Equality for Girls & Women
Men and women are born with equal rights. Societies with greater equality between men and women are healthier, safer and more prosperous. Equality for girls and women is a core focus of The Elders’ work.
While men and women are born equal, gender inequality still persists in every society. The deep-rooted belief that women do not deserve equal treatment underpins violence against women and is used to deny girls and women fair access to education, health, employment, property and influence.
The failure to root out prejudice against girls and women is one of the major barriers to progress and prosperity. Gender discrimination also breaches international human rights agreements and domestic laws in most countries.
There are signs of progress. During the lifetimes of the Elders, in almost every society and in every area, women are breaking down the barriers which have held them and their daughters back for so long. Gender equality is increasingly understood to be a major policy priority for governments worldwide, and its realisation is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals.
The Elders are totally committed to supporting equality for men and women, girls and boys, in all aspects of life.
When girls and women’s rights are denied, their whole community suffers. For societies to flourish, The Elders believe women must be given the security and opportunity they need to make the most of their talents, participate fully in their communities, and live a life free from abuse and neglect.
However, if women are to enjoy equal rights and participate fully in their societies, this cannot be a fight left to girls and women alone. Each person, whether male or female, is responsible for respecting the rights of girls and women and challenging practices which foster discrimination and unfair treatment.
Everyone - men and women, girls and boys - stands to gain. Equal societies are healthier, safer and more prosperous societies.
Jimmy Carter meets young women and representatives of women’s organisations, the West Bank, August 2009
Equality for girls and women has been a core priority for the Elders since the group was founded and has formed a central part of all their work - from promoting the role of women in peace-building, to meeting women’s groups whenever they visit a country in crisis.
In 2009, The Elders took on the impact of religion and tradition on women’s rights as a major concern. Between 2010 and 2012, this work focused on addressing the harmful practice of child marriage.
Religious values and traditional customs provide comfort to millions of people, stability for societies and are major force for good in our world. However, they have also been used throughout history to justify and entrench discrimination against women and girls. The Elders challenge the use of religion and tradition to perpetuate inequality.
“Religion and tradition are a great force for peace and progress around the world. However, as Elders, we believe that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.
“We believe that women and girls share equal rights with men and boys in all aspects of life. We call upon all leaders to promote and protect equal rights for women and girls. We especially call on religious and traditional leaders to set an example and change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.
“The Elders are fully committed to the realisation of equality and empowerment of all women and girls.”
Statement by The Elders, 2 July 2009
Religion and tradition are often misused to justify the practice of child marriage, which is why the Elders have focused on supporting efforts to end this practice. Graça Machel speaks for all the Elders when she says, “traditions are made by us – and we can decide to change them. We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities.”
Child marriage affects millions of girls worldwide. Marrying young usually ends a girl's education – increasing the likelihood that she will live in poverty – and puts her at greater risk of injury or death due to early sexual activity and early childbearing.
In 2010 The Elders brought together civil society groups, grassroots activists and campaigners from around the world working to end this harmful practice. Find out more about Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.
Read more about The Elders' work on child marriage.