Gender equality

UNICEF works to empower girls and women, and to ensure their full participation in political, social, and economic systems.



Gender inequality has a profound impact on the lives of children in Eastern and Southern Africa. There is a direct correlation between a child’s gender and the possibility of realizing their rights and enjoying their full potential, with social norms favouring boys over girls in most aspects of life.

Gender equality is fundamental to the achievement of human rights, and core to the UNICEF mandate for children.

People across the region face the impact of the gendered society in which they live.

Women and girls carry the majority of the care and domestic burden in every country in the region, are less likely to be employed in the formal sector (and where they are employed, earn lower wages), are less likely to be able to influence government policy, and experience high levels of violence.

Many children across the region are raised by female caregivers, and many do not have active contact with their fathers. 

Differentiated treatment according to gender is particularly acute during adolescence, when many girls are faced with the prospect of marriage (often before reaching the age of 18), adolescent pregnancy, and gender-based violence, as well as a heightened risk of HIV transmission. The risk of dropping out of school is high for girls at this age.

As gender inequality creates more barriers for girls and women, most gender-equitable programming targets girls and young women specifically as leaders and beneficiaries, while enlisting boys and men as supporters for change.

However, boys also face gender issues. These include recruitment into armed forces, early workforce exploitation, higher malnutrition levels in some age groups, and the impact of being brought up to adopt negative masculine stereotypes – for example, the acceptance of male violence as a method of control.


Understanding the inequities of gender relations, and responding with gender-equitable programmes is fundamental to good development work. Gender should be taken into account in the context of each of the focus areas, critical actions and strategies that UNICEF undertakes in the region.

Girls completing secondary school, prevention of child marriage and providing care to adolescent mothers, are among the most important interventions that UNICEF undertakes to reduce gender inequality and to support girls and boys to enjoy their rights fully.

UNICEF programming also aims to actively include adolescent girls and boys in policy and programme development.

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