Dr. Jennifer McCleary-Sills, director of the Global Program on Violence, Rights and Inclusion at the International Center for Research on Women spoke about the impact of violence against women and the need to work toward gender equality at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Tuesday.
The talk, “The Costs of Exclusion: How Gender Inequality Stymies Global Development” was the first one of the 2016-2017 USC Global Health Lecture Series and was co-hosted by the USC Institute for Global Health and GlobeMed at USC.
During the United Nations Decade of Women from 1976-1985, the international agenda focused on women and spoke about the commitments that the UN member states would make to improving women’s status around the world. According to McCleary-Sills, this period saw an increasing recognition of women’s rights and an increased focus on gender inequalities, particularly on violence against women. Also, the ICRW was founded during this period, in 1976.
“Here, in the United States, it was one of the most thriving periods for the feminist movement,” McCleary-Sills said. “1979 was also a watershed year for global development since the member states of the United Nations committed to eliminating all sorts of discrimination against women including workplace discrimination, health disparities and violence.”
Since then, education has been one of the areas where a good amount of progress has been made. According to McCleary-Sills, girls have been disadvantaged in primary education over boys. However, when it comes to tertiary education, there is a very small gap between the enrolled girls and boys.
“The gap is reducing with time and is much better than what it was 30 years ago,” McCleary-Sills said.
McCleary-Sills currently works as a researcher of the deprivation of rights and gendered dimensions of violence at ICRW. Before joining the ICRW, she was a senior gender-based violence and development specialist at the World Bank Group, where she co-authored the flagship publication “Voice & Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity.”
During the talk, she also presented samples of her recent work in the Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide. She has 15 years of experience as an international development professional and has researched in places like Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific Islands.
McCleary-Sills also spoke about the progress made in the area of health. She said that in spite of prevalent issues like maternal mortality, pregnancy complications and violence against women, the life expectancy of women has improved since 1960. Her research showed the rate of fertility decline from an average of 5 births per woman to 2.5 births per woman.
“The fertility decline is a good thing because the number of children is linked to your health outcomes,” McCleary-Sills said. “As a woman, the number of children I bear is directly proportional to the risks that I bear.”
McCleary-Sills’ research showed the strain of population growth and its effect on a country’s economy and its ability to provide adequate resources for its citizens. She mentioned that income is one of the biggest inequalities that women face. Aspects such as formal employment that requires women to leave their families as opposed to doing work at home or in the community are still not globally accepted.
“Even though women’s labor force participation has increased, the gap in wages in enormous,” McCleary-Sills said. “Unfortunately, there is still a lot of segregation.”
McCleary-Sills’ study shows that globally, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. This amounts to 700 million women across the globe.
“I hope you find that number as jarring as I do,” McCleary-Sills said.
When adding women who have experienced non-partner sexual violence, that number goes up to 818 million. McCleary-Sills’ study shows that 21 percent of women from North America face physical or sexual violence, whereas in South Asia, 43 percent of women face such violence, which is the highest globally. McCleary-Sills said the study also shows that poorer women have a higher risk of being prone to such violence, such as from lack of education or being married to men with low education.
In addition to physical and sexual violence, McCleary-Sills also studied other violence against women such as emotional violence, economic disadvantages, sex trafficking and child marriage.
She discussed the problem of child marriage across the countries and her studies show that this violence against women is prevalent even today. In the United States, child marriage is legal in some states.
“[Child marriage] is very much a problem in the United States and [those of] us at ICRW are working with a few partners in order to eradicate this problem,” McCleary-Sills said.
McCleary-Sills discussed the health impacts a woman faces due to violence. According to her research, violence in a relationship has a 68 percent increased risk of an unintended pregnancy. Other health impacts include low birth weight, preterm birth, abortion and miscarriage.
Moreover, McCleary-Sills mentioned the discrimination that the LGBT community faces and that she does not treat discrimination as a lower form of violence. This discrimination can also impact a country’s growth. Her research of 2012 shows that India’s 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent of GDP can be lost due to discrimination against LGBT community.
“This is a small percentage, but India is a booming economy, and this percentage amounts [from] $712 million to $23 billion,” McCleary-Sills said.
In 2015, the member states of the United Nations adopted the sustainable development goals that need to be achieved by 2030. These goals work towards eradicating poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. McCleary-Sills does most of her work towards achieving the gender equality goal.
“If we don’t fix the gender inequality between men and women, there is no way we are going to achieve the sustainable development goals,” McCleary-Sills said.