Researching for solutions to gender equality around the world

During the COVID-19 pandemic, activists around the world have had to develop innovative ways to advocate for the causes they care about. Here’s the background story about Feminae Carta, a digital advocacy tool aiming to make gender equality a policy priority globally.

October 06, 2021 by Maryam and Nivaal Rehman, The World with MNR
5 minutes read
Matisha Napit, left, is in class 10 at Shree Krishna Ratna School in Chautara, Ward 5, Sindhupalchowk District, Nepal. Nepal, June 2019. Credit: GPE / Kelley Lynch
Matisha Napit, left, is in class 10 at Shree Krishna Ratna School in Chautara, Ward 5, Sindhupalchowk District, Nepal. Nepal, June 2019.
Credit: GPE / Kelley Lynch

During the COVID-19 pandemic, activists around the world have had to develop innovative ways to advocate for the causes they care about. As girls’ education and gender equality activists ourselves, we used out time at home to develop Feminae Carta, a digital advocacy tool aiming to make gender equality a policy priority globally.

In the first phase of the project, we worked alongside more than 20 researchers from six continents to develop a background guide highlighting the most pertinent issues faced by women and girls, and how we can resolve them.

We highlighted the areas of women’s well-being, voices and participation. We emphasized the importance of education, but also ensuring that women’s health, and their opportunities following their education, are met through government policies.

In this blog, some of our researchers share insights from their research.

Ayesha Khan, Canada
Ayesha Khan, Canada

Ayesha Khan, Canada

“We’ve all heard of the astounding ripple effect of girls’ education on society; an educated girl may become a mother, a mother will raise the next generation with the knowledge she has gained, and the community directly benefits.

The most prominent incentive to invest in girls’ education today is the benefit to a country’s economy, with various studies showing how GDP in low-income countries could dramatically improve with more girls in school and completing their education.

While this is important, I believe we should not simply view girls as a commodity to promote economic development but instead as deserving of knowledge and opportunity for the betterment of themselves and society.

In my research, I focused on girls’ education in South and East Asia. The quality and accessibility of girls’ education throughout these regions vary tremendously, but there are some common themes. South Asia has one-third of the world’s out-of-school girls, and a major factor contributing to low enrollment rates is a lack of sanitary resources at schools.

As several countries in South Asia have high rates of poverty, girls deal with menstruation without adequate resources at home or in school, causing them to miss on average up to 3 days of school per month. Additionally, safety on the way to and in school is a concern for girls and their families. Where girls need to travel long distances to get to school, incidents of sexual harassment and violence increase and families are understandably hesitant to send their daughters to school.

More often than not, the families of girls are eager to send their daughters to school, but factors such as safety, resources, money and practicality come in the way.

On a positive note, progress has been made for girls’ education by governments, NGOs and community members alike, including the Global Partnership for Education.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing this progress. Now, more than ever, we need strong political and organizational leadership, with more investment in schools, teachers and girls’ education programs.

The most important task for leaders is to recognize and address how COVID-19 has affected girls, not just in their education but also at home. Are families struggling financially? Are girls contributing more financially or through housework? Is child marriage becoming more prevalent?

Given the burden COVID-19 places on women and girls, flexible learning strategies need to be prioritized to accommodate their education and ensure they do not drop out due to time or financial constraints. Finally, families and girls themselves should be given a seat at the decision-making table to ensure schooling is reflective of their needs and concerns.”

Soukaina Tachfouti, Morocco
Soukaina Tachfouti, Morocco

Soukaina Tachfouti, Morocco

“The social and economic development of every country is dependent on its human capital. This makes the contribution of women crucial to progress. However, the level of participation of women in the labor market remains unsatisfying and much lower than that of men in both the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and South Asia.

This large gap is due to various, often interrelated, factors that span across economy, policy and society. And while the above-mentioned regions have made notable efforts in promoting laws that guarantee a broad range of rights and economic opportunities to women, many changes are still needed, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic turned economies upside down and put on hold, if not regressed, the progress towards an equitable workplace.

Some of the most common barriers I came across in both MENA and South Asia are the prevailing social norms and gender roles that heavily affect women’s access to the labor market and put them at a disadvantage in almost every career venture.

From my research I have learned that while it is critical to introduce legal frameworks and policies to support women’s rights, it is equally important to challenge the common mindset in these regions, and campaign and adopt affirmative actions to ensure that women don’t start from a lower starting point because of their gender.

We also need to ensure that women are no longer regarded as the sole caretakers in their families, with enormous household workloads that hinder their chances of accessing the workplace but also of maintaining a balanced family and work life.

Ultimately, an Intellectual Renaissance is needed so that girls are not only given the opportunity to get an education, but that they also get equal opportunities in the workforce once they complete their education.”

Rosella Cottam, United Kingdom
Rosella Cottam, United Kingdom

Rosella Cottam, United Kingdom

“My research focused on women’s voices and empowerment in Europe and the MENA regions. I found that the barriers women face take many forms - while some women have been limited by structural economic disconnect, others face exclusion in educational access; socio-cultural norms; and political engagement.

Often these areas overlap significantly and are rooted in the capacities of individuals to determine their livelihoods and act on their values.

Despite these challenges, everywhere I looked there were opportunities, and existing initiatives already taking action to make change: from the European Union’s women’s entrepreneurship initiatives to the establishment of programs to support women’s autonomy and freedoms in the MENA region.

Now, we must promote the voices of women everywhere, to listen and equip them with the means to overcome the obstacles to reaching their goals.

Feminae Carta has provided me with an opportunity to closely examine women’s issues, and directly break down gender inequalities. Working alongside an international research team, I’ve become more knowledgeable to stand up for these issues, and investigate the possible solutions that can be used by governments and international organizations through policy recommendations.”

What can you do?

We have learned a lot already in the process of creating Feminae Carta, but there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve gender equality.

Ensuring that organizations like GPE are fully funded is one of the important steps that governments can take to help lower-income countries recover from the pandemic and achieve gender equality in the process.

We encourage you all to look at our background guide and learn more about these causes by visiting Feminae Carta.

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