Women and conflict in West Africa and beyond

By Dr Diene Keita, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director (Programme), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Photo: Fred Marie

Women are deliberately targeted in conflict

When conflict happens, the rule of law breaks down, freedom of movement is restricted, institutions and services are weakened, creating a lack of access to social services and information, and to food and livelihoods. This situation affects the entire population, but it disproportionately affects women. Research has shown that female-headed households are more vulnerable to stress and less capable of absorbing shocks, due to gender inequality, cultural restrictions and the feminisation of poverty. Conflict affects women and men differently and existing gender inequalities are compounded in times of conflict. Women and girls make up a large proportion of internally displaced populations (IDPs) and refugees. In Burkina Faso, 51% of IDPs are girls under the age of 14. Moreover, gender norms that associate masculinity with aggression make men more likely to perpetrate violence against those over whom they have power – usually women and children.

Overall, conflict increases women’s exposure and vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence. The Sahel and West Africa Club’s publication on Women and Conflict in West Africa, shows that Islamist organisations and militias deliberately target women. In north-eastern Nigeria where Boko Haram has its roots, women are victims of systemic attacks and kidnappings, and are forced into slavery as sex slaves, informants and even fighters. Additionally, women in conflict are victims of rape and forced prostitution, pregnancy, abortion, sterilisation and marriage, as well as many other forms of sexual violence. The higher risk and exposure to sexual and gender-based violence during conflict leads to increased reproductive health problems, which, compounded with the lack of access to health services in particular in conflict settings, have a severely detrimental effect on women and girls. Age compounds gender discrimination and disparities: in conflict and post-conflict contexts, adolescent girls and young women face even higher risks. Moreover, conflict widens the gender gap in school enrolment and retention.

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Think global, act local: unpacking progress towards ending child marriage and averting the setbacks of COVID-19

By Chiara Orlassino, Research Adviser and Gabrielle Szabo, Senior Gender Equality Adviser, Save the Children UK1

In 2021, over 28,000 girls got married on International Women’s Day. Ten years from now, the number might still be as high as 26,000 – a far cry from the net zero target of Agenda 2030 (Fig. 1). The grim estimate for 2030 doesn’t even take into account the impact of COVID-19 on child marriage rates, although evidence shows that the pandemic is having a detrimental effect on girls’ rights. With only 10 years to go to 2030, we reflect on progress made on one of the most important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and call for urgent action on inequalities in particular, which COVID-19 is exacerbating. The Generation Equality forum convened by UN Women is a timely process to prioritise gender equality in recovery efforts, building momentum around economic and political investment in girls’ rights.

Last year, Save the Children’s Global Girlhood Report 2020 shed light on progress towards key targets since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years prior. Among others, child marriage emerged as one area where strides forward had been particularly fragile and at risk of a dramatic reversal due to COVID-19. Our analysis estimates that the economic impacts of the pandemic alone will put up to half a million more girls at risk of child marriage worldwide by 2025, although the real effect will likely be much larger.

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Dewi’s story: discriminatory social institutions hold women back in Southeast Asia

By Pierre de Boisséson, Economist, OECD Development Centre and Alejandra Meneses, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre

Human development relies on three fundamental building blocks — health, education and income. A recent report from the OECD Development Centre shows that in Southeast Asia, women’s human development remains severely constrained by discriminatory social institutions, in other words, formal and informal laws, practices and social norms. These socially and culturally embedded norms, attitudes and behaviour limit women’s ability to control and make decisions on their own health, education and access to labour opportunities. Dewi’s story is especially telling.

Dewi’s teen pregnancy: putting her health at risk and her life on hold

Dewi is 16. She lives with her family and spends most of her time helping her mother with household chores, visiting her friends and doing her homework. Dewi does not know it yet but her life is about to change. She finds out she is pregnant. She never had proper access to sexual and reproductive health education and services, and now her parents and community want to marry her to the father of the child.

