Global Annual Results Report 2020: Gender Equality
Addressing gender inequalities and promoting women’s and girls’ empowerment to build an equal future for all children
COVID-19: a crisis for women and girls
Girls and women are bearing the brunt of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has intensified pre-existing gender inequalities based on discriminatory gender stereotypes. Widespread economic insecurity, as well as service disruptions related to maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and education, are jeopardizing the lives of millions of women and girls.
Gender-based violence has spiked in many countries, especially during lockdowns. Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to violence, child marriage and dropping out of school. Women bear greater risk on the frontlines, accounting for 70 per cent of health workers globally. And at home, women, and their daughters more than sons, have assumed the bulk of unpaid care work with schools and childcare services shuttered, severely limiting their earning and learning opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated entrenched discrimination against women and girls. The crisis has a woman’s face.
We have also witnessed the resilience and courage of women and girls as leaders, essential workers and problem-solvers that communities depend on. Girls across the world are rising as leaders, innovators and voices of change. As we continue to confront the COVID-19 crisis, there are opportunities to build back better, in ways that are transformative for gender equality.
UNICEF responds to the COVID-19 impact on women and girls
84 country offices
implemented gender-based violence in emergencies programmes compared with 46 in 2019
were supported with national gender-responsive social protection interventions, triple the number in 2019
programme expenditure on gender-transformative results was 17.1 per cent of total expenditure
UNICEF focuses 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.
In 2020, UNICEF continued to accelerate positive outcomes for women and girls, situating this work within its emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges posed by the outbreak, UNICEF and partners scaled results in several areas including: ending child marriage, menstrual health and hygiene, social protection, education access, and adolescent girls’ skills development.
Equality in health systems and workforce
had implementation plans to strengthen quality maternal and newborn health care, surpassing the 2021 target of 30
78 per cent of live births
were attended by skilled health personnel, almost meeting the 2021 target of 79 per cent
25 focus countries
had formally integrated community health workers into their health systems, meeting the 2021 target
Due to much-reduced medical services, UNICEF strengthened remote and mobile delivery systems to ensure continuity of services, while also supporting governments to adapt to challenges and strengthen national health systems.
UNICEF scaled up efforts to support caregiver health and well-being – essential within the continuum of quality health care – in response to the toll on female caregivers from increased childcare needs and unemployment due to COVID-19. UNICEF also continued to support the professionalization of community health workers (CHWs), who are majority female. CHWs’ vital role in delivering essential services to underserved communities was amplified by the pandemic, where they helped continue emergency health services and disseminate virus prevention information.
Reaching remote communities with health services
Members of a Hard-to-reach (HRT) mobile medical team in Tuli, Bauchi state, Nigeria, travel through rough terrain to reach communities living far from health facilities. Such UNICEF-supported HRT teams provide expectant mothers and children with vital health services and have contributed to reductions in maternal and child morbidity in 1344 communities in Adamawa, Bauchi and Kebbi states.
Equality in education
301 million children
were reached with distance learning (49 per cent of them girls)
18.6 million out-of-school girls
participated in early learning and primary or secondary education through UNICEF-supported programmes, compared with 8.4 million in 2019
42 million girls
benefited from education services in humanitarian settings, increasing from 23 million in 2019
More than 1.6 billion children across 188 countries were affected by school closures in 2020, and at least 30 per cent worldwide did not have access to remote learning. UNICEF renewed efforts to promote equitable learning opportunities within its COVID-19 response. This included scaling up gender-responsive distance education, through radio, television and digital platforms, as well as offline strategies that addressed, among other issues, the lack of internet connectivity and mobile devices for the most marginalized.
Education pathways for out-of-school girls
Two young mothers are on their way to class at the UNICEF-supported Guingreni centre in the North of Côte d’Ivoire, which provides civic and vocational skills training to vulnerable adolescent girls who are out of school. Their children attend a kindergarten within the centre while their mothers take classes.
Addressing gender-based violence
4.2 million children
(over 1.25 million girls) who experienced violence were reached with health, social work and justice services, 53 per cent more than in 2019
17.7 million people
across 83 emergency-context countries received gender-based violence risk mitigation, prevention or response interventions
1.6 million girls
were reached with Female Genital Mutilation prevention and protection services; while community-sensitization messaging reached 16.4 million people, almost double the number in 2019
In light of increases in gender-based violence (GBV) and the strain on prevention and response services related to the pandemic, UNICEF and partners invested in scaling up online and offline service delivery, such as child helplines; remote case management; supporting social workers with PPE equipment, hygiene supplies and special permits during lockdowns; partnering with local women’s organizations to reach vulnerable groups; and using media and mobile applications to spread information about risk mitigation and response services.
