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07 March 2015

Empowering women and girls

Empowering women and girls

International Women's Day provides an opportunity for Christian international development organisations to raise awareness of the need for gender equality, greater protection for women and girls against violence and greater empowerment through education.

Christian Aid has called on governments meeting for the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York from 9 to 20 March to commit more resources and determination if they want to make significant progress towards gender equality over the next five years.

In 1995 promises were made to realise women's rights as part of the Beijing Platform for Action, which prioritised 12 critical areas for action. The agreement highlighted the need to eliminate violence against women, promote women's economic rights and ensure their full participation in power structures and decision making.

In a new briefing paper, Realising the vision for gender justice: what needs to change in 2015, Christian Aid asks that governments provide adequate financing and investment for essential services for women and girls, release funding within justice systems to ensure laws and policies are fully implemented, and support women's rights organisations in order to make a real impact. They are campaigning for governments to work with women's organisations, communities, faith leaders and the media to challenge attitudes that hold half of the world's population back, trapping many in poverty.

Helen Dennis, Christian Aid's senior adviser on poverty and inequality, said: "In September world leaders will agree new global development goals, but without increased resources and the determination to tackle damaging beliefs and attitudes, commitments to achieve gender equality will just be warm words.

Last month international faith leaders met in London to debate their contribution to ending sexual violence in conflict. At the end of the two-day meeting, delegates agreed a new declaration, which included a pledge to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence in conflict at every opportunity and take action together to promote human rights and see people freed from the threat and impact of sexual violence in conflict across the world.

Tearfund has been focusing on areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to address the problem of sexual violence in conflict. Their Silent No More initiative includes a study, funded by the Foreign Office's Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), into the attitudes and behaviour of men and boys in eastern DRC.

Christine Karumba, deputy director for Tearfund in DRC, said: "Changing men's attitudes to women, and their understanding of what it means to be a man, is key to tackling Congo's appalling record on sexual violence."

Compassion UK is committed to making education happen for girls who otherwise might never see the inside of a classroom. They believe that education plays a critical role in building the health and wealth of whole communities.

The child sponsorship charity says that if education is the foundation to build a future, millions of girls around the world –84 million –are "standing on shifting sands", the prospect of school slipping away in front of them.

Maybe the reasons are poverty, war, disaster or cultural practice, but Compassion is working towards ensuring girls get educated, which means they can earn 20 per cent more as an adult and lessens the chance of an early marriage, teen pregnancy, being trafficked or catching HIV. Through the work of its church partners, 800,000 girls in some of the world's poorest countries are defying the odds and are sitting at desks.