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Aux racines de la violence contre les femmes : comprendre ses causes profondes et comment y remédier

Par Hyeshin Park, Coordinatrice du programme Égalité femmes-hommes, et Gabrielle Woleske, Analyste de politiques publiques, Centre de développement de l’OCDE

Read this article in English

Chaque jour, 137 femmes sont tuées par leur partenaire ou un membre de leur famille. Une femme sur trois dans le monde a déjà subi des violences conjugales au cours de son existence. Alors que la violence à l’égard des femmes demeure un problème mondial persistant, nombreux sont ceux qui continuent de n’y voir qu’une simple affaire personnelle ou ne concernant que « certains hommes mauvais ». La nature généralisée de ce phénomène indique toutefois qu’il s’agit aussi d’un problème social collectif, prenant racine dans les normes sociales largement répandues et liées au concept de masculinité – c’est-à-dire les constructions sociales qui définissent la façon dont les hommes se comportent et, surtout, sont censés se comporter dans des contextes spécifiques pour être considérés comme de « vrais » hommes. Pour comprendre pourquoi certains hommes sont violents envers les femmes et y mettre un terme, il nous faut donc identifier et questionner les normes qui conduisent à ce type de comportements, et dépasser le discours qui voudrait restreindre ce problème à l’action individuelle de « certains hommes mauvais ».  

Norme 1 : Un « vrai » homme doit subvenir aux besoins de sa famille

Les normes masculines sont diverses ; elles peuvent être nocives et restrictives – comme celles associées à une « masculinité toxique » –, ou équitables au regard de l’égalité des genres et flexibles. Le principal problème est que certaines masculinités promeuvent des conceptions très rigides de ce que signifie être un « vrai » homme, faisant ainsi pression sur les hommes et les garçons pour qu’ils se conforment aux idéaux sociaux de ce que serait la virilité. Les hommes qui acceptent et intériorisent ces normes sont, de fait, plus susceptibles de commettre des violences1. L’un de ces idéaux voudrait que les « vrais » hommes subviennent aux besoins de leur famille. Il s’agit en effet de l’une des attentes sociales les plus fortes et universelles à l’égard des hommes. Selon les données de 28 pays de l’Union européenne, en 2017, 43 % des personnes interrogées déclaraient ainsi que le rôle le plus important d’un homme est de gagner de l’argent, un pourcentage qui atteignait même 80 % en Bulgarie. En outre, en 2016, en Azerbaïdjan, la majorité des hommes estimaient qu’un homme sans revenus n’a aucune valeur.

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A tale of two female citizens

By Mary Waithiegeni Chege, Founder and Principal, EMSI & Associates

The African Union (AU) is very clear in its identification of infrastructure as the bedrock for development in Africa. In fact, sound infrastructure has been identified as a major contributor to economic growth, poverty reduction and attainment of the sustainable development goals. While gender equality is enshrined in the AU’s constitutive documents, recognised in all the goals of Agenda 2063 and has been prioritised through the AU’s Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE), achieving these objectives requires an understanding of the multi-faceted nature of women’s poverty and how gender-responsive infrastructure can play a pivotal role in its alleviation. The AU’s Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment specifically notes that as the continent embarks on major infrastructure projects, the coming decade offers the opportunity to open up infrastructure to greater inclusion of women in the design, implementation and benefits that ensue.    

A joint report by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Oxford University demonstrates that infrastructure can positively influence the achievement of 92% of the targets across all 17 sustainable development goals. With 73 AU-driven priority projects spread across the transportation, energy, transboundary water and ICT sectors for implementation between 2021 – 2030 at a staggering US$270 Billion (PIDA PAP II), it is imperative that we choose to challenge the inequitable participation of women across infrastructure design, implementation and value chain operation and life cycle. The underlying driver of these projects is to promote an integrated, multi-sectoral corridor approach that is employment oriented, gender-sensitive, climate-friendly and that connects urban and industrial hubs with rural areas. Indeed, our time is here. Or is it?

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What’s normal? Tackling the norms that hinder gender equality

By Bathylle Missika, Head of Division – Networks, Partnerships and Gender and Gabrielle Naumann-Woleske, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre

What do you consider ‘normal’? Is it normal that men earn more than women and make up the majority of parliamentarians, managers, presidents and CEOs? Is it normal that most men do less than 50% of unpaid care and domestic work and yet make the most important financial decisions at home?  What we think is normal is not only a reflection of what is typical or standard, but also implies that it is what we consider to be appropriate or acceptable. When it comes to men and women’s roles in society, our preconceived ideas of what is ‘’normal’’ might be reinforcing a system where men hold the power and women are excluded. In other words, a system that keeps us from achieving gender equality. To break these barriers, we need to question and measure these norms, including masculine norms, for a transformation based on evidence and data, rather than assumptions and stereotypes.

