What we do | ActionAid UK

The denial of women’s and girls’ rights is one of the biggest causes of poverty worldwide, and a grave injustice. That’s why we put the rights of women and girls at the heart of all we do.

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

  • 1. Ellsberg, M. et al. (2014) ‘Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say?’, The Lancet, Vol 385, No. 9977. Pp. 1555-1566. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61703-7/abstract. Accessed May 2015.

Gender inequality in numbers

1 in 10
women around the world first experienced street harassment before the age of 101

the amount less that women get paid globally on average than men2

women every hour die as a result of domestic violence3

girls are married before the age of 18, often against their will4

  • 1. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/latest-news/three-in-four-women-experience-harassment-and-violence-in-uk-and-global-cities
  • 2. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/actionaid_double_jeopardy_decent_work_violence_against_women_6.pdf P.9
  • 3. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/latest-news/domestic-violence-kills-five-women-every-hour
  • 4. Ellsberg, M. et al. (2014) ‘Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say?’, The Lancet, Vol 385, No. 9977. Pp. 1555-1566. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61703-7/abstract. Accessed May 2015.

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 empowermentsexual 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.

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

  • 1. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/actionaid_double_jeopardy_decent_work_violence_against_women_6.pdf

What about men's and boys' rights?

Men and boys also experience abuses of their rights, including sexual and domestic violence. But everywhere, violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, making it one of the most widespread abuses of human rights worldwide

We put the rights of women and girls first, because no community can prosper together when half its citizens are denied the rights enjoyed by the other half. That is why ActionAid focuses on this issue.

Men and boys are part of the solution

To end violence against women and girls, men and boys must be involved in changing attitudes and behaviour in families and communities. And because men dominate positions of power and decision-making roles they are important allies in the fight against it. 



Page updated 14 October 2020