Gender equality is a fundamental human right. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is a UN Sustainable Development Goal. But what does gender equality mean and how does it manifest in society? Here, we explain the basics.
WHAT IS GENDER?
Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. People from different cultures and traditions usually have different ideas and expectations about the characteristics, abilities and behavior of different genders (e.g. women/girls love pink and men/boys love blue). Based on these ideas and expectations, gender forms a hierarchy in society and creates inequalities that intersect with other inequalities such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, age, geographic location and sexual orientation.
There is no country in the world, where there is full gender equality in any walk of life. Girls often face the most significant barriers to exercising their rights and reaching their full potential. But what does it look like to achieve gender equality?
WHAT IS GENDER EQUALITY?
Gender equality means that all persons, regardless of their gender, enjoy the same status in society; have the same entitlements to all human rights; enjoy the same level of respect in the community; can take advantage of the same opportunities to make choices about their lives; and have the same amount of power to shape the outcomes of these choices. Gender equality is NOT about having the same number of people of every gender in all spheres and activities.
There are 4 elements that define gender equality:
- All genders enjoy the same status in society and are equally respected
- The different behaviours, aspirations and needs of all genders are considered and valued equally
- Their rights, opportunities and responsibilities do not depend on whether they are born male or female
- They have the same power to shape their lives and are free to develop their personal skills and make choices without limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and biases.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF GENDER INEQUALITY?
Gender inequality presents itself in many ways in society.
Access to education is just one example of gender inequality. For example, boys’ education is often prioritized because they may be seen as future earners, while girls often kept home from school to help with housework and family care. Other obstacles include gender-based violence, child marriage, poverty and lack of safe girls-only washrooms.
Gender-based violence is a systemic issue worldwide that is another example of gender inequality, as it amplifies the unequal power relationship between men and women. Girls are at much higher risk of experiencing sexual assault or violence, especially if they are walking long distances to school.
Child marriage is another example of gender inequality. Child brides are forced to drop out of school and almost always have children soon after, which limits their opportunities to reach their full potential.
Infant and maternal mortality is another indicator of gender inequality. Every day 800 women die from pregnancy-related complications, mostly in developing nations. Infant deaths and pregnancy-related deaths could be easily prevented if women had full access to healthcare.
WHY IS GENDER INEQUALITY IN EDUCATION SO IMPORTANT?
Gender inequality in education is crucial because barriers to education prevent girls from reaching their full potential. Schooling is a process of empowerment, and it can provide the route out of poverty, inequality, and violence when delivered properly. Staying in school increases a girl’s income earning potential. On average, women with secondary school education have a higher labour force participation and earn twice as much as those with no education at all. In addition, better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labour market, earn more, give birth to fewer children, marry at a later age, and provide better health care and education to their children.
WHAT IS GENDER-BASED EMPOWERMENT?
When we are empowered, we can shape our own lives and our own environment. Gender-based empowerment involves building women’s and girls’ assets (social, economic, political and personal), strengthening their ability to make choices about their future, and developing women’s and girls’ sense of self-worth and their belief in their own ability to control their lives.