Why we focus on the rights of women and girls
Poverty is complex. It’s more than a lack of money. It’s also a lack of choice and power.
For women and girls, poverty means having fewer opportunities than men and boys. In the world’s poorest places this means living on the margins of society, often facing discrimination, exploitation and violence.
From the moment they’re born, many girls are seen and treated as less than boys. Girls are less likely to go to school than their brothers, and millions of girls worldwide are married as children, often to much older men.1
All over the world women and girls have less social, economic and political power, which can lead to their human rights being denied. Gender inequality is the root cause of women’s rights abuses. ActionAid supports women and girls to claim their rights.
Women’s rights are human rights
In 2015, all member states of the UN signed up to a global goal to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030.
Because human rights apply to men and women equally, this means they can overlook women’s specific needs. So women’s rights include those that that are specific to women, or that need to be expanded to take account of women’s experiences and situations.
For instance, the use of mass rape as a weapon in war is a form of sexual violence that overwhelmingly targets women and girls, and it is now recognised as a crime against humanity within the framework of human rights.
Other fundamental women’s rights issues are violence against women and girls (VAWG), women’s economic inequality and empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and women’s political representation.
Women’s rights are only on the international political agenda because of the tireless work of women’s rights organisations and movements fighting for change. But we still have a long way to go.
Tackling violence against women and girls in Ghana
Doris Owusu Prempeh, 30, is a teacher and a member of a Community Based Anti-Violence Team (COMBAT) in Ghana, which was established by ActionAid and local partners in 2011.
She has been an active COMBAT member for the past four years, visiting houses, churches, mosques, schools and other places to educate community members on Ghana’s domestic violence laws, broadening the knowledge of the community members on what domestic violence is and what support is available for survivors.
Doris and her COMBAT team members have also organised a campaign against early and forced marriage, and work with a young women’s group to tackle teenage pregnancy in the community.
What is discrimination against women?
There is no country in the world where women and girls as a group are not disadvantaged in relation to men and boys.
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is ‘the international bill of rights for women’. It defines discrimination against women as:
Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
It is important to recognise that different groups of women can be further disadvantaged, or discriminated against differently, based on other aspects of their identities. This can include race, disability, class and sexual orientation.
What is ActionAid doing for women’s rights?
ActionAid supports and campaigns with women and girls living in some of the world’s poorest places as they challenge the root causes of poverty and injustice. Supporting women and girls as they claim their rights and lead their communities out of poverty is the most effective way of changing lives for good.1
ActionAid stands with the courageous women speaking out for change in their communities, and backs the grassroots women's rights organisations they lead. We challenge harmful societal norms which create gender inequality and allow abuses like violence against women and girls to continue.
We tackle unfair economic systems that hold women and girls back, and promote their access to justice. We ensure that local women's rights organisations are at the forefront of humanitarian response work.