There is no doubt that gender equality has become the talk of the 21st century across the world, as we continue to see incredible progress in the fight for women’s rights.
But it is hard to think of a greater example of where we are at in our collective determination to uphold the equality of women and girls than the story of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.
At a time where the world’s extremist elements in the most volatile pockets of the earth seek to strip women and girls of access to schooling and deny them the simple act of visiting supermarkets for their families, Malala has shown a determination that has inspired the entire globe.
The incredible resilience, strength and hope in the face of adversity presents us with an opportunity today to fully realize true equality between men and women—no matter where they are from. Offering women the same rights and opportunities as men from the time they are born will most certainly mean a dramatic drop in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
On average, women reinvest up to 90 percent of their incomes back into their own households, compared to 30-40 percent by men, and currently, women’s unpaid labor is estimated to contribute up to 50 percent of GDP in some countries.
If women had the same access as men to agricultural resources, it is estimated that production would increase by 20 to 30 percent, and has the potential to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.
It is with this in mind that we are thrilled to see the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announce that it is vital that gender equality is achieved in order to see an end to extreme poverty. A recent UN report regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the framework to end extreme poverty, which are set to expire in less than 1,000 days, says that a “new agenda must ensure the equal rights of women and girls, their full participation in the political, economic and public spheres.”
This acknowledgement by the UN is significant at a time where there is so much more that can be achieved in the fight for equality, namely in the realm of education, sanitation and women’s health.
Some 31 million girls in poor communities continue to be denied an education. Sanitation and limited access to clean water also remains a gender equality barrier.
But the most pressing need in achieving gender equality remains in the area of women’s health. Reducing the maternal mortality ratio and universal access to reproductive health remains among the most off track targets of all the MDGs.
While maternal mortality has nearly halved since 1990, there are still an estimated 300,000 maternal deaths each year—deaths that could largely be avoided with the most basic of interventions. Furthermore, only half of women in the developing world have access to the recommended amount of health care they need. And 222 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for family planning. We believe it is vital that these women and girls have full access to sexual and reproductive health services and information by 2020.
Why? Because giving women and girls access to reproductive health services is transformational—families become healthier, better educated, and wealthier. When girls and women have access to contraceptives they are able to plan their lives, stay in school, and escape poverty. In fact, every dollar spent on family planning can save governments up to $6 on health, housing, water, and other public services. Providing women with an education and improving their access to contraception and family planning will also have an enormous impact in decreasing the appalling numbers of orphaned, vulnerable and abandoned children. The latest UNICEF figures estimate 153 million orphans in the world, which if that were a country would be the 10th largest country in the world.
We need to increase global investment for the reproductive rights of girls and women around the world.
That’s why we’re inviting condom companies such as Durex, Trojan, Lifestyles and ONE to join the fight in achieving gender equality and to take the lead in supporting increased access for contraceptive services around the world by donating two percent of profits from products sold to family planning initiatives.
This money will go toward increasing access to contraceptives for an additional 120 million women around the world, enabling them to plan their fertility, so they can plan their lives. The funds raised through this campaign will build on the momentum from the London Summit on Family Planning in July 2012 where $2.6 billion was pledged to reduce the unmet need for contraception.
By taking a strong stand and calling for other private sector organizations to join them in making pledges towards family planning, the reproductive health product industry will give world leaders a clear mandate to increase global investment for family planning and encourage progress on global family planning commitments.
Women have never been closer to having the same opportunity as men to achieve their hopes and dreams for themselves and their families. But it is time for everyone to renew their commitment to girls and women for the sake of future generations. For by having the same determination as Malala in her quest to end disadvantages against women and achieve equality for all, we will be that much closer to the eradication of extreme poverty forever.
Deborra-Lee Furness is an advisor to the Global Poverty Project and Founder of National Adoption Awareness Week.
Hugh Evans is CEO of the Global Poverty Project and co-founder of the Global Citizen Festival. For more information visit www.globalcitizen.org.