At the heart of all development issues, health, education, population, and urbanisation, to name a few, lies fundamental human right of gender equity.
Globally, gender equity is yet to be accomplished despite being a crucial driver for sustainable development and social justice. The same goes for African countries.
Women and girls across all spheres continue to be targets of various forms of violence and discrimination, earning less than men for performing equivalent work and often engaging in excessive unpaid care work that limits their prospects for success and well-being.
As a result, gender stereotypes and norms frequently impose restrictions on both men’s and women’s choices and aspirations, preventing them from reaching their full potential. In education, the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 highlights significant inequalities between girls and boys in education attainment. Many girls receive less support in schools than boys to pursue their chosen studies.
According to Unicef, this happens for various reasons. The safety, hygiene, and sanitation needs of girls are neglected, barring them from regularly attending classes. Discriminatory teaching practices and educational materials also produce gender gaps in learning and skills development. The higher drop-out rate among girls has also been attributed to adolescent pregnancy, early marriage, peer pressure, and child labour.
Health inequities disproportionately affect women. According to UNFPA, maternal deaths are preventable by ensuring access to high quality and timely care.
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However, WHO reports that more than half of the global maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls accounted for 63 per cent of new HIV infections in 2021. Every week, around 4,900 young women aged 15-24 become infected with HIV in Africa. Further, six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15-24 are girls. For these girls, the increased risk of unwanted pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, and malnutrition are heightened by gender norms and discrimination.
To address these among other challenges, we must adopt a holistic and inter-sectional approach that recognises the diversity and complexity of gender issues.
By challenging root causes of gender inequity, such as patriarchal structures, systems, and cultures that perpetuate discrimination and violence we can easily promote the empowerment, participation, and engagement of women and girls, as well as accountability of men and boys as allies and agents of change.
Women’s economic empowerment and leadership is critical to reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. Governments can promote women’s economic empowerment and leadership by implementing policies that increase access to credit, markets, and entrepreneurship and leadership training.
Overall, economies that embrace gender equity are more inclusive, robust, and progressive, leading to higher productivity. This, coupled with women participation in politics is critical to promoting gender equity and ensuring women’s voices are heard in decision-making.
We can start by raising our own awareness and understanding of gender issues and by challenging our biases and assumptions. We can also support and amplify the voices and actions of those working for gender justice, especially women’s rights activists and organisations by advocating for more resources and political will to address gender gaps and barriers.
We all have a role in advancing gender equity in our communities, workplaces, and societies to create an equitable and inclusive world.
-The writer is a research director at the African Population and Health Research Centre.