UNICEF is committed to securing a future of gender equality, where every child's basic human rights are protected.
Millions of girls worldwide experience gender inequality. The impacts can be devastating.
UNICEF's mission is to create a more equitable world for all children, and this includes working with partners globally to address the many inequities that girls face.
How are girls being impacted by inequality?
Globally, girls are less likely than boys to finish school. Almost one in every four girls between the ages of 15 and 19 — compared to one in 10 boys — is neither working nor in school or vocational training, limiting their future earnings potential.
Lack of education puts girls at a higher risk of poor health and malnutrition. It makes them more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.
Violence against women is normalized in many places and cultures. A UNICEF survey found that around the world, as many as 35 percent or more adolescent girls and boys felt wife beating was justifiable.
In many countries, child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are still common practices, despite being internationally recognized as human rights violations. An estimated 750 million women and girls alive today were married before they turned 18, and over 4 million girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM every year.
Factors contributing to gender inequality today
Several barriers make it difficult for girls to pursue an education, contributing to gender inequality in education and beyond. Many girls don’t receive the same support as boys from their family and community to study. Lack of access to sanitary and hygiene supplies results in girls skipping school when they are menstruating, causing many to fall behind or drop out.
In areas without access to safe drinking water, girls are often the ones sent to fetch water for the family, which can often take several hours per day and prevent them from attending or focusing on school. Girls also tend to perform more hours of housework than boys.
Girls who are out of school are at higher risk of being forced into an early marriage. In some countries there are laws preventing women from inheriting property, making it difficult to become financially independent.
UNICEF's commitment to gender equality
UNICEF is committed to creating a more equitable world for every child. This includes securing gender equality, where every child is able to realize their basic human rights and enjoy equal opportunities to reach their full potential.
Education can open doors for girls, and set them on a path to a future with more opportunities. UNICEF is working to ensure students stay in school and continue to have access to education despite the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.
Ending child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices is part of UNICEF's long-term mission. UNICEF also works with partners worldwide to improve access to quality education through secondary school for girls, improve access to quality health care for women and girls and strengthen gender-based violence prevention and response.
Learn more: How UNICEF and partners are working on Preventing Female Genital Mutilation
History of UNICEF’s dedication to gender equality
UNICEF has been working toward gender equality for decades, focusing on:
- Comprehensive health care for girls, mothers and their newborns: preventing HIV/AIDs, promoting menstrual health and hygiene, relieving the water burden from girls and women, preventing anemia and other nutrition support services
- Protecting girls from gender-based violence, through education and awareness; by establishing virtual safe spaces for girls to report violence and connect to local resources for support; providing health care, protection and social services to girls experiencing violence; and working with partners to establish safe spaces for girls to engage in dialogue about harmful practices like FGM
- Reimagining education and making it more inclusive, by scaling strategies that prioritize girls’ secondary education; developing programs focused on vocational and skills-based training to support girls as entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders; employing assistive technology for girls with disabilities; and working with partners and governments to eliminate negative gender messaging in school curriculums
Global progress toward gender equality
UNICEF has tracked several positive milestones in the fight for gender equity over the past several decades. The life expectancy of girls at birth has increased by almost a decade. The number of girls out of school has been reduced by nearly half. Female youth literacy has increased, while child marriage has decreased. New HIV infections in girls aged 10-19 have dropped by half.
More gains for girls in 2021
Promising results in 2021 include:
- percentage of new mothers receiving postnatal health care with UNICEF support increased to 65 percent, up from 48 percent in 2017
- 73 countries, with UNICEF support, provided integrated nutrition counseling for pregnant women — up from 50 countries in 2017
- worldwide, UNICEF-supported programs enabled 48 million children out-of-school to access an education — 17 million more than in 2019
- 33 million children, 51 percent of them girls, participated in UNICEF-supported skills development programs — a large jump from 7.7 million in 2020 and 3.2 million in 2017
Challenges to gender equality remain
There are many challenges to achieving gender equality, including societal norms and a lack of awareness about the harm of longstanding practices like FGM. UNICEF works with national and international partners to collect and share data on the status of harmful practices for girls, as well as general attitudes and opinions, to work towards change on every level.
How UNICEF is addressing gender inequality
Easing the water burden
Uzzaya, a 13-year-old girl from Nigeria, is tasked with fetching water for her family every day. The trek is long and time-consuming and by the time she returns, the first half of school is already over.
"If I didn't have to fetch water every morning, I would be on time to school," she says. "I would have time to visit my relatives and even some time for myself."
UNICEF is working to ease the water burden on girls and make safe drinking water more accessible families in Nigeria and globally.
Creating opportunities to learn marketable skills, earn income
Skills training teaches girls 21st-century marketable skills they can use to gain work experience and develop their careers.
Dipali, 17, of northern Bangladesh, was forced to drop out of school because her family could no longer afford to pay the fees. She enrolled in Skills4Girls, a UNICEF-supported program, where she learned leadership and entrepreneurial skills and how to repair mobile phones. The income she now earns from repairing cell phones in her village allowed her to return to school.
"Other families say, 'A girl is learning to work. Why shouldn't my daughter learn too?'" says Dipali. "That's why I'm learning [skills for] this trade, so that girls can see me and are also able to work."
Supporting menstrual health and hygiene in schools
Without proper menstrual hygiene management education or support, girls often miss a week of school. UNICEF has been working with partners in Cambodia to make sure girls have the proper information, sanitary supplies and facilities to safely manage their cycles. These initiatives have empowered girls to stay in school during their periods, and to know how and when to reach out for support when they need it.
“I’m proud to say that what I’ve learned in school has helped me be more prepared when I get my period,” Grade 9 student Teng says.
How you can help
While there has been progress in the fight for gender equity, there is still more work to be done to achieve a world where girls have equal access to opportunities and a life free of violence.
Support UNICEF’s mission to help secure an equitable future for girls worldwide. Donate today.