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Gender Equality

Gender Equality

Even before a child is born, gender inequalities shape their lives. Harmful social and gender norms often constrain girls’ health, education, and futures. For example, sex selective abortions are still prevalent in some countries. Girls are often less likely to complete secondary school due to child and early marriage, pregnancy, and unpaid care and domestic work.

But norms can also be harmful for boys, who are often expected to conform to and uphold restrictive ideas of masculinity, which limit their cognitive and emotional development.

These inequalities continue and are often exacerbated in adulthood and old age. Adult women are more likely to be poorer than men and face discrimination in the labour market, including the gender pay gap.

Despite considerable advancements in our understanding of how gender dynamics interplay from childhood to adolescence and through to old age, significant gaps remain that limit the acceleration of global progress towards gender equality. UNICEF Innocenti is contributing to UNICEF’s mission of achieving gender equality by building the evidence base on:

  • the gendered nature of violence against children and against women;
  • the effects of social protection on gender equality;
  • how gender impacts migration;
  • the role gender plays in child labour;
  • intersections between gender, climate change and social protection.

 

Publications

Mainstreaming gender into social protection strategies and programmes: Evidence from 74 low- and middle-income countries
Publication Publication

Mainstreaming gender into social protection strategies and programmes: Evidence from 74 low- and middle-income countries

The importance of mainstreaming gender into social protection policies and programmes is increasingly recognized. However, evidence on the extent to which this is actually happening remains limited. This report contributes to filling this evidence gap by drawing on the findings of two complementary research projects undertaken by UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti and UN Women in 2019. Using a specifically developed analytical framework, these two projects reviewed 50 national social protection strategies and 40 social protection programmes across a total of 74 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to assess the extent to which they incorporate gender equality concerns.
Social Protection and Its Effects on Gender Equality: A literature review
Publication Publication

Social Protection and Its Effects on Gender Equality: A literature review

Globally, progress has been made in the fight against both poverty and gender inequality, including through the expansion of social protection programmes. Yet significant gaps remain. Many women and girls remain in poverty and often face different structural constraints and risks across their life course, related to their biological sex as well as entrenched gender norms that discriminate against them in many aspects of their lives. As poverty, risks and vulnerabilities – which social protection aims to minimize, reduce or tackle – are gendered, if the root causes of gender inequality are not investigated in evidence generation and addressed in policy and practice, poverty will not be sustainably eradicated, nor gender equality achieved. This paper provides an overview of the latest evidence on the effects of social protection on gender equality. It starts by considering how risks and vulnerabilities are gendered, and the implications of their gendered nature for boys’ and girls’, and men’s and women’s well-being throughout the life course. It then reviews and discusses the evidence on the design features of four types of social protection programmes – non-contributory programmes, contributory programmes, labour market programmes, and social care services – and their effects on gender equality, unpacking which design features matter the most to achieve gender equality. Finally, the paper concludes with implications for a future research agenda on gender and social protection.
Child Marriage and Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program: Analysis of protective pathways in the Amhara region
Publication Publication

Child Marriage and Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program: Analysis of protective pathways in the Amhara region

Emerging evidence suggests that social protection programmes can have a positive role in delaying marriage for girls. But the pathways and design features by which programmes may influence child marriage outcomes remain unknown. This mixed-methods study explores whether and how the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) in Ethiopia, given its national reach and potential to address poverty, can also affect child marriage practice. It draws on descriptive quantitative and qualitative data from an ongoing impact evaluation of the Integrated Safety Net Program (ISNP) pilot in the Amhara region. It finds that PSNP, through an economic channel, is effective in reducing financial pressures on families to marry off girls and in improving girls’ education opportunities. Income-strengthening measures must, however, be accompanied by complementary efforts – including girls’ empowerment, awareness-raising and legal measures – to transform deep-rooted social and gender norms and attitudes that perpetuate the harmful practice of child marriage.
Gender-Responsive Age-Sensitive Social Protection: A conceptual framework
Publication Publication

Gender-Responsive Age-Sensitive Social Protection: A conceptual framework

The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Digital Technology
Publication Publication

The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Digital Technology

As access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) increases, so too do the risks posed to children. Popular ICTs can enable and facilitate sexual crimes against children, including the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse materials and the facilitation of child prostitution.
The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Migration
Publication Publication

