1. Talk to women and girls
A fundamental reason we have not yet achieved gender equality in every realm is that women and girls’ voices are too often excluded from global and national decision-making. When programmes and policies are designed without women’s needs central to their foundation, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. If grassroots women had been adequately consulted in designing the , decision-makers would have been able to anticipate that girls would still be held responsible for many home chores, caring for younger siblings and fetching water, and have known that a major obstacle for girls’ education is that girls are at risk of physical and sexual assaults when they have to walk long distances to school.
2. Let girls use mobile phones
The majority of girls in India don’t have access to using basic technology such as phones and computers because of infrastructure related challenges and economic reasons. Increasingly we see bans on girls using mobile phones. The dialogue on girls’ access to Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] education and women’s role in technology has not even started to be acknowledged. Can girls and women access equal resources, opportunities and rights without access to technology?
3. Stop child marriage and sexual harassment
In Bangladesh and elsewhere, child marriage is a major impediment to girls’ education. In Bangladesh more than 50% of girls are married before the age of 18, and about 30% of girls 15 to 19 already have one child. If we want girls to be able to complete education we have to end child marriage. We also have to seriously address sexual harassment of girls. Insecurity is one of the reasons parents give for marrying their daughters. It is also a major barrier to girls’ full participation in education.
4. Make education gender sensitive
There has been much progress in increasing access to education, but progress has been slow in improving the gender sensitivity of the education system, including ensuring textbooks promote positive stereotypes. This is critically important for girls to come out of schools as citizens who can shape a more equal society. In some countries, there is a tendency to assume that things are fine as long as there are equal number of girls in schools.
5. Raise aspirations of girls and their parents
One of the key strategies must be to change how girls, families and society imagine what girls can be and can do. We need to give girls images and role models that expand their dreams. I was at an International Women’s Day event with and they talked about needing to build girls’ and women’s confidence that they could be engineers or entrepreneurs. We also need parents to see that there really are opportunities for their daughters, that their only security is not just to be good wives and mothers.
6. Empower mothers
In Afghanistan, there have been great moves to increase number of girls going through formal education through providing schools for girls in every district. We have learned that through empowering women on the community level you will also enhance girls education. When mothers are educated and empowered to make choices in their lives, they enable their daughters to go to school.
7. Give proper value to ‘women’s work’
The unpaid work women and girls do provide the foundation for the global economy. This fact needs to be highlighted more in the media, with the private sector and in communities. More research and data for messaging on this point could be useful in promoting the key role and contributions women and girls make to the economy and the need for proper recognition and compensation. We also need a concerted campaign for equal pay for equal work worldwide. Legislation, economic incentives, and pledges like the UN’s should be adapted and replicated everywhere.
8. Get women into power
A proven way to overcome many systemic barriers to a woman’s success has been increased participation by women in local, regional and national legislation as empowered change agents. In just 10 years, the number of women holding seats in houses of national parliament in south Asia rose from 7% to 18%. But a global goal of equal representation is still a long way off, with only one woman for every four men in parliamentary houses. A woman’s voice and her ability to become a leader in her community is fundamental to empowering women.
9. Encourage women into non-traditional vocations
Supporting women in non-traditional jobs is crucial in not only making long-lasting change in their lives but also help break social taboos. Brac is skilling women in professions such as motorcycle fixing, driving, hospitality, mobile-phone fixing.
10. Work together
Alarmingly, gender gaps in sub-Saharan Africa have widened at higher levels of schooling. This is a reverse of the global trend towards greater parity. Between 1999 and 2010, the ratio of girls in secondary school fell from 83 to 82 girls for every 100 boys at the secondary level and from 67 to 63 girls for every 100 boys at the tertiary level. This is stalled progress and a reversion to the deep gender equalities that characterised previous eras. To address this gap, our efforts cannot be done in silos, but must involve the people (girls in this case). Girls know best what their challenges are in education and it is imperative to involve them in our discussions to address the gap.
11. Stop the violence
. The UN has found that globally, will experience violence in her lifetime, with most violence against women perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner. The , , and the have done a lot to consolidate and expand on what we know about the prevalence of violence against women, and effective prevention and response strategies., but there is still a lot we do not know.
One of the realities that we need to remember and address is that, when women “trespass” in spaces that were previously completely male-dominated there is often a penalty. In education and in the workplace that backlash often takes the form of sexual harassment, humiliation, violence. Looking at a local level or specific situation we can see how that slows the pace of women’s entry to that sector or opportunity. Could that be one contribution to a global set-back?