We’ve come a long way in dismantling the patriarchal system since the days when women couldn’t own property – or worse yet, were considered the property of their husbands. Yet today, women around the world still face awful issues that often go unnoticed in the sea of mainstream media. Of course, BuzzFeed articles and blog posts can’t rid the world of inequalities, but there are some things we can do!

We can start by learning about prevalent issues, and how we can contribute to supporting girls in our communities and globally.

It’s pretty clear we still have a long way to go in the fight for equality. Here are five issues that females still have to face, and trustworthy causes that you can get behind in order to change that:

1. Denied Education

If you are reading this, then chances are you’ve experienced some level of schooling whether it’s elementary, secondary, or post-secondary. You already know the feeling of working hard to complete an assignment, or making new friends in class. You know what it’s like to learn in a safe environment that facilitates your growth and future potential.

However, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 130 million girls worldwide don’t get to experience the emotions, struggles, and most importantly – successes of going to school.

Having no access to education is an gateway issue for so many other problems. Then why is this still a problem in 2018?

One of the main drivers of the issue is wealth. The cost of school, along with uniforms and supplies can be expensive for many families and oftentimes, a family will choose to send their boys to school over the girls. For instance, in Uganda, 40% of boys progress to secondary school while only 11% of girls will progress that far. Sending girls to school poses several other challenges for the family.

Beyond being denied access, the mere idea of going to school can be a scary one. In Nigeria in 2014, 276 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped from secondary school, and nearly four years later approximately 100 girls are still being held captive. In addition, families may perceive it to be unnecessary for their daughter to attend school when it is likely for them to marry soon. Regardless of the reason, we’re only skimming the surface here. Factors like labour, health, and war are also influential in a young girl’s ability to access education.

Fortunately, many organizations have sprung up with their vision set to ensure more and more girls can go to school. One in particular may ring a bell: The Malala Fund. After surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban at 15 years old, Malala became a symbol of courage and the ongoing fight for girls’ education. She soon co-founded the Malala Fund with her father to advocate for and invest in girls’ education. The Malala Fund targets regions where girls miss out on secondary education, specifically in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya and for Syrian refugees. Find out more information on how you can be a part of The Malala Fund’s Girl Power Trips and fundraising efforts.

2. Child Brides

“My father got $4,000 for me. I was 13 years old, and my husband was 22. On our wedding night, I was so scared that I shook. He noticed how I wedged myself into a corner to hide, so he let me be. The next day, his mother learned that we had not consummated the marriage. She began to scream that people would think he was not a real man, and she forced us to do it. So it was not my husband who forced himself onto me, but rather his mother who forced him onto me. But she was still not satisfied. She started to hit me with a belt. I stayed for six months and tried to deal with it, but was mistreated so terribly that I ended up in the hospital. Then, my father took me home again. I dream of getting a divorce one day, but so far it has not happened.”

14 year old Meervat (interviewed by journalist Carina Bergfeldt)

At the heart of child marriage lies poverty and gender inequality. According to The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and Girls Not Brides, over half of the girls from the poorest families in low-income countries are married as children. For these families, it may become “burdensome” to sustain their children, specifically girl children who don’t hold much power in society. As these young girls begin to menstruate, they are seen as women in the community. Often according to tradition, the next step that follows is marriage. Through marrying off their daughters, families also receive a “bride price”. Though these young girls may wish to continue school in hopes of learning and pursuing a career, they are instead forced into the domestic role of taking care of a household and husband.

Since child marriage is the product of poverty, gender equality, and tradition, where do we even start to unpack this issue? The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) identified 5 strategies to ending child marriage:

  1. Empower girls with information, skills and support networks
  2. Provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families
  3. Educate and rally parents and community members
  4. Enhance girls’ access to a high-quality education
  5. Encourage supportive laws and policies.

There are a lot of ways to go about checking off those strategies! Besides donating to crowdfunding websites working to end child marriage, you can take matters into your own hands and start a campaign to share information online. On top of those options, you can simply support existing campaigns. Check out Girls Not Brides for more information to get started.

3. Trafficking

Many of the world’s low-income and most unstable countries have the highest accounts of human trafficking, where vulnerable women and girls don’t have many options to make a living. In desperate need of employment, these women may answer job advertisements for work abroad in hopes of better opportunities than the ones at home. The positions may be advertised as  waitressing or nannying, yet when the woman is escorted to her destination upon arrival and delivered to the employer, she may find herself forced into slavery. Sorry to break it to you, but slavery still exists! Victims may be exploited for criminal purposes, sexually, or forced into labour or domestic servitude. Though both men and women are victims of human trafficking, women and girls remain the primary victims, most of which are trafficked for sexual exploitation. A report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed that 71% of all human trafficking victims are women and girls, with one third being children.

Not all cases of human trafficking involve crossing national borders. In fact, it might not even be too far from home. Young women have been forced into prostitution or domestic work in many familiar American cities like Los Angeles or New York. Though the issues on this list are more prevalent in low-income countries, human trafficking is big business for organized criminal groups, which span the globe.