The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Migration

Children who are migrating, especially if unaccompanied, face increased risk of being subjected to violence, including sexual violence, exploitation, and human trafficking.
The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sport and Sporting Events
Publication Publication

The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sport and Sporting Events

Sport has a powerful effect on children’s well-being and can promote greater physical health, emotional and mental balance, and help children develop important skills. But sport can also expose children to grievous harm and violence.
GRASSP Think Piece Series
Publication Publication

GRASSP Think Piece Series

The UNICEF’s Office of Research—Innocenti is pleased to launch this think piece series on gender-responsive age-sensitive social protection in low- and middle-income countries. This series seeks to stimulate thinking and dialogue, and push boundaries on how academics, national governments, and the international community as a whole can improve and strengthen social protection systems to achieve the sustainable development goals, such as poverty eradication, whilst contributing to gender equality.
Adolescent girls’ potential to disrupt the gender socialization process: Evidence from Plan International UK’s longitudinal cohort study, ‘Real Choices, Real Lives’
Publication Publication

Adolescent girls’ potential to disrupt the gender socialization process: Evidence from Plan International UK’s longitudinal cohort study, ‘Real Choices, Real Lives’

This brief discusses findings from Plan International UK’s ‘Real Choices, Real Lives’ report, which explores factors in adolescent girls’ lives across Benin, Togo and Uganda that may influence them to ‘accept’ or ‘disrupt’ the gender socialization process. The brief focuses on one of a handful of qualitative longitudinal studies addressing the challenges of gender norms in low- and middle-income country settings, providing crucial evidence in these countries to address Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality.
Exploring the potential of cash transfers to delay early marriage and pregnancy among youth in Malawi and Zambia
Publication Publication

Exploring the potential of cash transfers to delay early marriage and pregnancy among youth in Malawi and Zambia

There is increasing interest in the potential of cash transfers to facilitate safe transitions to adulthood among vulnerable youth in low-income settings. However, little evidence exists that analyses these linkages from at-scale government-run programmes. This brief summarizes the impacts of two government-run large-scale unconditional cash transfers on outcomes of early marriage and pregnancy among youth in Malawi and Zambia after approximately three years. Results indicate limited impacts on safe transitions for both males and females. However, the programmes were successful in reducing poverty and improving schooling outcomes—two main pathways for safe transitions as reported in the literature. Research implications include the need to study transitions over longer time periods, including tracking of youth as they transition out of study households. If reducing early marriage and pregnancy is among policy makers’ primary priorities, then dedicated programming via cash plus or services specifically targeted at addressing the needs of adolescents and youth should be considered.
Research that Drives Change: Conceptualizing and Conducting Nationally Led Violence Prevention Research
Publication Publication

Research that Drives Change: Conceptualizing and Conducting Nationally Led Violence Prevention Research

Globally, studies have demonstrated that children in every society are affected by physical, sexual and emotional violence. The drive to both quantify and qualify violence through data and research has been powerful: discourse among policy makers is shifting from “this does not happen here” to “what is driving this?” and “how can we address it?” To help answer these questions, the Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children – conducted in Italy, Viet Nam, Peru and Zimbabwe – sought to disentangle the complex and often interrelated underlying causes of violence affecting children (VAC) in these four countries. Led by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti with its academic partner, the University of Edinburgh, the Study was conducted by national research teams comprised of government, practitioners and academic researchers in each of the four countries.
A mixed-method review of cash transfers and intimate partner violence in low and middle-income countries
Publication Publication

A mixed-method review of cash transfers and intimate partner violence in low and middle-income countries

Cash for Women’s Empowerment? A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of the Government of Zambia’s Child Grant Programme
Publication Publication

Cash for Women’s Empowerment? A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of the Government of Zambia’s Child Grant Programme

The paper investigates the assumption that giving cash as part of social safety nets targeted to women will lead to their empowerment. There is a perception that both conditional and unconditional cash transfers will lead to changes in intra-household power dynamics, but the evidence to support this to date is mixed. This evaluation of Zambia’s Child Grant Programme uses mixed methods to examine the four-year impact on women’s household decision-making, empowerment and overall household dynamics.

