IDENTIFYING GLOBAL TRENDS, NEEDS, AND OPPORTUNITIES
In the Listening Tour, Women Deliver asked about global trends for girls and women, opportunities for change, and what’s needed to drive progress.
WHAT ARE THE GLOBAL TRENDS?
Women and girls are starting to take up space with their voice and perspectives, not be forced to shrink and be less than what they are capable of.
– Listening Tour Respondent
Some of the many trends identified through the Listening Tour are as follows:
Pervasive Inequalities Stalling Progress. Persistent inequality along the lines of gender, geography, and access to data and technology are stalling progress. Damaging gender norms perpetuate harmful practices like child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and other forms of violence against girls and women.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights under Threat. The global political climate is precarious, and there is a growing and troubling chilling effect on girls’ and women’s rights in many places. While some recent gains have been made, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including the right to safe abortion, are under threat in many places.
Challenges for Safe Space for Girls and Women. In some parts of the world, funding for girls’ and women’s health and rights is dwindling, and political space for CSOs ‒ not least women’s groups – is declining, just as women who speak up publically are trolled, and in the worst cases, killed. These shifts often result in weaker and/or fewer programs for girls and women, or the silencing of women’s groups. This constitutes a major setback for gender equality without a counterbalance.
Groundswell of Activism. Despite the negative trends, the world is also witnessing the rise of powerful movements for women’s rights, youth rights, and gender equality. Women- and youth-led action, like the global Women’s Marches, #MeToo, Ni Una Menos, and #BringBackOurGirls, combined with a growing sense of urgency, is contributing to a rise in confidence among those who are working for girls’ and women’s rights. However, while these movements are holding the powerful to account in some parts of the world, the fear of consequences and retaliation for speaking out continues to silence too many individuals and the full-scale witness to these movements is not universal in all places.
Men and Boys Key to Achieving Gender Equality. As women-led movements gain momentum, there is a continued and growing acknowledgement that men and boys are crucial to advancing gender equality, shifting gender norms, and fighting extremism. Gender equality is not a “women’s issue,” it is a societal issue and everyone must be involved to reach a more equal world.
Working Across Sectors to Accelerate Progress. Powerful examples prove the model of working across traditional issues and sectors to work in a more integrated fashion. There is a narrative shift towards recognizing the significance of working with new and unusual partners in order to drive progress for girls and women—and development writ large. Collaboration must include governments, the private sector, civil society, and young people all joining together.
We need to stop focusing on the easy wins, and go to the last mile to reach the most vulnerable. We need equity.
– Listening Tour Respondent
WHAT DOES THE WORLD NEED TO DO TO CREATE AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR GIRLS AND WOMEN?
Looking at the current state of the world for girls and women, Listening Tour participants identified a wealth of needs and strategies required to drive progress for gender equality:
- Break down social and gender norms in existing power structures – from governments to families to religious institutions – which hold girls and women back. Listening Tour participants identified shifting social and gender norms as a key solution to entrenched power inequalities, and especially called out the need to work with community “gatekeepers and guardians.” For example, advocates should work with men and community leaders to shift negative gender norms and highlight the importance of issues like family planning and contraception to family wellbeing. Advocates should also work with faith groups to reframe religious narratives that harm and hold girls and women back from realizing their human rights, as well as male political decision-makers to prioritize girls’ and women’s health, education, role in decision-making, and women’s professional development.
- Drive investments that benefit girls and women. Listening Tour participants stressed the need for more and better funding for programs and policies that impact girls and women. They echoed the notion that when the world invests in girls and women, there is a ripple effect that benefits entire societies. They also noted that there is a need to look at the whole girl and the whole woman, including, but not limited to, her sexual and reproductive health and rights. The world should therefore explore stronger investments in a variety of areas that impact girls and women, such as programs to ensure workplace readiness; affordable, safe, and quality education and childcare; and access to financial services like bank accounts, credit, and insurance.
- Increase the numbers of women in decision-making positions at all levels, in all sectors. If women are not at the table when decisions about their lives are being debated and made, their needs will never be properly addressed – and that holds the whole society back. Listening Tour respondents stressed the importance of women in decision-making positions, especially those that have influence on policies and budgets – from local governments to national office and the parliament, from community NGOs to UN bodies and the private sector. Specific to political leadership, more funding is required for grassroots organizations who develop and train female politicians, increase the quantity and diversity of role-models, and build more support for female candidates within their parties.
- Engender bold political leadership. Participants pointed out the urgency of building greater political support among decision
makers who understand the many reasons for gender equality—the moral and social
costs of holding women back; the socio-economic costs of violence against girls and
women; how health is the foundation to strong business and economies; and how
mainstreaming gender equality across the work of government and private sector
processes are vital to driving gender equality. Advocates must also hold elected officials accountable to those who elected them, ensuring they invest in women and young people in the budgets they set. For a sustainable way forward, we need greater country ownership for funding gender equality – including sexual and reproductive health and rights – rather than relying on unpredictable donor funding.
- Better implement the laws and rights “on the books” that support gender equality. Respondents noted that in many cases the right policies and laws are already in place, but the challenge is a lack of implementation. Therefore, girls, women, and young people need to be educated about the laws that affect them, and emboldened to act to protect themselves. Through education and advocacy training, girls, women, and young people can learn about the existing laws in order to defend and claim their rights to them. Boys and men should also be educated about what is and is not legal, right, or acceptable in order to change their behavior and social paradigms.
- Gather better data to address gaps for girls and women. Listening Tour participants noted that better age- and sex-disaggregated data are essential for informing policies and planning, and called out specific needs. These needs included data on the measurement of gender norms, research on the importance of grassroots change, data on the effects of women in decision-making positions ‒ either through a natural evolution or via transitional quota systems – and data on adolescents, particularly around early/forced marriages, unintended pregnancy, the rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and education, and the incidence of violence against them.
- Take advantage of the current climate of activism, including mass mobilizations to end violence and oppression. With sexism and misogyny in the glare of the spotlight, there is an opportunity to reshape existing power structures. Participants urged gender equality advocates to harness the daily ways in which people are banding together and organizing. Some participants expressed the need to unify the many unique women’s movements across cultures and geographies towards a common purpose.
- Be more inclusive, paying close attention to marginalized groups. To improve the lives of every girl and woman, respondents noted the need to include the most vulnerable and hardest to reach populations. For example, advocates must address the unique needs of girls and women in fragile settings and protracted crises, girls and women living with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, girls and women from indigenous communities, girls and women living in rural settings, sex workers, girls and women who are trafficked and working without the enjoyment or rights or decent work, girls and women from persecuted groups, and girls and women who live in extreme poverty. By making space for girls and women who are the most disenfranchised, policies and programs will better address the needs of everyone.
- Tap into the individual and collective power of youth. Young people around the world have freed themselves from some of the traditional expectations of gender norms and are speaking truth to power. Listening Tour participants noted that advocates must promote young female leadership, defend female activists, and support girls’ agency.
- Work with the private sector on their role in promoting gender equality and scaling up best practices. Strategies include changing hiring practices to reduce conscious and unconscious bias, promoting buying from female owned businesses along the supply chain, strengthening efforts to have more women on boards and in the C-suite, adjusting workplace policies to create more gender-equality parental leave, developing guidelines and regulations to foster equal pay for equal work, and changing marketing practices to challenge gender norms rather than perpetuate antiquated ones.