THE BLOG

The Global Goals: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back on Women's Rights?

25/03/2016 17:03 GMT | Updated 25/03/2017 09:12 GMT

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ActionAid's Daiane Dultra leads an empowerment session for vulnerable girls in Cabu, Pernambuco

It is exactly six months since world leaders agreed a series of Global Goals at the United Nations in New York to end poverty, tackle climate change and deliver a fairer world for the 21st century.

Among them was Goal Five on gender equality which sets out the ambition to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere - including all forms of violence.

But the task is huge. At present 150 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school or at school each year.

Data from the United Nations shows that in 2012 alone five women were killed every hour as a result of domestic violence.

And seventy percent of those living in extreme poverty - defined as living on less than $1 a day - are women.

Can the Global Goals drive change? At ActionAid we believe the key lies in empowering women and girls to take control of their own lives.

Carla, a young woman from Pernambuco in Brazil, shows what is possible in the face of overwhelming challenges.

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Since 2007, over 50,000 men have flocked to Pernambuco state, to work in and around Suape Port, northeast Brazil's most important industrial hub. This has fuelled demand for sexual services causing rates of teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and school drop-outs to rise. Men in their 30s, 40s and 50s are reported to be sexually exploiting girls as young as 12 years old.

ActionAid is supporting local organisations in the area to help vulnerable girls understand their potential. Carla, 15, is a youth leader who helps other girls recover from exploitation and understand their rights.

"I used to feel really sad and really tired and had a lot happening in my daily life. The therapy sessions have helped us to open up about the things that hurt us.

"At the project we have discussions and seminars, which help us to spread our knowledge throughout our community. This helps us to help other girls our age."

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Young people at ActionAid's empowerment workshop in Cabu, Pernambuco

Carla is an example of how young women can take control of their own lives and change them for the better.

Around the world ActionAid also works to support paralegals to collect evidence on domestic violence in countries like Burundi, Somaliland, Afghanistan. We also support women's groups to lobby for stronger legal protection from sexual attack. Since 2002, we've been in Afghanistan supporting women to claim their rights. We train facilitators to teach women in their communities vital skills like reading and writing - helping them to take control of their own lives.

We also work with schools, education departments and community groups to promote the importance of education for Afghan children - especially girls. And we run special courses to help more girls catch up on their studies, finish secondary school and enrol into higher education

We see what impact this has every day. It's the leadership of women that really makes a difference.

And globally the model is backed up by research. An academic study of 70 countries found that the presence of strong and independent women's rights organisations was the single biggest factor contributing to the reduction of violence against women - more important than GDP or numbers of women in political roles.

ActionAid's new briefing Fearless Women and Girls - leading the way, transforming lives highlights the enormous funding gap for women's rights organisations in developing countries. It calls on the UK Government to commit to boosting the proportion of aid going directly to women's groups working on the frontline. ActionAid is recommending at least an additional £70 million over the next three years to be taken from the existing aid budget.

It is also important that women see an economic improvement in their lives. Women everywhere currently carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work and are denied equal pay and decent jobs. ActionAid has found that women in developing countries could be $9 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men.

But while there have been encouraging signs - such as the formation of a High Level Panel which includes UK Aid Secretary Justine Greening - progress on economic empowerment remains slow.

More funding must be provided to women's groups on the ground which are best placed to decide on how to tackle endemic issues of gender inequality, poverty and violence.

And we need the high level panel to address the fundamental issues such as recognition and redistribution of women's unpaid care work, access to decent work and a living wage for women, and right to organize.

The Global Goals could be the catalyst for global change but the battle for transformative progress on ending poverty and inequality and the fight for gender equality does not end with these commitments - in many ways we are still at the beginning.

As the old African saying goes, "If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together". While there are reasons to be optimistic there is still a long way to go on achieving the Global Goals. We will only succeed if we walk together.