The National - News
Gender equality should be a universal value, and a core part of development
Rarely in the world have women’s and girls’ rights been challenged as much as they have been in Afghanistan. The latest developments give cause for great concern. The EU has made it clear that future EU development assistance to Afghanistan will depend on the respect of the international legal framework and human rights norms, including women’s and girls’ rights. The EU is committed to supporting the women and girls of Afghanistan and worldwide, sticking to our values.
Together with human rights, freedom and democracy, equality represents one of the core values that makes the EU what it is. Gender equality is a core part of peace, security, economic prosperity and sustainable development. Moreover, defending and promoting gender equality is required by EU Treaties.
That is why working politically, operationally and financially to promote and safeguard progress on gender equality is a priority and key objective for the EU. The EU Gender Action Plan III and the new EU external action budget provide a roadmap for global action towards a gender-equal world. We work closely with multilateral, regional and bilateral partners, including civil society organisations, to achieve these objectives. We still have a long way to go. However, we are stronger together, even though many challenges remain.
In many countries, Covid-19 has exacerbated gender inequalities in education, vocational training, health, safety, sexual and reproductive rights, decision-making and economic opportunities.
Lockdowns have often seen an increase in gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence, while access to sexual and reproductive health services has been reduced. At the same time, a significant part of the care burden has fallen on women and girls. Workers in the informal economy and low-skilled jobs, most of whom are women, migrants and minority groups, have been more at risk and face multiple forms of discrimination.
Moreover, school closures have exposed girls to an increased risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy, child labour and forced marriage. The Malala Fund estimates that 20 million more girls risk dropping out of school this year, adding up to a total of 150 million girls.
According to a recent UN report, military spending in 2020 still outpaced worldwide expenditure on health, even in a year dominated by the pandemic. For a sustainable recovery, we need to redouble our efforts to promote gender equality.
Now is the time to do more. This challenge requires a global response and needs to be tackled now, as we build the future in which we want our children and grandchildren to grow up: one that is more equal, more diverse and where equal opportunities are a reality. We need to address the root causes of gender inequality and discrimination to achieve sustainable change.
The EU and its member states, as well as European financial institutions, have stood with women and girls during the pandemic. As Team Europe, we have already mobilised $51 billion (€46bn) in support of more than 130 partner countries, with a focus on women and youth.
Here are three examples: In Nepal, we helped 1 million girls and boys continue their education through radio-based learning. In Togo, we supported the creation of a universal income scheme and the appointment of women to head new municipalities. Worldwide, the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative has helped 650,000 women and girls prevent or address violence against themselves, and educated 880,000 men and boys on positive masculinity, non-violent conflict resolution and parenting.
Still, to meet growing challenges, we need to do more. That is the purpose of the Gender Action Plan III. It promotes leadership and meaningful participation of women, girls and young people in political, economic, social and cultural life.
We are working to get human development back on track, with the new $90bn NDICI-Global Europe instrument to support the EU’s external action over seven years.
Support for education and particularly girls’ education will have a central role. The EU has worked with partner countries to minimise the pandemic’s impact on children’s learning and well-being, and to facilitate a safe return to school.
We already provide more than half of all global aid to education. But we will increase funding further, to promote gender equality through quality education. Our joint $1.9bn (€1.7bn) pledge to the Global Partnership for Education in July is part of this new beginning.
We are multiplying our efforts across the board, from supporting women and girls’ education and economic opportunities, to improving their access to sexual and reproductive health services. By 2025, 85 per cent of all the EU’s new external actions across all sectors will contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
This is now being finalised with our partner countries based on close consultation with civil society organisations, women’s rights activists and young people. We need to put human development back on track and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, leaving no woman or girl behind. It is crucial we get it right.
Gender equality is a core part of peace, security, economic prosperity and sustainable development