Gender inequality is a powerful predictor of poverty and injustice in our world today. Discrimination, persecution, and violence against people based on their gender identity, race, or sexual orientation threaten the safety and dignity of millions of people in the US and around the world. LGBTQIA+ people of color, in particular, face some of the highest rates of marginalization in the world.
Guided by 11 feminist principles, Oxfam advocates for gender equality so that every person has the same chance at success. We promote feminist leadership, supporting women and girls to defend their economic rights, to influence more of the decisions that affect their lives, and to gain financial independence. We work with young people to challenge patriarchal attitudes that drive abuse and keep women and nonbinary people poor. We also support men and boys to challenge harmful gender stereotypes, create greater balance in the sharing of household responsibilities, and promote nonviolence within families and communities.
Achieving gender equality also means campaigning for bold investments in care infrastructure to support women who depend on affordable childcare to work and provide for their families. We advocate for wealthy and large companies to pay their fair share of taxes to better fund social safety net programs and improve pay for care workers. We fight for paid parental and sick leave policies that put parents of all genders on equal footing, unlocking economic potential and the building blocks of a more caring world. We also advocate for equal pay for equal work so that women, particularly migrant women and women of color, are no longer undervalued and underpaid.
What causes gender inequality?
Gender inequality is one of the oldest and most pervasive forms of inequality. Unequal systems of power built upon patriarchy create gender discrimination that keeps women and gender non-conforming people in poverty. Around the world, the systems underpinning our society-- including laws and the enforcement of them--have been built in ways that deny women and individuals along gender identity and sexual orientation spectrums the same rights as cisgender, heterosexual men.
Currently, 153 countries have laws that promote gender discrimination. When women are denied education, are unable to safely exercise their rights, and cultures and communities enable discrimination—thereby passing on patriarchal attitudes and beliefs—this devalues the position of women compared to men on household, national, and global levels, all of which perpetuate the inequality they experience.
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What are examples of gender inequality?
1 in 3
The number of women who will experience some form of sexual assault or physical violence.
On average, women earn 24% less than men for comparable work.
How long it may take to close the global economic gender gap.
What is Oxfam doing to promote gender equality?
Promoting transformative leadership for women’s rights
Global inequality is rooted in the absence of women’s voices in decision-making, whether at home, in their neighborhoods, courtrooms, governments, or boardrooms. Transformative leadership aims for the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality, bringing Oxfam, program partners, and the communities with whom they work together around a shared transformative agenda. Transformative leadership for women's rights increases the impact of women's activism and leadership through a better understanding of where power lies and how to influence it.
In Kenya, for example, Oxfam facilitates civic education for marginalized women and removes barriers to voting so women can participate in the political sphere. In Nepal, an evaluation of our “Raising Her Voice” project found that 42 percent of nearly 2,000 women members of community discussion classes reported feeling able to influence village and district development councils to allocate financial support for the promotion of women’s interests.
Women's economic empowerment is fundamental to women's ability to move out of poverty. In the US and abroad, Oxfam supports growing women’s access to and ownership of resources, such as land and credit, to receive equal pay for decent work, and to lessen the burden of unpaid domestic work. When a woman is paid a fair living wage and has safe and decent working conditions, this benefits her family and her community. Our innovative project in Ghana, which looks at shea, sorghum, and cocoa supply chains, is one example of how increasing women farmers’ voices and access to finance can lead to self-empowerment, business development, and sustainable livelihoods.
Without unpaid care, the global economy would grind to a halt. Yet, this work falls disproportionately on women and girls, limiting their opportunities to move out of poverty. In the US, Oxfam works with more than a dozen local partners in the Gulf Coast to train and place people, including women of color, in decent jobs with livable wages and benefits while advancing policies that benefit working families, such as wage equality legislation at state and federal levels.
Globally, Oxfam and partners have been working since 2013 in more than 25 countries on programs that address unequal unpaid care and domestic work. In Ethiopia, for example, this programming was instrumental in enforcing the implementation of a federal civil service proclamation ensuring that every government institution establish nursery or day care center for staff. In Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, we are supporting women’s rights organizations and care giver organizations to be better represented in political spaces where decisions that affect unpaid care and domestic work are being made.
Violence against women and girls not only devastates women’s lives, but it also undermines development efforts and the building of strong democracies and just societies. Oxfam works with more than 400 global gender justice partners to prevent violence against women by changing laws, challenging cultural norms, and offering support to survivors.
In 2016, Oxfam launched “Creating Spaces to Take Action on Violence Against Women and Girls,” a project in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines to reduce violence against women and girls and the prevalence of child, early, and forced marriage. “Creating Spaces” projects prevent violence by changing local norms and laws, respond to violence by providing survivors with support, and improve understanding of violence by strengthening collective efforts and learning.
Oxfam believes girls’ education is foundational to improving girls' futures. Girls face disproportionately high dropout rates due to several factors, including social and cultural norms, teen pregnancies, lack of adequate knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and poverty as some families cannot afford the cost of education, or choose to prioritize boys' education due to costs. Oxfam promotes education to enable girls to overcome the challenges hindering their wellbeing through positive change in social attitudes and cultural norms, improved financial literacy, success in school, and understanding of sexual reproductive health rights.
In Ghana, for example, we ensure schools are tailored to meet girls’ needs by removing barriers that limit their attendance, encouraging them to become independent thinkers, and motivating them to pursue higher education. In Pakistan, Oxfam provided scholarships and opportunities to young girls to help them develop their leadership skills. We also help build resilient learners, teachers, and education systems in South Sudan and Uganda.
Supporting women—and their leadership—in emergencies
Disasters affect people differently according to their vulnerability, and women and girls are often hit the hardest. Because of that, Oxfam provides immediate relief to women and girls in crises that threaten their wellbeing in unique ways. Ensuring their needs are met is vital to their survival, good health, and dignity. This includes making sure women have a say in the decisions that affect them and their families.
This study of queer individuals in Lebanon showed that members of the community have limited access to safe spaces, are facing a housing crisis, are in dire need of basic assistance, and are facing worsening mental health and psychological well-being.
During Women’s History Month, Oxfam gathered virtually for its annual Sisters on the Planet conference to evaluate the current state of women across the world, and to celebrate some “Champions of Equality” in our own country and beyond.
Here we go again, the date when we notice that the gender wage gap in the US is still hanging around. As we call it out this year on March 15, let’s ask why it’s so stubborn–and what the heck we can do about it.