UNICEF also increased violence awareness and promoted behaviour change among parents and communities. Through online platforms, 2.6 million mothers, fathers and caregivers across 87 countries, were reached through programmes related to gender-equitable parenting, positive discipline, and mental health support for families.
Hotels as a refuge for survivors of violence in Mexico
Rates of domestic violence spiked in Mexico in the early months of the pandemic. With travel restrictions in force and GBV response services limited during lockdowns, many survivors were trapped in their homes with their abusers. UNICEF partnered with the Government and the private sector to provide hotel accommodation as temporary shelter for women and children seeking refuge from violence. Grupo Posadas hotels – one of the largest hotel chains in Mexico – provided free food and lodging while support services and longer-term solutions were arranged for survivors. Hotel staff received sensitivity training, and a psychologist provided counselling to both survivors and staff.
Gender-responsive water, sanitation and hygiene systems
17 million additional people
gained access to safe drinking water since 2019 (7.3 million women and girls)
13 million additional people
had access to basic sanitation services since 2019 (6.9 million women and girls)
6.35 million women and girls
accessed appropriate gender-segregated WASH facilities in schools, temporary learning spaces and other child-friendly spaces
To address major disruptions to WASH services in 2020, UNICEF concentrated on continuing and improving service provision across 120 countries. In 2020, over 70,500 schools were equipped with separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys, including those living with disabilities.
Considering the huge need for infection prevention and control due to COVID-19, UNICEF also expanded efforts to equip health facilities with basic WASH services, reaching more than 5,600 in 2020 alone, a major increase over previous years. This contributed to improvements in infection prevention during childbirth and quality of maternal care.
Hamsatou Bolly, aged 13 years, demonstrates handwashing with soap to other girls at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Socoura, Mali. UNICEF trained community relays and adolescents in the camp on hygiene practices to prevent COVID-19 transmission so they could inform others in their community.
Promoting positive gender norms and socialization, including through social protection
49 UNICEF country programmes
had interventions to transform gender-discriminatory roles and norms and promote positive gender socialization
In 46 countries
UNICEF assisted governments to support families to better care for their children, including through family-friendly policies like parental leave; quality childcare; and child benefits
were supported with national gender-responsive social protection interventions, triple the number in 2019
Confronting the harmful social norms and stereotypes that are a root cause of persistent discrimination towards girls and women can be a powerful force for transformative change. UNICEF supported research on the impact of targeted gender socialization interventions in several areas including education, parenting, adolescent girls’ empowerment and harmful practices, social sector workforce development and media and marketing. UNICEF also prioritized family-friendly policies and positive parenting interventions to help improve child well-being and engage fathers in gender-equitable caregiving and domestic responsibilities.
Addressing Stereotypes in Marketing and Advertising
Engaging the business sector in promoting positive gender roles in marketing and advertising is crucial to dismantle harmful gender stereotyping. In 2020, UNICEF engaged with industry advocates including the Unstereotype Alliance and the World Federation of Advertisers, and launched partnerships with companies marketing to children, such as LEGO to address diversity and inclusion issues relating to gender, race and disability through toy manufacturing and messaging. A research project was also initiated with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media on advertising’s impact on young people in India.
Photographers turn their lenses on themselves and their families during COVID-19 lockdowns
Gender-responsive social protection
Inclusive and well-managed social protection systems hold enormous potential for transformative outcomes for women and girls, and gender equality more broadly. UNICEF expanded support for gender-responsive social protection programmes, particularly addressing the gender norms that create barriers, preventing women and girls from benefiting from such programmes. This is especially crucial in the ongoing pandemic response to the ‘care crisis’ which is limiting women’s income-earning ability.
Emergency cash transfers for vulnerable households in Sierra Leone
Umu Kamara (pictured with her son), an informal street trader in Freetown, Sierra Leone, saw her small income vanish overnight during the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly 60 per cent of people live below the poverty line and the effects of the pandemic are deepening the experience of poverty across the country. UNICEF and the World Bank supported emergency cash transfers as part of the national social protection response, which targeted extremely vulnerable populations, including informal workers in urban areas - many of whom are women and single parents, like Umu - providing them with immediate cash disbursements.
Innovation for gender equality
UNICEF’s Innovation for Gender Equality Portfolio promotes digital skills and creative social enterprise models, while amplifying adolescent girls and young women as game-changing technology-shapers and innovators. While embracing all forms of innovation, including creative offline and low-tech solutions, the portfolio also directly addresses the gender digital divide that impacts opportunities for girls and women across all economic contexts - from high to low-income countries. In 2020, UNICEF joined forces with numerous public and private partners as the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality to empower women and girls to safely and meaningfully access, use, lead, and design technology and innovation.
