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7 reasons why gender equality is important

Jeanne D’Arc Niyingabiye, a beneficiary of Concern's Graduation Program, with her SILK group in Burundi.
Jeanne D’Arc Niyingabiye (31) is a beneficiary of the Graduation Program, photographed here in her SILK group, near her home in Mabayi, Cibitoke, Burundi. All 3 of her children attend school. Photo: Abbie-Trayler Smith / Concern Worldwide
News6 March 2019Clare Ahern

Gender equality is critical to the elimination of poverty. Here are seven reasons why.

1. Educating women and girls saves lives

Did you know that each extra year of schooling that a mother receives reduces the risk of infant mortality by 5 to 10%? In fact, if all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives a year. Likewise, a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to reach their fifth birthday. And if all mothers completed their primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two thirds, saving 98,000 lives.

And saving lives is really just the tip of the iceberg: A quality education for girls would also improve child nutrition, reduce child marriages and teen pregnancies, and reduce the pay gap between men and women. Not to mention offering women a pathway to financial independence.

Yet, in sub-Saharan Africa only 8% of girls finish secondary school. In Ireland that figure is 93%. Imagine what could be achieved if we could start to close that gap?

The number of men attending school in the DRC is still much higher than the number of women. I am among the few Congolese women who continued to study. Thanks to my diploma, I am independent and I can buy everything that I need. I feel empowered as I do not depend on anyone financially. — Mamy Katangu, Accounting Assistant, Concern DRC
Mamy Katangu, Accounting Assistant, Concern DRC

2. When more women work, economies grow

Empowering women to work has benefits not just for the individuals, but also for the wider economy. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, if women were to play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

Yet around the world, women consistently face barriers to accessing labour markets. According to UNESCO, over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. And women’s labour force participation rate is 48.5 % compared to a rate of 75% for men. 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.

When I started this vegetable business, to be honest, I did not expect that this would take my life in a different direction.… Now, I am not dependent on anyone else. I earn my living, I earn my dignity. After bearing my family expense, I can save for the future too. I am expanding my business and reinvesting the profit. Rina, Program Participant, Concern Bangladesh
Rina, Program Participant, Concern Bangladesh

3. When women have a say in household finances, the whole family benefits

According to the Clinton Global Initiative, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families, while men reinvest only 35%. So, as well as providing a boost for the economy, supporting women to earn an income means better health and education outcomes for their children.

My financial struggles have been eased because I have savings. My husband now sees me as a pillar in developing the family. Our Village Savings and Loans Association has empowered me to be strong as a woman and handle responsibilities, and that has earned me so much respect from my husband — Hawa Fomah, Program Participant, Concern Sierra Leone
Hawa Fomah, Programme Participant, Concern Sierra Leone

4. Gender equality in healthcare leads to better health for all

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. When women receive quality care, this not only impacts their health and that of their family’s, but also entire communities. 

They say that seeing is believing, so when my patients see the pictures [as part of the app Community Health Nurses on the Go], I think they take it seriously. It increases my confidence a lot. I’m very, very proud of what I’m doing as a community health nurse. —
Valerie McCarthy Vroom, Nurse and former Innovations program participant, Concern Ghana

5. When governments focus on gender equality, legal protections improve

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, and all forms of gender-based violence contribute to the belief that men and women can be treated differently, based on gender stereotypes that vary from culture to culture. However, when governments make an effort to address these stereotypes and inequities, it improves the legal system. In 2015, Malawi passed an historic act that established 18 as the minimum age for marriage. In a country where, at the time, 50% of girls were married by that time (and over 12% married by age 15), this was a major achievement.

As a fathers’ group, we work to protect and rescue vulnerable children, especially girls, from harmful cultural practices, including early or forced marriages. We have had some success and we are working hard on it. A literate generation will benefit the entire community. — Lenason Dinyero, Chairman of Father's Goup & Program Participant, Concern Malawi
Lenason Dinyero, Chairman of Father's Goup & Program Participant, Concern Malawi

6. When women are active in peace negotiations, conflict is less likely to reoccur

Many of the countries caught in protracted conflict today are also countries that afford very few rights and protections to women. A 2015 UN Women report provides several links between gender equality and conflict, concluding that “women’s participation is key to sustainable peace.” When women are witnesses, signatories, mediators, and/or negotiators in a peace process, the agreement is 20% more likely to last at least two years. Even better, this likelihood increases over time: Peace treaties that include women in the process in a meaningful way are 35% more likely to last 15 years. 

When the peace talks were declared after the ceasefires, we asked the question: Where are the women? Because we knew that, as activists, we had existed—and, had we not been around, the war would have been much worse.… It was the women who were the peacebuilders from the ground up. — Monica Williams, Activist, Peace Campaigner, & Women of Concern 2021 Honouree
Monica Williams, Activist, Peace Campaigner, & Women of Concern 2021 Honouree

7. We can’t break the cycle of poverty without breaking the cycle of gender inequality

Gender inequality is both a major cause of and an effect of poverty and hunger. It is a vicious cycle that threatens the lives of women and children and results in millions of deaths every year. The World Food Programme estimates that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls. UN Women estimates that 70% of the 1.3 billion people in poverty worldwide are women. Moreover, the global estimated risk of a woman dying from a maternity-related cause is one in 4,900, but that ratio rises to one in 180 in low-income countries.

The tragic reality is that these deaths are nearly all preventable. But we need to break the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger, and gender inequality in order to prevent them.

As Community Health Volunteers, we visit each house in the village to monitor pregnant mothers and newborns…. My Community Health Volunteer Job Aid book helps me to do many things, like teaching hygienic practices such as boiling water, hand-washing, breast-feeding, and complementary feeding, among others. — Halima, Community Health Volunteer, Concern Kenya
Halima, Community Health Volunteer, Concern Kenya
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