(Photo Credit: istockphoto)
*This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Cows are given more rights than women in many parts of the world. Even though they constitute half the population, women’s very existence can be under threat from the time they are in the womb, especially in regions where people kill or abandon baby girls. Here are 16 reasons why empowering women will make the world a better place in 2016.
- Recently in India, a man was lynched based on a rumor that he consumed beef over the Eid holiday, yet there is seldom that much outrage when a man rapes or sexually assaults a woman. In India, the punishment for possession of beef is imprisonment for five years, whilst, until December 2015, there was no punishment for marital rape.
- In Kenya, a man can be killed for running over a cow or sexually assaulting it but in 2013, three men who were part of a group responsible for raping a 16-year-old girl were only sentenced to cutting grass. Following a global campaign for justice, the men are now in prison but the girl, known as Liz, has been forced into hiding and depends on witness protection.
- In Saudi Arabia last year, the victim of a violent gang rape was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for the crime of indecency and speaking to the press.
- A youth minister in Uganda went on record to say a woman who is indecently dressed and raped should face charges and the perpetrator should be set free.
- A man in South Africa escaped a 10-year jail sentence for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl because the judge didn’t find him guilty of a more severe crime.
- We know that educating girls is the best investment in a country’s development. Not only does it empower her, it also equips her with essential life skills, the ability to participate effectively in society, and helps build self-confidence, which has critical development benefits, including preventing sexual exploitation and reducing HIV/AIDS.
- Every 10 minutes globally an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
- A study found that for every additional year of education women of reproductive age received, their children were almost 10 percent less likely to die.
- An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced genital mutilation, causing psychological consequences as well as severe physical injuries.
- More often than not, women and girls are deprived of access to basic rights like education, health care, finance, and participation in decision-making processes. Not only are these gross violations of human rights, but discriminating against women and girls makes little sense.
- Around 250 million married women today were married before the age of 15, which has a huge impact on maternal and child health.
- Women are the key to social and economic progress. They comprise a significant half of the workforce in the world and are the economic drivers of society. They should be given equal opportunity to be in every job field and to be leaders. A report found that investing in girls, so that they would complete the next level of education, would lead to lifetime earnings equivalent to up to 68 percent of annual GDP.
- There has been progress towards the Millennium Development Goals directly affecting women, but it has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving significant gaps, as the World Economic Forum’s recently released Global Gender Gap Report details.
- A four-decade, 70 country study on sexual violence commissioned by the World Bank shows that the mobilization of local grassroots groups is more important for positive change, even more so than the wealth of a nation or the national policies of a nation.
- Recently the Canadian government followed the example of countries such as Rwanda and Liberia in ensuring gender representation in the Cabinet at the senior levels of government. Why can’t every other government follow suit?
- If there was no employment or wage gap between women and men, it is calculated that women could increase their income globally by up to 76 percent.
Combined with important grassroots efforts, no doubt once there are more women in leadership roles, the value of a woman’s life will no longer be treated as less than that of a cow. We have seen this first-hand in our work. We come from countries across Africa and Asia and are doing what we can to improve women’s rights in a variety of ways:
• Kusum Thapa, Nepal, is an obstetrician and gynecologist working to reduce preventable deaths of women and children, whether in pregnancy and childbirth or through violence and human rights abuses.
• Kopano Mabaso is a South African medical doctor focused on the strengthening of health systems — she is currently undertaking a Ph.D. in population health at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
• Samuel Kargbo is overseeing the post-Ebola recovery strategy in Sierra Leone in his role as director of health systems, policy, planning and information in the Ministry of Health.
• Esther Ngumbi is a Kenyan post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University, Alabama, also serving as a 2015 Clinton Global University Mentor for Agriculture.
The Aspen Institute New Voices Fellowship, which recently announced their 2016 class, aims to train and support a new cadre of experts from developing countries to champion solutions for global development work.