All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights

This month of October can be synonymous to women’s month with the international girl day celebrated on the October 11 and the international day of rural women celebrated four days later on October 15.

It’s an undeniable truth that over the past few decades, numerous countries have been fighting to close gender gap in all possible sectors since equality is not only an essential human right, but an important key for a peaceful and prosperous world. However, there are still countries in the today’s world where women and girls unfortunately continue to suffer discrimination and violence on a daily basis and that is mostly due to the fact that since the dawn of civilisation, women have been seen as the weaker sex and it has been and still is a challenge to clear off this stereotype.

Accepting this challenge, the United Nations as well as many more organisations have brought forward programmes and campaigns like UNICEF, UNDP and also the 17 goals to transform the world by 2030 – Sustainable Developments Goal whose 4th and 5th goal deal with QUALITY EDUCATION and GENDER EQUALITY respectively while spreading the awareness that equal rights are nothing but human rights.

Education – Paving the way to equality

It is still unbelievable that in this contemporary era, there are still girls today who have never stepped foot in classrooms. The very first girl who may poop up in mostly all young people’s mind, or at least in my case, is Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani education activist and 2014 Nobel Prize winner who herself has fought between life and death before being granted rightful access to education. Similarly, in our world there are several young girls waiting for their voices to be heard as equal access to education between girls and boys is yet to be achieved in their vicinity. Whether a girl or a boy, each individual deserves equal opportunities to build a better future. The Malala Fund provide interesting evidence about why investing in girls’ education can only be beneficial.

Every year since 2012, October 11 is marked by the International Girl Day which aims at valuing girls by fighting for their basic human rights and empowering them in the best ways possible and this year’s focus is EmPOWER girls: Before, during and after conflict. Today, there are still 31 million girls of primary school age out of school and 17 million are expected to have never been to school and this may be due to poverty, war or conflicts but what’s appealing in these statistics is that there are 4 million fewer boys than girls out of school. For instance, in Nigeria there are almost 5.5 million while in Pakistan over three million girls out of school. Similarly, in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to enter both primary and secondary school.

Nevertheless, the good news is that emancipation is paving its way; In Southern Asia for instance, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. By 2012, the enrolment ratios between boys and girls were the same. Any nation must bear in mind that allowing girls to educate themselves will only make a nation prosperous and sustainable and never the opposite as just like boys, any young girl is a fundamental source of energy, creativity and power. A girl’s education is today a key feature for making homes a happy place; any man’s life blossoms if blessed with a well-educated woman as a wife and a mother. From a country’s point of view, educated girls will only brighten the society. Besides, achieving gender equality and empowering women and especially girls right from a young age is a just a step forward to closing gender inequality and education, being lifesaving, plays a pivotal role in reaching this ultimate goal.

Child marriage – An impediment to gender equality

Child marriage is nothing but a violation of human rights and though being unlawful, this has been a widespread practice where once again young girls are disproportionately more affected. It is undoubtedly an objection in achieving gender equality and such practices tend to be more frequent in rural areas where parents are either less educated or impoverished and who live with the belief that a marriage is all that can guarantee their daughters’ future and hence hand over their children into someone else’s care. Besides, many still see daughters as being a mere burden or simply useless since they believe that only a son can be a real breadwinner. As a result, daughters are sacrificed under the form of marriage at an age where they are supposed to be still playing with dolls.

Moving to facts, according to a UNESCO survey, more than 700 million women were married during their children and more than 1 in 3 (250 million) were married under 15 only. India has the highest number of child brides in the world. About 47% of girls in India are married before turning 18. The rates of child marriage vary between states and are as high as 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan. In Bangladesh more than 50% of girls are married before the age of 18, and about 30% of girls 15 to 19 already have one child. If we want girls to be able to be educated individual, child marriage must be dispelled since this practice is nothing but a barrier in a girl’s educational journey and life in general.

As a result, married girls are more likely to give up their education and stay within the four walls of the kitchen while at the same time having to face domestic violence in the form of sexual harassment and in worst cases rapes. In addition to that, many of them do not survive due to complications in pregnancy or upon the birth of a child or else their child tends to be either stillborn or survive only the first month of their life. Today, what has been done cannot be undone but married girls need help and support in terms of health services but also to get back to formal education so that they can stand on their own feet and rebuild their life.
However, countries favouring the UNICEF’s action plan have been working together to guarantee the reshaping of these girls’ life but also to ensure that such practices are not being repeated. A UNICEF data published in 2014 reveals that this prevalence has slightly curved down over the past three decades. Once again, if such issues gradually get solved, nothing can prevent gender gap from reducing.

