Global action needed on gender parity
IN WRITING about the challenges facing the “girl child”, especially those in developing nations, researchers and scholars have noted that prejudice against the girl child in these societies is not necessarily about race or ethnicity, but rather poverty, gender and sexuality.
According to the United Nations Millennium Report, “of the more than 110 million children not in school, approximately 60% are girls. By age 18, girls have received an average of 4.4 years less education than boys. Worldwide, of the more than 130 million primary school age children not enrolled in school, nearly 60% are girls. In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls have HIV rates up to five times higher than adolescent boys. Pregnancies and childbirth-related health problems take the lives of nearly 146 000 teenage girls each year.”
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching age 18 and one in nine is married under the age of 15. These girls, pressured into early marriage, often become pregnant as adolescents and face the risks of complications during childbirth and the risk of maternal death.
As Nigerian Toni Adelanwa points out in a piece for the Urunji Child-Care Trust: “If all women had a secondary education, 12 million children would be saved from stunting from malnutrition. An educated mother can save the lives of her children and help reduce the number of malnutrition-related deaths which make up more than a third of global deaths yearly. Educated mothers are more likely to ensure their children receive the best nutrients, know more about appropriate health practices and make sure their child’s nutrition needs are met.”
Research has shown that, when you educate a girl in Africa, she’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/Aids, earn 25% more income and have a smaller, healthier family.
If we, in South Africa, believe that we are the benchmark economically and socially on the African continent, then we have a duty to all our girl children to ensure they are educated and get every opportunity possible to prosper.
Women have played a major role in the liberation of South Africa. Yet we continue to fail the progeny of those who laid down their lives for our greater freedoms while their children continue to languish on the peripheries of society, their poverty making them outcasts.
The South African government has produced a number of policies and legislation in pursuit of women’s empowerment – the constitution includes Section 9 which promotes equality for all persons and freedom from discrimination and the Employment Equity Act, No 55 (1998) which strives to achieve equity in the workplace by promoting fair treatment in employment.
The reality, however, is far removed from this ideal, as prejudice and sexism continue largely unchecked. For example, women have limited access to land – they own only 1% of the land in South Africa.
Women also tend to face greater challenges when it comes to securing credit, most being less experienced with the processes and procedures of borrowing from a banking institution. Women receive 7% of the agricultural extension services and less than 10% of the credit offered to small-scale farmers. According to one.org, “In the fight against poverty, African women and girls are the most affected population with less tools and opportunities to escape poverty. No matter how it is cut – socially, economically, legally – girls and women in the poorest countries get a raw deal. For the girl child who is denied education or forced into marriage, or for the mother who risks death when she gives life, or the farmer prevented from owning the land she works on”.
“Strong girl campaigners believe, when you uplift the woman or the girl child, everyone benefits. This makes women’s development critical in the fight against poverty in general.”
Lesego Mokone, an expert on genderbased violence, noted a few years ago that “our lack of understanding about the reasons why we should educate the girl child is rooted in a deep gender bias that has kept Africa from achieving lasting development over the centuries”.
She argued that this faulty ideology has brought setbacks to the African continent in more ways than we can possibly imagine.
It has greatly affected how we perceive, treat and value the girl child. “Not educating the girl child reduces her worth and also our collective worth as a people. One of the many repercussions of these false ideologies is that, despite these negative perceptions, society still demands so much from women. I consider that to be sad and deeply unfair,” said Mokone.
The website internationalwomensday. com has this sober proclamation and affirmation of the injustices which continue to be perpetrated against women: “International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Yet progress has slowed in many places across the world, so global action is needed to accelerate gender parity. In 2016, leaders across the world pledged to take action as champions of gender parity – not only for International Women’s Day, but for every day. Groups and individuals also pledged their support.”
We can never truly be proud of our constitution, which sets out the principles of equality as pertains to all of us, if we continue to, collectively as a society, turn a blind eye to the structural violence committed against our girl children and women.
‘Not educating the girl child reduces her worth’
Meokgo Matuba is secretary-general of the ANC Women’s League