Young women in 2012 : gender equality as reflected by Unicef’s 2011 survey

Unicef recently published its annual report on its activities of 2011. Last year was characterised by many unlucky events : not just wars and global recession, but also natural catastrophes played a key role in destroying the lives of many people around the world, and, significantly, also affected many children. The earthquake and consequent tsunami in Japan, famine in Somalia, the flooding in Thailand, the Sindh floods in Pakistan, to mention but a few, have left behind a new generation of orphans and poor children.

This is why Unicef’s campaign over the last year has focused more on « vulnerable and disadvantaged children », keeping in mind the principle of equality and trying to translate it into reality. The goals of the 2011 campaign included immunisation, improving education and increasing the number of schools, and health, with a focus on defeating HIV and the transmission from mother to child.

To achieve all of its aims, Unicef has spent a total of $3819 million, with $1822 million, around 53%, being invested in improving the survival rates and development of children. Another 21% of Unicef’s budget has been invested in basic education and gender equality and 10% in child protection, such as preventing violence or abuse against minors. Only 4% of the total amount was destined for projects which aim to eradicate HIV/AIDS. Of the $3819 million, 57% was destined for Africa and the least developed countries, 24% for Asia and 4% for the Middle East.

As has been said, roughly $802 million has been invested in protecting and improving gender equality. An issue that must be confronted starting with children of a very tender age, if we hope to see a significant change in the future. This means much more than just debating if we should have women managing important companies or not : this is about the respect of basic human and children’s rights.

How much equality is there in the world ?

Unicef’s survey can help us to answer this question.

For example, only 63% of women of child-bearing age “in union” in the whole world use contraception. This figure becomes even more dramatic if we look in detail at the situation in the least developed countries (33%) and in particular Africa, where only 30% of young women use protection. This is particurlarly significant given that just 21% of adolescent girls (aged 15-19) in the least developed countries and 19% in developing countries know how HIV is transmitted.

This creates many other important issues. For example, in the least developed countries, 32% of women aged 20-24 had had their first baby before their eighteenth birthday, 20% in developing countries. Another alarming figure regards the access to treatment and hospitals before, during and after pregnancy. Less than half of young women in these nations give birth in proper sanitary conditions, helped by expert doctors and nurses. Even less than this receive regular assistance during pregnancy or after delivering. In the least developed countries, one girl in 37 will die during delivery, only one in 4300 in industrialised countries. This is one of the saddest figures in the whole report, if we consider that latest research says that in Africa, in particular, a baby is born every 9 seconds.

There is no childhood for little girls in these least developed countries. Before they are even 14 years old, 28% of them will be obliged to leave school and start working. They may be sold as slaves, the “luckier” ones will become young brides. 17% will get married before their 15th birthday, 47% before turning 18. In developing countries, 12% of brides are under 14, 35% under eighteen. And it isn’t just about Africa, as would be easy to think, but it’s also about countries such as India, considered the biggest democracy in the world. A country that takes part in important international meetings such as G20.

In these countries, the patriarchal culture still has a massive impact on the lives of young girls and women in general. First, they must submit to the wishes of their fathers, then their husbands, and finally, they are controlled by their own sons. This attitude is so deeply embedded that, being asked if they thought it was right for a man to be violent towards a woman, 49% of women in developing countries said yes. In the least developed countries 55% of young women viewed domestic violence as a normal part of a woman’s life.

Recently, India has been the centre of attention due to many episodes of violence against women that have caused a wave of protest amongst women in industrialised nations. The most recent one relates to a young woman, a student, who was abused by a group of 18 men outside a bar, right in the middle of a busy road. For 20 minutes nobody tried to stop the men or call the police, too busy recording the scene on their phones. If the story hadn’t gone viral on the Internet, paradoxically thanks to those videos, those men would have not been imprisoned. In fact, according to them, the police and witnesses, the girl was nothing more than a prostitute, because « only prostitutes go to bars without their husbands ».

Source of statistics :

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