Current status + progress
Gender equality is essential to ensure that every child – girl and boy – has a fair chance in life.
Gender equality means that women and men and girls and boys enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. Investments in gender equality contribute to lifelong positive outcomes for children and their communities and yield considerable inter-generational payoffs, as children’s rights and well-being often depend on the rights and well-being of women.
Gender equality in childhood
Available data suggest that in the first decade of life (0-9 years of age), gender disparities are relatively small, particularly in early childhood. Overall, children are equally likely to be registered at birth and immunized, irrespective of sex. In about half of countries with available data, girls and boys are equally likely to be developmentally on track at 3 and 4 years of age while in the remaining countries the gender gap in developmental status is relatively small and to the advantage of girls. And in most countries, girls and boys are at about equal risk of experiencing violent punishment by caregivers in the home.
However, significant gender differentials persist in some domains and in certain countries. For example, while gender parity in under-5 mortality is observed in most regions of the world, with parity being defined as the mortality rates that would be expected for each sex given girls’ biological advantage in survival, notable gaps persist in 7 countries — primarily located in Southern Asia and Western Asia — where girls’ risk of dying before age 5 is significantly higher than expected for the level of mortality, suggesting entrenched gender-based discriminatory practices.
Gender equality in adolescence
Though girls and boys face similar challenges in early childhood, gender disparities become more pronounced in adolescence (10-19 years of age), a crucial period when boys’ and girls’ attitudes about gender develop and gender norms consolidate. In many places, the onset of puberty is a signal for constraining girls’ movement, schooling, friendships, sexuality and life exposure. Adolescent girls, due to expected gender roles, may also face a disproportionate burden of domestic work, expectations to be married, risks of early pregnancy, as well as sexual and gender-based violence. For instance:
- Worldwide, girls aged 5-9 and 10-14 spend 30 per cent and 50 per cent more of their time, respectively, on household chores than boys of the same age.
- Globally, twenty-two per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 are not in education, employment or training (NEET) compared to twelve per cent of boys of the same age.
- In 2020, seventy-seven per cent of new HIV infections among adolescents aged 10-19 years occurred among girls, worldwide.
- One in every 20 adolescent girls aged 15–19 years, around thirteen million, have experienced forced sex, one of the most violent forms of sexual abuse women and girls can suffer, in their lifetime.
- Around one in three girls aged 15-19 today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 30 countries where it is concentrated.
- In 2019, maternal health conditions – such as haemorrhage, sepsis or obstructed labour – were the second leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19.
- Self-harm is the third leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19, worldwide.
However, as boys transition into adolescence, they also face distinct risk factors due to gender socialization. Constructs of masculinity that encourage physical aggression, emotional stoicism, and sexual promiscuity heighten boys’ risk taking, jeopardizing their physical health and well-being. For example, globally, the homicide rate is 4 times higher among adolescent boys aged 10-19 than among girls of the same age. And adolescent boys are three times more likely than adolescent girls to engage in harmful alcohol consumption, increasing their risk of road injuries, non-communicable diseases and interpersonal violence.
Gender equality in adulthood
To survive and thrive, all children, irrespective of sex or age, require quality care and support from women as well as men, especially fathers. This care and support can be substantially improved by fostering gender equality in adulthood–an important goal in its own right – and by reducing the gender-related barriers that contribute negatively to the wellbeing and rights of children. These barriers range from women’s and girls’ unequal access to resources, information and technology to a lack of safety, mobility, and decision-making, as well as gender norms that circumscribe both women’s and men’s roles and opportunities. For example, in most countries with available time use data, women do more unpaid work, including domestic and care work, than men, limiting women’s ability to enter and progress in the labour market. 
To monitor the status of women and children and track progress toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s commitment to gender equality,  UNICEF produces, compiles, analyses and disseminates gender statistics across a wide range of sectors, including education, health, protection from violence and exploitation, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). It does this by:
- Ensuring that the data collection process does not introduce gender bias and yields high quality gender data. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) is UNICEF’s main instrument to gather nationally-representative sex-disaggregated and gender relevant data for children, women and men. Access a list of sex-disaggregated and gender-specific indicators available in MICS.
- Maintaining global databases sourced from administrative records, vital registrations, population censuses and household surveys on a variety of sex-disaggregated and gender-specific indicators to build the evidence-base on gender equality and the rights and well-being of children.
- Cross-disaggregating gender- and child- related indicators by sex and key stratifiers, including wealth, location and age, to better understand which women and girls and boys are most marginalized.
- Developing innovative methodologies for filling gender data gaps.
- Improving the use of gender statistics through better dissemination and communication channels.
- Informing UNICEF’s program and policy work on gender equality. To learn more about this work, click here.
Notes on the data
- Of 44 Sustainable Development Goal Indicators that are directly relevant to children’s rights and welfare, 26 explicitly call for disaggregation by sex or specify women or girls as the target population while the remaining indicators are relevant to the wellbeing of both girls and boys. Note that the 44 indicators are not all official SDG indicators, but have been modified to focus on children, and to separate different topics.
- OECD, The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, Paris, 2017.