Promote gender equality and empower women


Goal 3 Promote gender equality and empower women

by Idrissa Ouédraogo. 

From my point of view as a man, I consider women and men as partners in all the processes of life. That means they should share rights as well as responsibilities within the family, and in the whole community and society.

However, in many cultures, when a decision needs to be made in the family or in society, women often do not have as much power as men to make the decision. This is because, as we develop an understanding of life, we start to believe that what we see all around us in our culture is right. We start to believe that 'women are not as valuable as men' and we accept it without questioning.

The main reason why fewer girls attend primary school than boys is that parents believe that boys have more value than girls. Parents think about boys as future family chiefs, who must be prepared for leadership and to earn income for their parents and family. When it comes to deciding who should go to school, parents choose the boy, as he will stay and take care of them later, while the girl will leave the family home to care for her husband and his family. Sometimes, when parents need some of their children to stay away from school to help with domestic chores, look after younger siblings and support the family income, they choose the girls.

We need to challenge the belief that boys are more important than girls and help parents understand that it is equally important to educate girls. Research shows that an educated girl will bring benefits to her family, community and country. Educated women are more likely to:

  • be healthy
  • avoid contracting HIV
  • have healthy children who survive the early years of childhood
  • be capable of producing excellent crop yields
  • earn a high income.

For men and women to be partners and to make decisions together, both men and women sometimes need to challenge the beliefs they have learnt. If we decide to believe that men and women are equally valuable, we will make different choices. Women will be empowered and decisions will be made that are good for the whole family and for the whole community.

What is gender?


Every culture has beliefs about what a man is like and what a woman is like and what women and men should do. Sometimes it can be hard to question these beliefs and talk about them. But if we are willing to face our fear and speak with others, we can find new answers to old problems. The following ideas for discussion can be used in schools, church groups and community groups. The second discussion works best if there are roughly equal numbers of men and women (or boys and girls) present.

What is gender?

  • Introduce the topic by asking people to discuss or write down on pieces of paper the differences between men and women.
  • Then ask them to divide their answers into biological differences and social differences. Provide clear definitions which show how 'sex' and 'gender' are different.

Sex describes the biological and genetic differences between males and females. Only females menstruate, get pregnant, give birth to children and breastfeed. Only men produce sperm and have voices that change at puberty. The differences are the work of nature. They are the same in all cultures and cannot be changed. Christians believe this is how God created men and women.

Gender describes the differences in the way that males and females are expected to behave. For Christians, the goal is to discover what God intended for both men and women, to grow into the likeness of Christ.

Gender roles

  • Divide people into four groups, so there are two groups of men and two groups of women. 
  • The first group of men and the first group of women should each discuss and make a list of how men spend the day. This could be done by drawing a picture or writing the word for each activity, then placing a number of counters on the picture to show how many hours are spent on it. 
  • The second group of men and the second group of women do the same, but this time each group focuses on women's daily activities.
  • Bring all the groups together to discuss the differences.

Gender roles describe what men and women are expected to do. For example, a man is expected to cut down trees and a woman to cook. Gender roles are created by society, not nature. They can change over time in response to new circumstances or ideas. These roles are actually interchangeable - for example, both men and women are physically able to cook.

Since people create gender roles, people can also change them.

Idrissa Ouédraogo is a development consultant in Burkina Faso. He was involved in workshops which led to the publication of the Tearfund case study Gender, HIV and the Church. The discussion points are taken from this publication. You can download it free of charge from the tilz website.

Discussion questions

• What are the good and bad effects of these different gender roles on the lives of men and women in our community?
• Do you think the differences are fair? How would you like to change them?

Progress on Goal 3

Two in every three countries now have equal numbers of boys and girls in primary school.

Other ideas to meet Goal 3

Ask local schools to provide suitable separate sanitation facilities for girls if they do not already exist.

Raise public awareness to reduce girls' responsibilities at home.

In churches, speak out on the equal worth of boys and girls and encourage all to attend school.