Why is it that we still need to talk about women’s economic empowerment in 2020?

Once you peel back the layers of data and statistics, you get to the bottom of the issue. It’s raw, and most people don’t want to hear it, but it’s at the root of all: girls are less valued than boys.

A lifetime living in the shadow

It’s possible to accurately tell the gender of a foetus from 18 weeks. From this point onwards, not having even left the womb, girls are under greater threat than boys. Gender-biased sex selection is not a new phenomenon, and it’s estimated that 117 million women* across Africa are “missing” because of it.

If a girl survives this first hurdle, as she grows and reaches school age, she faces her next major barrier – getting an education. One in 5 adolescent girls across the globe continue to be denied their right to education. The reasons for this are many, but think on these two statistics:

  • More than two-thirds of all child domestic workers are girls.
  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. More than 1 in 3 – about 250 million – were married before their 15th birthday.

Depending on how her education has fared, and if she’s avoided marriage at 13, and escaped domestic servitude, she will enter the workforce, and face the barriers working women face daily. And don’t forget that to find work is a major achievement: girls and young women make up the majority of the world’s 628 million young people who are not in education, training or employment.

Girls and women bear the brunt of unpaid work

Our girl will probably be expected to do some work for free. The unpaid work around the globe that keeps our economies ticking along lands disproportionately on the shoulders of girls and women.

On average, women spend 3 times as many hours as men doing unpaid care and domestic work. But even small changes here can make a difference: a Gates Foundation study recently found that school enrolment rates for girls increased by 12% in one country when the time walking to collect water was reduced by an hour.

No investment and little protection

In 90% of countries there is at least one law that acts as a barrier to women’s economic equality.

Economic equality is a contributing factor to gender equality. However, 190 million fewer women have an account at a financial institution than men. Why? Because if you’re a woman or young girl it’s much harder to get a formal credit history, to apply for proper identification, and in some countries you may need permission from your husband to open an account. How do you participate in public life and improve your understanding of finance when you can’t even open a bank account?

According to the World Bank, in 90% of countries there is at least one law that acts as a barrier to women’s economic equality. Their research also highlighted that in 18 countries, a woman has to ask for her husband’s permission to work.

Added impact of gender-based violence

Forty-one countries completely lack laws against sexual harassment, while 46 have no laws addressing domestic violence.

The prevalence of gender-based violence within the home, in public spaces, on the way to work and in the workplace also has a significant impact on girls’ and women’s economic performance. And yet still, in 2017, many countries still do not provide protection from violence and harassment for girls and women. Forty-one out of 173 countries examined by the World Bank completely lack laws against sexual harassment, while 46 countries have no laws addressing domestic violence.

Is it any wonder with all these societal, educational, financial and legal barriers constricting a girl’s development, that 100 million young women around the globe can’t read a single sentence?

This is no way to treat half of the world’s population.

Breaking the cycle

Girls don’t need empowering; they just need a fair start and a level playing field. That’s why at Plan International we are aiming over the next 5 years to make sure 100 million girls learn, lead, decide, and thrive.