While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world.
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. But, today gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership. Across the globe, women and girls perform a disproportionate share of unpaid domestic work. Inequalities faced by girls can begin right at birth and follow them all their lives. In some countries, girls are deprived of access to health care or proper nutrition, leading to a higher mortality rate.
Empowering women and girls to reach their full potential requires that they have equal opportunities to those of men and boys. This means eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against them, including violence by intimate partners, sexual violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Unfortunately, at the current time, 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence.
Progress is occurring regarding harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which has declined by 30% in the past decade, but there is still much work to be done to completely eliminate such practices.
Ensuring that women have better access to paid employment, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and real decision-making power in public and private spheres will further ensure that development is equitable and sustainable.
The practice of child marriage has been declining slowly. Globally, the proportion of women aged 20 to 24 who reported that they were married before their eighteenth birthdays dropped from 32% around 1990 to 26% around 2015.
Child marriage is most common in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with rates of 44% and 37%, respectively. In fact, the 10 countries with the highest rates in the world are found in these two regions.
Marriage rates for girls under age 15 are also highest in these two regions, at 16% and 11%, respectively. But social norms can and do change: the marriage of girls under age 15 declined globally from 12% in 1990 to 7% today, although disparities persist across regions and even countries.
The fastest progress in reducing child marriage overall has been recorded in Northern Africa, where the share of child brides dropped by more than half over the last 25 years, from 29% to 13%.
Female genital mutilation
FGM is a human rights violation that affects girls and women worldwide, especially in countries where it is an entrenched social norm. At least 200 million have been cut in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated and that have representative prevalence data.
Rates of FGM overall have declined by more than 25% over the last three decades. However, not all countries have made progress, and the pace of decline has been uneven. Today, in these 30 countries, more than one in three girls aged 15 to 19 have undergone the procedure versus one in two in the mid-1980s.
Different forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological and economic, as well as trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation affect millions of women and girls worldwide.
Available comparable data from 52 countries (including only one country from the developed regions) indicate that 21% of girls and women interviewed aged 15 to 49 years experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner in the previous 12 months.
What does this mean and what does this look like?
Children continue to be at the core of another very important SDG. And in some ways, this should not surprise us since the Sustainable Development Goals are oriented towards the future and the wellbeing of today’s children is equivalent to a better future on all levels.
As was stated above, Sub-Saharan Africa and South have the highest rates of early marriage, but this practice also persists in other regions, such as Latin America and the Caribbean with a 25% incidence. Rates are 17% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 11% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
But it can also be found in other countries since it is intimately related to the culture of one of the ethnic groups that live in many Western countries, the Roma.
The Roma people are being discriminated in many places and surely the tradition of child marriage does not help to shed a nice light on them. It is however important that we keep looking at any practice that does not serve us for the sake of sustainable development from an objective and often historical point of view.
Tolerance, respect and acceptance towards all people can be considered lame excuses when we are looking at practices that are harmful. They are however the necessary first steps towards real change, because encouraging to transform this type of customs from a place of rejection will not bring us closer.
In order to be part of the transformation needed in the world, it is important that we see each culture from an empowering viewpoint, know their history and their stories, and reach a place of understanding where change can occur.
Roma in the world
Bulgaria bridal fair
Emir Kusturica is a Serbian filmmaker with a particular way of telling stories, being one of the examples his 1988 fantasy crime drama about a Romani with magical powers “Time of the Gypsies”