Now there are more girls going to school in this community - and they are supported to attend class and study at home so they can do their best. Photo by Ashley Jonathan Clements/World Vision.
This weekend, the world observes the International Day of the Girl Child. This year the theme is empowering adolescent girls and ending the cycle of violence. As an organization committed to working with communities to address gender issues faced by girls, World Vision has been reflecting on how our programs promote gender equality.
In 2012, World Vision commissioned the Nossal Institute for Global Health to undertake research for a Gender Equality Study that looked into how World Vision programs have contributed to gender equality outcomes. The research looked into four programs and projects in Kenya, India, Tanzania and Bolivia. Just two years later, it’s great to see that our work is making an impact.
For example, part of the report examined World Vision’s project in Kenya addressing Female Genital Mutilation. Respondents from the communities reported that World Vision projects have contributed to a reduction of female genital mutilation/cutting and a more open discussion within the community on the negative effects of the practice, leading to attitude and behaviour change.
The project has also led to increasing access to education for girls, where girls education is now more highly valued than it had once been. Girls are staying in school for longer, and more girls are going on to high school and higher education. The community and parents now see a better future for their girls.
Through a translator, one female community leader shared this; “She doesn’t want her girls to come and undergo to the difficult life she undergone. So she want them to go to school, get education and earn a better living to provide for themselves rather than to do it for their husbands or for other people”.
According to the research, participation by women and women’s groups in community planning and decision-making meetings, including participation in decision making in the workplace has also improved. Women’s access to opportunities for income generation has increased, including participation in income generating activities previously only available to men.
A teacher in Tanzania shared with the researchers how she saw improvements in gender equality for her community.
“From the traditional point of view, gender relationship is improving. People are talking together. I see it in meetings, barazas. Women are allowed to stand and talk. In our culture, a woman does not stand in front of men. Completely a taboo. It’s not allowed … but today, this time, because we have political leaders who are women, women groups, and they, they are allowed. They are listened to,” she said.
While there have been milestones towards gender equality, the research highlighted areas where little or no change has happened. In all four project sites, domestic workloads continued to be higher for women and girls despite their increased involvement in economic activities. The study found that women’s increased involvement in income generating activities outside the home was not associated with any decrease in domestic responsibilities. Women were often unable to make independent decisions about family size, birth spacing, and household expenditure.
Reduced or delayed female genital mutilation/cutting had resulted in fewer marriages at a “very” early age, though marriage for girls from the mid-teens was still common. The economic and material incentives for early marriage (such as a bride price) remain the biggest factor perpetuating the practice. Little change was reported on violence against women and girls. In India, whilst some reduction in intimate partner violence had been reported, general exposure to violence across all communities continued to be high. There was a perception that reports of rape and incest were increasing, possibly due to enhanced awareness of women’s rights and their confidence in reporting procedures.
One of the most critical barriers that limits girls from having better chance in life is not the lack of school or books or economic resources, it is rooted in the social norms that inhibit her to access these in life. The rules of society, particularly how she is valued within any society, is one of the root causes of inequality. The burden to break free from the norms is not hers alone but the society as a whole. This journey is long and hard. This is the reason why we need to support girls all over the world.
On this International Day of the Girl Child, it’s clear there are still many obstacles in the road to gender equality. The good news is that progress is being made – progress that can change lives – and World Vision is committed to constantly testing and improving our work so that we can deliver the most effective solutions.