Achieving gender equality and eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls is a fundamental human right. Gender inequality and discrimination against young women and girls has often robbed of the right to make their own life decisions; many at times decisions regarding their lives are made behind closed doors without them being consulted or involved in the decisions making processes. This is also exemplified when men make decisions for women and further deprive them of their rights to make decisions about their lives and bodies.
Religion and cultural believes have for many decades robbed young women and girls of their right and space to make decisions about their bodies. Decisions such as when and to whom they get married to are made on their behalf and they are forced to be submissive and not question anything they are told to do. Refusal to adhere is often seen as an act of disregard for culture; especially those that uphold and promote patriarchy. These have increasingly become recurring patterns and it is time for these demeaning practices or beliefs to come to an end; women and girls should be empowered and permitted to make to make their own decisions on all issues that pertain to then and specifically their bodies.
Also, many girls have been stripped of their childhood, forced to grow up, and are not given a chance to enjoy the freedom of being young and free. At a young age, they are forced to take up responsibilities that are not age appropriate and this has resulted enforced unwanted pregnancies which often has led them to drop out of school which totally deprives them of their right to education. Stripping them off their right to education means stripping them of a better future because most schools, especially those in Africa do not allow girls to attend school once they have fallen pregnant. According to WHO an estimated 18 million adolescent girls give birth every year and more than half of them do not go back to school after this.
In addition to the above, millions of young women and girls globally are still denied the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including access to accurate health information and affordable contraceptives which is their basic human right. These inequalities and discrimination need to be addressed so that women and girls can live and achieve their full potential.
Among other factors, poverty is among social challenges that prohibits women and girls from being able to take a stand against gender inequality. Some women have been forced into unwanted marriages with the hope that their families will be taken care of by the wealthy partner. Women and girls living in poverty are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than those who are stable economically, they need to be empowered with skills and knowledge which significantly will reduce their vulnerability to discrimination and gender inequalities.
Furthermore, ensuring that young women and girls realise their right to sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) and have control over their lives and bodies is critical to achieving gender equality. Religious leaders should actively be involved in this struggle to ensure that the SRH rights of young women and girls are upheld and that their dignity is not compromised in any way. Africa is a very cultural continent much as it is a religious one with different interfaith organisations, and religious denominations. If these entities can stand in solidarity through sermons that create awareness about the abuse of women and girls and gender inequality and ensure that girls are not discriminated against, the interfaith sector would be contributing its quota toward an end to gender inequality and all forms of abuse against women and girls.
Religious leaders should break the stereotypes brought by culture and protect the health and dignity of young women and girls. Their involvement in the struggle to end all forms of discrimination faced by young women and girls is important and can assist in achieving gender equality. They should make it known that gender equality is a basic human right and encourage the involvement of young women and girls in decisions made that affect them.