Journal Articles

Government Anti-Poverty Programming and Intimate Partner Violence in Ghana
Journal Article Journal Article

Government Anti-Poverty Programming and Intimate Partner Violence in Ghana

We examine whether a government cash transfer program, paired with a health insurance premium waiver and targeted to pregnant women and mothers of young children in Ghana, reduced intimate partner violence (IPV). The evaluation took place in two northern regions and followed a 24-month longitudinal quasi-experimental design. Findings show significant decreases in the 12-month frequency of emotional, physical and combined IPV (0.09 – 0.12 standard deviations). Analysis of pathways indicate improvements in economic security and women’s empowerment may account for reductions in IPV. Results indicate a promising role for social protection in improving the lives of pregnant women and new mothers.
Protocol: Impact of social protection on gender equality in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review of reviews
Journal Article Journal Article

Protocol: Impact of social protection on gender equality in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review of reviews

This is the protocol for a Campbell review. The review aims to systematically collect, appraise, map and synthesise the evidence from systematic reviews on the differential gender impacts of social protection programmes in Low‐ and Middle‐Income Countries (LMICs). Therefore, it will answer the following questions: (1) What is known from systematic reviews on the gender‐differentiated impacts of social protection programmes in LMICs? (2) What is known from systematic reviews about the factors that determine these gender‐differentiated impacts? (3) What is known from existing systematic reviews about design and implementation features of social protection programmes and their association with gender outcomes?
COVID-19: Reducing the risk of infection might increase the risk of intimate partner violence
Journal Article Journal Article

COVID-19: Reducing the risk of infection might increase the risk of intimate partner violence

The ongoing pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, the causal agent of the acute respiratory distress syndrome COVID-19, is placing unprecedented stress on healthcare systems and societies as a whole. The rapid spread of the virus in the absence of targeted therapies or a vaccine, is forcing countries to respond with strong preventative measures ranging from mitigation to containment. In extreme cases, quarantines are being imposed, limiting mobility to varying degrees.While quarantines are an effective measure of infection control, they can lead to significant social, economic and psychological consequences. Social distancing fosters isolation; exposes personal and collective vulnerabilities while limiting accessible and familiar support options. The inability to work has immediate economic repercussions and deprives many individuals of essential livelihoods and health care benefits. Psychological consequences may range from stress, frustration and anger to severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A recent review drawing on lessons from past pandemics shows the length of quarantine increases the risk for serious psychological consequences.
Disclosure, reporting and help seeking among child survivors of violence: a cross-country analysis
Journal Article Journal Article

Disclosure, reporting and help seeking among child survivors of violence: a cross-country analysis

Violence against children is a pervasive public health issue, with limited data available across multiple contexts. This study explores the rarely studied prevalence and dynamics around disclosure, reporting and help-seeking behaviours of children who ever experienced physical and/or sexual violence.Using nationally-representative Violence Against Children Surveys in six countries: Cambodia, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania, we present descriptive statistics for prevalence of four outcomes among children aged 13–17 years: informal disclosure, knowledge of where to seek formal help, formal disclosure/help seeking and receipt of formal help. We ran country-specific multivariate logistic regressions predicting outcomes on factors at the individual, household and community levels.The prevalence of help-seeking behaviours ranged from 23 to 54% for informal disclosure, 16 to 28% for knowledge of where to seek formal help, under 1 to 25% for formal disclosure or help seeking, and 1 to 11% for receipt of formal help. Factors consistently correlated with promoting help-seeking behaviours included household number of adult females and absence of biological father, while those correlated with reduced help-seeking behaviours included being male and living in a female-headed household. Primary reasons for not seeking help varied by country, including self-blame, apathy and not needing or wanting services.Across countries examined, help-seeking and receipt of formal services is low for children experiencing physical and/or sexual violence, with few consistent factors identified which facilitated help-seeking. Further understanding of help seeking, alongside improved data quality and availability will aid prevention responses, including the ability to assist child survivors in a timely manner.
Pandemics and Violence Against Women and Children
Journal Article Journal Article

