Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

Empowering women crucial to sustainable development

Millions of girls and women in Africa are still at risk of female genital mutilation

By Andria Antoniadou

Gender equality and sustainable development go hand in hand. Empowered women, having access to education, health services and work not only stand up for their basic human rights, but they also have a critical role to play towards growth and poverty reduction.

It is estimated that empowering women would, among other things, increase global GDP by nearly 12 per cent by 2030 (an increase of $8.2 trillion USD). Contributing to meeting the world’s most urgent challenges, gender equality constitutes an EU priority. Various projects and programmes supported by the European Commission and the EU member states aim towards the multiplier effect of investing in women.

ActionAid in partnership with Irish Aid, have initiated a strong women’s rights programme in Kenya, Malawi, Vietnam and Nepal focusing on ending violence against women and ensuring that women and girls can withdraw from poverty and violence. They are provided with training and participation in business to gain financial independence and support their families. Also, women groups are formed, where members share their experiences, learn to read and write, access information and demand their rights to different services more effectively. Such groups have been shown to strengthen people’s dignity and self-confidence, as well as having an impact on improving health, children’s education and local community organisation.

Progress is also being made to end long lasting inhumane practices, specifically regarding the millions of girls and women in Africa who are still at risk of female genital mutilation. Thanks to an EU project with UNICEF in Senegal, for instance, over 5,300 communities have abandoned the practice in just under a decade. The national action plan to eradicate female genital mutilation by the end of 2015 brings Senegal close to becoming the world’s first country to declare total abandonment of this practice. In fact, the project is part of an initiative that has helped save thousands of girls from such mutilation in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Senegal and Sudan.

Around the world, women and girls form the vast majority of victims of human trafficking. Seventy-nine per cent over the last three years have been female, and most come from within the EU, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary. The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016 aims to tackle this transnational phenomenon. The European Commission focuses on concrete measures that support the implementation of Directive 2011/36/EU on this matter across governments and civil society in the EU and third countries, saving lives whilst dismantling crime that individual countries cannot effectively address on their own.

Investing in women’s rights and empowerment is a core commitment for a sustainable, democratic and inclusive world to blossom. Gender equality is essential for protecting universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. At the same time it is a powerful development accelerator. Women with equal rights are better educated, healthier, and have greater access to jobs, financial resources and opportunities for decision-making posts. They increase household incomes globally, and enhance prospects and well-being of children, reducing poverty and mobilising the development of future generations.

Andria Antoniadou won the Young Writers competition which was created as part of the national programme of the European Year for Development 2015 with the assistance of the European Union. Comments and views expressed herewith the article are the sole responsibility of their writers and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the competition’s co-organisers

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