The world has made real progress in improving the lives and opportunities of girls and young women globally.
More girls are enrolling in primary education than ever before, rates of child marriage are declining [PDF], and adolescent girls in particular have gained increased attention within the international community.
However, in the times of #metoo and the welcome spotlight on the need for us all to do more to tackle issues around sexual harassment and abuse, there is no room for complacency.
“Girls are not given equal chances as the boys to go to school…No, it’s not fair…Because the girls are left at home working as the boys go to school”Juliet, 11, Uganda
“Girls are weak…If [they are strong], no one will love us when we grow up”Champou, 11, Cambodia
The girls quoted above – part of a Plan International UK study following the lives of 142 girls in 9 countries – testify powerfully to the fact that huge gaps remain. And progress often goes into reverse in emergency and fragile settings – for example girls in emergencies face increased risks of child marriage, sexual violence and exploitation.
So, DFID’s new Strategic Vision and Call to Action for Gender Equality launched last week is very welcome. DFID is rightly proud of its track record on promoting gender equality globally, and now sets out an ambitious approach for itself and others to accelerate progress in recognition that “business as usual is not enough” to address the challenges faced.
DFID has taken on board much input from partners who contributed during a well-run consultation phase, which is reflected in the quality of the outcome. There is much to welcome, in particular:
- It recognises the specific needs of girls, advocating a “lifecycle approach” to tackling the challenges faced by girls and women at different times of their lives, including adolescence which is a key transition phase bearing particular risks such as child marriage. It also recognises the need for the views and lived experiences of girls and women to inform programmes and policies.
- It commits to tackling the many interlinked challenges that girls face in realising their rights including in relation to education, combating violence, accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights, and economic empowerment. And, in the year where we celebrate 100 years of suffrage for some women in the UK, it is good to see political empowerment addressed too, an addition since DFID’s 2011 Strategic Vision. Through Plan’s work, we know how critical work is to give girls a voice and support them to play a leadership role at different levels in society – for example the girls in Malawi who we supported last year to drive through legislative change on child marriage through their parliament.
- The importance of tackling the deep-rooted social norms, and unequal power relations underpinning gender inequality is firmly reflected. The UK has played a key role in putting discriminatory social norms on the global agenda. But progress is still slow and uneven, as Champou’s quote above reflects, and will require challenging and changing power relations on all levels.
- It commits to building evidence and disaggregated data. The data question can sound technical but we know that millions of girls are currently “invisible” to policy makers because of a lack of information about their lives. So it’s great to see DFID firmly commit to investing more in data as part of their Vision.
- The crucial role of national women’s organisations is recognised and the need to support them to speak out and tackle gender equality.
We’re also happy that DFID also announced the £10 million Jo Cox Memorial Grants for organisations and projects supporting women’s empowerment.
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Are there any gaps? It would be good to see more attention paid in future to the burden of unpaid care work and “time poverty”, which is an important barrier to many girls’ education and economic empowerment. Overall, however, the Vision and Call to Action point firmly in the right direction and are a strong signal that DFID will continue to play a leadership role and help galvanise others. We look forward to working with DFID to contribute to more detailed implementation plans.
Now that more UK aid is being spent by other government departments, it will be important for those departments too to set out how they will deliver the level of ambitious change set out in the Vision within their aid spending and across other policy areas which impact on girls and women, such as trade policies. Strong mechanisms for working together across government departments will be important to underpin progress. This is rightly a “Call to Action”, not only committing to DFID action but calling on others to play their own distinct roles in what needs to be a society-wide shift. We can all do more, and we look forward to working with DFID and others to deliver transformative change for girls globally.
“I dream about becoming a doctor because this is what my mother had started to study before becoming pregnant”Mendoza, 10, Benin