Gender Inequality Starts at Age 10, Lasts Into Next Generation: Study
Gender identity, norms, and roles consolidate during early adolescence to a degree that shapes individuals’ lives into adulthood as well as the lives of their children, a new study has found. And so, the researchers called this age “crucial” to addressing gender inequality.
Published in The Lancet Global Health journal, the study involved a systemic analysis of gender inequality during childhood and adolescence across 40 low and middle-income countries in Asia and the Pacific, including India. Funded by UNICEF, the researchers focused on 87 indicators measuring health, education, transition to employment, protection, and safety of home life.
“What was striking… was how consistently gender inequality emerges in early adolescence across broad areas of well-being. From around 10 years of age, there are very different risks, outcomes and opportunities for girls and boys, with these gender inequalities persisting into later adolescence and early adulthood,” said study leader Dr. Elissa Kennedy, co-director of maternal, child and adolescent health at the Burnet Institute in Australia.
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The study found that adolescent girls experienced a higher burden of poor sexual reproductive health, violence, and were substantially more likely to be married as children. In addition, despite achieving equality in secondary education in several countries surveyed, they didn’t always transition to further education, training, or employment. In terms of the effect of gender inequality on adolescent boys, the study found they were more prone to violence, injury, higher rates of harmful drinking and smoking, and even suicide. The researchers also found that boys were more likely than girls to be engaged in child labor and hazardous work.
“These findings signify that for adolescents, puberty brings on a very different engagement with the world around them, with harmful gender norms resulting in very different opportunities for girls and boys. Gender norms and patriarchal systems that assign a lower status to girls and enforce narrow, rigid ideals of masculinity harm both girls and boys,” said study co-author Peter Azzopardi, co-head of Burnet’s Global Adolescent Health Research Group.
The study notes that “existing gender measurement frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals, are primarily focused on adult women, consistent with the substantial inequality and harmful consequences that women face.” The researchers recommend the world shift its focus and undertake more research to understand “when and where to target programs and investments relating to gender equality in the first two decades of life” in order to address gender equality more effectively.