Why is the world unfair to women? Ten reasons and one response

The inequality between genders is particularly stark in fragile contexts and disasters. Here are ten factors to why the world is unfair to women and one approach to sustainable development that strengthens women’s rights.

1. INVISIBLE WORK. All women work but do not necessarily earn a salary. Traditionally, only productive work is categorised as a job and all other work, such as that in households or outside the formal economy, remains invisible and therefore unpaid. Women are doing 75 per cent of all unpaid work worldwide and do it for three to six hours per day. Much of the invisible work is within homes, taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.

2. EDUCATION. More than 130 million girls aged 6–17 do not go to school. A girls’ education can also be disrupted if her family needs her to support their daily life through household work or paid jobs. Menstruation or marriage can also put an end to a girls’ education.

3. MENSTRUATION leads to discrimination. In Nepal, for instance, families and the community restrict women’s movement and participation in activities during menstruation. In Myanmar’s Rohingya communities, women are traditionally not allowed to interact with other boys and men than their own family’s after they started menstruating. Many girls face the risk of early marriage after they have had their first period.

4. PERIOD POVERTY. The lack of sanitary pads causes multiple challenges. For instance, in refugee settlements, quality pads are hardly available or sold at a very high price. If the sanitary pads do not exist or cannot be changed safely in school, girls might be forced to stay home during their periods. Repeated absence from school might cause girls to drop out.

5. LAVATORIES are part of everyone’s daily life, but many women have to search for a safe lavatory every day. According to the UN, every third of the world’s women cannot access a safe bathroom facility where they can also wash during menstruation. Women need a door that can be locked not only because of privacy and dignity but because bathroom facilities put women at risk for abuse and sexual violence.

6. EMPLOYMENT. Traditional roles and models weaken the position of women in the job market. Their invisible work as caretakers of families creates further challenges for the women to find time for paid work. Research shows that public support for daycare services increases the number of women doing paid work. A woman with a job and salary has a better chance of impacting her own life and the surrounding society.

7. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN is a severe violation of human rights and a far too common practice. Women are not safe even in their own homes – every third of the world’s women report having experienced violence in a close relationship. An estimated 38 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their spouses.

8. DISASTERS worsen the situation of those in the most fragile positions even further – conflict and war increase domestic and gender-based violence. Violence against women has reportedly soared in several countries during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus, including the countries where Finn Church Aid operates. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic’s burden on healthcare, women are struggling to access services related to sexuality and reproduction, and this might result in a rise in, for instance, unwanted pregnancies.

9. INEQUALITY IN POWER STRUCTURES. Men form a majority in decision-making positions worldwide. Research shows that women are more likely to consider women-related issues, family politics, education and care services when they are in a leadership position. Thus, leaving women outside decision-making significantly affects these areas of life. The influence of women is also undermined by them not being part of the informal, male-dominated networks that might have an unexpected impact on society.

10. ADDITIONAL DISADVANTAGES. While women per se are in an unfavourable position, the women with additional disadvantages caused by disabilities, age, poverty or sexual orientation face even greater challenges. In emergencies, such as natural disasters and conflicts, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence and struggle to access support. Elderly and poor women and those with disabilities are dependent on the support of others, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.

+1 FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) includes and promotes gender equality in all its operations. FCA and the Women’s Bank work for women’s rights by supporting women’s education and livelihoods in fragile countries. Livelihood activities offer training in entrepreneurship, marketing and managing finances. Creating cooperatives and savings groups are central to the projects, and the cooperatives support their members’ business activities.

The livelihood projects also strengthen women’s rights in other ways. Participating in cooperatives and their management builds confidence and experience that support women in becoming involved in broader decision-making structures. The cooperatives also offer interventions and solutions to issues, such as domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.

The education of girls is one of the most efficient ways of securing sustainable development. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, and education is the key to sustaining oneself and live an independent life.

Sources: Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Invisible Women, World Health Organisation, Plan International

Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Illustration: Carla Ladau