What is gender inequality?
Gender inequality means that women and girls are treated as second-class citizens, denied their human rights, and valued less because of their sex. Patriarchal systems, or systems that are controlled by men, often value girls according to their virginity lead to limits on female sexuality and reproductive choices. They also limit the status of girls and women to having children and being married, inhibiting their agency and choice. Patriarchy can mean controlling how a girl behaves and dresses, where she goes, who she sees etc; and if, who, and when she marries.
Ending child marriage is only possible if we end gender inequality. It is only possible if we transform gender norms and rebalance power at every level, in public and in private, so that girls and women can enjoy equal status with boys and men.
What are gender-transformative approaches?
Gender-transformative approaches promote gender equality through critical examination of gender roles, norms, and power dynamics. They recognise & strengthen positive norms that support gender equality. INCLUDING approaches that:
- promote the relative position of women, girls, and marginalised groups, and
- transform underlying social structures, policies, systems, and social norms that perpetuate and legitimise gender inequalities.
They challenge the status quo, rebalance power, and redistribute resources towards people who have been historically marginalised, excluded and discriminated against because of their gender. They see and recognise girls and women in all their diversity, understanding that some women and girls are more disadvantaged due to the interplay between gender and other forms of oppression, such as economic status, disability, or ethnicity, among others.
Without taking gender-transformative approaches, programmes aimed at reducing child marriage can have:
- have no impact,
- not act fast enough, or even
- make the situation worse for the girls and women affected.
What gender-transformative actions can YOU take today?
- Focus on girls' rights and agency
This means working with girls to build their knowledge, skills, confidence, and leadership and ensuring they have the support structures, investment and opportunities – including education, employment and livelihood options, and financial literacy – they need to make decisions and pursue their own lives and wellbeing.
- Address structural inequalities
This means taking a systems-level approach to transform policies, laws, services, and budgets that discriminate and put girls in situations of vulnerability or dependency. Creating alternatives to child marriage means investing in gender-equitable services and an economic system that promotes inclusive and equitable growth.
- Actively include youth and women’s organisations
This means recognising the ability of youth and women – and others that have been marginalised – to design solutions, organise and contribute to equality and justice.
- Invest in quality education for girls
Keeping girls in school is one of the best ways of delaying marriage. Girls in education should be safe and have female role models and gender-aware teachers that affirm their value and challenge the gender stereotypes that hold them back.
- Invest in sexual and reproductive health services, care and information
These services should be accessible, stigma-free and adolescent- friendly. This includes age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, in and beyond school.
- Transform the gendered social norms that discriminate against girls
This includes norms that control adolescent girls’ sexuality, mobility, and choices; limit girls’ social status to marriage and motherhood; expect them to do more unpaid care and domestic work; and discriminate against people who are gender non-conforming.
- Create safe spaces for critical thinking
This means encouraging inter- generational dialogue and self-reflection about gender roles, inequality and justice – including child marriage. This means strengthening girls’ knowledge of themselves and their context and engaging those who make decisions about marriage – fathers, brothers, uncles – and opinion leaders in ways that respond to their context and culture.
- Work with boys and men
Boys and men are also affected by gender norms that are deeply internalised and drive them to behave in a certain way. Expectations associated with masculinity often mean boys and men control girls and women, including their sexuality. Gender- transformative approaches to end child marriage partner with boys and men to promote masculinities that have positive impacts on their own lives, and on those of their families and communities.
- Engage religious and traditional leaders
No religion condones child marriage. But many people interpret their faith to understand child marriage – and associated practices like female genital mutilation/ cutting – as a marker of religious identity. Religious leaders have a powerful influence that extends to the most intimate matters, including sexuality, relationships, and marriage.
- Check your own privilege and power
Societal norms become deeply embedded in our subconscious. Therefore, we must consciously challenge our own biases and assumptions. We must reflect on our own beliefs, look for prejudices, and check our own privilege and power.
In the time it has taken to read this article 47 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds