Women’s Equality Helps Progress Children’s Rights

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Equality for women is progress for all’. I spoke to the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) East Asia and the Pacific Regional Chair, Chemba Raghavan, and asked her what the theme meant to her.

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A girl smiles in a class in Ensino Basico Filial Nuno-Sacari School in the west-central Ermera District. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1515/James Alcock

Chemba recounted a story from her village in India, of Ms. Bhargavi, a mother who was only educated until high school. “She realized the value of education and was determined to give her children the opportunities she didn’t have. She always told us that she was just “taking small steps”: working to empower herself and to help pay for her children’s education, ensuring they had food and nutrition and were cared for, helping her children with their homework, and meeting with their teachers. Her daughter is now applying for a master’s degree. This is one way a woman can impact a generation. And today, I salute the hundreds of women like her who are making these and other efforts in their personal and in their professional lives towards big changes in the world.

Gender equality is a basic human right. It also has enormous socio-economic impact. Educated and empowered girls grow up to be women who have fewer and healthier children. They take better care of themselves and are less likely to die in child-birth. According to the Girl Effect (www.girleffect.org), an extra year of primary education boosts girls’ future wages by 10-20 per cent. An extra year of secondary schools adds 15-25 per cent.

“Giving girls and boys equal educational opportunities benefits national economies,” added Chemba. “We know that every additional year of girls’ education brings a three per cent increase in the country’s GDP, even if only 10 per cent more girls go to schools.” Closing the unemployment gap between women and men would yield an increase in GDP of up to 1.2 per cent in a single year.

However, unequal treatment is part of too many women and girls’ daily lives. They are too often denied access to basic education and decent work. They suffer violence and discrimination. Their voice is often ignored in decision-making processes.

As the story of Ms. Bhargavi shows, change is possible. It is possible when families support girls to continue their education. It is possible when poor women are empowered to make that change, including through grants or bank loans. Big changes are possible when appropriate policies and laws are designed, for example, to protect women in the home and work place.

“UNGEI ensures girls are not forgotten,” stressed Chemba. In education, we support integration of gender perspectives. We generate and manage knowledge, and bring the knowledge to high level fora. We also engage in high level advocacy for gender sensitive policies and systems in education.

UNGEI makes an impact on girls’ education by working with diverse regional and national partners from various sectors and actors such as academia, Civil Society Organizations (CSO), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), governments, independent experts, UN agencies, aid agencies and donor agencies. “We do all this because we know that equality for women and girls does mean progress for all,” Chemba concluded.

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The East Asia and Pacific Regional UNGEI was launched in May 2002 and seeks to establish networks and partnerships among experts and organizations promoting education and gender rights. At country ...

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