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ADDRESSING INEQUALITIES
The Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Future We Want for All Global Thematic Consultation

GENDER INEQUALITY AND CULTURAL NORMS AND VALUES: ROOT CAUSES PREVENTING GIRLS FROM EXITING A LIFE OF POVERTY Zainul Sajan Virgi, PhD – McGill University October 2012

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ABSTRACT Abject generational poverty is a systemic issue which strips communities, particularly girls of their power, visibility and their capacity to direct change in their lives. From the moment girls are born, two over-shadowing elements restrict their lives – gender inequality and cultural norms and values. This paper focuses on the lives of a group of girls living in a periurban community outside of Maputo, Mozambique. Using participatory methodologies, we hear directly from the girls the influencing role gender and culture has in preventing girls from accessing a higher quality of life. Noticeably absent in girls and poverty related dialogue are the voices of girls living with poverty, as well as the fundamental role of gender inequality and culture in relation to the opportunity and capacity of girls becoming visible, having voice and agency and ultimately leaving a life of poverty.

BIO Dr. Zainul Sajan Virgi’s research is based in Maputo, Mozambique where she is focusing on the lives of vulnerable pre-adolescent and adolescent girls and the possibilities for accessing a higher quality of life “as seen through their eyes”. Zainul is the first recipient of the Jackie Kirk Fellowship in Education. Zainul has worked as a community / international development expert in Canada, Mozambique,Tanzania, and India. She has utilized her research skills and translated the outcomes into recommendations which have been implemented successfully by governments, non-profit organizations, as well as donor agencies.

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“Children, particularly girls, continue to inherit family poverty. This cycle must be broken.” UNESCO, 2003 p. 5

INTRODUCTION Childhood poverty is a reality in every part of the world. Today, one billion children globally live with poverty (HDR, 2012). Of which 30 million children live in relative poverty in 35 of the world’s richest countries (UNICEF, 2012).Eradicating poverty and in particular girlhood poverty has been an elusive goal. In 1948, governments, decisions makers, donors and NGOs first committed to eradicating poverty by adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (OHCHR). A more concerted effort was made towards eliminating childhood poverty with the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989. The CRC was designed to protect the child and ensure that s/he was able to access a higher quality of life. In September 2000, the largest gathering of world leaders in history approved the UN Millennium Declaration which included as one of its key goals, the eradication of poverty and hunger by 2015 (MDG website). With focused attention on poverty that began 64 years ago, some progress has been made, however much work remains as noted by the following statistics. One billion children or 1 in every 7 individuals continue to be deprived of one or more essential services for survival. 1.1 million children do not attend primary school (UNICEF, 2010). 640 million children are living without adequate shelter; 400 million children do not have access to safe water, 270 million children do not have access to health services. 10.6 million children died before they reached the age of 5 in 2003; about 29,000 children per day (Shah, 2010). An estimated 60 percent of the chronically hungry are women and girls and 20 percent are children under the age of five (WFP, 2009). Why Girlhood Poverty? A wide body of diverse research in the fields of anthropology, developmental psychology, medicine, sociology, and education (Shonkoff, 2009; UNICEF, 2008) all underscore the importance of development during the early years of childhood in relation to the formation of intelligence, personality, and...
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