Seventy percent of the 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty are women and girls. Gender discrimination is a major cause of poverty and, in many countries, women still have great difficulties securing basic education, finding employment and having fair control over household income. Until gender discrimination is ended, these issues cannot be successfully addressed. The patterns of domination, though, may be so deeply embedded in cultures and institutions that we may not even recognize them: boys getting more food than girls; streets where women walk only under threat; the interruption of women’s speech in conversation. Awareness, analysis and visibility are key starting points in the task of understanding gender roles and their impact on conflict displaced women and girls.
“Sixty years have passed since the founders of the United Nations
inscribed on the first page of our Charter the equal rights of women and
men. Since then, study after study has taught us that there is no tool for
development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy
is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce infant and
maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and
promote health — including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is
as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next
generation. And I would venture that no policy is more important in
preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has
Displaced populations, often unaffected by national policies and priorities, may remain marginalized by national government efforts to mainstream gender. Service providers to these populations may have little awareness of gender issues. They may be reluctant to interfere with local cultural practices and unaware of how resources and power are monopolized by male members of the community and the impact this has on women and girls.
The achievement of gender equality is not possible without the active involvement and support of men. Men must be reached and included so that interventions for women and girls are not derailed by male resistance.
Too often sidelined as a women’s issue, gender equality stagnates as a peripheral issue with considerable lip service but little tangible movement. We still fail to understand men’s roles and responsibilities in working toward a gender-equitable world. We fail to grasp their reluctance to become involved. We fail to analyze how conventional perceptions of masculinity limit and inhibit male participation. Additionally, we fail to articulate the negative effects on men of perpetuating a gender unequal world and the potential positive ramifications—for men—of gender equality.
In order to involve men and boys, we need to stress that promoting gender equality is not about granting privileges to women while disempowering men. It is about creating integrated approaches that benefit all. It is about creating a more socially just world.