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Gender equality

We seek gender equality because all lives — hers, theirs and his — are equal.

Gender equality is achieved when people of all genders have equal rights and the opportunity to exercise them. Gender equality is a human right and should be enjoyed by women, men and gender non-binary people. 

Society has made progress to advance gender equality, but we still have huge gender gaps. All around the world, women are more likely than men to face discrimination and live in poverty and are less likely to have the power to change their circumstances.  

Gender inequality is human-made and can be overcome. It is caused by gender bias in our systems, structures and attitudes, which create an environment where women and girls are denied the right to learn, earn equal pay and hold leadership positions.

Economic empowerment and equal opportunities 

Women and girls face discrimination at home, at school and in the workplace, which means they do not have the same opportunities as men to earn a fair income. Girls are less likely to go to school and women and girls largely bear the responsibility of unpaid care and household work — an expectation that deprives generation after generation of women the chance to earn a decent living. 

To achieve gender equality, girls must be able to attend school alongside boys. Women must have the opportunity to develop the skills they need to earn an income and access the economic resources they need to live life to the fullest potential. 

Once women have access to the same economic opportunities as men, they have the chance to achieve economic empowerment, become leaders and promote gender equality in their communities. 

Ending violence against women and girls 

Violence against women and girls is one of the most common human rights abuses in the world. To combat gender-based violence, Oxfam advocates for stronger legal protections and works with duty bearers — like police — to ensure that these laws are enforced. 

In many instances, we work in communities where gender roles are deeply entrenched and result in harmful practices and social norms. We work at the source of the problem by bringing men, women, local organisations and community leaders together to understand, challenge and change the harmful attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence, and to promote gender equality. 

In partnership with local women’s organisations, we provide critical support and a safe place for survivors of violence to heal. When women and girls can live free from the threat of violence and experience safety and security, they can live full, happy and productive lives. 

Challenging patriarchal structures 

Our society is built on patriarchal structures that keep women and girls in poverty. To achieve gender equality, women must be at the table where decisions about their lives are made. That’s why Oxfam supports programs that connect women with opportunities to gain the skills and confidence to speak up, be counted, lead and drive change. 

Many women and girls miss out on leadership opportunities because of the time they devote to caring and domestic work. Oxfam works with families to help them understand and redistribute unpaid work, so everyone has the chance to learn, earn a decent living and succeed. 

We also advocate for changes to harmful laws, structures and practices to build a more inclusive society where all genders have equal rights and opportunities. 

How is Oxfam promoting gender equality?

At Oxfam, we ensure that all our work, and the way we do it, contributes to gender equality by transforming the balance of power between women and men.

This means making sure that women and men are consulted and their different needs and perspectives are considered at all stages of our work. By doing this we ensure that our programs help change existing gender imbalances. Our work towards gender justice falls into three primary areas:

  1. Women’s economic empowerment
  2. Women’s participation and leadership
  3. Ending violence against women and girls.

What is Oxfam doing to help?

Right across the globe, we partner with local organisations and governments to implement programs and projects that promote women’s rights and gender equality. Here are just a few of the many ways we are making a difference:

In Fiji, we are supporting people in sexual and gender minority communities, leading to opportunities for women’s economic empowerment. 

In Pakistan, we are working with women towards increasing their leadership opportunities and gaining equal participation in political processes. 

In Papua New Guinea, we are striving to end violence against women and girls, including sorcery-related violence.

In Solomon Islands, we are engaging with men and boys, motivating them to reject domestic violence and adopt healthy attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls. 

In Vanuatu, we are supporting programs that are creating opportunities for women, people with disabilities, young people and sexual and gender minority communities to earn a living. 

Gender equality facts 

  • Women and girls are often denied the right to education (UNESCO, 2020). 
  • Women perform most of the world’s unpaid care work, such as taking care of children and elderly relatives, which reduces their ability to participate in the paid workforce (The BMJ, 2021). 
  • The global gender pay gap means that women earn 20% less than men on average (International Labour Organization, 2022). 
  • In many countries, women cannot access reproductive health services or make decisions about their own bodies (United Nations Population Fund, 2021). 
  • Women are particularly vulnerable to poverty between the ages of 25 and 34, when they are most likely to have young children (UN Women, 2021). 
  • One in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime (World Health Organization, 2021). 
  • One in three girls aged 15-19 have experienced some form of female genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East — where the harmful practice is most common — with a high risk of prolonged bleeding, infection (including HIV), childbirth complications, infertility and death (United Nations, 2020). 
  • The global prevalence of child marriage has declined by about 10% in the past five years (United Nations,2022). 

All lives are equal

Timor-Leste

Natalia’s story

Oecusse, Timor-Leste: Natalia Falo, pictured at her home where she says her partner Norbertu has taken a more active role in domestic chores after participating in Oxfam's Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training as part of the Hakbiit program. The family are also saving more money from selling animals and agricultural production. Photo: Ismenio Pereira/Oxfam

Before she put pen to paper, Natalia's dream for a new house may have seemed unattainable. But her happy new home is proof that if you can see it, you can be it.

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Pakistan

Samreen's story

Future female leader in Pakistan

Many 17 year olds look forward to the moment when they turn 18 and can legally vote but not many plan to stand for election the same year.

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Papua New Guinea

Onano’s story

Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea: Onano John prepares to collect honey from her hives in the Eastern Highlands. Photo: Patrick Moran/OxfamAUS

When women can earn a living it not only improves gender equality, it also helps whole communities lift themselves out of poverty.

