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Women's Rights and Development

The drivers and consequences of poverty are gendered: women are more vulnerable and denied opportunities. Prioritizing women’s rights is key to delivering the Global Goals – the international development framework that promises to deliver for those left furthest behind.

Women have free and equal rights to live their lives with dignity – free from fear and free from want. These rights are specifically enshrined in international human rights law, such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Governments have national laws and policies in place designed to promote women’s rights and protect them from abuse. Yet women continue to be discriminated against in all areas of their lives, including access to economic opportunities. This is a violation of women’s rights, as are the manifestations and consequences of poverty.   


Nigerian participants march in a peace campaign. Photo credit: Mark Darrough

Women overwhelmingly bear the brunt of poverty

Women face multiple barriers in accessing economic opportunities, including discrimination in school and in the work place. Where women are employed in developing countries, they are more likely than men to be in vulnerable, informal sector, or low-paid jobs where they enjoy little protection from labor laws or policies.

Regardless of paid work, women (and girls) continue to bear overwhelming responsibility for household care. With this dual demand on their time (paid and unpaid work) women have less time for education, political participation or other opportunities and contributions are undervalued: the experience of poverty is not just economic.

The women we work with live in extreme poverty in fragile contexts whilst working their hardest to put food on the table and their children in school: they do so in the toughest of situations. In Afghanistan, women in some communities are not allowed to leave their house without an escort because they are women. In eastern DRC, women are prohibited from owning or making decisions about the land they work because they are women. In Northern Iraq, Yezidi women have been forced to flee their homes. During ISIS' reign of abuse and terror, they have been specifically targeted for sexual violence because they are women. 

The Global Goals

The Global Goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The Goals represent an opportunity for the international community to implement catalytic changes for those who need them most, making the specific commitment to ‘leave no one behind’. This means that the Goals cannot be considered a success unless they are met for everyone.

As an organization with more than twenty years’ experience working with marginalized women survivors of conflict, we know how important this focus is. It is crucial that we continue to provide support to women, helping them move from poverty and isolation to self-sufficiency and empowerment. We are delighted to be partnering with the Clinton Global Initiative in the US, as well as Bond and the Gender and Development Network in the UK to support effective implementation of the Goals internationally. 

Three key ways that we are contributing to the Goals:

  • By reaching marginalized women survivors of conflict: We have worked with more than 447,000 women across the world and are continuing our investment in them. This includes stepping up our work to respond to the Syria crisis. 

  • Filling the data gap: We collect in-depth data from a large sample of participants to gauge women’s progress through the program as well as one and two years after graduation. While the data we collect are focused exclusively on marginalized women survivors of conflict (and therefore not nationally representative) it can provide a valuable snapshot to help national and international policymakers understand hard-to-reach populations.

  • Amplifying voices: For the women we serve, being marginalized is a lived experience that includes being denied access to opportunities and having a say over the decisions that affect their lives. We are therefore: providing select graduates with training in leadership and advocacy; continuing to work with men in communities to enable them to become champions for gender equality; working with local NGOs to support their work and create opportunities for women; and influencing decision-makers and the debate internationally, using our evidence base and the voices of the women we work with to change policy and practice.

Learn more about the issues we work on