Gender equality is a human right. Women are entitled to live with dignity and with freedom from want and from fear. Gender equality is also a precondition for advancing development and reducing poverty: Empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities, and they improve prospects for the next generation.

Despite many international agreements affirming their human rights and the solid evidence demonstrating the centrality of women’s empowerment to realizing human rights, reducing poverty, promoting development and addressing the world’s most urgent challenges, gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise. Women and girls are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They have less access to property ownership, credit, training, and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and other forms of violence.

I believe that gender equality can be achieved only when women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights, and obligations in all spheres of life. This means sharing equally in the distribution of power and influence and having equal opportunities for financial independence, education and realizing their personal ambitions.
Just as the costs of inequality are huge, so is the challenge in overcoming it. The gaps in opportunity between men and women are the product of pervasive and stubborn social norms that privilege men’s and boys’ access to opportunities and resources over women’s and girls’.

Six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women. Economic disparities persist partly because much of the unpaid work within families and communities falls on the shoulders of women, and because women continue to face discrimination in the economic sphere. Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. What is therefore required is a sustained, comprehensive drive to end inequality. This will require addressing multiple and reinforcing barriers to equality amongst men and women, boys and girls, families, institutions (both formal and informal) as well as jobs.

About two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. Lack of an education severely restricts a woman’s access to information and opportunities. Conversely, increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment benefits both individuals and future generations. Higher levels of women’s education are strongly associated with lower infant mortality and lower fertility, as well as better outcomes for their children. We need to improve access for girls to education to reduce the in-built disadvantages that they have from birth onwards.

Gender equality cannot be achieved without the backing and enforcement of institutions. But too many social and legal institutions still do not guarantee women equality in basic legal and human rights, in access to or control of resources, in employment or earnings, or in social or political participation. And men continue to occupy most positions of political and legal authority; globally, only 24 percent of parliamentarians are women. And sadly enough, Laws against domestic violence are often not enforced on behalf of women. Let me say that, No country can reach its full political potential and achieve widespread prosperity and development if half its population cannot participate fully in politics and decision making.

Let’s allow women and girls to protect and exercise their reproductive rights – including the right to decide when to and who to marry; the number, timing, and spacing of her children – as this is essential to ensuring her freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.

Let’s ensure that equal opportunity is given to the marginalized and vulnerable – including adolescent girls, people living with disabilities, indigenous peoples, migrants, women refugees, female heads of households and those living in extreme poverty.

As we mark Women’s Day, it is important to remember that equality for women is to the benefit of all.

By: Augustine Kumah