Each year, the United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF) has a flagship publication titled "The State of the World's Children." This publication closely examines key issues impacting women and children globally. The State of the World's Children shows that in the long run, empowering women will improve the lives of millions of children around the world.
"Empowering women saves children's lives – and the impact is too important to ignore." states, Rachel Bonham-Carter of UNICEF. As one example, she cites to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which concludes there would be 13.4 million fewer undernourished children in South Asia if men and women there had equal influence in decision-making.
Every year over half a million women die in childbirth or because of pregnancy related causes. This is roughly one woman every minute. Decreasing maternal mortality is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals. When these women die, their existing childrens' lives are forever changed. Many of these deaths are preventable yet the data concerning the exact number of deaths and the lack of access to health care put millions more women at risk for the same fate.
Research shows that a woman with a primary education is less likely to die during childbirth. The mortality rate for children under five years of age falls about 50% for mothers with a primary school education. Yet, one out of every five girls who begins a primary school education in the developing world does not complete it. An average of less than 50% of young girls in the developing world attend secondary school. This not only impacts the age for when they give birth but also decreases their bargaining power within their household.
This decrease of bargaining power can result in child marriages and premature parenthood. Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth then women in their twenties, according to UNICEF. And the levels of domestic violence rise dramatically for child brides.
The "State of the Worlds Children" suggests seven key interventions for gender equality:
1. Abolish school fees and invest in girls' education
2. Invest government funding in gender equality
3. Enact legislation to create a level playing field for women, and to prevent and respond to
domestic violence as well as gender-based violence in conflict
4. Ensure women's participation in politics
5. Involve women's grassroots organizations early on in policy development
6. Engage men and boys so the importance of gender equality can be understood by all
7. Improve research and data on gender issues, which are critical if progress is to be made
Millennium Development Goal 3 focuses on promoting gender equality around the world. If this goal is achieved, UNICEF believes its benefits will expand in many other areas from hunger reduction, reducing maternal and child mortality to global health and environmental sustainability.
For more information visit www.unicef.org/sowc07/