Science for all
Armenian teen Hasmik Baghdasaryan used to wonder whether boys really were naturally better at science as she struggled during chemistry classes where boys significantly outnumbered the girls. Then she moved to a school with a dedicated laboratory, and everything changed. Hasmik and her teammates designed ‘VR Labs’, which offers chemistry curricula and simulated science experiments through virtual reality headsets for use in schools without science equipment or their own laboratories. VR Labs was one of five winners of UNICEF and partners Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge on innovation.
Eco-friendly sanitary products
Red Code, a group of 3 young women from Pakistan, developed an eco-friendly reusable sanitary pad initiative to improve menstrual hygiene management for disadvantaged women and girls. A winner of the UNICEF and partners Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge on Innovation, the group received UNICEF support to scale up their project to provide supplies to marginalized girls in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
The Neighbour’s Recipe
‘La receta de la vecina’ is a cookbook with ‘secret recipes’ to help domestic violence survivors in Ecuador discreetly report abuse and seek help. The initiative was a winning solution during an online ‘hackathon’ organized by UNICEF for 200 young women across 20 countries in Latin America to devise solutions to address the rise in GBV in the COVID-19 context, especially for survivors without access to mobile phones or the internet.
Adolescent girls’ well-being and empowerment
3.2 million girls
were reached through UNICEF-supported skills-development, empowerment and employability training, an increase of 900,000 from 2019
Nearly 6 million adolescent girls
were reached with prevention and care interventions related to ending child marriage, 300,000 more than in 2019
75 UNICEF-supported countries
had inclusive, gender-responsive national plans to reach targets on adolescent health, up from 67 countries in 2019 and meeting the 2021 target
UNICEF’s efforts to empower adolescent girls and amplify their roles as change-makers, target the interconnected challenges – and their underlying gender norms – that restrict girls from living to their full potential. Since 2018, cross-sectoral approaches, strong partnerships and investment, and deliberate gender results, have helped move the needle in areas such as adolescent girls’ skills development, menstrual health and hygiene (MHH), addressing harmful practices, ending gender-based violence, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) prevention.
Amplifying the Voices of Children Living in Conflict
16-year-old Nour, wrote her poem ‘A Light Resisting Darkness’ from her home in war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria, as part of Poems for Peace, a UNICEF campaign providing a platform for children and young people affected by conflict to express themselves and have their voices heard.
Dignified menstrual health and hygiene (MHH)
Globally, 1.18 million girls and women benefited from emergency MHH services in 2020, increasing from one million in 2019. UNICEF delivered hygiene kits – with menstrual products included as mandatory items – focusing on the most vulnerable communities, such as girls and women from ethnic and indigenous communities in Peru and Ukraine, and those living in conflict settings in Somalia and Yemen. On Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global multi-agency campaign reached 411 million people worldwide, linking the effects of COVID-19 on girls and women with their right to safe and dignified menstrual hygiene management.
Changing attitudes about menstruation in Pakistan
Studies in Pakistan have shown that adolescent girls have limited knowledge about puberty and MHH, and poor access to necessary supplies. They often stay home from school during their periods. UNICEF and partners are working to change this by equipping schools with appropriate facilities and running MHH education initiatives to dispel myths and stigma. In 2020, in over 1200 schools, school toilets were upgraded to accommodate girls’ MHH needs.
A campaign around Menstrual Health Day 2020 - Periods Don’t Stop for Pandemics - linked the effects of COVID-19 with the right to safe and dignified menstrual hygiene management. Prominent female sports champions produced videos on changing attitudes towards menstruation.
Girls' health and nutrition
UNICEF continued to focus on improving gender-responsive adolescent health policies and services, including addressing the persistently high HIV infection rates among adolescent girls, through tackling barriers to comprehensive testing, counselling and treatment. Human papillomavirus vaccination results were encouraging in 2020—there was a significant increase in the number of adolescent girls in target countries receiving the final vaccine dose (2.8 million); and a doubling of countries, from 8 to 16, that have introduced HPV in their immunization schedules.
HPV vaccine introduced in Lao PDR
Following the introduction of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in 2020, girls across Lao PDR will now be protected against one of the country’s most deadly diseases - cervical cancer.
Girls' secondary education and skills
During widespread health crises, girls and young women are often the first to be removed from school and the last to return. This compounds the fact that pre-pandemic, there were already concerning gaps in secondary school completion among adolescent girls.
UNICEF and partners supported gender-transformative strategies that address barriers to education related to harmful norms, poverty, disability, and distance. Interventions included re-entry policies for adolescent mothers, and cash transfers to remove financial constraints.
