We all know, intuitively, that gender discrimination is wrong. It violates international human rights and other international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Gender discrimination means girls and women do not have equal access to education and employment or to positions of power and leadership.
Girls and women lack influence at home, in their communities and in their nations. As Sosna’s story demonstrates, many girls are forced into marriage and forced to have sex.
Not only does this violate a women’s rights , it means many women cannot make their own decision about when to become pregnant, with detrimental effects upon their future children.
To gauge the extent of the problem look at some of these key stats:
- Evidence from 30 countries shows that in many households, women have little influence over important household decisions. In only a third of the countries surveyed did more than half of women participate in all household decisions – so they’re unable to make decisions about when to access a health centre, or what food to buy to ensure that they and their children are eating a nutritious diet.
- Young girls are particularly removed from decision making processes and are often forced in to child marriage which very often leads to early and hazardous pregnancy:
– 51 million teenage girls are married today. One in seven girls in developing countries are married before the age of 15 and nearly 50% are expected to marry by their 20th birthday.
– One-in-ten babies are born to adolescents worldwide but 95% of these occur in developing countries.
– Indeed, an estimated 70,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 die each year during pregnancy and childbirth.
– More than 1 million infants born to adolescent girls die before their first birthday.<
As these facts demonstrate, a child’s survival is intimately connected to the health and wellbeing of their mother. A stark example of this comes from Afghanistan where 75% of infants who survive their mother’s death die within their first year of life.
Conversely, when women have better access to and can choose to use reproductive health services and family planning, this improves newborn, infant and child health considerably.
Put simply, a mother bequeaths her health to her children.
Failing to tackle gender discrimination is wrong. It results in unnecessary lives lost and slowed development progress (particularly on MDGs 4 and 5). It is also wastes economic potential.
According to the UN Secretary-General maternal and newborn deaths slow growth and lead to global productivity losses of US$15 billion each year. Similarly providing medical care for unintended pregnancies costs $2.5 billion per annum.
While improving access to and availability of reproductive health services is highly cost- effective. In many countries, every dollar spent on family planning saves at least four dollars that would otherwise be spent treating complications arising from unplanned pregnancies.
Likewise early investment in children’s health leads to high economic returns and offers the best guarantee of a productive workforce in the future. Between 30% and 50% of Asia’s economic growth from 1965 to 1990 has been attributed to improvements in reproductive health and reductions in infant and child mortality and fertility rates.
Tackling gender discrimination and proving women with the services and support that they need is not only right, it makes good economic and development sense.
This International Women’s Day, we’re calling for the full realisation of women’s rights, including a women’s right to choose when and whether to have babies.