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Discrimination against women = discrimination against children

This Thursday, 25 November, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and White Ribbon day in the UK — the day when men demonstrate their support for an end to violence against women. Despite much public campaigning, political support and legislation against this extreme form of gender discrimination, it is still pervasive, affecting between 5% and 71% of women across the world.

Violence against women is not only an abuse against the health and human rights of the woman — in many instances it compromises the health and wellbeing of their current and future children.

A new briefing by Save the Children demonstrates that extreme acts of gender discrimination perpetuated against women, such as abuse, harmful traditional practices (such as female genital mutilation) and/or child marriage severely affect the life chances of their children.

A study across 28 obstetric centres in six African countries found that women who had undergone female genital mutilation were significantly more likely than others to have caesarean sections, post-partum haemorrhaging, prolonged labour, resuscitation of the infant and low birth weight, and to die during in–patient prenatal care.

Gender discrimination impacts on the health and wellbeing of children through more subtle channels as well, for example traditional gender roles that limit women’s ability to work outside the home can prevent mothers from earning an independent income. When women have financial independence this can improve their intra-household decision making ability, positively impacting on child health.

Tackling violence against women and other forms of gender discrimination demands action at many levels; within households and communities (particularly important is to work with men), with local and central governments so as to bring about better legislation and recourse to justice, and with the international community to strengthen the implementation of international agreements such as the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

To ensure future generations do not suffer the second-hand affects of gender discrimination a number of additional steps are required, such as addressing the demand-side barriers to sexual and reproductive health services. More information on these steps and the interconnections between gender discrimination and child survival can be found in our new briefing.

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