“When I finished elementary school, I stopped studying for 6 years, because my family did not have enough money to pay for extra years of school. The nearest public school is in another municipality, over 5 kilometres away. It is too dangerous to walk there because they rob you almost every day and there is a high risk of rape”. - Maria, 17 years old from Guatemala Millions of girls like Maria are being left behind because of unequal access to education, gender-based violence, child marriage, and fewer decent work opportunities.
Last March 2020, just as COVID-19 began to take its toll on global education, we spoke to education expert Dr Elizabeth Meke about the potential impact of interrupted education in Malawi. “I am very worried about the girls. Some of them will end up dropping out of school, some might even end up getting married too young, and lots could end up in child labour in farms. Long periods of staying at home will really not be good for education that is for sure.”
The message is clear, the gender gap is still present, as is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. If we do not invest in gender equality our development efforts will not be sustainable. Ending discrimination against women and girls is not just a development concern and a root cause of child labour, it is a basic human right.
What do we need to do to achieve gender equality?
To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 for gender equality and empower all women and girls, the United Nations has outlined 5 key targets for the world to achieve:
1. End discrimination against women and girls
By making sure that women and girls have equal rights as men and boys including access to education, decent work opportunities, marital rights, property rights, hiring processes, pay, voting and many others. In the context of fighting child labour, the ECLT Foundation has worked for years to make schools more accessible to girls and to provide training and money management skills to women.
2. Eliminate forced marriages and genital mutilation
By protecting women and girls from child marriage and genital mutilation. Although progress has been made, many countries still do not have any national legislation which prohibits or invalidates child or early marriage. At least 59 countries have passed laws banning FGM including most African countries where the practice is most concentrated, but there is still a long way to go in terms of enforcement of national laws to stamp out FGM once and for all. To increase the protection of children beyond our project areas, the ECLT Foundation coordinated with national governments, unions, workers and other agriculture sectors, like coffee and tea, on awareness raising efforts targeting rural communities, including radio and printed materials on health, child protection, and specifically on forced marriage and sexual abuse.
3. Value unpaid care and promote shared domestic responsibilities
Women make up over 40 percent of farm workers and are key contributors to the production of food and to the economy as both entrepreneurs and employees. Women also contribute to unpaid care and domestic work more than 2.6 times more than men. By raising awareness and breaking down old gender stereotypes, women and men are more likely to be encouraged to do their fair share of childcare and housework, freeing up more time for women and girls to get an education and enter into the world of decent work. In Guatemala, ECLT’s youth employment programme is retraining girls who were unfairly missing out on an education to learn new job skills and access new work opportunities.
4. Ensure full participation in leadership and decision-making
Creating space and encouraging women to become engaged politically is an important piece of the puzzle and can be just as important at the local level within communities or religious groups as at the national Government level. In Tanzania, a participant of an ECLT-supported Village savings and Loans Association, Anna, told us about how being part of a VSLA taught her that she enjoyed public speaking. Anna now works for the district Government and represents the voices of her local community sharing concerns and challenges and discussing ways to resolve these.
5. Equal rights to economic resources, property ownership and financial services
By undertaking reforms to ensure that women have equal rights to economic resources, opportunities to have ownership of land, housing, financial services and other forms of property. Village savings and loan associations encourage women in rural areas to save and loan so that they can become small-business owners, or buy land to cultivate or on which they can build a home, and often invest in their children’s education.
How do we measure progress towards gender equality?
“Lingering gender inequalities continue to make girls more vulnerable to exploitation in agricultural work, or that they have to stay home whilst their brothers continue with their education” insisted Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, at the launch of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.
The way we measure progress is what defines the change we want to see. For ECLT, this means collecting data on the root causes of child labour to bring about long-lasting and systemic change. It is clear that the monitoring and evaluation processes of achieving the SDGs are just as important as the goals themselves as they push for accountability, action and implementation of pledges, policies and commitments. Thankfully, the United Nations has defined core indicators for Governments and multi-national companies to report against. To advance progress towards SDG 5, the UN recommends we measure the following:
• whether legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex; • proportion of women aged 20–24 years who were married or in a union before age 15 and before age 18; • proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex, age and location; • proportion of women in managerial positions • proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure