Two UK government initiatives to improve the lives of women in the developing world have been welcomed by Christian Aid director Loretta Minghella as important steps towards tackling ‘the most prevalent inequality of our time’.
The Girls Education Challenge announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg aims to help up to a million girls in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia access education.
A total of £350 million will be provided, enough to give 650,000 girls six years of primary education, or a million older girls a junior secondary education for three years.
In addition, the International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has announced funding it is hoped will prevent the deaths of more than 7,000 pregnant women in South Africa and Uganda.
The money, which will help train health professionals and, in Uganda, provide greater access to modern family planning, is part of a Government drive to save the lives of 50,000 pregnant women in the developing world over the next five years.
News of the initiatives came in the same week as the World Bank published a report highlighting gender inequalities in the developing world. These include:
· A higher death rate for girls and women
· Unequal access for women to economic opportunities and income
· Lower school enrolments of disadvantaged girls
"Continued gender discrimination is the most prevalent inequality of our time. More than 70 per cent of today’s poor are women and girls. Strong measures to combat such an iniquitous situation are hugely welcome", said Ms Minghella.
"Access to education is essential to give girls more opportunities for their future, and access to family planning is crucial in helping women take control of their bodies.
"Christian Aid’s experience in many countries, however, shows that in order for societies to reap the benefits of gender equality, investment must also be made in civil society organisations that will hold governments accountable to everyone affected by their decisions.
She concluded,"We hope sufficient funds are also targeted towards making that a reality."
Announcing the Girls Education Challenge at the Liberal Democrats conference, Nick Clegg said: "Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of poverty."
He continued,"Investing in them early on and giving them an education not only radically alters their lives but has a massive knock on effect, benefiting their families and communities. Girls who have been to school are likely to do significantly better financially, socially and be far healthier."
Research has shown that providing girls with an extra year of schooling can increase their wages by up to 20 per cent.
Announcing the two African health projects at the UN General Assembly this week, Andrew Mitchell said: "In some of the world’s poorest countries, a girl born today has more chance of dying in childbirth than she does of completing primary school.
"Women in some parts of the world simply do not have access to the advice, skills or technology that could save them."
The World Bank World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, gives examples of ways in which countries could benefit from addressing disparities between men and women.
They include an estimate from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation that equal access to resources for female farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5 to 4 per cent.
In some countries, the increase would be far higher. In Ghana, ensuring equal access and treatment for women farmers would increase maize yields by 17 per cent, while in Malawi yields would grow by 11 to 16 percent.
Calling for an end to gender inequality, Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President, Development Economics, said: "Blocking women and girls from getting the skills and earnings to succeed in a globalised world is not only wrong, but also economically harmful.
"Sharing the fruits of growth and globalisation equally between men and women is essential to meeting key development goals."
While welcoming the extra funding for education in the developing world, Christian Aid warns that providing education for girls must go beyond the provision of classrooms and schools.
To be effective, it must also involve increasing the available time girls have for education. Measures such as providing water supplies closer to households, and the introduction of more fuel efficient stoves are needed to reduce the hours spent collecting water and gathering firewood.
It must also include ensuring that women’s voices are listened to and respected by policy makers, and promotion by religious and community leaders of the understanding that girls are of equal value to boys.