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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 25 November, 2014

Column: Poverty cannot be eradicated in a world where gender discrimination exists

Gender inequality, discrimination and abuse of girls and women remains a major development challenge, writes Rosamond Bennett.

Rosamond Bennett

REPRESENTATIVES FROM 45 member states and NGOs are meeting in New York for the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58), 10-21 March. The priority theme of this year’s session is ‘Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls’.

The MDGs have played a positive role in focusing attention on some key areas where progress and investment has been desperately needed – education, maternal health, water and sanitation.

The inclusion of a stand-alone goal on gender equality was a vital recognition of the disproportionate impact of poverty on women and girls. It also emphasises the positive role that women must be allowed to play towards achieving sustainable development. However, the shortcomings of the stand-alone goal have been stark.

Gender inequality, discrimination and abuse of girls and women remains a major development challenge. Women continue to dominate in precarious, low-paid roles, often as domestic workers and agricultural workers. The average share of female members of parliament is still on 20 per cent – a universal problem. Women also continue to shoulder the burden of unpaid caring responsibilities.

Persistent challenges

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 reveals that only two out of 130 countries have achieved gender parity (ratio of female/male enrolment) at all levels of education. This is alongside a widening gap in tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2011.

Persistent challenges in ensuring the enrolment and completion of schooling among girls, especially girls from poor and rural communities, prevail. In most rural communities in Afghanistan for instance, cultural and family beliefs do not allow the girl child an education. For millions of girls around the world accessing education involves the risk of rape and violence on the journey to, or within, the school itself.

MDG 3, the gender equality goal, also fails to address one of the most widespread human rights abuses – gender based violence.

One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. During times of war and conflict, sexual violence is often used to terrorise and humiliate women and girls. Survivors often suffer further victimisation by family and society.

Conflict-related sexual violence is widespread in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia, where rape is used as a weapon of war. In Colombia over 54,400 women experienced sexual violence between 2001 and 2009. Up to 18 per cent of the victims reported the attacks yet figures show that more than 98 per cent of reported cases went unpunished.

Conflict around the world, especially in poor nations, has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Yet women are rarely included in peace-building processes. In the recent Colombia peace talks for instance, women were noticeably absent from the negotiating table.

Listening to the voices of women and girls

A Christian Aid report, The World We want to see: Perspectives on Post-2015 emphasises that “… the Post-2015 agenda should be ambitious, and the global community should, first and foremost, listen to the voices of women and girls.”

The approaching 2015 MDG target offers a significant opportunity to deepen and widen the global commitment to gender justice and equality.

In addition to a stand-alone goal on gender and women’s empowerment, the new development framework should address violence against women and girls; participation and inclusion in social, economic and political life; and should include mainstream gender considerations throughout the whole post-2015 framework.

Poverty cannot be eradicated in a world where gender discrimination and abuse prevents women and girls from exercising power over their own lives at home and within their communities.

Rosamond Bennett is the Chief Executive of Christian Aid Ireland and the current chair of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence. Twitter @christianaidirl.

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