Skip to Global Futures Initiative Full Site Menu Skip to main content
February 22, 2015

Responding To: Week 5: Inequality and Inequity

Gender Violence and the Elusiveness of Equality

Kailee Jordan

If we want to tackle issues of poverty, growth, and development, we must start with women and girls.

The subject of gender inequality has been on the development agenda for decades. A range of institutions, from IFI’s, to the UN, to networks of NGOs, work on challenges facing women and girls. Yet, gender specific concerns are still too often sidelined from mainstream development debates, seen as an issue that those of us concerned with ‘women and gender’ can address.

Globally, women and girls often cannot realize their full potential. Although income growth has made modest progress on issues such as economic opportunities for women, gender gaps have not narrowed on women’s asset control, political voice, or experience of violence [1]. Women face restricted access to a wide range of resources, including education and formal employment. Women continue to be over-represented in informal labour sectors, and under-represented in all platforms of decision-making.  These vulnerabilities must be recognized in any debate on development. We can’t talk about economic policies without acknowledging disproportional impacts on women and girls. We can’t talk about social protection unless we tackle gendered vulnerabilities as a baseline. And we most certainly can’t talk about poverty-reduction programs without explicitly recognizing their gendered components.

The worldwide prevalence of violence against women and girls (VAWG) is the most blatant form of this inequality. A recent WHO study concluded that over 35 percent of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime [2]. VAWG leads to major social inequities, such as sustained physical and mental health challenges, decreased education attainment, and increased risk to HIV/AIDS.  VAWG has economic consequences, through lost productivity, health costs, and negative impacts on human capital. A recent World Bank study estimates that VAWG can cost countries between 1.2 – 3.7 percent of their GDP [3]. Gendered violence is not only a moral issue, but has drastic impacts on the economic and social development of communities.

Tackling gendered inequalities must be brought out from the sidelines. Moving forward, new partnerships and new funding mechanisms are needed, to create a stronger push to address these challenges head on. Policy and academic collaborations (such as the VAWG resource platform hosted by the World Bank and the Global Women’s Institute, or DfiD’s “What Works to Prevent Violence” initiative) can create a strong evidence base abou programs to move this agenda forward. Most important, we need to amplify the voices of women and girls at the grassroots level, to highlight the local level contexts and local level solutions that are key to fighting gendered inequity from the ground up.

Development institutions have yet to create the changes we need for lasting and worldwide gender emancipation. It’s time to bring this issue out from the margins - if we want to address inequality as a whole, targeting women and girls is the most effective place to start.

Kailee Jordan is a graduate student pursuing her Master’s in global affairs at the University of Toronto. Jordan has interned at UN Women in Tanzania and has worked with organizations such as International Volunteer Network and Burnaby Youth Custody Services.

[1]  World Bank. (2012). World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development.
  World Health Organization. (2013). Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women. 
[3]  World Bank, Global Women's Institute, &IADB. (2014). Violence Against Women and Girls: Resource Guide

Other Responses