title: overcoming gender inequities
intro: "When a girl gets pregnant, the first thing the man says is: ‘This is your fault, you're responsible…' There are not many people, boys, who are responsible and want to face it together." - a young woman in Lima Peru.
Some 14 million women and girls between ages 15 and 19 - both married and unmarried - give birth each year. For this age group, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death, with unsafe abortion being a major factor. Early childbearing is also linked to obstetric fistula, a devastating and socially isolating condition that leaves women incontinent. Teenage mothers are more likely to have children with low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia.
what: making the world safer for young women and more respectful of their needs and rights is a priority for UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). Sensitising men to share responsibility for safe and healthy reproductive and sexual behaviours and to respect girls and women as equals is also fundamental to many of its programmes.
why: girls and boys face different sets of challenges and pressures as they approach adulthood. Disparities in the way girls and boys are raised and treated are at the root of many sexual and reproductive health problems and development challenges. UNFPA recognises that the world is different for girls and boys, and programme approaches must reflect this. For boys, adolescence can be a time of expanded participation in community and public life. Girls, however, may experience new restrictions and find their freedom of movement limited. In addition, socially constructed gender roles may give girls little say about their own aspirations and hopes, and restrict them to being wives and mothers. Boys face other kinds of societal and peer pressures, as they may be encouraged to be risk-takers and to demonstrate their manhood through aggressive behaviour.
how: educating girls is a powerful lever for their empowerment, as well as for reducing poverty. Girls who are educated are likely to marry later and to have smaller, healthier families. Education helps girls to know their rights and claim them, for themselves and for their families. Education can translate into economic opportunities for women and their families.
The importance of education in reducing gender inequities is highlighted in by its inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs call for the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels of education no later than 2015. Although most young people have access to some schooling, 57 million young men and 96 million young women aged 15-24 in developing countries cannot read or write.
results: women are gaining access to literacy and education in all regions, and at a faster rate than men. About 90 countries are on track to meet global goals for ending gender inequality in primary education by 2015. As a partner in the United Nations Girl's Education Initiative, UNFPA is actively working toward this goal.
Delhi, India: adolescent girls - both married and not - have new forms of social participation available to them thanks to a local NGO - Swaasthya - and support from UNFPA and others. A multi-sectorial, community-based programme in an urban resettlement colony in Delhi, India offers clinical services, information, education, social support mechanisms, social marketing strategies, skills-building programmes, and projects that provide access to economic resources in the form of micro-credits. The girls take part in support groups, receive information and engage in discussions on health, rights and other concerns, build skills in decision-making, problem-solving, communication, negotiation, relationships and boundaries, and learn about sexuality and how to prevent sexual abuse.