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Papua New Guinea

Eriko’s story

Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea: Eriko Fuferefa, Director of KUSWA and a survivor of gender-based violence. Photo: OxfamAUS

Violence against women and girls is alarmingly common in Papua New Guinea. Oxfam is working with trailblazers like Eriko to empower women and build a safer future.

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Papua New Guinea

Brenda’s story

Oxfam has been providing rainwater harvesting systems and tanks, and gravity-fed water supply systems to store enough rainwater for schools and whole communities.

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Faqs

What does gender equality mean? 

Oxfam recognises gender equality as full equality and equity between women, gender non-binary people and men. This means that, in all areas of life, women and gender non-binary people are equal with men, and have equal say in defining and shaping the policies and decisions that affect their lives and society as a whole. 

Why is gender equality an issue? 

Gender equality is a human right, yet women and girls face discrimination because of their gender all around the world. Gender inequality is the reason that more women live in poverty, fewer girls are in school, and women and girls experience gender-based violence. In many parts of the world, people are also discriminated on the basis of their gender identity and expression, as well as their sexual orientation or sex characteristics. 

Why is achieving gender equality important for sustainable development? 

Gender discrimination can directly affect a person’s ability to access and control resources, such as money and services. This explains why gender and poverty are so connected. Often, we work in regions where harmful attitudes about gender are deeply entrenched. So, we make sure we engage whole communities to question and tackle the beliefs and behaviours that perpetuate inequality. 

We also support projects around the world that empower sexual and gender minority communities, and tackle the belief systems that stop these communities from having the opportunity to participate equally in the world around them. 

What is women's empowerment? 

Women's empowerment refers to actions that promote the development of women's skills, knowledge and confidence to equally engage in education, work and decisions that impact their lives. 

What are the seven Women's Empowerment Principles? 

The Women’s Empowerment Principles were developed by UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact to guide business on how to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. 
The seven Women's Empowerment Principles are: 
1. Create high-level corporate leadership for gender equality. 
2. Treat all people fairly at work, respecting and supporting non-discrimination and human rights. 
3. Ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of all workers, whether male or female. 
4. Promote education, training and professional development for women. 
5. Implement supply chain marketing practices and enterprise development that empower women. 
6. Champion equality through community initiatives and advocacy. 
7. Measure and report publicly on progress to create gender equality. 

What are some examples of gender inequality in Australia? 

1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men in Australia have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime (ABS, 2021). 
Women of all ages in Australia spend nine hours a week more than men on unpaid work and care work (ABS, 2021). 
Women approaching retirement in Australia have 23.1% less superannuation than men of the same age (ATO, 2020). 
 

How does education improve gender equality? 

Girls are less likely to go to school than boys because poor families may prioritise educating their sons over their daughters, or schools may not be equipped with sanitation facilities to make school a welcoming place for girls. 

Yet educating girls is one of the most direct ways to overcome poverty. Educated girls become educated women, who are more likely to lead healthy and productive lives and pass those benefits on to their own children. 

How do we achieve gender equality? 

At Oxfam, we believe that achieving gender equality means more than giving women and girls equal rights. It means appointing women to more leadership roles. It means ending the sexual and physical violence that women face and providing access to reproductive health care. And it means working with men and boys to debunk beliefs and systems that oppress women. There’s been great progress on women’s rights in many parts of the world, but the quest for gender equality is unfinished. 

What can I do to help achieve gender equality? 

1. Challenge yourself to have a conversation with people around you about the importance of tackling gender inequality. We know tricky conversations are hard — but they are a great opportunity to change someone’s mind. 
2. Ask yourself if there is an equal division of labour in your own home or workplace. If you notice imbalances, try to have an open and honest conversation with those around you about the changes you’d like to make. 
3. Be brave. Call out discriminatory behaviours impacting you or the women and sexual and gender minority communities around you. 
4. Support Oxfam’s work around the world with a donation. We ensure that all of our work and the way we do it contributes to gender equality by transforming the balance of power between women, gender non-binary people and men. 

Oxfam reports on gender equality

Oxfam’s Conceptual Framework on Women’s Economic Empowerment (2018)

Women make up the majority of the world’s low-paid workers and they work mostly in the most precarious jobs. The full spectrum of women’s work is not recognised or respected, resulting in economic policies which undervalue women’s unpaid work and stigmatise women’s informal paid work. Creating decent work for women requires services and infrastructure to support unpaid care; ending the gender pay gap; and equal access to resources.

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Survivors of Violence Become Leaders of Change: Lessons from Women in the Pacific (2016)

The Pacific has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world: in some Pacific countries, two in three women have experienced violence from a partner. Non-partner sexual violence and family violence are also rife. The most effective way to reduce violence against women and girls is to address the root causes, such as gender inequality, and provide survivors with access to justice and support.

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Transforming Harmful Gender Norms in Solomon Islands: A study of the Oxfam Safe Families Program (2016)

This study presents evidence to help us understand the process of shifting harmful social norms that drive family and sexual violence in Solomon Islands. It will contribute to emerging evidence around what works to end violence against women and to broader research around violence prevention in the Pacific region.

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Women, Communities and Mining: The Gender Impacts of Mining and the Role of Gender Impact Assessment (2022)

This report presents a gender impact assessment framework to help avoid the potential negative gender impacts of mining. By doing a gender impact assessment, mining companies can ensure that their activities respect the rights of women and men; promote women’s empowerment and participation in community decision-making processes; and increase the benefits of mining. The report also encourages the informed and meaningful participation of women and men from mining-affected communities.

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