violence. (Photo: Kieran McConville)

12. Laws that support gender equality

On average, women have just 75% of the same rights as men. In order to sustain gender equality, it will need to be backed by laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender and criminalise domestic violence, sexual harassment, and marital rape. 

13. Policies informed by gender equality

Other policies benefit from the involvement of women and girls with a focus on gender equity. This looks like women participating in peace processes and having a seat at other decision-making tables, workplaces and schools accommodating maternity leaves, lactating mothers, and menstrual health, abolishing the “pink tax,” and addressing period poverty. Involving women in the shaping of a society at all levels will help to ensure that these issues are accounted for and that gender equality can continue to flourish.

Gender equality: Concern’s response

Gender equality is one of the main pillars of Concern’s work and its importance cannot be understated. All of Concern’s programming, from health and nutrition to emergency response, happens through a gender transformative lens. 

The Gender Continuum framework
The Gender Continuum framework is at the heart of Concern's work to address gender inequalities.

This means that we don’t simply work around existing gender differences or inequalities. Instead, we critically examine and challenge gender norms and dynamics in order to build equity and make greater, more sustainable progress towards ending extreme poverty. Where it makes sense, we also build and strengthen systems to support that level of equality.

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