UNICEF also continued to intentionally create spaces for girls to lead, innovate and develop solutions. Skills development, for both personal and economic empowerment, remains a critical priority to address knowledge and learning gaps – including in STEM education, digital literacy, social entrepreneurship and integrated life skills – to prepare girls for the 21st century economy.
Afghan robotics team develops ventilator for COVID-19 patients
15-year-old Floran Pooya (left), 17-year-old Somaya Faruqi (centre), and 16-year-old Asefa Amini (right), members of the ‘Afghan Dreamers’ all-girls robotics team, built a ventilator prototype using second-hand auto parts, to address the shortage of ventilator devices used to treat COVID-19 patients in Afghanistan.
Employment in the 21st century workforce is projected to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and social entrepreneurship. As scientific and technological solutions rapidly scale and shape today’s societies, girls and women are falling behind in a digital gender divide with large gaps in their digital adoption, access and ability to use digital technology, and opportunities to benefit from technology, compared to boys and men. The COVID-19 crisis is only widening these gaps, increasing societies’ dependence on digital content and devices to keep economies running.
Child marriage and early unions
Despite a decline in the practice over the last decade, no region is on track to eliminate child marriage by 2030. Indeed, gains are under serious threat due to COVID-19, which has put an estimated 10 million additional girls at risk. UNICEF country programmes addressing child marriage have steadily increased from 38 in 2016 to 50 in 2020.
In 2020, UNICEF-supported programmes related to child marriage used multimedia platforms to communicate, educate and deliver services, including supporting virtual safe spaces, and engaging adolescent girls and their families.
Parents say no to child marriage
When schools closed in March 2020, 14-year-old Tseganesh Dansa, from Kuto Ambe village, Ethiopia, was approached by a man with a gift of money soon followed by a marriage proposal. Her parents, strong supporters of her education, intervened, taking the issue to their community surveillance committee. The man was told to take back his money and respect Tseganesh’s wishes not to marry, and warned of punitive measures if he persisted. UNICEF-supported community surveillance mechanisms are an important strategy against child marriage and FGM.
Making UNICEF a more gender-responsive organization
UNICEF met 88 per cent
of all benchmarks in the UN-SWAP – the United Nations gender equality scorecard – compared to 82 per cent in 2019
75 per cent of country offices
completed GenderPro, UNICEF’s globally-accredited course on gender equality
More than 1200 UNICEF staff
participated in gender capacity-building initiatives
UNICEF continued to promote an inclusive, diverse, gender-responsive workplace including addressing issues of discrimination, harassment and abuse of authority, and establishing flexible work and gender-equitable family-friendly policies. A new organization learning plan was launched in 2020 to build competencies among all staff to increase ownership of gender equality outcomes throughout the organization so that UNICEF ‘leads by example’ as a global gender champion.
Amid the challenges of the pandemic, opportunities emerged to leverage the crisis as an accelerator and catalyst; to build back better beyond temporary solutions, towards more meaningful and sustainable outcomes for women and girls.
Lessons learned from implementation of the Gender Action Plan and the COVID-19 response will shape a new gender policy and action plan to chart a bolder role for UNICEF as a global gender equality champion in the years ahead.
Over the next year, UNICEF and its partners will continue to accelerate results for girls and women, stepping up investment in priority areas such as adolescent girls’ empowerment and ending child marriage; gender-responsive social protection; ending gender-based violence; and promoting equitable parenting and caregiving. Greater focus will also go to improving gender equality within humanitarian response, building on actions taken during the pandemic.
This report highlights the achievements made possible by the generous contributions of softly earmarked thematic funding received from various partners. UNICEF would like to express it's sincere appreciation for these contributions.
UNICEF would especially like to thank the governments of Canada and Luxembourg, and private sector partners Chloé and Clé de Peau Beauté, for their contributions to the 2020 Global Thematic Fund for Gender Equality, and to Dove, Gucci, Pandora and Lego for the resources contributed to gender equality programming. UNICEF would also like to thank the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its continued support for strengthening UNICEF’s gender capacity and institutional systems for gender equality results.
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 Gender Action Plan, 2018-2021 (GAP) is UNICEF’s roadmap for promoting gender equality throughout its work, guiding its contributions towards the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. This report summarizes how UNICEF, together with its partners, contributed to gender equality in 2020, and reviews the impact of these accomplishments on children and the communities in which they live.
In addition, this report includes findings related to the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs), which were revised in 2020 to include clear gender equality standards in all aspects of humanitarian action. UNICEF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic offered real-time learning on how best to deliver gender-equitable results in humanitarian/emergency contexts.
Read the Core Commitments for Children