Empowering rural women

Women face a range of challenges on a daily basis and even more in today’s developing world especially in rural areas in any part of the world. On October 15, the world is called to valorise further girls and women from rural areas as they play a critical role in the development of agricultural and rural development by catering their areas with food, improving security as well as eliminating as far as possible rural poverty. In such areas, women are needed to be someone’s wife or someone’s mother and ignored when it comes to contribution to developments.

This year theme is “Challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls” and the empowerment of rural women and girls will certainly boost up gender equality as this will ensure that they have equal access to land and any other productive resources, KNOWLEDGE as well as financial services and income-generation opportunities. Women and girls are central to the sustainability of rural households and communities since they contribute to improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing but unfortunately, as women their significance is often overlooked. They are actually almost half of the agricultural labour force in developing countries without taking into consideration the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households. Women farmers are equally productive and enterprising as their male counterparts and yet they are neither able to obtain comparable prices for their crops nor to have equal access to the land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and food chains that are essential to their livelihoods.

Today, rural women represent around 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries and this is definitely an enormous contribution. Almost 70 % of employed women in South Asia and more than 60 % of employed women in Sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture. Valorising women of rural areas will boost their confidence and at the same time make people aware of their remarkable contribution in households and communities. Thanks to rural women, food production, natural resource management or even climate resilience in rural areas are only getting better. As a joint programme, UN Women, UN Food, the Agriculture Organization together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development as well as World Food Programme are working together to build a better work place for all rural women. As major contributors to their surroundings, they are portrayed today as actual base for future livelihoods.

Equal pay – Still a utopia?

Since the wake of times, discrimation has been a real dispute be it in terms of race, beliefs, religion or gender and this is a recurrent issue people still get to deal with on a day to day basis in our modern day society. Women are still disadvantaged in comparison with men where access to economic and social opportunities is concerned. The work place may top the list of gender discrimination fordespite being as qualified and competent as male collegues, women are still being disregarded for their work since women are believed to only have to be at home and look after husbands and children instead of being in an office and sometimes out of jealousy and ego, men prefer having their wives at home.

The American Association of University Women carried a study that actually show even if “men and women attend the same kind of college, pick the same major and accept the same kind of job, on average, the woman will still earn 82 cents to every dollar that a man earns” (Coleman). StopTheRobbery campaign by UN Women is meant to raise awareness of the gender wage gap and as per their analysis, equal pay will not be achieved until 2069 with the current rate of progress.

Fortunately, there are countries who appear to be concerned with wage discrimination; Iceland is credited for being the first country worldwide to not only legalise abortion but also the first to achieve legal pay as well as having a woman as head of state in a national election. Similarly, countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway among others have adopted acts in favour of gender equality topping the list of the Global Gender Gap Index of 2013. This report also shows the percentage improvement in countries like France with 10% and India 8%. What’s quite shocking is that leading world power like the US or the UK don’t even appear in the top 10.

According to World Economic Forum, the UK came out 9th in 2006 when it came to gender equal countries and since last year it has slipped to the 20th position. The incentive that both men and women should be granted equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in the European Treaties since 1957. The current equal pay legislation concerning the implementation of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters such as employment have replaced a number of earlier legislative acts. However, with the slow rate of progress in narrowing the gender pay gap in the European Union, the European Parliament has asked for proposals for better implementation and revision of this directive.

All to all, whether a country has or has not reached gender equal pay, what really matters is whether they’re taking time to deal with this issue and of course overcoming it. There is no reason as to why women should not be enjoying equal opportunity in the workplace and t is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that and make sure that women are getting the dues and are being equally valued for their work whatever be the field. Equal pay for equal work would just be another major step forward in the empowerment of women.

