With the world in an unprecedented state of economic decline, countless individuals and families are struggling to survive. Nations are taking numerous steps to amend this crisis, but little attention has been granted to the group in need of the most assistance: women and girls.
According to a report from Plan and the Overseas Development Institute, a NGO that studies economics in developing countries, the global economic downturn has taken the greatest toll on women. Combined with the pervasive gender inequality in many societies, women are at a significant disadvantage when compared with their male counterparts. The disadvantages put women and girls at a greater risk for alarming dangers.
“It is little surprise that the most vulnerable suffer more in times of austerity but to see the impact in higher mortality rates, reduced life expectancy, less opportunities and greater risks for girls and boys is stark,” Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer, stated in the report.
In order for females to succeed despite their underprivileged status, Chapman emphasizes the need for more education, jobs, and social programs to be directed towards women. He says the way things are now, “The world is failing girls and women.”
The sacrifices women are making to preserve their family or conform to social expectations are discussed in the study. Specific examples include, “Nicaraguan women who reduce their food intake; Cambodian girls who are forced to drop out of school and become domestic workers; and an unemployment rate of 67 percent for young Greek women, compared with 44 percent for men in 2011.”
A Cambodian woman is quoted in the study commenting, ‘“While cooking, I try to use less rice…I always try to make sure that the male members have enough to eat. They are working hard and they need food to perform their laborious jobs. Then I try to feed the children. We [the female members of the family] eat the remaining food. Well, this is not enough. But what can I do?”’
Improvements have been made in the last few years however they are fragile in light of major economic upheaval. Research has shown women and girls to be more inclined than ever to take abusive jobs and participate in child labor. These risky professions render women vulnerable to abuse, only solidifying the pattern of gender inequality.
To end the trend of inequity, the report proposes solutions such as, “promoting local sustainable food production and programs that meet the needs of girls, and incentivizing families to keep kids in school and subsidize child care.” Programs such as Concern Worldwide are attempting to make these programs a reality, but it is only a first stride in a long effort to support women around the world.