Women's rights

Photo: ,Jake Lyell/Shoot the Earth/ActionAid

Women and girls are the poorest of the poor. This is because of the extreme forms of discrimination that persist in many parts of the world. 

Women's rights are a key focus area for ActionAid Australia because we believe ending poverty and injustice will only be possible when we secure equality and rights for women and girls. ActionAid takes sides with poor women and girls so they can exercise their rights - socially, sexually, politically and economically.

We seek to address women's rights directly by changing the power relationships between women and men. Seventy per cent of those living in poverty are women. We work with women and girls to challenge blatant discrimination in law, policy and decision making, as well as hidden forms of discrimination embedded in culture and tradition.

Women do it tough

More girls than boys are denied an education. Men still have a monopoly on decision-making at every level from village councils to national government, so even when policies are introduced to help the poor, they often ignore women's needs.

Women are often not allowed to own property or keep the money they earn. As farmers, they get the most marginal land and as workers, they are trapped in the worst jobs for the least amount of pay.

Men's power over women often costs women their lives. Women are more vulnerable to HIV infection because they are not able to insist on protected sex.

Men often use physical violence to reinforce their power over women and girls. In spite of this, it is often a woman who has fought for the small victories over adversity, such as clean water for her family to drink.

But women are powerful forces for change

ActionAid works with women at a grass-roots level, as well as in the halls of power at the local, national and international level to have their voices heard. ActionAid funds projects around the world which support women to claim their rights as well as campaign for change.

- In tsunami affected areas of India, ActionAid provided small loans to women in fishing communities to help them get back on their feet.

- In Nepal, ActionAid supports a community forestry project run by rural women to help preserve the forest and strengthen their income by growing fruit and vegetables.

Violence keeps poor women poor

Acts of violence against women cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. [UN Women 2010]

Violence stops women from participating in their communities and wider society, and forces them to live in fear. HIV and AIDS and violence against women are inextricably linked. In some countries up to 30% of women report their first sexual experience was coerced or forced. ActionAid has formed a global coalition of women's rights organisations (Women Won't Wait) to highlight the fundamental links between violence against women and the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

 VIDEO: How ActionAid is working to stamp out the practice of foetal sex-selection through which India's daughters are disappearing.

Democratic Republic of Congo - We're helping some of the hundreds of thousands of women who have suffered gang rape in the continuing war by providing medical care and trauma healing, as well as supporting them in being reaccepted by their husbands and families.

Kenya - We support teachers in primary schools to run after-school forums for girls. These are safe and supportive places where girls can discuss sensitive issues such as their own bodies and violence committed against them. The girls also write poetry and perform plays to help them express their emotions. The project helps them to learn how to say no to unwanted sex, and how and where to report violations and abuses.

Pakistan - the Hudood Ordinances criminalised women who were raped. As well as demanding change in the face of fierce conservative opposition, ActionAid provided free legal support to some of the imprisoned women and supported gender-sensitising training for Lahore police. In November 2006, the Women's Protection Act was passed, which amended the Hudood Ordinances and brought some small improvements. However there is still much further to go both legally and in shifting people's attitudes. 

Ethiopia - ActionAid is working with women in the Afar region to ensure that religious and traditional leaders are more aware of the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation. The traditional council in the Guraghe area has agreed to outlaw the practice, and although it has recently been criminalised in Ethiopia, resistance still exists. It is estimated that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have suffered genital mutilation and 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk every year. [UN Women 2010]

Killer Facts

Women perform 66% of the world's work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. [UN Women 2008]

Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. Every day 1600 women and more than 10 000 newborns die from prventanble complications during pregnancy and childbirth. [WHO 2009]

More than 60 million girls worldwide are forced into an early marriage before the age of 18. [UN Women 2010]

Of the 776 million illiterate adults in the world, women make up two thirds of them. [UN Women 2010]

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