Women and girls all around the world face inequality, from the wealthiest economies to the poorest, but extreme poverty puts women at an even greater disadvantage. The UK Department for International Development’s strategy on gender equality highlighted that globally, one in three women are beaten and/or sexually abused in their lifetime, over 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday, 130 million girls between the age of six and 17 are out of school and 71% of the estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery are girls and women. Girls and women across the world are held back by entrenched inequality and discrimination and many of the causes are interlinked.
Even if a girl is able to register for school, her attendance is often sporadic for many reasons. Girls are needed to help with domestic chores or they must go out to earn an income. They stay away from school during their period as many schools still have no hygiene facilities or they cannot afford sanitary pads. Girls may be sexually harassed at school or taken out of school to be married early. The Global Partnership for Education reported that less than half (48%) of girls complete secondary school and a University of Cambridge study found that in the poorest countries, under 5% of university admissions were young women.
A 2017 World Bank report into the economic impacts of child marriage estimated that more than 41,000 girls under the age of 18 marry every day and half of all girls in the poorest families in the world are married as children. Often it is seen as a way to ease financial burden because the girl becomes the responsibility of the husband.Yet the impact on poverty would be far greater if girls were allowed to stay in school and then build a career – the World Bank estimates that ending child marriage could generate over $500 billion in benefits each year. Lack of education has an impact on girls for the rest of their lives, from their earning potential to their self-confidence to their ability to negotiate access to their basic rights, whether that is sexual and reproductive healthcare, securing birth certificates for their children or exercising their right to vote.
Women rarely have the opportunity to realise their full earning potential. Women bear up to 80% of the burden of unpaid domestic work, leaving little time to earn an income. The lack of gender equality in education goes onto have a direct impact on women’s earning potential as they lack the qualifications or skills needed to get a job. This means that even if a woman is working, it is often in exploitative situations such as sex work, sweatshops or the very low paid informal economy. This is a missed opportunity. Consulting firm McKinsey found that if women had the same role in labour markets as men, an estimated $28 trillion (26% increase) could be added to global GDP by 2025. The challenges faced by women and girls are even more acute for those with disabilities.
Achieving gender equality is a priority for us and every one of our projects prioritises the needs of women and girls. However, we do not forget the role of boys and men in achieving gender equality. Each piece of work is tailored to the cultural context and the needs of the local community, with some common activities across all our work: