Solving the Gender Equality Equation: Increasing Education and Decreasing Violence

March 18, 2016

“Everywhere I travelled, I tried to understand women’s concerns. I was angered by their political exclusion. I was dismayed by the slow progress on maternal health. And I knew it was long past time to end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.”

These were the opening remarks of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City on March 14. So what exactly is gender-based violence and how can we reduce its impact? What strategies might we use to lessen its effect on girls’ education? What can civil society do to solve the gender equality equation?

Goals for Gender Parity

Important questions like these were at the forefront as educators, government officials, leaders of nongovernmental organizations, and civil society activists from around the world convened for the 60th CSW. The commission is the primary international body that’s solely devoted to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Annually, the commission assesses the progress made in these areas and holds countries accountable for the commitments made to eliminate gender inequality. The 17 newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be completed by 2030 are the new benchmarks for monitoring the progress on globally pressing issues. And goal five specifically seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Each SDG consists of multiple targets, and two of those targets in goal five are related to ending violence: 5.2, which calls for the elimination of violence in the public and private spheres, including trafficking, sexual, and other types of exploitation; and 5.3, which deals with all harmful practices such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, an estimated 246 million girls and boys experience school-related violence every year, with girls at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment, and exploitation. And as UNICEF reports, more than 700 million women alive today worldwide were targets of these acts when they were younger than 18. More than 1 in 3 women — or some 250 million total — were married before the age of 15.

Women in a panel discussion at CSW 2016.

A panel discussion held at CSW 2016.

More Equity, More Opportunities

Factors in gender inequality that impede education include gender stereotypes, sociocultural norms, and inequity of power dynamics between the sexes. For example, in AAUW’s research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, presented at the CSW several years ago, we explored how bullying and harassment create a hostile environment and hinder learning for girls and young women. This type of negative and detrimental interaction takes many forms worldwide, with devastating consequences for women and girls.

As part of the 60th CSW, AAUW presented a panel of experts to address the critical issue of violence and its impact on access to education for girls. The panelists — experts in education, law, and human rights — discussed ending child marriage, the importance of investing in a gender lens, and the immigration and refugee crises. Talking about how to solve the gender equity problem, AAUW fellowships and grants alumnae Claire Thomas and Jessie Duncan, along with AAUW CSW delegation member Chiedza Mufunde, offered these insightful points:

  • Gender-lens investing decreases workplace violence, provides opportunities for women to develop capital, and is important in conflict areas to reduce human trafficking.
  • Sexual and reproductive health education for girls is instrumental in keeping girls in school and reducing child marriage.
  • Girl migrants and refugees face a considerable amount of trauma and violence and countries must pass and enforce laws to protect these groups and ensure their access to education.

Shared Responsibility

We are all stakeholders in gender equality: educators, families, communities, male allies, and the public and private sectors. It is imperative that all women and girls receive the support; training; legal, environmental, and social protections; and human and civil rights needed to overcome gender-based violence and achieve their personal aspirations. When we work together to step it up to achieve gender equality by 2030, women and girls everywhere will be able to make increased contributions to the world we all share.



The United Nations' sustainable development goals in illustrations

The UN’s Goals for Sustainable Development

In September 2015, the member countries of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be implemented over the next 15 years.

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