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(A)head of her times. The world needs women’s talent to shape a better future

By Annalisa Primi, Head, Economic Transformation and Development Division, OECD Development Centre

She is passionate. She sees opportunities where others don’t see them. She has the strength to pursue her visions against all odds. She experiments. She builds alliances. She sets up and manages a factory putting staff well-being at the core. She becomes a successful entrepreneur. She has basic education, born in 1877 into a poor family in Umbria, Italy

It’s 1907. Women do not have patrimonial autonomy and cannot register a business in their name (the law will remain in place until 1919). Luisa Spagnoli has an intuition. She recognises that she needs support from an established market leader. She understands the importance of the distribution and market outreach strategy. She partners (using her husband’s name) with one of the leading food firms in her region (Buitoni) and she founds an artisanal laboratory that in 1909 will become the “Perugina”.  The journey of a leading multinational starts.

She experiments. She faces World War I. To continue producing, she employs and trains the wives of employees recruited for the war. In 1917 she registers the Perugina Choccolate trademark and in 1919 she opens the first distribution mono-brand store in Italy. In 1939 she opens the first one abroad, in New York. Her experimentations lead to innovations. When the war ends, she keeps her female workforce. She continues innovating.

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Gender-based violence: the ‘pandemic within a pandemic’ with devastating human and economic consequences

By Flavia Bustreo, Global leader for health & rights of women, children, adolescents & elderly & Former Assistant Director-General at WHO, Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO and Felicia Knaul, Director, Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences at the Miller School of Medicine

Last year, in early February, we joined global leaders and Ministers from a number of countries at a landmark conference organised by the OECD on ending violence against women. The first of its kind, it reflected the rising recognition among OECD countries that violence against women is both a grave violation of human rights as well as an economic sinkhole. The COVID-19 crisis has magnified the existing ‘pandemic within a pandemic’ of violence, with devastating consequences for individuals, and for our societies and economies at large.

Even in non-pandemic times, the economic impact of gender-based violence is staggering and has traditionally been vastly underestimated. Considering only direct costs, gender-based violence reduces global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2% per year, equivalent to an annual loss of more than US$1.6 trillion. In some countries, the annual costs of gender-based violence have been estimated at more than 3.5% of GDP, nearly half of what OECD countries spend on average on all healthcare. These figures, however, are but the tip of the iceberg, accounting only for direct medical costs and immediate productivity losses. A broader model – taking account of the lost capabilities of survivors and caregivers, and how these traumas and hardships are transmitted across generations – would reveal a far higher figure of the cost of inaction.

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The sectoral and gendered impacts of COVID-19 in Africa

By Anzetse Were, Senior Economist FSD Kenya

Africa, like much of the world, is still in the throes of the COVID pandemic and related economic fallout. The pandemic has cost the continent about USD 69 billion per month and economic growth is projected to contract by 2.6% in 2020. This downturn is set to cost Africa at least $115 billion in output losses in 2020 with GDP per capita growth expected to contract by nearly 6.0 %. Additionally, the pandemic may push 40 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 across the continent, eroding at least five years of progress in fighting poverty.

Diverse sectoral impact

The sectoral impact of COVID-19 has been and will likely continue to be varied. Some sectors such as tourism, aviation and crude oil exports have been disproportionately hit in Africa, while COVID-19 is spurring certain types of digital technologies (such as mobile payments in Kenya and Rwanda), and food production in some countries has been resilient. This points to four main COVID impact-recovery sectoral performance paths (the chart is illustrative):

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Women in industry – why we need more gender-sensitive statistics

By Jenny Larsen, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation

Since COVID-19 emerged in late 2019, scientists have been poring over the data to understand better how the virus behaves and how to fight it. But studies show that many trials fail to take the sex of participants into account – meaning eagerly awaited vaccines or treatments could be less effective in the female population. Data from Global Health 50/50 show that as of December 2020 only 58 percent of COVID-19 cases reported by 186 countries had been disaggregated by sex, making it much harder to assess the impact of the virus across populations. 

From domestic violence to unpaid care work, these omissions reflect a much wider, longstanding data bias that underreports or even misreports the life experiences of women and girls, in an era when our lives are increasingly dominated by an ocean of data. In her recent book, Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez writes that we have unconsciously created the world as male: “Women are being left out of numbers, data, the way in which we allocate our resources, the way in which we design safety for cars, the way in which we design medicine.”

The consequences are far-reaching: without reliable sex and gender-disaggregated data and gender statistics, decisions taken by policymakers, scientists or researchers, be it about health, the economy or elsewhere, risk leaving women behind and widening inequalities. 

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