Global annual results report 2019: Gender equality
Addressing gender inequalities and promoting women’s and girls’ empowerment to build an equal future for all children
The commitment of UNICEF to an equal future for all girls and boys recognizes that promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UNICEF Gender Action Plan, 2018–2021 (GAP), both articulates and operationalizes this commitment, providing a road map for promoting gender equality throughout the organization’s work. Closely aligned with the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2018–2021, the GAP defines a framework around three priority areas: integrating gender across all programming sectors, targeting the well-being and empowerment of adolescent girls, and strengthening institutional strategies and systems.
This report summarizes how UNICEF, together with its partners, contributed to gender equality in 2019 and reviews the impact of these accomplishments on children and the communities where they live.
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Global progress in achieving gender equality
The world has made great strides towards greater gender equality. Today, more girls are able to access and continue their primary education, incidence of child marriage is declining, and concrete legal reforms and actions are making national systems such as health, education, water and sanitation more responsive to the needs and vulnerabilities of millions of underserved women and girls.
This all remains not nearly enough, however, to meet the SDGs by 2030. Even now, 1 in 3 adolescent girls will experience female genital mutilation (FGM), and 1 in 5 will be married while they are still children. Worldwide, 1 in 4 girls aged 15-19 are in neither education, employment nor training, compared with 1 in 10 boys. Moreover, adolescent girls still account for 3 out of 4 new HIV infections among adolescents aged 10-19 and nearly 4 out of 10 girls think wife-beating is justified.
The commitment of UNICEF to an equal future for all recognizes that promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is central to achieving the SDGs. Through the Gender Action Plan (GAP), 2018–2021, UNICEF operationalizes this commitment and promotes gender equality throughout the organization’s work.
What is Gender? Explained by children
Highlights of results
The last two years have seen UNICEF substantially increase investment in resources, leadership, capacity and accountability to accelerate results for women and girls. Falling at the midpoint of the GAP, this report highlights the emerging trends, challenges and progress made in the last two years, with an emphasis on priority gender results in 2019.
UNICEF’s work towards gender equality is focused on levelling the playing field for girls and boys by addressing gender inequality in key life outcomes; promoting gender equality in how children are supported and cared for, including in households and childcare-related fields; and promoting adolescent girls’ well-being and empowerment.
Equality in health systems and workforce
The percentage of pregnant women receiving at least 4 antenatal visits increased from 57 to 60 per cent from 2018 to 2019. The percentage of mothers receiving postnatal care has already surpassed the 2021 target, reaching 60 per cent (from a baseline of 48 per cent). UNICEF also ramped up the professionalization of community health workers - who are predominantly female - in 25 countries, already exceeding the GAP 2021 target.
Bringing health and gender equality to homes
The Kosovo Ministry of Health’s programme of home-visiting nurses, supported by UNICEF, provides home-based services in 16 municipalities to improve the health and well-being of children and their caregivers, and train nurses to promote gender equality in family dynamics, better engage fathers in caregiving, and to report signs of gender-based violence.
Equality in education
In 2019, over 17 million out-of-school children participated in education through UNICEF-supported programmes, 5 million more than in 2018. 49 per cent of UNICEF-supported countries (up from 38 per cent in 2018) had effective mechanisms against school-related gender-based violence. 45 UNICEF-supported countries, a 25 per cent increase from 2017, had gender-responsive systems to improve access to education, and 37 had teaching and learning systems that integrated gender equality principles, an improvement of 22 per cent over 2017. Over 4 million children, double the number in 2018, and including 2.3 million girls, participated in skills development programmes.
Supporting girls' education
Jenifer Tete, 17 years of age, is head girl at Maaji Seed Secondary School in Uganda. She is committed to staying in school and wants to be an accountant. UNICEF and the Danish Refugee Council are working with communities and teachers in Uganda to change mindsets towards girls’ education and encourage secondary school completion.
Addressing gender-based violence
Over 2.7 million children who experienced violence were reached by health, social work or justice and law enforcement services through UNICEF support in 2019. More than 158,400 girls and women received FGM-related services, while some 8.5 million people participated in UNICEF-supported community mobilization platforms against FGM (up from 6.8 million in 2018).
A Father Against the Current
Shaimaa Abd El-Hamid, a protection specialist and a PhD candidate in Egypt, credits her father for being the only woman in her extended family who went to college. “I couldn’t understand why my father, the simple, illiterate man, refused that I get cut” while “well-educated, open-minded people believed FGM was normal and beneficial for girls.” She later learned that her father took this unconventional stand because, as a boy, he had listened to a Sheikh in his home town repeatedly preach against FGM, and this message had stayed with him.
Gender-responsive water, sanitation and hygiene systems
Through UNICEF-supported programmes, nearly 18.3 million additional people (8.3 million women and girls in the 47 countries reporting sex-disaggregated data) gained access to safe drinking-water in 2019. Almost 15.5 million additional people (7.6 million women and girls in 62 reporting countries) gained access to basic sanitation services. In humanitarian situations, UNICEF provided access to safe water to 39.1 million people in 64 countries (19.6 million females) and sanitation facilities to 9.3 million people in 50 countries.
