Empowering Women and Girls

Women and girls are entitled to freedom from violence and discrimination, equal access to education, jobs, and health services, and the ability to choose if, when, and with whom they want to marry. Gender equality is the foundation for this, and it helps to address a range of other issues that countries are facing. It also promotes economic growth and development. This is why goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is devoted to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

In the late 1700s many people began to speak of human rights, but they excluded women by calling them “the rights of man.” Free-thinking men and women such as Mary Wollstonecraft campaigned for women’s emancipation. They knew that to fully enjoy these rights, they must win suffrage — the right to vote — so they could take part in government and influence laws and policies. They also needed to be empowered, so they would have the skills and resources to get good jobs and support themselves financially. They advocated for land ownership rights, fair wages, sex education, and legal changes to improve their lives.

After women gained suffrage, they demanded other reforms to improve their lives and those of their children. They pushed for education, sex education, and birth control. They fought for laws that provided individual economic security, such as inheritance and divorce laws. They voted and ran for office to improve the country and their own lives. The progress made by women since this time has been remarkable, but there is still work to do.

Today, most people agree that it is important for women to have the same rights as men in their countries. In fact, in 34 of the 69 countries surveyed, majorities say that it is very important or very important for men and women to have the same rights.

Women around the world are disproportionately affected by violence and other forms of oppression. Despite the progress in recent years, women continue to earn 20 percent less than men, have few employment opportunities, and face barriers to political participation that keep them out of decision-making positions. And they still live in fear of gender-based violence, including rape and other sexual assaults, and from female genital mutilation and early marriage.

Efforts to empower women and girls are a key way to fight poverty, hunger, and disease. But these efforts must be combined with a commitment to ensure that all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Only when everyone has the same opportunities for health, income, and political and social participation will we achieve true peace and prosperity. The future of our world depends on it.