A person reads a newspaper. Photo by: Kaboompics / Pexels / CC 0

Nowhere on earth do girls and women have the same opportunities as boys and men. Nowhere.

You have seen headlines in the news about the glaring gender gap across the world, headlines like “Gender inequality is stunting economic progress” or “Sexism is making global health epidemics worse.” In my home country of Benin on the Western Coast of Africa, 7 in 10 young women can’t read them.

Imagine instead waking up and seeing CBC, CNN, Africa24 and BBC broadcasting news that gender equality has been achieved — “She did it!” or “Women and girls equal and empowered.”  

But, at our current rate of progress, we won’t see global gender equality for another 108 years. This is unacceptable, but we have the power to make gender equality a reality in my lifetime.

In order to achieve results for women, we must first acknowledge the barriers that are holding them back. When I was 9 years old, I almost died from an asthma attack. Now, as a doctor and activist, I see the many obstacles women face when it comes to preventing life-threatening diseases, and the drastic consequences that follow.

In sub-Saharan Africa, girls and young women bear the brunt of HIV prevention shortcomings, accounting for 25% of HIV infections in 2017 despite being just 10% of the population. In 2015, 303,000 mothers died from pregnancy-related causes — that’s almost half the population of Vancouver, Canada. While we are making progress, thousands of girls and women are left behind.

We have the resources to ensure women and girls can access the health, education, and societal opportunities they need to thrive. Programs like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will help rewrite the headlines so we can one day wake up to the breaking news that “No woman contracted HIV last year.” Organizations like Women Deliver, United Nations Population Fund and FEMNET bring us closer to the day when we wake up to the news of #MeToo to #NoOne.

Others like Merck for Mothers and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are working tirelessly to build a world with zero maternal deaths where mothers survive and thrive.

These are the stories that should be dominating the news. We deserve a world where your daughter or sister will grow up with the same opportunities as her male peers, be paid equally, and not face threats of sexual violence. We can accelerate progress, and it starts with ordinary people influencing their elected leaders.  

People can doubt the impact their voice has for change, but I have seen how activism changes communities. When we realize that our dreams are intrinsically tied to the dreams of our neighbors, we take the steps, together, to close gaps that divide us.

In Benin, I founded the Young Beninese Leaders Association to see young women educated, healthy, and safe. And together with other strong women in my community, we have empowered more than 10,000 youth on HIV awareness and reproductive health as well as 3,000 girls and women through developing skills and mentoring on girl’s education, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

We all have a role to play. Gender equality doesn’t just benefit women and girls, but men and boys, families, communities, businesses. Closing the gender gaps in society and the economy could boost the global gross domestic product by up to $28 trillion by 2025. We can lift up the entire world, but we must take action now.  

We need implementation and accountability at every level — from the G-7 and African Union leaders to our community leaders. This summer, there is a crucial milestone where we can achieve success: the G-7 summit. As the G-7 leaders gather in France to discuss combating inequalities, we need them to know the world is watching ... and that the world is hungry for progress, not promises.  

This week, I will join six other activists from around the world at the Women Deliver conference to present the agenda we want to see from the G-7 leaders. We will set out to drive the conversation to progress, not promises and demand that G-7 leaders put women and girls at the top of the agenda.

We will push those leaders to make real commitments on women and girls’ health, education, and empowerment, with real political will and money behind them.  

Because we don’t have to wait another 108 years, or even another 8 years. This year, let’s make the G-7 stand for gender. Just imagine what the headlines could look like as a result.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Joannie Marlene Bewa

    Dr. Joannie Marlene Bewa founded the Young Beninese Leaders Association, a youth and women-led organization, and is a global advocate for women's health and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.