The impact of gender inequality on health can result in devastating and deadly consequences – especially for women and adolescent girls in developing countries.
Did you know?
- Every day, an estimated 800 women and adolescent girls die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.
- 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries
- Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for adolescent girls aged 15–19.
These statistics highlight the reality that too many women and adolescent girls face overwhelming obstacles when it comes to accessing quality healthcare and information. One of the major reasons why women and girls cannot exercise their rights to access health services in developing countries is gender inequality.
How does gender inequality impact women and girls’ health?
Traditional gender norms in some communities often mean that women and girls do not know their rights or have the means to seek out sexual and reproductive health services and information on their own.
In many households, it is often the men in women and girls’ lives who make decisions for them – especially when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health. This is because men often hold position of power and higher social status making them the primary decision makers for their families.
Advancing gender equality to improve health
To address the impact of gender inequality on health and change the unequal power relations that keep women and girls from exercising their rights and improving their sexual and reproductive health, Plan International Canada has implemented the Strengthening Health Outcomes for Women and Children (SHOW) project in Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Bangladesh and Haiti, with support from Global Affairs Canada.
Through this project, we are addressing gender inequality at the household, community and institutional level by working with community leaders, governments, women, men, adolescents and training health care workers.
We also facilitate adolescent peer groups that provide a safe space to discuss topics like gender inequalities, gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices.
With the onset of COVID-19, the need to support women and girls has been intensified as the pandemic is amplifying already existing gender inequalities and exposing women and girls to a higher degree of gender-based violence including child marriage.
In the face of the pandemic, some governments have deemed essential sexual and reproductive health and maternal, newborn and child health services a lesser priority which could place women and adolescent girls in danger due to limited access to urgent care . The long-term effects could set back advancements for women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights for decades to come.
Youth groups address child marriage during covid-19
Meet Surovi, a teen from a community in rural Bangladesh.
Before the onset of COVID-19, Surovi spent a lot of time with her peers learning about girls and women’s rights, gender equality, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. These discussions through youth groups help young people like Surovi learn more about their rights over their own bodies, their rights to say “no” to child marriage and how to identify and flag other forms of gender-based violence.
However, the pandemic meant these groups could no longer meet. Rates of child marriage began to increase in Surovi’s community because youth could not access the essential support they needed and families faced new stressors such as loss of employment.
As a result, the SHOW project quickly pivoted to ensure youth could still meet safely and socially distanced in order to not only learn about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but also how to help their peers who might be at risk of child marriage or gender-based violence during the health crisis.
“Four of my classmates have been forced to get married in this COVID-19 emergency. This matter makes me very upset,” says Surovi. “I am determined to mobilize my community to fight child marriage … and stop this harmful practice.”
Learn more about supporting women and girls’ health
This global pandemic has taught us that we’re all in this together. We’re also stronger when we work together to advocate for change – and every voice counts.
Women and girls around the world are facing heightened barriers accessing vital sexual and reproductive health services and are at higher risk of gender-based violence. Plan International Canada is working around the world to address issues of access and quality of services while ensuring our response is rooted in a gender equal approach.
Canadians can play a role by learning about these barriers and using their voices and platforms to help spread awareness for this vital work and response. You can help raise awareness and stand with women and girls to Change the Birth Story by visiting changebirthstory.ca.
I stand with Canada to change the birth story because I believe that every adolescent girl, woman and child has the right to be healthy and to live a life free of discrimination.