Pandemics and Violence Against Women and Children

Times of economic uncertainty, civil unrest and disaster are linked to a myriad of risk factors for increased violence against women and children (VAW/C). Pandemics are no exception. In fact, the regional or global nature and associated fear and uncertainty associated with pandemics provide an enabling environment that may exacerbate or spark diverse forms of violence. Understanding mechanisms underlying these dynamics are important for crafting policy and program responses to mitigate adverse effects. Based on existing published and grey literature, we document nine main (direct and indirect) pathways linking pandemics and VAW/C, through effects of (on):(1) economic insecurity and poverty-related stress, (2) quarantines and social isolation, (3) disaster and conflict-related unrest and instability, (4) exposure to exploitative relationships due to changing demographics, (5) reduced health service availability and access to first responders, (6) inability of women to temporarily escape abusive partners, (7) virus-specific sources of violence, (8) exposure to violence and coercion in response efforts, and (9) violence perpetrated against health care workers. We also suggest additional pathways with limited or anecdotal evidence likely to effect smaller sub-groups. Based on these mechanisms, we suggest eight policy and program responses for action by governments, civil society, international and community-based organizations. Finally, as research linking pandemics directly to diverse forms of VAW/C is scarce, we lay out a research agenda comprising three main streams, to better (1) understand the magnitude of the problem, (2) elucidate mechanisms and linkages with other social and economic factors and (3) inform intervention and response options. We hope this paper can be used by researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to help inform further evidence generation and policy action while situating VAW/C within the broader need for intersectional gender- and feminist-informed pandemic response.
Cash Transfers, Early Marriage, and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia
Journal Article Journal Article

Cash Transfers, Early Marriage, and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia

Understanding the Relationships Between HIV and Child Marriage: Conclusions From an Expert Consultation
Journal Article Journal Article

Understanding the Relationships Between HIV and Child Marriage: Conclusions From an Expert Consultation

Stimulated by careful reviews of the literature undertaken by the World Health Organization and Girls Not Brides, in November 2018, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Girls Not Brides convened experts from academia, civil society, and bilateral and multilateral institutions for a consultation that aimed to better understand what is and what is not known about this relationship, as well as to identify priorities for policies and programs. This article summarizes some key conclusions and recommendations from that convening.
Exploring Impacts of Community-Based Legal Aid on Intrahousehold Gender Relations in Tanzania
Journal Article Journal Article

Exploring Impacts of Community-Based Legal Aid on Intrahousehold Gender Relations in Tanzania

Community-based legal aid (CBLA) has been promoted as a promising intervention to reach rural marginalized populations who face barriers to accessing formal legal services and is increasingly implemented with the specific goal of protecting women's rights. This study evaluates the impact of a twelve-month CBLA program in northwestern Tanzania on intrahousehold gender relations using a clustered-randomized control trial across 139 villages. Among 1,219 women, the study finds those in treatment villages are more likely to refer others to paralegals for a variety of domestic issues; however, there are no measureable impacts on aggregate knowledge of marital law, intrahousehold decision making, or reported experience of twelve-month intimate partner violence. These overall results are robust to a number of other sensitivity analyses, including accounting for spillovers, attrition bounds, and modeling choices. While these results indicate limited potential for intrahousehold and gender-progressive change, program duration and intensity likely affected measurable positive impacts.
Income transfers, early marriage and fertility in Malawi and Zambia
Journal Article Journal Article

Income transfers, early marriage and fertility in Malawi and Zambia

There is increasing interest in the ability of cash transfers to facilitate safe transitions to adulthood in low‐income settings; however, evidence from scaled‐up government programming demonstrating this potential is scarce. Using two experimental evaluations of unconditional cash transfers targeted to ultra‐poor and labor‐constrained households over approximately three years in Malawi and Zambia, we examine whether cash transfers delayed early marriage and pregnancy among youth aged 14 to 21 years at baseline. Although we find strong impacts on poverty and schooling, two main pathways hypothesized in the literature, we find limited impacts on safe transition outcomes for both males and females. In addition, despite hypotheses that social norms may constrain potential impacts of cash transfer programs, we show suggestive evidence that pre‐program variation in social norms across communities does not significantly affect program impact. We conclude with policy implications and suggestions for future research.
Context and Measurement: An analysis of the relationship between intrahoushold decision making and autonomy
Journal Article Journal Article

Context and Measurement: An analysis of the relationship between intrahoushold decision making and autonomy

