At Results UK, our mission to end global poverty goes hand in hand with achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 – gender equality for all. With estimates that more than 342 million women and girls could be living in extreme poverty by 2030, we know that ending gender inequality is not an add-on, but rather a central component of our mission.

Today, on International Women’s Day (8 March), Advocacy Officers Mallory, Hannah and Eva, share the impact of gender inequality across their areas of expertise – nutrition, education and child health – and set out the progress that is so critically needed to ensure we can achieve a fair and equal future for women and girls. They share how we can live up to this year’s theme, “invest in women: accelerate progress” not just today, but every day.

Mallory Thorpe, Parliamentary Advocacy Officer for Nutrition

Malnutrition is the single largest cause of death among women, killing more women than any other risk factor, including alcohol, tobacco and pollution. The gender nutrition gap is in part due to women and girls’ unique biological needs — women of reproductive age are more likely to be affected by nutrient deficiencies such as anaemia. On top of this, in many countries, access to food is tilted first towards men, then the children, and it is often the mother who is the last to eat.  

The impact of undernutrition for women and girls is far-reaching: an increased risk of depression, exhaustion, and increased susceptibility to a myriad of other health challenges. It impacts cognitive development, meaning that girls disproportionately suffer from low concentration levels at school and as a result have fewer opportunities to achieve social and economic empowerment. It means a lack of equality in household finances and expectations, and overall a 10% reduction in lifetime earnings. The link between good nutrition and women’s empowerment is undeniable. 

It is vital then, that nutrition must be positioned as a feminist issue. It must be tackled through legislation and policies that directly ensure women and girls are both protected and empowered.

Susan Onyango (pictured second from the right) is a nutritionist working in Homa Bay County, western Kenya who founded the Healthy Woman project to address unequal gender roles and empower women to regain control of nutrition-related decisions for themselves and their families. Learn more about Susan. Image: @sueonyango

Hannah Frisch, Policy and Parliamentary Advocacy Officer for Education

The achievement of SDG5 on gender equality is fundamental to understanding what equitable access to quality learning looks like and what is required to achieve education for all. 

Girls tend to face different barriers to education than boys. Efforts to close gaps in enrolment rates for girls and boys has led to the difference narrowing over the years, however girls continue to have lower school completion rates. A range of challenges persist which impact girls’ education access and school experience, including families prioritising paying tuition fees for boys, less time to study, violence and harrassment in and around schools, young pregnancy and child marriage. Appropriate WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities at schools are crucial for enabling girls to attend, and having women teachers on staff is also important for creating environments where girls feel comfortable, empowered and safe. 

While education can be a powerful tool to promote broader gender equality, it can also entrench gender ideas and norms. To make real progress on gender equality in education, we must go beyond trying to achieve parity with boys and think about the range of ways in which gender affects education access, learning, and life beyond schooling, while challenging binary and universalising conceptions of what it means to be a woman or girl.

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Suwaiba Yunusa is the only female teacher at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School in Roni, Jigawa State, Nigeria. In addition to teaching, she is an important role model to her female students. Learn more about Suwaiba. Image: Global Partnership for Education

Eva Khair, Senior Policy Advocacy Officer for Child Health

Gender is an important consideration in population health. The roles and norms typically associated with different genders, and the resulting differentials in power relations, impact on autonomy and access to healthcare. Polio vaccination is an example of this, with lower immunisation coverage found among girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan (the two countries in which it is still endemic) meaning young girls are missing out on life-saving vaccines.

Female frontline health workers in Afghanistan have been instrumental in the fight against polio. Female vaccinators can enter households in conservative areas unaccompanied, vaccinate children, and share important information about health and the benefits of vaccination. 

Female frontline workers help build trust in their communities and work to address the gender and power dynamics that influence the participation of women in vaccination. This is particularly important in the political context of Afghanistan, where the status of women has diminished since the return of the Taliban to power in August 2021, which saw a wave of rollbacks on previous freedoms for women and severe restrictions on their movements that have all but removed women from public life.

The vaccination work of female frontline workers has become incredibly important in ensuring the immunisation of women and girls in Afghanistan. This shows how an understanding of how gender plays out in different countries is critical to ensure that immunisation work is effective in reaching every last child with life-changing, life-saving vaccinations.

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Dr. Fariba Amin is a provincial polio officer in Kabul, ensuring that her team of supervisors and vaccinators visit houses and no child is left behind. “As a woman and mother, I get easy access to speak to families.” Learn more about Fariba. Image: WHO

Women around the world are on the front line of efforts to eradicate poverty, and yet feminist organisations only receive a mere 0.13% of total official development assistance. This shows an urgent need to invest in solutions led by women, for women. Investing in women is a critical human rights issue and, at the halfway mark to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we cannot afford to dismiss the necessity of gender equality to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to good health, nutrition and education.