By: Donella Rapier, President and CEO, BRAC USA
Gender inequality affects women and girls―and men and boys―in every single country around the world. Children grow up seeing examples of gender inequality at home, on television, at school, and in their neighborhoods. As Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn examine in their bestselling book Half the Sky, the “female half” of the world’s population is a source of huge untapped potential for transforming economies and societies. But we still live in a world where women earn less, own less, and are less likely than men to have access to a bank account or own rights to land.
In my own professional life, particularly in my early career in corporate finance, I have seen entrenched inequalities that made it harder―and more unusual―for women to advance to executive roles than men. When I started my career, the ratio of women to men was close to 50/50 at the entry level. As I worked my way up, there was maybe one woman among every ten men at the more senior levels.
I’ve also seen how unconscious biases can contribute to women being disliked and penalized for asserting their leadership, ambition, and expertise.
Globally, gender inequality is not only oppressive, it’s also dangerous. Every year, 12 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides. In their lifetime, 30 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a husband or partner.
We should live in a world where no matter how you identify, you have equal rights, you are treated with fairness and dignity, and you have the same chances as someone who is male or in the majority.
The fact is that inequality is human-made. So it can be unmade.
Putting Power in the Hands of Women
Since our organization was founded 50 years ago, BRAC’s approach has been to put power in the hands of people living in poverty, especially women and girls.
Women are at the heart of all our work. As teachers, community health workers, development professionals, program participants, microfinance clients, artisans, and entrepreneurs, they drive inter-generational change and build stronger communities and economies.
BRAC also understands that gender inequality is not only about women. Gender inequality perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes and biases that affect trans and non-binary people, boys and men, and all human beings who want to live in a more equal, just world.
BRAC works to shift attitudes and practices to expand opportunities available to women and marginalized people. We incorporate gender equality approaches into all our programs to equip women and girls with the knowledge, skills, and support they need to overcome barriers and thrive. BRAC’s graduation programs and our youth empowerment initiatives are particularly powerful examples of our impact on gender equality.
Evidence from these programs proves that when women and young girls have opportunities and resources––such as access to financial services, health care, education, skills training, support networks, and income from a paid job or through social protection—they can lift their families out of extreme poverty. They become agents of change in their own lives and communities.
Through other initiatives, BRAC advocates at community, national, and international levels to end child marriage and other forms of violence against women and children. Our health programs provide access to maternal and child healthcare and family planning services to promote the well-being and rights of women and adolescent girls.
Investing in women and girls sparks long-lasting change that benefits everyone.
The World We Want: Endorsing the Standards
Efforts to promote gender equality are not only integrated into all of BRAC’s programs and operations, but also into our own organizational culture and values.
BRAC’s gender justice and diversity policy prioritizes:
- ending violence against women and girls,
- challenging discriminatory social norms,
- increasing women’s participation in paid work and the public domain,
- ensuring workplace safety and equality,
- working with men and boys to bring about gender transformative change,
- advocating for women’s rights at the local, national, and international policy level.
BRAC is proud to join the Gender Standards Endorsers’ Circle. Through BRAC’s endorsement, we are committed to realizing all eight of the Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality. We are already working to strengthen our accountability mechanisms and train staff to monitor the status of gender equality within our programs and practices. We’re also excited about the impact of allocating more resources to meet our needs for mainstreaming gender equality.
The Gender Standards help organizations reinforce shared values, accelerate momentum, improve accountability, and support a powerful movement of like-minded organizations that prioritize gender equality. There is immense power in our collective voices.
We encourage other organizations to endorse the Standards. Together, we can do more to fight anything that holds women back, deprives them of their rights, or damages their self-esteem or self-respect.