Whenever I hear the word sustainable, I automatically think of the environment. Particularly when I first heard of Sustainable Development Goals, I thought it was related solely to sustainable practices for the environment and climate change. While that is an extremely important issue today and one that needs an incredible amount of attention and work, it is not the only Sustainable Development Goal; it is one of 17 that the United Nations released in 2015. Each one is extremely important in order to work towards a planet that thrives and a world in which fairness, equality and human rights prevail.
The one Sustainable Development Goal I have chosen to discuss is number 5 – Gender Equality. Within this specific goal, there are a myriad of issues that women are facing across the world. This ranges from employment opportunities to gender budget allocations to sexual violence and reproductive health care. There are 9 targets set within the Gender Equality Sustainable Development Goal to tackle discrimination and violence and to enable equality and empowerment of girls and women everywhere. My main focus today will be the target relating to harmful practices such as forced marriages in children and genital mutilation, as well as access to reproductive healthcare, and how this relates to Gender Equality in a Sustainable Future.
What is a Child Marriage?
A forced marriage is where at least one person does not provide consent to the marriage. When children (under the age of 18) are forced to marry, they are unable to provide informed consent. Although child marriage can affect young boys, it is far more prevalent for girls. To put this in context, the area where there are the highest number of forced marriages in young boys, the number of forced marriages in young girls is still twice as high in that region; making this a gender equality issue that requires immediate action.
650 million girls and women alive today were forced to be married before the age of 18.
12 million girls under the age of 18 are forced to be married every year.
125 million of the world’s underage brides live in Africa.
Despite some countries having laws against child marriage, as well as some having none at all, certain things can overwrite these such as consent from the child’s parents and religious laws. This often stems from poverty, as parents sell their daughters to a rich older man and receive money known as bride price. Alternatively, in some countries, the family of the young girl must pay a dowry to her husband’s family, however the younger the girl the lower the dowry. This act of girls being traded for financial gain, instils the ideology of them being property and not seen as human beings with thoughts and emotions. This also plays into the ideas that these older men have of controlling young girls and exploiting them sexually for their own personal gain. This also then leads us onto female genital mutilation.
Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation is the removal of parts or all the external female genitalia in order to attempt to retain a girl or woman’s virginity or to ensure they are not involved in any infidelity while married, by taking away the pleasure part of sexual intercourse. This is an extremely painful procedure and can lead to infection, cysts, urinary problems, and a long list of long-term health implications. There is no medical benefit to female genital mutilation and is purely an act of controlling the sexuality of women and young girls and a violation of human rights. It is commonly performed on girls between birth and the age of 15.
More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced female genital mutilation
It is practised in 30 countries across the world
It is predicted that over 4 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year
Women and girls everywhere deserve the right to their own autonomy on what they do with their bodies and lives. This includes everything noted above as well as access to contraception and reproductive health education and services, to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy particularly in younger girls, as well as sexually transmitted diseases.
What Does This Mean in Terms of Gender Equality in a Sustainable Future?
The more girls are controlled and viewed as objects that have no say in what happens to them, the more this inequality continues to be deeply rooted within their society. It is incredibly saddening to think of these young girls who just want to experience life, get an education, make friends and memories, and live a healthy life of freedom and choice. But for some, the basic human right of choice gets taken away from them before they can even form their own thoughts. From having sexual organs ripped from your body in an excruciatingly painful procedure, to being forced to marry and have sexual relations with a man old enough to be your father (or even grandfather) and being forced to be pregnant and give birth to a child when you’re still a child yourself. Without the emancipation of the many young girls who are experiencing this torture, the world cannot move forward towards a world of equality and change; this is an essential pillar in the Sustainable Development Goal movement.
What Can You Do?
There are many charities that are fighting for the freedom of these young girls who deserve the right to their own life. The global networks Girls Not Brides and Plan International do incredible work towards ending child marriage and empowering young girls. As well as the UK-based charity Halo Project that does amazing work with tackling these extremely important issues.
Follow the above links and see what you can do to help. Fight for Gender Equality and Human Rights!