World leaders must not overlook gender inequality in fight against poverty

AP

Christian Aid has said tackling international gender inequality is essential if the battle against poverty is to be won.

In a new report, written to inform delegates attending the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York, Christian Aid urged world leaders to be mindful of gender inequality when drafting the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"We believe that poverty is not solely about a lack of income but rather about powerlessness," the report states.

"It therefore follows that poverty cannot be eradicated in a world where gender discrimination prevents women and girls from exercising power over their own lives and bodies, within the household and within their communities."

The SDGs are the continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight UN priorities for international development that run until 2015.

One of the MDGs was to ensure all children were able to both enrol in and complete, a full course of primary school education.

However Christian Aid suggests that not enough has been done to ensure efforts towards universal education have been spread fairly across genders.

The report quotes figures in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, revealing that only two out of 130 countries have achieved gender parity at all levels of education.

The developing regions doing the best in primary education are Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Caucasus and Central Asia, while Southern Asia is at the bottom.

The MDG report of 2013 said: "Whether in the public or private sphere, from the highest levels of government decision-making to households, women continue to be denied equal opportunity with men to participate in decisions that affect their lives."

It also said that disparities affecting girls were "more extreme" than those affecting boys.

"Girls in many countries are still being denied their right to education, especially at the primary and secondary level," the report said. 

There was positive news for higher education, with the MDG 2013 report saying: "In nearly two thirds of countries (62 per cent), enrolment of women at the highest levels of education exceeds that of men."

Progress is patch, however, with 31 per cent of primary school age girls from the poorest fifth of the world's population being out of school. That number increases to 35 per cent for secondary school aged girls from the same group.

Helen Dennis, Christian Aid's Senior Adviser on Poverty and Inequality said in a statement: "While progress has been made in vital areas such as girls' education, other areas such as tackling violence against women and girls remains under-resourced.

"The new targets should seek to secure economic freedom for women, as well as recognizing the increasing impact of climate change and disasters on women and girls."

Ms Dennis also called on the delegates to do more to include faith based groups and organisations in efforts to achieve greater parity between the genders.

"While we recognise that faith can sometimes play a part in reproducing and reinforcing damaging norms, we also want to recognise that many faith-based organisations are doing fantastic work challenging stereotypes and promoting gender equality," she said. 

"Indeed, the post-2015 agenda will only be a success if the churches and other faith-based actors are acknowledged as key participants."

Speaking about the positive reception some of their ideas have received, Ms Dennis said: "We welcome the call from a number of governments, including the UK, for a separate gender equality goal within the post-2015 plan.

"[We] hope more governments will come on board and ensure that neglected areas, such as violence against women and girls, are visible in the new set of goals and targets. Getting them right is absolutely essential if we want to stamp out inequality and eradicate poverty."

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