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Summative Assignment

Gender is a Development Issue

UCIL20032 Leadership in Action

10157056

Word count: 1523

Manchester, 2017-04-29

“To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

(UN, 2017a)

This is goal number five of the Sustainable Development Goals from the UN, which try to transform our world. But, why is gender equality important? At the global average, women in the labour market still earn 24% less than men do. 35% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. About 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married every year – which affects their education and working life. About one third of developing countries still not have achieved gender equality in primary education (UN, 2017b). Despite being about half of the world population, in 2015 women just held about 23% of the parliament seats worldwide (O’Neil & Domingo, 2016, p. 9). Even if the Millennium Development Goals have achieved progress towards gender equalities, it still needs a lot of improvement, as gender equality “will fuel sustainable economies and benefit society and humanity at large” (UN, 2017a).

International NGOs – like our organisation - have made a massive impact in developing countries already. Investments and the expansion of girl’s education and supporting development workers made change in a lot of countries possible (UN, 2017a). However, as I just explained, there are still huge challenges to face, which need to be invested in right now. I would therefore suggest focusing on gender inequality in our next campaigns, as it can have a significant impact on the development of a country and therefore can increase our impact in these countries substantially.

As a recent study of Van de Walle (2015) shows, poverty is falling faster among Africa’s female headed households in comparison to households headed by men. Hence increasing the female headed households would be beneficial for improving the lives among the poorest. The latest Demographic and Health Survey shows that 26% of all Africa-wide households are headed by women, which is an increase over time in all African regions. The most important factors influencing the percentage living in a female headed household are extra years of schooling and later marriage of the heading woman. These factors could be improved by a variety of actions, which can have considerable impact on resolving the gender equality issue. One of the most important actions is facing the challenge of menstrual health and sanitation, which is a huge barrier in developing countries keeping women away from more influential positions in their communities.

The taboo and the lacking education about menstruation is a big problem all over the world, but causes serious problems in developing countries especially. A study found out that in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum over 75% of girls did not know what menstruation is before they got it the first time (Femme International, 2017a). Another factor to consider are the costs of sanitary products, which overweigh the incomes of most women in developing countries. These women therefore use alternative methods such as newspapers or mud, which can cause serious vaginal infections. Another possibility is asking their father or boyfriend to buy them sanitary products, which creates a relationship of dependence with these men. That is why these men have a lot of power over their daughters or girlfriends, which often leads to early marriage (Rubli, 2014).

In addition, a lot of girls in developing countries will miss between 3 to 7 school days a month because of their menstruation (Duke Global Health Institute, 2012), adding up to about 20% of the school year in Kenya (Femme International, 2017a), as they either cannot afford any menstrual products or are ashamed. All these factors have a huge impact on gender equality, as they increase the number of girls dropping out of school earlier, because of infections or missing too many school days, and increasing early marriages because of the dependence on men.

Femme International is an international NGO trying to tackle all these problems in East Africa and breaking the taboo of menstruation by taking an education-based approach (Femme International, 2017b). Their Feminine Health Empowerment Program consists of the parts education and distribution. In their education part, they educate women and men about menstruation by partnering with local schools and organisations to break down taboos, provide a safe place to ask questions, and to ensure that these girls will not miss school anymore because of being ashamed about their menstruations. The distribution program tries to ensure that every woman can manage their menstruation with safe and sustainable products and provides “Femme Kits” for them. They consist of either a menstrual cup or washable pads with the required cleaning equipment. The women get educated on how to use these products safely (Femme international, 2017c).

Femme International is an example for a NGO trying to implement a long-lasting solution for a wicked problem, which has huge impacts on gender equality and the development of the whole community. By providing women with their Femme Kits and educate them about menstruation, women can stay longer in school, learn better jobs and therefore develop to influential women in their communities. As the study of Van de Walle (2015) shows, this will lead to a faster reduction of poverty in these countries.

However, Femme International has to consider that providing menstrual cups or reusable pads can only work, if the sanitation of these women will be improved as well. The women need to have the possibility of cleaning these products properly in order to use them in a safe way. By coming up with new ideas, like providing the possibility of cleaning menstrual cups in health centres or churches, these limitations could be overcome.

Another important factor to consider in implementing gender equality programs, is that boys and men need to be included in these programs and activities as well. Boys and men have often been overlooked in gender equality campaigns so far, but they can make a massive impact on challenging norms and questioning gender roles in society, especially when they are educated. It is therefore important to mobilise men to challenge existing norms and stop violence against women (Cornwall, 2012).

One of the main actors who act in this field is the MenEngage Alliance, who is a global alliance which consists of hundreds of NGOs and other partners across many regions of the world. By providing a global network, they try to provide a collective voice on the necessity that men and boys should be integrated in gender equality activities (MenEngage Alliance, 2017a). In Africa, MenEngage consists of 17 country networks in Africa and is chaired by Snoke, a NGO which tries to achieve gender equality in Africa (Snoke, 2017a). Snoke and MenEngage Africa annually hold the “MenEngage Africa Training Initiative” to build a network of leaders by offering trainings to expand the knowledge and skills of activists in Africa (Snoke, 2017b).

One of the most successful regions of MenEngage Africa is Zambia, where they are working with 10 different organisations, which are connected through the network. MenEngage provides the knowledge and resources for these organisations and trains them to address gender-based violence, train church leaders and bus drivers or working with boys in school and educate boys and men on HIV/AIDS (MenEngage Alliance, 2017b).

MenEngage and Snoke are therefore perfect examples of big actors which engage in gender equality in a very effective way, as they provide a global network for hundreds of organisations, which can benefit of the resources and knowledge of MenEngage, but can work on a national and regional level to implement local needs in their campaigns.  

By providing this global network MenEngage can have a huge impact on gender equality campaigns in the future, as they have a lot of influence on many different organisations on different levels and work with governments to implement gender equality policies. However, they have to consider that they do not favour men in their campaigns even more, as their main focus is to implement gender equality and therefore give women more power in developing countries.

To conclude, I discussed that gender equality campaigns are still extremely important as the Sustainable Development Goal 5 still needs a lot of work on different levels and can have huge impacts on the society, especially in developing countries. I would therefore recommend you implementing gender equality in our next big campaign by focusing on helping women to get influencing roles in their communities, as poverty is falling faster in female headed households, by providing them with the possibility to get educated and get more power over men. I propose focusing on menstrual health and sanitation especially, as menstrual health is an important factor to consider ensuring women stay longer in educational programs and marry later, which has significant influence on them having more power in their communities.

In all our future campaigns, we need to make sure that men are integrated in this campaign as they have considerable power to fight gender roles and challenging norms in communities. In addition, I would recommend joining the MenEngage network with our NGO, as this Alliance provides a lot of useful resources and knowledge about this topic, and will get more powerful in bargaining with governments to implement gender equality policies if more big organisations as ours join.

I hope I could convince you focusing on gender equality in our next campaign in developing nations, as we could increase our impact substantially by doing so. If you have any question, do not hesitate to ask me. Thank you very much!

Bibliography

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Ridout, A. & Tisdall, S., 2015. Women in Bangladesh are taking charge – from grassroots up to government. [Online]

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Rubli, S., 2014. How Menstrual Cups Are Changing Lives in East Africa. [Online]

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