Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women spurs productivity and economic growth. Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation.
Guaranteeing the rights of women and giving them opportunities to reach their full potential is critical not only for attaining gender equality, but also for meeting a wide range of international development goals. Empowered women and girls contribute to the health and productivity of their families, communities, and countries, creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone.
The word gender describes the socially-constructed roles and responsibilities that societies consider appropriate for men and women. Gender equality means that men and women have equal power and equal opportunities for financial independence, education, and personal development. Women’s empowerment is a critical aspect of achieving gender equality. It includes increasing a woman’s sense of self-worth, her decision-making power, her access to opportunities and resources, her power and control over her own life inside and outside the home, and her ability to effect change. Yet gender issues are not focused on women alone, but on the relationship between men and women in society. The actions and attitudes of men and boys play an essential role in achieving gender equality.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to end the multiple forms of gender violence and secure equal access to quality education and health, economic resources and participation in political life for both women and girls and men and boys. It is also essential to achieve equal opportunities in access to employment and to positions of leadership and decision-making at all levels.
Education is a key area of focus. Although the world is making progress in achieving gender parity in education, girls still make up a higher percentage of out-of-school children than boys. Families may also rely on girls’ labor for household chores, carrying water, and childcare, leaving limited time for schooling. But prioritizing girls’ education provides perhaps the single highest return on investment in the developing world. An educated girl is more likely to postpone marriage, raise a smaller family, have healthier children, and send her own children to school. She has more opportunities to earn an income and to participate in political processes
A final area of focus in attaining gender equality is women’s economic and political empowerment. Though women comprise more than 50% of the world’s population, they only own 1% of the world’s wealth. At all levels, including at home and in the public arena, women are widely underrepresented as decision-makers. In legislatures around the world, women are outnumbered 4 to 1, yet women’s political participation is crucial for achieving gender equality and genuine democracy.
Globally, no country has fully attained gender equality. The greatest gender gaps are identified primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. However, a number of countries in these regions, including Lesotho, South Africa, and Sri Lanka outrank the United States in gender equality.