Gender equality is a basic human right, and achieving it has far-reaching social and economic ramifications. Empowering women spurs economic growth and productivity, yet gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Women lack access to decent work opportunities and often face workplace discrimination and gender wage gaps. Many women are denied access to basic education and health care. Globally, 129 million girls do not attend school, and one in five girls is married before she turns 18. This also translates to being under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes.
Access to Education
Despite respectable strides over the past 20 years, girls are still far less likely to attend school than boys. But investing in girls’ education transforms communities. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to earn a higher income, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.
Families living in poverty might not have the means to send all of their children to school because they can’t afford the books or fees. And some societies, especially in Western Asia and North Africa, will educate boys over girls because of cultural or societal norms. Weak infrastructure (i.e., a lack of school buildings, unreliable electricity, impassable roads, etc.), child marriage, and violence also prevent women from receiving an education.
Though rates of girls and boys enrolled in primary schools globally are getting more similar, the gender gap is still wide, especially in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV). In FCV countries, girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to be out of school; at the secondary level, they are 90% more likely to not be enrolled.
When women are educated, they are typically healthier, earn higher incomes, marry later, have fewer children, and provide better education and healthcare for their children. Boys also benefit from learning alongside girls, as harmful norms about masculinity are reduced. Thus, educating women has ripple effects that benefit entire communities and countries, reducing poverty and increasing economic growth.
Women in Government
Women’s equal political participation and leadership are essential to achieving gender equality on a larger scale. However, the latest data shows that women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide.
Only 21% of government ministers are women, and only 28 women are serving as Heads of State or Government worldwide (out of 195 countries). Transgender and nonbinary politicians are even fewer in number. However, political representation is critical because people in leadership positions more often champion issues relevant to their identities and communities. Women in office tend to advocate for social issues benefitting all, increase funding for health and education, and resolve conflicts without violence.
Economic empowerment is central to realizing women’s rights and gender equality. Currently, 2.4 billion women of working age do not have equal economic opportunities to men, and many countries still maintain legal barriers that prevent women from fully participating in the economy.
Along with the barriers that exist in the traditional workforce, women also carry the responsibility for the vast majority of domestic “unpaid labor.” This includes things like cooking and cleaning, child-rearing, caring for older relatives, and fetching firewood. This unpaid labor is rarely formally acknowledged, and often holds women back in the paid workforce.
Making the economic environment more equitable benefits everybody by making economies more diverse, boosting productivity, and lessening income inequality.
Lack of access to essential health services has long-term implications for the health and well-being of women and their children. Gender disparities in health begin in the womb and carry through a person’s life, from maternal and child nutrition to access to reproductive and maternal healthcare.
Women living in poverty are exposed to greater health risks and often do not have the means to pay for healthcare and adequate nutrition. In societies where daughters are valued less than sons, girls often receive less care, attention, and treatment than the boys in the family, and the problems are exacerbated if they live in rural and remote areas with poor infrastructure.
Women’s access to information and services to protect their reproductive health is especially important. Every day, 800 women die from complications of childbirth, and women in developing countries are 36 times more likely to experience complications during pregnancy due to a lack of family planning access and basic healthcare services. In low- and middle-income countries, approximately 218 million women of reproductive age lack modern contraception. But when women do have access to family planning and contraception to choose the number of timing and births, they and their children tend to be healthier and more able to access educational and economic opportunities.
Transgender and Gender-nonconforming Individuals
Globally, research on transgender and gender-nonconforming people is sparse. There is comparatively little knowledge about their specific health challenges and needs. However, the evidence does reveal that transgender people are disproportionately affected by mental, sexual, and reproductive health illnesses. This is caused and exacerbated by exposure to violence, stigma, and barriers to healthcare services and health-related determinants like education, employment, and housing.
In some societies, people who do not identify as the sex they were assigned at birth are accepted. But in many societies around the world, these populations still face significant discrimination, including lack of government protections, violence, and microaggressions. In the U.S., for example, 29% of transgender survey respondents were living in poverty due to social and economic exclusion, compared to 12% of the U.S. population overall.