Every girl and boy deserve a chance to survive and thrive on an equal footing. Save the Children, as the leading authority on childhood, has championed equal rights for all children for over a century – in fact, we invented the concept. Today, we are the leading advocate for the world’s 2.2 billion girls and boys’ human rights.
Nonetheless, gender discrimination continues to rob children of their childhoods and limit their opportunities – disproportionately affecting the world’s girls. A girl is far more likely to be denied her rights, excluded from school, coerced into marriage, and subjected to violence – her voice being undervalued, if it is heard at all. Additionally, this assault on childhood deprives nations of the energy and talent necessary for advancement.
At the current rate of change, achieving gender equality will take over 200 years, and that is just in the United States. This is unconscionable.
Together, we can start building a more equal world from the ground up.
Discrimination against women is any inequitable treatment, including privilege and priority, based on gender.
Gender inequality is discrimination on the basis of sex or gender that routinely favors or prioritizes one sex or gender over another.
Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and discrimination on the basis of gender is a violation of that right. Gender disparities begin in childhood and are currently limiting children’s lifelong potential worldwide – disproportionately affecting girls.
At Save the Children, we prioritize gender equality in all of our work. Our vision is a world in which everyone – girls, boys, women, and men – has equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities regardless of gender norms, identities, or expressions. A world in which everyone is recognized, respected, and valued equally.
Discrimination on the basis of gender is prohibited by almost every human rights treaty. This includes international laws establishing equal gender rights for men and women, as well as those devoted specifically to the realization of women’s rights, such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – widely regarded as the international bill of women’s rights.
In the United States, federal, state, and local laws protect individuals from gender discrimination and inequality. Additionally, both law and policy recognize the critical role of gender equality in achieving foreign policy objectives for a more prosperous and peaceful world.
Prejudice against women and the resulting discrimination begin in childhood. From the moment they are born, girls and boys are subjected to unequal gender norms regarding expectations, access to resources and opportunities, all of which have lifelong consequences – in their homes, schools, and communities.
For example, while boys are frequently encouraged to attend school and obtain an education in order to prepare for work, girls are frequently burdened with household responsibilities that prevent them from attending school, increasing their risk of child marriage and pregnancy.
Despite progress on a global scale, gender inequality persists. The COVID-19 pandemic has put years of hard-won progress in jeopardy. Far too many girls, particularly those from the poorest families, continue to face discrimination on the basis of gender in education, child marriage and pregnancy, sexual violence, and unrecognized domestic work. These are some of the manifestations of gender inequality.
Inequality of access to education for girls. Girls were more likely than boys to have never set foot in a classroom prior to the pandemic. Conflict, poverty, and other forms of social disadvantage all contribute to the exacerbation of gender disparities in education. For example, girls living in conflict-affected countries are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. By the end of 2020, 9.7 million children faced being forced out of school, with girls facing an increased risk.
Marriage of minors. Child marriage is a form of gender-based violence that both contributes to and perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination. Experts predict that the COVID-19 pandemic will undo 25 years of progress toward decreasing child marriage rates. Indeed, Save the Children’s analysis revealed that the pandemic will put an additional 2.5 million girls at risk of marriage by 2025—the largest increase in child marriage rates in nearly three decades.
Violence against women. Gender-based violence occurs on a global scale, affecting all economic and social groups. While both boys and girls are harmed, girls are disproportionately affected. Globally, approximately one in every three women has experienced physical or sexual violence during their lifetime, the majority of the time at the hands of their partners. Prenatal sex selection, female infanticide, neglect, female genital mutilation, rape, child marriage, forced prostitution, honor killing, and dowry killing are all examples of forms of violence. Numerous instances of these flagrant human rights violations have been used as weapons of war throughout the world. Children who are refugees are particularly vulnerable.
Child labor is prohibited. Globally, there are currently 152 million children engaged in child labor.  Child labor makes it more difficult or impossible for children to attend school, putting them at risk of falling behind their peers. Child labor affects boys and girls differently, and parents’ decisions are frequently influenced by broader social norms about the various roles they should play in the home and in society. Girls are much more likely to take on household chores, whereas boys are more likely to work in hazardous jobs such as construction. Girls are frequently pulled out of school earlier than boys and are more susceptible to sexual exploitation and slavery.
Not only is gender equality a fundamental human right, it is also a necessary precondition for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable future. Gender eradication requires a world in which women and men, girls and boys, all have equal access to resources, opportunities, and protections.
Empowering girls from an early age has been shown to have long-lasting and compounding effects throughout their lives. When girls are encouraged to participate in civic and political life, they are equipped with the tools and skills necessary to be agents of positive change in their families and communities. Girls are the experts on their own experiences, priorities, and needs, and they are powerful catalysts for a world that thrives on gender equality.
Everyone benefits when girls are empowered to take charge of their lives, speak their minds, and determine their own futures. According to history, societies that combat gender oppression are more stable, secure, and prosperous, with happier, more educated citizens.
Investing in gender equality has the potential to have a significant impact:
According to the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, every dollar invested in women’s and children’s health can generate a $20 return.
According to UN Women, a girl’s eventual income will increase by up to 20% for each year she stays in school. Additionally, it encourages girls to marry later in life and have fewer children, making them less susceptible to violence.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, advancing women’s equality could add up to $28 trillion to global annual growth by 2025.