Ending Harmful Practices: Voices from the Field

IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney addresses the audience.

A Capitol Hill Briefing Series Inspired by Sustainable Development Goal #5: “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls”

by Deyala El-Haddad*

On Wednesday, July 18, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) co-hosted a briefing to discuss harmful practices endured by women and girls globally, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Sustainable development goal (SDG) 5 has identified the need to end practices that are considered harmful by international human rights standards because they violate the rights of women and girls.

Key takeaways from the briefing include:

  • The SDGs signal a clear commitment to the development, growth and realization of human rights for all people around the world. SDG5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment recognizes that true growth and development will be achieved if half of the world’s population is left behind. 
  • Child, early and forced marriage, FGM, virginity tests, polygamy, and “honor” crimes are all practices rooted in gender inequality.
  • These practices can heavily impact a woman or girl’s health, economic empowerment, political participation and overall ability to exercise her human rights. 
  • Experiencing harmful practices also leads to disempowerment and disengagement from all aspects of life – access to education is endangered, gender-based violence ensues, economic participation is threatened, and engagement in civic and political life is rarely considered. These practices demonstrate and reinforce to women and girls that they are valued less in society.
  • The International Center for Research on Women has made an enormous amount of progress by increasing rates of global advocacy. As a result, 25 million girls have not been married as children. However, 6,000 girls are still suffering FGM every single day. Progress must continue to overcome these rates. 
  • A holistic approach is needed to prevent FGM and child marriage. It is critical to address both causes of and solutions to these issues by raising girls’ voices and empowering them.
  • The higher the level of education that a girl’s parents have, the less likely she is to suffer FGM or early marriage. Sustainable development needs women. CARE is an international humanitarian organization whose work focuses on girls and women in 94 countries and connects them with advocacy movements and educational programs.
  • Girls who face child marriage are immediately taken out of school, reducing their ability to become self-sufficient, have independent lives and secure an income. They are also more likely to become pregnant, leading to both mental and physical health issues.
  • A grassroots approach is needed to address personal and cultural issues. Female survivors can help address these issues, provide solutions and offer paths forward. 
  • We need to change the behavior of people who are still practicing FGM and child marriage. Approaches include creating sensitization campaigns in which people raise awareness in their networks and communities and involving the government in any awareness and policy campaigns.

The event featured remarks by Bill Sweeney, IFES president and CEO, and was moderated by Dr. Gabrielle Bardall, IFES senior gender specialist. Panelists included Rachel Clement, policy advocate at the International Center for Research on Women; Gayatri Patel, gender and empowerment senior policy advocate at CARE USA; and Mónica de Pinto Ribeiro Hancke, advocacy expert.

A video of the event is available below.

The discussion was the fifth installment of a briefing series organized by IFES exploring each element of SDG5. Previous panel topics include “Addressing Violence Against Women in Politics,” “Women’s Political Empowerment: A Conversation on Capitol Hill,” “Violence Against Women in the Workplace” and "Ending All Forms of Discrimination Against All Women and Girls Everywhere”.

The next briefing on “Women and Technology” will take place on September 19, 2018.

Contact esidell@ifes.org for more information.

*Deyala El-Haddad is an administrative coordinator at IFES.