In all South Asian countries, patriarchal values and social norms keep gender inequalities alive. Discriminatory practices begin even before birth and affect every aspect of a child’s future.
Throughout the South Asian region inequalities arising from caste, class, religion, ethnicity, location is further complicated by severe gender-based discriminations that hold back progress and development for both girls and boys. Existing evidence points to the fact that despite considerable progress (especially with regard to education and health) critical gender gaps persist. Across all South Asian countries, patriarchal values and social norms tend to privilege men and boys’ access to opportunities and control over resources. These inequalities are manifested across the life cycle – from conception, to birth, to childhood, adolescence through to adult life.
Over the years there has been progress in closing the gender inequality gap, gender discrimination, gender stereotypes and pervasive gender norms However, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic the limited gains made so far are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic revealed pre-existing inequalities exposing vulnerabilities in social, political, economic systems also increasing risk factors for other issues such as GBV and child marriage with significant impact on women and girls. In addition, the pandemic has overwhelmed the health and social protection systems, restricted the movement and accessibility of frontline and essential workers and left the vulnerable populations isolated from support and protection.
Limited access to health services leading to an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers’ mortality and morbidity during the first wave of the pandemic. Reports also warn that 4.5 million girls are likely to never return to schools and are at risk due to deteriorating access to sexual and reproductive health and information services. In addition, 147 million children in South Asia cannot be reached by digital broadcast or remote learning and given the patriarchal context in most South Asian countries, girls are less likely to have access to digital learning than boys.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated key risk factors for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). In South Asia, more than 37 per cent of women have experienced violence at the hands of their intimate partners. The increase in VAWG is fueled by household, economic and food insecurity and confined living conditions due to lockdown and social isolation measures. There are also reports of increased sexual abuse and harassment, both online and offline, and in some settings, an increase in child marriage. Patriarchal societal norms weaken the participation of women and children in family and community decision-making, especially adolescent girls. This reduces their ability to demand fulfilment of their rights to education, health and protection. This affects the ability of duty-bearers in fulfilling these rights. It is imperative to integrate a gender perspective across all UNICEF programmes to promote the value and empowerment of women and children in South Asia.
Gender equality programming is critical and central to UNICEF’s work, and it not possible for UNICEF to realize its mission of advocating for the protection of children’s rights without promoting and attaining gender equality. Advancing gender equality and the rights of women and girls is essential to realizing the rights of all children thus, UNICEF promotes the equal rights of girls and boys, women and men and supports their full participation in social, political and economic development.
To address the underlying gender norms which deprive girls of their basic human rights, UNICEF ROSA recognizes the need to invest in girl’s intentional interventions and multi-sectoral and integrated programs focusing on their overall empowerment and wellbeing for holistic development. UNICEF ROSA also developed a framework to guide gender-transformative programming for adolescent girls’ empowerment in South Asia. The framework focuses on work at various levels from individual girl’s empowerment to community actions for tackling the root causes of discriminations and working at policy and institutional levels to ensure their safe transitions to adulthood. The framework is expected to provide practical and scalable approaches by accelerating results for gender equality through a girl intentional approach to programming and advocacy by moving away from gender blind to gender transformative focus.
Our regional partners strive to provide equal access to services and opportunities for girls, boys, adolescents and women. We work with our partners to identify and respond to barriers and bottlenecks that continue to fuel gender differences in education, health, water and sanitation, nutrition and national policies. And we ensure that their programmes integrate stronger gender strategies with a right-based approach. This helps to generate evidence and data, to influence and advocate for child-focused policies and national level investments that are equitable and gender-responsive. UNICEF ROSA has selected four result areas – Water/IPC, Primary Health Care, Learning and Mental Health/ Gender-based violence- to focus on in their regional response measures to address the pandemic. These result areas are aligned with UNICEF’s five priority actions: (i) Caring for Caregivers, (ii) Prepare for an increase in Gender-based violence (GBV) in the COVID-19 outbreak, (iii) Maintain core health, nutrition and education services and systems, (iv) engaging existing women’s and youth rights networks to support connectivity and vital information flow and (v) ensure gender data are available, analysed and actionable.
UNICEF is committed to meet the standards of international laws, commitments and donor requirements in gender equality integrating gender equality throughout its work. UNICEF’s work is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is anchored in the landmark Beijing Declaration and the Beijing Platform for Action.
These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.
- UNICEF Gender Action Plan, 2018-2021
- Immunization and Gender - A Practical Guide to Integrate a Gender Lens into Immunization Programmes
- A New Era for Girls - One pager info-graph
- Immunization and Gender: A Practical Guide to Integrate a Gender Lens into Immunization Programmes
- UNICEF ROSA GBViE Learning Series - Executive Summary
- Dashboard - COVID-19 Vaccine Deliveries
- Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability and Quality framework: A tool to identify potential barriers in accessing services in humanitarian settings
- Gender and Immunisation
- Guidance on developing a national deployment and vaccination plan for COVID-19 vaccines
- Leave No Girl Behind Webinar Series (July/August 2020)
- Overview of the Series
- Week 1: Alternative Education Approaches and Gender Equity in the COVID-19 Response
- Week 2: Understanding Violence, Safety and Protection for Girls
- Week 3: Afghanistan: Community-Based Education (CBE) and Equity Issues around Girls’ Education
- Week 4: Skills Building, School to Work Transitions, and Girls’ Empowerment