• A new analysis from the International Rescue Committee finds that women and girls living in large refugee-hosting countries have not experienced global rates of progress over the past 25 years.

  • Despite global gains, rates of school enrollment, literacy, access to birth certificates, and more are deteriorating among women and girls in conflict settings.

  • As the United Nations enters the Decade of Action, women and girls living within these contexts must be better accounted for in development plans and funding efforts so that they are not left further behind.

As the world commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, a new analysis from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) finds that women and girls in conflict settings have not achieved the same level of progress toward gender equality as global rates. The analysis looked across more than a dozen measures indicative of gender equality in ten “high-hosting countries” for refugees and internally displaced peoples -- Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, and Uganda--covering 33 databases and sources[1].

The world is vastly different than it was in 1995 and one of the most prominent changes is the historic number of people living in forced displacement. There has been a nearly 44% increase in refugees since 1995, with more than 26 million people registered as such in 2019. Across the ten countries selected for analysis, Afghanistan has the largest number of displaced persons at 2.7 million, with over a 350% increase in the number of internally displaced people. Nigeria saw a 4,850% increase in the number of IDPs and a 15,000% increase in the number of refugees from the country.

The countries hosting the largest numbers of displaced people have struggled to achieve gender parity and ensure access to vital services, even from the onset of a person’s life. While 73% of people around the world are now registered at birth, more than 67% of children in Uganda do not have birth certificates. This number increases to 75% in the DRC. Without birth certificates, children cannot access basic services such as education and healthcare. Later in life, girls who were not registered at birth can more easily fall victim to child marriage without proof of age. Additionally, a lack of birth registration can exacerbate an already reduced ability to secure financial services and employment, as well as inherit land and other assets.

In some areas, gains for women and girls have been encouraging. In the past decades there has been a 38% worldwide reduction in maternal mortality, with 211 deaths per 10,000 live births in 2017. Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Pakistan have all seen declines in maternal deaths of more than 50%, while Uganda has experienced fairly steady declines. Contraception use has also improved, with Thailand and Colombia remaining well above the global standard over the past 25 years, and substantial increases taking place in Uganda (365%), Pakistan (98%), Myanmar (81%), and Iraq (42%). Conversely, while the world has seen a 33% reduction in teenage pregnancies, girls in many countries in which the IRC works have been left behind: the DRC has only seen a 2% change, Thailand a 6% change, and Iraq an 8% change.

“The prevailing narrative is that we have made tremendous strides over a relatively short period of time in accelerating progress for women and girls - which is true in some cases,” said Kristin Kim Bart, senior director for gender equality, International Rescue Committee. “Unfortunately, these opportunities and benefits have not been experienced by all, with women and girls living in countries with high levels of refugees and displacement not only unable to reach the same level of advancement, but actually witnessing declines in core areas. Any time that we talk about or commit to “progress for gender equality,” we need to be explicit about how we are going to include women and girls - in all their diversity - in conflict settings through policy and funding. Otherwise, they will continue to be left behind.”

The world has seen an 11% increase in gender parity within primary and secondary school enrollment, which is now at perfect parity when taken at a global average. Countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the DRC, Iraq, Uganda, and Nigeria, however, have never met this global standard. While literacy has improved more for women than men since 1995 (18% vs. 8% respectively), Myanmar has seen decreases in female literacy over time, and despite improvements, Iraq, Uganda, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan have never met global rates. In many of these countries, the double disadvantage of being displaced and being female means that when girls do enter school, they do not always finish due to marriage, pregnancy, or to the obligation to take on household chores.

Another striking element of this analysis was the limited sex disagregated data available at global, country, and population levels. There remains no global data available specific to gender-based violence. Country-specific data, where available, tells a challenging story. Afghanistan has experienced the highest increase in reports of domestic violence (46%), followed by Ethiopia (40%) and the DRC (37%). The ten countries with the highest child marriage prevalence rates are either fragile or extremely fragile. Among the countries analyzed by the IRC, rates in Nigeria are 43%, with Ethiopia at 40% and the DRC at 37%. Furthermore, the percentage of women in Colombia, the DRC, and Pakistan who believe “wife beating” is justified has not improved by any measurable degree, with women in the DRC most likely to validate it.

As the United Nations begins the Decade of Action, it is clear from this analysis of the last 25 years that targeted global efforts need to be made to ensure women and girls in conflict settings are not left further behind, especially as the knock-on effects of COVID-19 derail progress that was made. This includes adequate funding and tailored support, driven by the needs and aspirations of the women themselves.

[1] Citations available upon request.