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Women's rights and gender justice

Ending poverty and injustice starts with gender justice and rights for women.

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.

What is Oxfam doing to promote gender equality?

Marta Sanchez, from Las Gardenias Women Association, shares with Sisters about her work  Shaira Alí Center in Ahuachapán, El Salvador to create safe spaces for young girls, boys, and adolescents to prevent gender-based violence and defend women's rights.
Marta Sanchez, from Las Gardenias Women Association, shares with Sisters about her work Shaira Alí Center in Ahuachapán, El Salvador to create safe spaces for young girls, boys, and adolescents to prevent gender-based violence and defend women's rights. Photo: Oxfam America/Óscar Levia Marinero

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.

Sisters on the Planet ambassadors with Oxfam America President & CEO Abby Maxman at a 2019 International Women's Day event in Washington, D.C.
Sisters on the Planet ambassadors with Oxfam America President & CEO Abby Maxman at a 2019 International Women's Day event in Washington, D.C. Photo: Becky Davis/Oxfam

Connecting women to build power and influence

Oxfam brings women together to grow collective power so women can make decisions that affect their lives. Since 2008, hundreds of American women from diverse backgrounds who are leaders in their industries have joined Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet ambassadors program. These ambassadors use their collective influence to shape policy debates on issues that affect women and girls in the US and around the world.

Women learn embroidery at the vocational skills training center in Darkhanwala Basti. There are about 83 women training here, part of an entrepreneurial skills enhancement program Oxfam supports in Pakistan.
Women learn embroidery at the vocational skills training center in Darkhanwala Basti. There are about 83 women training here, part of an entrepreneurial skills enhancement program Oxfam supports in Pakistan. Photo: Khaula Jamil/Oxfam

Claiming economic rights and resources

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.

Oxfam works with local organizations in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia—countries where adolescent birth rates are among the highest in the world—to put sexual and reproductive health decision-making back in the hands of young women and adolescent girls. And in Peru, Oxfam has been bolstering the work of indigenous women’s organizations to increase participation in decision-making spaces, such as territorial governance to guarantee indigenous women the right to access and control lands, territories, and forests.

Zibusiso and his wife Sibongisiwe do laundry outside their home with their daughter in Zimbabwe. Their family benefited from the WE-Care Program, which works towards a just and inclusive society by recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work. Photo: Aurelie Marrier D'Unienville /Oxfam
Zibusiso and his wife Sibongisiwe do laundry outside their home with their daughter in Zimbabwe. Their family benefited from the WE-Care Program, which works towards a just and inclusive society by recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work. Photo: Aurelie Marrier D'Unienville /Oxfam Aurelie Marrier D'Unienville / Oxfam

Investing in unpaid and underpaid care work

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.

Since 2019, Oxfam has supported MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign that promotes structural and attitudinal changes of the role of men-identified people as caregivers around the world. As part of this campaign, Oxfam helped create and launch in 2021 the State of the World Fathers report , which examined care work during the pandemic, in particular the barriers preventing equitable distribution of caregiving between men and women. We also partnered with the Marshall Plan for Moms, Moms Rising, and the National Women’s Law Center to push Congress to pass legislation investing in the child care industry.

In the poorest city on the Mediterranean, a group of refugee women in Tripoli, Lebanon, are fighting against gender-based violence and empowering other women in their communities to do the same. Em Abdo*, a member of the women's group, engages in discussions with women in her community. “People trust us, since we come from the same background,” she said. “Many women find it easier to confide in us than in social workers, or authorities, & trust that their secrets are safe."
In the poorest city on the Mediterranean, a group of refugee women in Tripoli, Lebanon, are fighting against gender-based violence and empowering other women in their communities to do the same. Em Abdo*, a member of the women's group, engages in discussions with women in her community. “People trust us, since we come from the same background,” she said. “Many women find it easier to confide in us than in social workers, or authorities, & trust that their secrets are safe." Photo: Natheer Halawani

Ending violence against women

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.

Students of the Child Club at the high school in a village in Nepalgunj district, Nepal. OXFAM partner SAC is working on gender transformation projects to protect & empower girls by promoting inclusive education as well as a reduction in child marriage & violence against women.
Students of the Child Club at the high school in a village in Nepalgunj district, Nepal. OXFAM partner SAC is working on gender transformation projects to protect & empower girls by promoting inclusive education as well as a reduction in child marriage & violence against women. Photo: Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

Educating girls

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.

“When it comes to humanitarian response, who sits at  the decision-making tables? People who are not affected  by the crises.” -- Eyokia Donna Juliet, shown here discussing  hygienic practices with a refugee from South Sudan.
“When it comes to humanitarian response, who sits at the decision-making tables? People who are not affected by the crises.” -- Eyokia Donna Juliet, shown here discussing hygienic practices with a refugee from South Sudan. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

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.

When it comes to responding to crises, we advocate for putting power in women’s hands. For example, in coastal Bangladesh, Oxfam supports gender task teams so women can ensure their own safety when disasters strike. Women’s leadership on a local level is essential to responding to gender-based needs as well as better disaster preparedness and risk reduction; more efficient and effective emergency response; and inclusive and sustainable peace building and conflict resolution. In South Sudan, for instance, where more than two-thirds of the population requires humanitarian assistance to weather the pandemic, severe hunger, fighting, and floods, Oxfam partners with South Sudanese civil society groups to ensure women's voices are heard in the struggle to end conflict and violence and to promote women in political leadership positions as part of the country’s recently revitalized peace agreement.

Gender resource links

Time to Care

Our sexist economies are fueling the inequality crisis and enabling a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes at the expense of ordinary people--particularly poor women and girls.

Women, Voice and Power: How transformative feminist leadership is challenging inequalities and the root causes of extreme vulnerability

When women and feminist activists are able to use their collective power to challenge inequalities, they are having a transformational impact.

Masculinities and the Far-Right: Implications for Oxfam's Gender Justice Work

Varying narratives and tropes of masculinity and femininity have both shaped and been used by the far-right in its mobilization of support and polarization of debate.

Queer Communities in Crisis

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.

Best and Worst States to Work in America in 2021

The 2021 index includes a special ranking of Best States for Working Women.

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