Gender equality

Every child deserves to reach her or his full potential, but gender inequalities in their lives and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality.

Children react during an activity at an Anganwadi center in Cherki, Bihar.

Accelerating progress and opportunities across India for every girl and every boy

Every child deserves to reach her or his full potential, but gender inequalities in their lives and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality.

Wherever they live in India girls and boys see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day – in textbooks, in movies, in the media and among the men and women who provide their care and support.

Across India gender inequality results in unequal opportunities, and while it impacts on the lives of both genders, statistically it is girls that are the most disadvantaged.

Globally girls have higher survival rates at birth, are more likely to be developmentally on track, and just as likely to participate in preschool, but India is the only large country where more girls die than boys. Girls are also more likely to drop out of school.

In India girls and boys experience adolescence differently. While boys tend to experience greater freedom, girls tend to face extensive limitations on their ability to move freely and to make decisions affecting their work, education, marriage and social relationships.

As girls and boys age the gender barriers continue to expand and continue into adulthood where we see only a quarter of women in the formal workplace.

Some Indian women are global leaders and powerful voices in diverse fields but most women and girls in India do not fully enjoy many of their rights due to deeply entrenched patriarchal views, norms, traditions and structures.

India will not fully develop unless both girls and boys are equally supported to reach their full potential.

There are risks, violations and vulnerabilities girls face just because they are girls. Most of these risks are directly linked to the economic, political, social and cultural disadvantages girls deal with in their daily lives. This becomes acute during crisis and disasters.

With the prevalence of gender discrimination, and social norms and practices, girls become exposed to the possibility of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, child domestic work, poor education and health, sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. Many of these manifestations will not change unless girls are valued more.                   

The solution

It is critical to enhance the value of girls by investing in and empowering them, with education, life skills, sport and much more.

By increasing the value of girls we can collectively contribute to the achievement of specific results, some short-term (increasing access to education, reducing anaemia), others medium-term (ending child marriage) and others long-term (eliminating gender-biased sex selection).   

Changing the value of girls has to include men, women and boys. It has to mobilize many sectors in society. Only when society’s perception changes, will the rights of all the girls and all the boys in India be fulfilled.

Empowering girls requires focused investment and collaboration. Providing girls with the services and safety, education and skills they need in daily life can reduce the risks they face and enable them to fully develop and contribute to India’s growth.

Girls have an especially difficult time accessing life-saving resources, information and social networks in their daily life.  Access to programmes specifically tailored to the needs of girls – with a focus on education and developing life skills, ending violence and incorporating the needs and contributions of girls from vulnerable groups, including those with disabilities, can strengthen the resilience of millions of girls. Long-term solutions designed with and for girls can further strengthen this resilience and be a pathway of transformational and lifelong opportunity for girls.

All girls, especially adolescent girls, need platforms to voice the challenges they face in everyday life and explore the solutions that work for them so they can build better futures for themselves and their communities.

UNICEF India’s 2018-2022 Country Programme has been developed in response to the identification of deprivations that Indian children face, including gender based deprivations. Each programmatic outcome is committed to a gender priority that is noted explicitly in its programme, budget and results. These include:  

  • Health: Reducing excess female mortality under five and supporting equal care-seeking behaviour for girls and boys. (Example: front-line workers encourage families to take sick baby girls to the hospital immediately) 
  • Nutrition: Improving nutrition of women and girls, especially by promoting more equitable eating practices (Example: women cooperatives develop and implement their own micro-plans for improved nutrition in their villages) 
  • Education: Gender responsive support to enable out-of-school girls and boys to learn and enabling more gender-responsive curricula and pedagogy (Example: implementing new strategies for identifying vulnerable out of school girls and boys, overhaul of textbooks so that the language, images and messages do not perpetuate gender stereotypes) 
  • Child protection: Ending child and early marriage (Example: supporting panchayats to become “child-marriage free”, facilitating girls and boys clubs that teach girls sports, photography, journalism and other non-traditional activities) 
  • WASH: Improving girls’ access to menstrual hygiene management, including through well-equipped separate toilets in schools (Example: developing gender guidelines from Swacch Bharat Mission, supporting states to implement MHM policy) 
  • Social policy: Supporting state governments to develop gender-responsive cash transfer programmes and supporting women’s leadership in local governance (Example: cash transfer programme in West Bengal to enable girls to stay in school, a Resource Centre for women panchayat leaders in Jharkhand) 
  • Disaster risk reduction: Enabling greater gender disaggregation of information management for disaster risk reduction and more leadership and participation of women and girls (Example: greater women’s leadership and participation in Village Disaster Management Committees) 
Model student achievers Subhas and Manisha display their certificate of merit received from the Laado Campaign, Bambhor Village, Tonk District, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Model student achievers Subhas and Manisha display their certificate of merit received as part of the 'Laado Campaign' in Bambhor village in Tonk district in Rajasthan

In addition, three cross-cutting themes will support all outcomes: 

  • Joint C4D-Gender strategy: UNICEF’s Communication for Development (C4D) team develops social and behaviour change communication to support each outcome. These communications prioritize efforts to change negative gender norms like unequal feeding, unequal investment in young girls and boys, harmful MHM practices and perpetuation of lower value of girls than boys through wedding dowry. 
  • Advocating for and promoting equal value of girls: UNICEF’s Communications, Advocacy and Partnerships team works with media, influencers and gamechangers to advocate for UNICEF priorities, which, in the 2018-2022 programme, includes Equal Value of Girls and Boys. 
  • Increasing and improving girls’ and women’s safe mobility: UNICEF India has begun work in some states to work on new programmes with new partners to improve the ability and freedom of women and girls, including to access government services like schools and hospitals.  

Strategic partnerships 

Key partners include the Ministry of Women and Child Development, especially its leadership of the Beti Bachao Beti Padao Programme, which UNICEF India is supporting at the national and state level. UNICEF India works closely with other UN agencies to support gender equality, especially with United Nations Population Fund and UN Women. Civil society organizations, including gender experts and activities are also key partners.