Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
Women and girls have the right to live free of violence, with equal opportunities to access health services, economic and political power. This means they should be able to own property, vote in elections, run for office and be paid fair wages for their work. They should also be able to determine whether, when and with whom they have children, and how many. They have the right to education, to safe abortions, and to not be subjected to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. Gender equality is a human rights issue that has enormous socio-economic ramifications and is essential to building thriving economies.
Through much of history, women have been denied the same rights as men. They were enslaved and often suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They were thought to be naturally weaker and less intelligent than men, and some myths and religions presented them as evil. But once women were granted some freedoms, they made tremendous achievements. Queen Elizabeth I ruled England in the 1500s, and Catherine the Great ruled Russia in the 1700s.
Then, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, people began to agitate for women’s rights. Women’s suffrage was first introduced in New Zealand in 1893, and the movement grew rapidly all around the world. Today, the right to vote is a fundamental human right in most countries, but still, discrimination keeps women from exercising this right. In some countries, women are not allowed to participate in political processes at all, and others face barriers like military conscription and laws that limit the types of jobs they can take.
In the same way, women’s economic rights are often not respected. They are less likely than men to be employed in the formal economy, and more likely to do unpaid work, such as care and domestic duties. They are also more likely to be poor, and more likely to suffer from discrimination in the workplace. And if they do work, they are usually paid significantly less than their male counterparts.
Across the globe, more than 2.7 billion women do not have legal rights to economic independence and security. Across all sectors of the economy, gender inequality is pervasive. And the lack of economic rights leaves women vulnerable to violence, including spousal abuse and gender-based violence, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and other forms of oppression.
At Global Fund we support the tireless and courageous efforts of women’s groups who are fighting for these rights every day. These groups are working to ensure that women can own property, vote in elections, run for public office and be paid fair wages for their work. This is the only way to truly empower women and girls to change their lives and those of their families and communities. But we have a long way to go before all women have these rights. Only then will women and girls be able to achieve their full potential.