HeForShe – Stand together

Launched in 2014 by American actress Emma Watson, HeForShe is the first campaign of the UN of such a kind whose core aim to ending gender inequqlity. While working on this project, Watson came across quite a few obstacles but mainly realising that “fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating” while the actual definition of feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Every time a woman come forward to empower another woman, her actions are misinterpreted and she is said to being too feminist. This is the reason why this campaign aims at engaging men to eradicate inequalities towards women. Fortunately, there has been positive response for this campaign where countries like Mexico fully support he standing for she. Similarly, around the world, Presidents of universities have been active participants in this initiative; University of Leicester and Oxford, London – Sciences Pro, France – University of Waterloo, Canada among others.
UN Women and its partners have played a pivotal role in raising awareness on gender discrimination and consequently provided help to a Malawi chief to discard 330 child marriages and to help hundreds of children to join school again. In addition to that Mr. Jamshed Kazi, representative for UN Women Pakistan managed to engage more than 5,000 men and boys in Pakistan to be committed to HeForShe campaign. The International Olympic Committee announced that through the Olympic Agenda 2020, sports will be used as an alternative to overcome gender inequality and to dismiss barriers of gender norms. In India, 700 cyclists came together for the bicycle rally in Pune to support the campaign. Prior to the rally, a week long drive was organized in the city to sensitize people and encourage them to sign up for the campaign to their commitment to gender equality. Last but not the least, in Dubai, an award-winning local band wrote the song “Fight for Your Queen” to urge men to fight for gender equality.

All these steps mentioned have been successful each one in their own way, proving that gender equality is possible. If so many individuals were ready to commit to this campaign, in future the growth will only be positive. This campaign is not just a mere UN campaigns, it strongly aims to making people aware that gender equality is not just a woman’s right but a human right just like any other.

As a conclusion to this part, here an extract of the final part of her speech upon the launch of the campaign which I believe is powerful enough to inspire every individual who believe gender inequality is not important for the progress of society.

– “We are struggling for a uniting word but the good news is we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen to speak up, to be the « he » for « she ». And to ask yourself if not me, who? If not now, when?”

A gender equal future – What the future has in store?

1995 has been a turning point in the history of women since the adoption the Beijing Declaration and Platform for action by 189 governments and ever since the situation is getting better and people have become more conscious about gender equality. Moreover, the Forum concluded that in 10 years, the gap would narrow by 4% only; the pace at which things are progressing is not enough for the gap to disappear.

As for the UK, with the 2019 Brexit referendum, gender equality seems to be unachievable since the reason as to why it has established a sort of gender equality policy was because of pressure from the European Union which is a pivotal driver of gender equality in Europe. It may be too early to predict the conditions of women post Brexit but as for now, there is definitely no certainty that the UK will be able to carry on with the same policy as exiting the union will deprive the British government from any sort of funding. When it comes to France, it aims at equalising the employment rate of male and female by 2025.

Moving away from Europe, discrimination towards women has been an issue that characterises the Indian society. If India wants to maintain its status as a worldwide growth leader, efforts should be made at all levels even when it comes to bringing women to parity men. The country ranks very low in having women as leaders; In the House of Parliament only 12% of the members are women. The matter requires urgency in India and the country chose to do things step by step starting from homes to achieve a gender equal India by 2050. The same applies to China, it has been and still is a real challenge for them to change the belief that women should be subordinate to men. In 2010, China had about 137 million female workers – 42.6% of the country’s workforce compared 7.5% in 1949.

Leaders and prominent leaders are optimistic that in about two decades, women will be backbones of the Chinese society. All to all, the future is still quite dark for women for the next coming years; societies that have already understood the role of gender equality are sure to make faster progress that rural areas for instance that have not yet got over the fact that women are equally important as men. What we do now is what will make a gender equal world possible.

“Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace.” – Extract of mission statement of Beijing Declaration and Platform for action

As a conclusion, all over the world, empowered girls are raising their voices to fight for their rights and protection in any way they can and some cases even men are voicing out for women’s rights.

While some are struggling to have access to education, others are either working to end violence against the female gender or somewhere else women may be fighting for equal professional rights but all to all women are simply trying to get their indigenous rights to be recognised and that a day or the other, gender equality will become something absolutely normal.
I strongly go with the mantra that actions undertaken now are what will make women’s future better, our future better. We must remain determined and keep on fighting now so that though not tomorrow but in the coming years things will get better and women will feel equally safe, privileged, supported. I believe that if things were the opposite way where gender equality would concern men, they would not give up upon their rights; Putting themselves in women’s shoes will be easier to understand the situation and help into creating a better future together.

This is not just a woman’s fight. It is a human’s fight. Everybody’s fight.

Priyanka Appadoo

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