Despite the unpromising statistics and circumstances, human trafficking is not legal anywhere in the world and must end. Organizations like Polaris work to end human trafficking throughout the United States and restore freedom to the survivors. Beyond the U.S., there are organizations working to eradicate modern slavery in countries where human trafficking is the worst. Based on the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) by the US State Department, one of those countries is China. China has “not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking,” according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The All-China Women’s Federation started in 1949 with the mission to promote equality between women and men, and works to educate vulnerable women and children about the mental and cultural attitudes that perpetuate human trafficking.

Though these organizations sound hopeful, there are simple steps that we can take at an individual level to really ensure that we understand the scope of the problem, and work toward solving it. If you have an extra 5 minutes, take some time to complete this quiz to find out your slavery footprint. Also, keep in mind that as faraway of a concept modern slavery may sound, it can be happening in your very own community. Check out this list of indicators of human trafficking, so you can be better informed. There are also many documentaries that explore and share experiences of human trafficking. If you’re feeling the urge to take charge, consider creating an awareness-raising event or club where you can showcase these stories or fundraise in your school or community.

4. Violence and Abuse

As ugly as it is, violence against women continues to happen. Back when I was a kid in elementary school, an assignment that I worked the hardest on was a little article on domestic violence. At the age of 12, I had been fortunate enough to never see, experience, or even know of the violence that goes on behind closed doors toward millions of women. I remember reading these horrific personal accounts online of women who were caught in a complex cycle of abuse that made the question “why didn’t you just leave?”. All too simplistic. The World Health Organization reports that at a global level, 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.

“It’s seriously like being in the scariest movie you’ve ever been in when you’re being threatened in your own home. There’s nowhere to go, there’s no escape. It’s hard to explain.”

Kay Schubach, Ambassador for Domestic Violence NSW

The UN estimates that “35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.” To make matters worse, 76% of teens have experienced some form of dating violence which suggests that the seeds for gender-based violence are planted at an early age. Like the other issues on this list, one of the root causes of the problem involve gender inequality and cultural norms. To combat unequal cultural attitudes toward gender, high school violence prevention programs have been implemented in various schools to tackle the issue at a teen level.

To truly protect our girls from violence, we have to work toward social awareness and change beyond domestic violence awareness month (which is October, by the way). It’s our job to advocate for programs like STRYVE, which work to prevent youth violence before it even starts. Regional programs like Partners for Prevention focus on the prevention of violence against women and girls in Asia and the Pacific. To see gender-based violence come to an end, we need to support education for young boys and girls about promoting gender equality and respectful relationships. Education is key to prevention!

5. Sexual Assault and Harassment

Last but not least on our list is an issue we’ve all been hearing about loud and clear thanks to recent media and Hollywood. Since victims of sexual assault began to come forward and expose the misconduct of famous men in powerful positions like Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, the conversation of the abuse of power has been stirred across multiple industries. In November 2017, Time published a letter written by Alianza Nacional de Campesinas on behalf of 700, 000 farmworkers in the United States. In the letter, they write:

We do not work under bright stage lights or on the big screen. We work in the shadows of society in isolated fields and packinghouses that are out of sight and out of mind for most people in this country. Your job feeds souls, fills hearts and spreads joy. Our job nourishes the nation with the fruits, vegetables and other crops that we plant, pick and pack. Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security.

Between #MeToo, the Weinstein effect, and the Time’s Up movement, many cases of sexual harassment or assault have come to the surface. An ABC Washington Post Poll released in October 2017 revealed that 54% of American women have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances”, yet 95% of women reported that these male perpetrators go unpunished. Though we can’t quite untangle the messy psychological web that causes perpetrators to misbehave, we can address the sexualization and objectification of women across industries and portrayed in the media. These degrading ways of perceiving women facilitate the unhealthy attitudes that contribute to sexual misconduct. To confront these issues, we have to continue the conversation of gender inequality and seriously question how women are represented in the media.

There are many organizations and public figures working toward preventing sexual violence and helping the survivors. One of the largest ones is the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) which operates throughout the United States to conduct programs, help survivors, and seek justice. On an individual level, we can work towards combating any and all forms of objectification, sexualization, or degradation of women in our schools, workplaces, etc. We can support the women gaining the courage to speak up after years of being abused, harassed, and shushed about it or in fear of speaking out.

So What Now?

Though writing this article in itself has been draining, I can’t even begin to fathom how painful it is to experience these horrors and injustices first hand. The worst part is we haven’t even touched on many other prevalent issues; the list, by far, doesn’t end here. There’s so much more that our girls are suffering from that needs to end. All in all, these causes, among so many more, deserve our attention. Whether you’re donating, volunteering, advocating, or just trying to stay woke, hopefully we can join forces for change.

 

Sources:

Why might a girl not go to school?

The Malala Fund’s Girl Power Trips and fundraising efforts

Carina Bergfeldt’s interview with child brides

International Center for Research on Women

Girls Not Brides

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Polaris

All-China Women’s Federation

Find out your slavery footprint

Indicators of human trafficking

Women sharing their stories of domestic abuse

Teen dating violence

STRYVE

Partners for Prevention

Time

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas

ABC Washington Post Poll

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)