Investing in gender equality and women's empowerment
As gender inequality is at the root of violence against women and girls, long-term efforts to improve women’s rights, human development standing, opportunities and choices while addressing negative social norms and values related to the roles of men and women within the community at large, are critical to reducing women’s risk of experiencing and escaping abuse in the short-term and ending violence against women altogether. (WHO, 2009) In addition to investments targeted directly at preventing or responding to violence against women and girls, broad strategic investments in gender equality are also necessary over the long-term. These investments include:
- Ensuring that all human rights and fundamental freedoms for women and girls are respected, protected and fulfilled, including by: ratifying without reservations all human rights treaties, including, in particular, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol; ensuring that women know their rights and are empowered to demand and exercise them; educating men and women, boys and girls about women’s human rights and their responsibility to respect the rights of others; ensuring that women have access to justice and equal protection of the law and that perpetrators of violence against women do not enjoy impunity; recognizing and protecting women’s right to control their bodies and their sexuality; and securing women’s rights to inheritance, property, housing and social security, among the range of economic and social rights. (UN General Assembly, 2006)
- Improving girls’ access to quality and safe education particularly at the secondary or higher levels. Education for girls can serve as a protective factor by increasing their knowledge, skills and opportunities, which can help avert early and forced marriage and can further improve prospects for avoiding or escaping intimate partner abuse. Higher educational levels are also associated with better employment and income earning opportunities which also serve as a protective factor.
- Increasing women’s access to and control over economic resources, including income and assets such as land and property. Access to income involves ensuring women’s right to own, inherit and use land and property, as well as women’s opportunities to work in safe spaces with equal wages and protection against exploitation and abuse. Improving women’s labour conditions and access to economic assets such as agricultural land and other resources used for productive activities can contribute to increased economic support and standards of living for their families, through reinvestment of earnings, and increased levels of productivity, both for their families and at the national level (UNFPA, 2005). Research has demonstrated that male economic and decision-making power is highly correlated with abuse against women. Abuse is more likely where there is clearly a dominant male partner; with men who were raised in families where men dominated and where community-level notions support men as the primary breadwinners and controllers of wealth. (Heise et al., 1999) Male dominance and control in dating relationships has also been a strong predictor of intimate partner violence. (Vezina & Herbert, 2007) Women in abusive relationships often stay because they are financially dependant on their partner and lack economic alternatives. Increasing women’s access to and control over economic resources can help them escape abuse and may also provide options for women to enter into a relationship on their own terms and on more equitable footing.
- Promoting a critical mass of women who can exercise their political rights and participate in political decision-making at local through national and international levels. Women’s increased representation and participation in politics and institutions contributes to improved governance and policies addressing key education, health and other development issues, as well as decreased levels of corruption. (Swamy A, et al., 2001; World Bank, 2001; UN Millennium Project, 2005, cited in UNFPA, 2005) Women in decision-making positions can help advocate for and implement laws, policies and programmes to address violence against women and girls. The presence of women in certain sectors, such as in security (as police or military personnel) and health (care providers) may provide an enabling environment for women to feel more comfortable reporting and seeking assistance for the abuse that has been perpetrated against them.
- Addressing the socio-cultural norms and attitudes regarding men and women’s roles and status within the home and community which perpetuate gender-inequality within the society, through holistic multisectoral interventions which engage key traditional, faith-based and other community leaders who can influence the harmful attitudes, opinions and practices that maintain unequal treatment of women and men and also perpetuate violence against women and girls. (Victoria Health Promotion Foundation, 2007; UNFPA, 2005)
Positive changes in these areas can help empower women and girls by expanding their development opportunities and improving their (and their dependents’) economic, political and social well-being, which can reduce their vulnerability to violence and can increase their potential to live a life free of abuse over the long-term. For example, see Investing in Gender Equality: Ending Violence against Women (UN Women, 2010); available in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish.