Many are wondering—when will we reach gender equality? One necessary step is putting women and girls in the lead.
In Barakahu, Pakistan, girls rarely get to choose their life paths. Instead, many girls are expected to take on roles within the household. Indicated as one of the worst-performing countries in education, both boys and girls are negatively affected by a poor infrastructure—yet girls are afflicted the most. But Pakistan is not alone in its battle for gender equality.
Systemic gender inequality is persistent, weaving its way into schools, workplaces, and homes across the globe. An estimated 200 million girls have endured female genital mutilation, 132 million girls are not attending school, and 140 million girls will be married before they reach the age of 18 in the next decade. In fact, if current trends persist, it will take an estimated 108 years to close the global gender gap.
So, what is the solution? Well, there are several pieces to the puzzle of ending gender inequality around the world.
Leaders in our nonprofit community say female leadership is one of the most crucial components of this puzzle. Gender inequality acts as a vicious cycle, perpetuated by the patriarchal society in which girls are rarely the decision-makers in their own lives. At Child Equal Opportunity Uganda, every program addresses gender inequality in some way, whether the program itself directly deals with the issue or not. In a culture where women are discouraged from speaking up at community meetings and face violence from their spouses who have paid bride prizes for them, Nonprofit Leader Janani Loum shares how their nonprofit addresses gender inequality within the dominant culture:
“Traditionally, the role designated for women and girls leaves them with little opportunity for personal development. We have always encouraged women to play leadership roles in the projects we are implementing. We believe that giving them leadership roles will empower them in making decisions that affect their lives.”
Unfortunately, the number of women in leadership is growing too slowly. In order to pave the way, key community members such as parents, teachers, and nonprofit leaders, need to create more opportunities for female leadership.
It goes without saying that each nonprofit community has its own unique needs, even when it comes to such a pervasive issue as gender inequality. A village in Uganda will not have the exact issues as one in Pakistan, nor will they work in the same way to alleviate that problem; however, leadership is one thread that strings together those affected by gender inequality. Let’s ask ourselves: who is in the lead in our organizations, in our communities, and beyond?
In Pakistan, CEO Farida Ahmad works to alleviate poverty by providing education to girls and creating economic opportunities for women through the Moqah Foundation. In communities such as Farida’s, not everyone is on board with educating girls. One of Moqah Foundation’s greatest struggles is convincing community members that educating girls is worth it. Farida says:
“Without many strong, employed women in the community to use as role models and examples, with the exception of our teachers, it is difficult to prove the case and importance of girls education.”
For Farida, it’s a never-ending struggle when half the community is trying to lift girls into leadership roles that allow them to control their own lives, while the other half is trying to take away any of the little agency they already possess.
Though nonprofits around the world are fighting for gender equality every day, the nonprofit sector has issues of its own when it comes to gender inequality. Currently, women make up 73% of all nonprofit employees, yet represent just 45% of its CEOs. Compounding matters, even when they do reach the top, they earn a mere 66% of what their male peers earn. If nonprofits want to truly fight for gender equality, they must focus on putting women and girls in the lead. Gender equity doesn’t just benefit women—institutions with gender balance are better prepared to anticipate and prioritize constituents’ needs.
The Rockefeller Foundation cites female leadership as one of the only ways to alleviate the effects of gender inequality and, in turn, provide role models for future generations of girls that show all the good that can happen when you give girls agency over their own lives. Communications Manager Alexandra-Marie Figueroa Miranda from Taller Salud in Puerto Rico says:
“We don’t make decisions for our community, we make room for themselves to feel inspired to make their own.”
Nonprofits working in communities with intense gender inequality need to not only prioritize talking with and understanding their constituents but actively work to put women in leadership positions. When we put women and girls in the lead, we gain the power to make this vicious cycle into a virtuous one.
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