Millions of girls are robbed of their childhood, education, and rights due to poverty and harmful practices masked as tradition and cultural requirements that are used as tools to control their bodies and lives
Hundreds of millions of children around the world are born and raised in a vicious circle of poverty. Born poor they cannot obtain the education and skills or access to resources needed to create new opportunities that could break the cycle and improve their living conditions. Moreover, data and estimations have shown poverty rates are not the same across genders and regions. In many cases, poverty impacts girls and women more harsher compared to boys and men. Data from the UNWomen show that in 2021 children accounted for 50 percent of the extreme poor even though they made up 30 percent of the world’s population. Other data from Women Count show that:
Children are more like to be poor compared to adults 18 or older
Teen girls face greater poverty than boys at different poverty levels.
At ages 15-19, differences in poverty are biased against females.
Moreover, differences in poverty rates continue to widen the most for men and women aged 25-34.
What harms girls?
Besides poverty, girls living in different regions are often harmed by traditional practices that support stereotyped roles and ideas of inferiority or superiority. A list of such practices that are detrimental to the health, life, dignity, and personal integrity of women includes:
Child marriage and dowry
Female genital mutilation
Unattended pregnancies and delivery by trained people
Delayed initiation of breastfeeding
Physical and psychological violence against girls and women
These and other harmful practices are widespread across countries, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic levels. According to unfpa.org, harmful practices are rooted in gender inequality and serve the purpose of controlling girls’ bodies, sexuality, independence, and sexual desires.
“Over 200 million women and girls alive today in 31 countries have undergone genital mutilation, although small-scale studies, media reports, and anecdotal evidence suggest FGM may be present in more than 90 countries,” unwomen, 2021.
What helps girls?
Besides education and empowerment, girls need their voices to be heard.
“I was screaming so hard, but no one seemed to hear,” FGM survivor Amal tells in her story.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the lives of girls and women. School closures, isolation, financial hardships, lack of access to healthcare, increased rates of domestic violence, and delays in the implementation of development programs to end harmful practices and raise the status and well-being of girls and women.
SDG 5, Gender Equality aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. Yet there are many other goals among the 17 SDGs that can help achieve SDG 5.
Water is a women’s crisis
SDG 6, clean water and sanitation
One of the activities that keep girls away from schools is collecting water. Water collection is considered a colossal waste of time and energy and it is a women’s issue.
“Today, women around the world will spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water. In addition to time spent collecting water, millions may also spend significant amounts of time finding a place to go. This makes up an additional 266 million hours of time each day lost because they have no toilet at home,” Water org.
Water fetching is physically demanding, and life-threatening, keeping girls away from school and valuable work, etc. Access to clean water and sanitation empowers women and children by giving them good health and opportunities. They can be free of health concerns related to contaminated and dirty water, have more time for school and education, have proper hygiene, launch a small business and increase their household income.
Reading suggestion: What is Gender Data Gap and How to Close It?
Lack of equal rights makes girls and women invisible
SDG 1, No Poverty
Target 1.4 of SDG 1 aims to achieve equal rights to ownership, basic services, technology, and economic resources. In the face of the ongoing climate crisis, the elimination of discriminatory laws and cultural practices that constrain women’s rights to property and inheritance is crucial.
Data from several countries confirm that if a man and a woman would each plow a field, the woman farmer would receive only a fraction of the assets (land rights, human capital) inputs, (financial credit, seeds, fertilizers, equipment, labor), and service (training, information) compared to the man. Due to all the above-mentioned factors, the woman farmer would get lower crop yields and earnings compared to the man farmer.
In a nutshell, gender-specific barriers not only prevent women from unlocking their full potential as farmers, but also slow down progress toward food security, improved well-being, and education and healthcare in rural communities and developing countries.
Moreover, it is irrational how in some places is acceptable that a girl can work as a child laborer, but she is denied the right to get an education (SDG 4) and join the labor force as an adult. Girls that are not in education tend to get married and have children at a younger age. Their children get affected too, as they might suffer malnourishment, high risks of dying, stunting, etc.
SDG 4: Quality Education
Nothing more than access to quality education helps girls reduce poverty and stay safe from the harmful practices mentioned above. When women are left out of education, they don’t acquire the skills that a functional educational system must provide. The question arises, what a woman without proper education can do to generate income, have economic autonomy, and drive social change? They can do a lot by using their skills to improve their income sources and offer a different future to their children.
Girls and women without formal education can still attend training on cultural and craft design, marketing, and business management.
Many of the ideas and projects competing in the Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition focus on empowering girls, women, and children by making it possible that they get proper access to education, good physical and mental health, adequate household infrastructure, safe and proper transport, etc.
Their innovative ideas and projects focus directly on women-related issues, or on problems that support the equal development of the girl child and women.
You can find those ideas and projects listed under the Youth and Adult competition. There is still time to support them with votes and comments.