The double dividend

In recent decades, the goal of reducing gender discrimination has steadily grown in importance on the international agenda. But despite gains and commitments, for many women, adolescent girls and girl children, the promises have not materialized and violations of their right continue to reverberate throughout their life cycle. To address this challenge, a series of cross-cutting actions need to be taken. In addition to legislation, legislative quotas, and engaging men and boys, these measures include education, financing for development, and research and data.

Education: Attacking gender discrimination at its root

Ensuring that girls and boys have equal educational opportunities is one of the most important and powerful steps towards combating gender discrimination and advancing children’s rights. Enabling girls to access basic education greatly enhances the range of life choices available to them as women, and has profound and long-lasting benefits for families and entire communities.

Abolishing school fees: In many developing countries, the direct and indirect costs of schooling represent one of the most significant barriers to education for both girls and boys, particularly those from poor families living in rural areas. Abolishing school fees is one of the most effective policy measures for accelerating progress in this area.

Encouraging parents and communities to invest in girls’ education: Even where schools fees are not an issue, the perceived and real opportunity costs associated with sending children to school can discourage parents from supporting girls’ education. Encouraging poor families to invest in their daughters’ education may require such incentives as conditional cash transfers, meals, subsidies and other types of income support. Conditional cash transfers provide families with food and compensate parents for the opportunity costs associated with child labour on the condition that parents send their children to school and take them to health clinics for regular vaccinations and check-ups.

Girl-friendly schools: Children who are not in school tend to come from the poorest and most marginalized households and often live in remote rural areas. Parents may object to sending their daughters to school because they feel the facility is unsafe, or that the long journey to school exposes girls to risk of sexual assault or other forms of violence. Governments, parents and international donors must work together to promote flexible scheduling, increase the safety of school facilities, ensure that schools have separate hygiene and sanitation facilities for girls, and build schools close to their homes. In addition, the school curriculum must impress upon teachers, as well as students, the importance of gender equality, and address male bias in the classroom.

Focusing more resources on achieving gender equality

Equitable and efficient social investment to eliminate gender discrimination is a key strategy for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women – the objectives of Millennium Development Goal 3.

Estimating costs requires outlining concrete areas where investments are needed. Many exercises estimating the cost of MDG 3 have focused solely on eliminating gender disparity in education, which, however vital, is only part of the puzzle. A more complete cost estimation focuses on the seven strategic priorities identified in the Millennium Project task force report on gender equality and achieving the Millennium Development Goals:

  • Strengthen opportunities for post-primary education for girls while meeting commitments to universal primary education
  • Guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights
  • Invest in infrastructure to reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens
  • Guarantee women’s and girls’ property and inheritance rights
  • Eliminate gender inequality in employment by decreasing women’s reliance on informal employment, closing gender gaps in earnings and reducing occupational segregation
  • Increase women’s share of seats in national parliaments and local government bodies
  • Combat violence against girls and women.

How much additional financing in total is required to meet MDG 3 depends on how government resources change between now and 2015, and how much of those resources are dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. According to a realistic scenario, low-income countries would need an additional US$28 billion (measured in constant 2003 US dollars) in 2006 from donor countries, rising to US$73 billion in 2015. Available estimates suggest, however, that governments currently target fewer resources to gender equality than other MDG areas.

Research and data on the situation of women and girls

An overwhelming lack of sex-disaggregated statistics often results in scant or weak quantitative research on the issues that affect women and, in turn, children. Much more needs to be known about many of the most important aspects of women’s lives and the impact discrimination has on those around them. Research and data are sorely lacking in several key areas.

Maternal mortality: While 111 countries produced data based on registration systems and other surveys, for 62 countries no recent national data were available and estimates therefore had to be based on models.

Violence against women: Only 38 countries in the world have conducted at least one national survey on violence against women since 1995. A further 30 countries have surveys completed that cover parts of the country.

Enrolment, school attendance and literacy: While there are significant data disaggregated by sex on school enrolment, sex-disaggregated data on literacy and school attendance are available for only 112 and 96 countries, respectively. Efforts to compile and release sex-disaggregated data on female completion rates at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education must also be strengthened.

Labour force, unemployment and occupational distribution: Just over half the world’s 204 countries and territories provided sex-disaggregated data on these fundamental areas of work, with only 105 providing data on occupational segregation by sex.

Wage statistics: This is a vital area where discrimination affects women and their children, and yet just under half (52) of the 108 countries or territories that reported wage data were also able to provide disaggregation by sex. Europe and Asia account for almost three quarters of these countries.

Informal employment: Even with an internationally agreed-upon definition of informal employment, only 60 countries have produced data on informal employment, and in many cases these statistics are not fully comparable.

Unpaid work and time use: Since 1995, 67 countries or areas have conducted time-use surveys, with the vast majority in CEE/CIS and South and East Asia. Only seven countries in Africa and three in South America have collected such data.

Women’s participation in national and local governments: The Inter-Parliamentary Union collects data on the number of women in parliaments and how the numbers have changed over time. Data on women’s participation in local government are relatively scarce, however.

Women in peace negotiations and peace-building: No systematic data are available on women participating as parties to peace negotiations. With the exception of the statistics made available by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, no systematic data are available about women involved in different dimensions of peace-building.

The time is now

Eliminating gender discrimination will produce a double dividend, fulfilling the rights of women and going a long way towards realizing those of children as well. Effective partnerships, involving governments, donors and international agencies, can support this process through the design and implementation of human rights-based development strategies. For women, men, and for children, the time to refocus our efforts is now.

One of the most important and powerful steps towards combating gender discrimination and advancing children’s rights, is giving boys and girls equal access to education. For girls in particular, going to school enhances the range of choices available to them. Read about Mulu, from Ethiopia, and how education saved her life.