Almost everywhere in the world, girls and women are worse off than boys and men. Slowly but surely, this is changing. More girls go to school, more women have political power and more rights are enshrined in law. Yet gender equality still seems a pipe dream. Conservative forces resist it, economic growth is mainly beneficial to men and deeply-entrenched social relations are difficult to change. It is still ‘a man’s world’.
For decades we have been supporting women all over the world to organise themselves and become a countervailing power in their societies. That alone is not enough, however. There is also a drawback to the success of women’s organisations, for example when their rights are enshrined in law. As women become more empowered, opposition from men grows. Often, this means that the letter of the law is not observed in practice.
The Hivos women’s rights programme therefore constantly seeks new ways to bring about change in people’s minds. Because there is a lot of cross-pollination with other areas of Hivos’ work, we have learned how we can strengthen women’s rights with apps, street art and comic books, or even biodigesters and farming courses. Wherever we work and whatever we do, the role of women is always a core concern.
For Hivos, women’s rights are human rights. And we believe that women who forcefully stand up for equal access to resources and opportunities for development, and insist on equal participation in decision-making processes that affect their lives, are key to the well-being of society at large and of future generations.
If democracies are to function as intended, they must respect and guarantee the rights and full citizenship of all citizens, irrespective of gender, marital status or sexual and gender identity. If developing economies are to grow sustainably, women must have equal access to economic resources and opportunities. And as women improve their economic position, they gain the leverage to make independent choices about reproductive health issues and relationships.
Sustained change is required not only at the more formal levels of policies, laws, resource allocation and distribution, but also in the informal - “invisible” - spheres of social and cultural beliefs, attitudes, values, norms and practices. Empowered women defending and claiming their rights, both as active citizens and through their organising efforts, are the change agents that make equality and social justice for women a reality.
That is why, in the face of persistent inequalities between women and men in all societies, Hivos does not shrink from addressing precisely those issues which are most controversial. We are one of the few organisations that strives for safe abortions and fights female genital mutilation. Moreover, we choose to work in the most misogynistic parts of the world. Our partners include lawyers from Egypt, entrepreneurs from Kenya, activists from Honduras and parliamentarians from Iraq. Besides their formal work, they also create commotion, resistance and innovation, simply because they are women. Alongside our partners, we do not only want to continue the fight for equal rights, but accelerate it.