Using data from two culturally distinct locales, Bangladesh and Ghana, we investigate whether men and women who report sole decision making in a particular domain experience stronger (or weaker) feelings of autonomous motivation—measured using the Relative Autonomy Index (RAI)—compared to those who report joint decision making. Used primarily in psychology, the RAI measures the extent to which an individual’s actions are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, where higher scores indicate greater autonomy. On aggregate, we find differences between men and women, and across countries, in the significance of association between the individual’s level of participation in decision-making and autonomy. In addition, we find heterogeneity in the strength of this association, depending on the domain (e.g., productive versus personal decisions) and whether partners agree on who normally makes decisions. These findings imply that details related to context and measurement matter for understanding individual decision-making power. We argue that all research using information on decision-making should include a careful analysis of men’s and women’s perceptions of decision making within the household, which may be useful for calibrating indicators to suit specific contexts.
A mixed-method review of Intimate partner violence and cash transfers in low- and middle-income countries
Journal Article Journal Article

A mixed-method review of Intimate partner violence and cash transfers in low- and middle-income countries

There is increasing evidence that cash transfer (CT) programs decrease intimate partner violence (IPV). However, little is known about how CTs achieve this impact. We conducted a mixed-method review of studies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Fourteen quantitative and eight qualitative studies met our inclusion criteria, of which eleven and five, respectively, demonstrated evidence that CTs decrease IPV. We found little support for increases in IPV, with only two studies showing overall mixed or adverse impacts. Drawing on these studies, as well as related bodies of evidence, we developed a program theory proposing three pathways through which CT could impact IPV: (a) economic security and emotional well-being, (b) intra-household conflict, and (c) women's empowerment. The economic security and well-being pathway hypothesizes decreases in IPV, while the other two pathways have ambiguous effects depending on program design features and behavioral responses to program components. Future studies should improve IPV measurement, empirical analysis of program mechanisms, and fill regional gaps. Program framing and complementary activities, including those with the ability to shift intra-household power relations are likely to be important design features for understanding how to maximize and leverage the impact of CTs for reducing IPV, and mitigating potential adverse impacts. Intimate partner violence. Domestic violence. Cash transfers. Women's empowerment
Still a leap of faith: Microfinance for prevention of violence against women and girls in low- and middle-income settings
Journal Article Journal Article

Still a leap of faith: Microfinance for prevention of violence against women and girls in low- and middle-income settings

Economic strengthening interventions, including microfinance initiatives have been proposed as promising strategies to reduce interpersonal violence in low-income and middle-income settings. Despite these recommendations, there is little rigorous empirical evidence that microfinance alone or synergistically with gender norms or equity training can reduce violence against children or intimate partner violence.We call for further investments in evidence generation around economic strengthening before scaling-up potentially ineffective interventions
Children’s Roles in Social Reproduction: reexamining the discourse on care through a child lens
Journal Article Journal Article

Children’s Roles in Social Reproduction: reexamining the discourse on care through a child lens

Care and domestic work have gained attention in the global policy discourse, particularly following feminist research and activism showing its burden for women. However, these debates and political demands have generally overlooked children’s contribution to social reproduction within and beyond the household. Empirical evidence shows that many children assume care and domestic responsibilities from an early age, with an increasingly gendered pattern as they grow. While such work can provide a learning opportunity, the time, energy and emotional labour put into it can be detrimental to their wellbeing. In this article, we review the empirical evidence on children’s care and domestic work in developing countries, and argue that understanding children’s roles in these tasks can complement the existing social reproduction scholarship, uncovering the intra-household and intergenerational distribution of care and domestic responsibilities, its determinants and effects on child wellbeing. We conclude by noting key conceptual and evidence gaps, and suggesting future research directions. 
An empirical exploration of female child marriage determinants in Indonesia
Journal Article Journal Article

An empirical exploration of female child marriage determinants in Indonesia

This research fills a gap in understanding of child marriage determinants in Indonesia. There appears to be little support for child marriage among girls and young women, indicating an entry point for structural interventions that would lead to lasting change. Future research efforts should prioritize rigorous testing of gender-transformative education and economic strengthening interventions, including cost-effectiveness considerations to better understand how interventions and policies can be leveraged to deliver on ending child marriage in Indonesia and globally.