Promoting positive gender norms and socialization
120 UNICEF country offices across all regions are working in the flagship GAP priority area of ‘positive gender socialization’. Efforts have focused on promoting gender-responsive parenting and workplace family-friendly policies, encouraging fathers’ involvement in caregiving and domestic responsibilities, and addressing gender norms linked to harmful practices.
Sharing the joys of parenting
Abdo Gonzalez, 35, poses for a picture with his daughter Paula, 14 months, inside their apartment in Asunción, Paraguay. Paula attends an Early Childhood Development daycare centre at her parents' workplace, TIGO Telecommunications, a UNICEF partner in promoting children’s rights and well-being in all the Latin American markets where TIGO operates. The company’s other family-friendly policies include breastfeeding breaks for nursing employees, four months maternity and 15 days paternity leave, and training for parents in child health and nutrition.
Gender-responsive social protection
In 2019, almost 14 million girls and 10.9 million boys, across seven regions, were reached by UNICEF-supported cash transfer programmes to support their health, nutrition and education needs.
Number of girls and boys reached by cash transfer programmes through UNICEF-supported programmes in 2019
Numbers in ‘000s
Adolescent girls’ well-being and empowerment
UNICEF’s priorities on adolescent girls’ well-being and empowerment showed encouraging signs of progress over the last two years, notably through continued emphasis on coordinated, cross-sectoral work, and innovative solutions to expand girls’ participation and agency.
Highlights on targeted priorities for adolescent girls in 2019
Dignified menstrual health and hygiene
1 million girls and women in emergency settings were provided with UNICEF -supported menstrual health and hygiene services, including 24,232 girls and women living with disabilities.
Girls' health and nutrition
With support from UNICEF and partners, 13.5 million girls were tested for HIV and know their status compared to 10.6 million in 2016. Eight countries received support to scale up human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination, and nearly 1 million girls received the full schedule of vaccination in five countries where the vaccine’s introduction was earlier supported.
Girls' secondary education and skills
Almost a quarter of UNICEF-supported countries – exceeding the GAP 2019 target - institutionalized gender-equitable skills for young people for earning, personal empowerment, active citizenship and employability. Over 4 million adolescents (61 per cent girls) in 113 countries participated in or led civic engagement activities through UNICEF-supported programmes.
Child marriage and early unions
5.7 million adolescent girls received UNICEF-supported prevention and care interventions related to child marriage, including life skills initiatives (almost 1 million more than 2018).
Gender-based violence in emergencies
3.3 million women, girls and boys in emergencies were provided with risk mitigation, prevention or response interventions to address gender-based violence.
“I have a dream and no one should stop me”
Girls advocating to end child marriage
Kusma Kumari, 13 years of age, is part of a UNICEF programme that trains adolescents on children’s rights, so they can pass on the knowledge to their communities. Knowing she and her friends are at high risk of child marriage in Jharkhand, India, she speaks out on the issue at every chance she gets. Kusma has grown the confidence to speak at public forums. “Child marriage is illegal,” she repeats at a village community meeting, speaking directly to the fathers in the room, including her own, Mahto, a local mechanic, who has promised she will stay in school and not marry early.
Innovation focus: Girls Got IT
The Girls Got IT initiative in Lebanon, supported by UNICEF, offers mentorship and skills-building workshops to break cultural stereotypes about young women in STEM. Girls have learned skills in coding, game design, mobile apps, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, engineering and entrepreneurship. By 2019, the programme had organized 169 workshops and engaged nearly 3,600 girls, many of whose skills were matched to income opportunities from digital companies.
Making UNICEF a more gender-responsive organization
At UNICEF, all of us should be working on gender. It is not just for those in the Gender Section or gender specialists, every UNICEF staff should be taking it into consideration so that our programming has the intended impact and the best results for every girl, boy, woman and man.
UNICEF continued to consolidate and strengthen its ability to mainstream gender in its organizational systems and work culture. UNICEF’s performance in the United Nations System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP) – the UN’s organizational effectiveness standard for gender equality – has improved steadily, leading in 2019 to the organization meeting 82 per cent of all benchmarks (up from 76 per cent in 2018), and becoming one of the highest performing agencies. 65 per cent of UNICEF country offices met the organizational standard for gender mainstreaming, increasing from less than 50 per cent in 2018. Gender parity was made a top priority in leadership recruitment, resulting in parity being achieved in 2019 among senior professional staff. Specialized gender capacity training through ‘GenderPro’ was extended beyond UNICEF staff to external partners.
Priorities for action
UNICEF will continue to strengthen its gender programming and organizational systems to accelerate positive outcomes for women and girls. Key programmatic priorities include adolescent girls’ skills and agency, ending all forms of violence against women and girls, gender-responsive parenting and caregiving, and gender-responsive social protection. UNICEF will also prioritize gender in humanitarian action, particularly in the organization’s response to COVID-19. Institutionally, UNICEF will continue to contribute to building gender data, evidence and gender capacity in collaboration with partners.
The work towards achieving gender equality cannot be done alone – the strategic partnerships UNICEF has with United Nations agencies, governments, civil society and the private sector provide valuable expertise, reach, resources and influence that are indispensable to further progress. UNICEF will continue to strengthen the breadth and depth of these partnerships to empower and transform the lives of millions of disadvantaged women and girls worldwide.