Leaving No Woman Behind: Delivering on the Global Goals for Marginalised Women Survivors of War

“As we embark on this great collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. Recognising that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the Goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society. And we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.”

Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development

The Global Goals are underpinned by a commitment to ‘Leave No One Behind’ – which means that the very success of the Goals is dependent on reaching the most marginalised. Although identifying and prioritising support for the most vulnerable is a significant challenge, translating this ambitious commitment into action would be the most successful way of effectively targeting the root causes of poverty and conflict. Three years into the Goals, and ahead of the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report, national and international reports highlight that progress on the leave no one behind agenda is failing to meet the needs of the most marginalised women.

“…in some areas, progress is insufficient to meet the Agenda’s goals and targets by 2030. This is especially true for the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary General, The Sustainable Development Goals Report, July 2018

There is clearly an urgent need to step-up investment in women to ensure the progress of the Global Goals and to meet the Leave No One Behind commitment. Based on 25 years of experience and evidence from working with marginalised women survivors of conflict, Women for Women International makes the following four recommendations to governments and the international community to help them reach marginalised women and prevent the women we serve from being further left behind.


#1. Use Alternative Data Sources to Complement National-level Data Collection

The inclusion of alternative data sources, including data that is more relevant to marginalised groups, should be used by national governments and the wider international community to provide a more nuanced understanding of whether we are delivering on the promise to leave no one behind. Whilst the Goals emphasise the importance of vulnerable, marginalised groups and inequality, the indicators used to measure progress only look at national-level data, albeit with a commitment to aggregate by vulnerability characteristics (e.g. disability, age, and sex).

Formal data efforts for the Goals continue to be marked by data gaps, relating both to the way that data is collected (often unreliable, irregular, and missing large segments of the populations) and what data is collected (with insufficient data collected for vulnerable groups, e.g. women and girls.). Furthermore, efforts to integrate a focus of marginalised groups into the formal reporting processes for the Goals, such as the P20 approach, are yet to be adopted.

Situating Women for Women International’s data in the context of such national statistics highlights how much further behind the women we serve are, and how much more work needs to be done to prioritise them to meet the Goals. In Nigeria, for example, only 22% of women enrolling on our programme report earning an average of more than $1.90 a day (Target 1.1.), which is much lower than the reported national average of 36.4%. We are committed to amplifying the voices and experiences of the women we serve with decision-makers and to influence international agendas, including the Global Goals. To make our data more accessible, we are therefore sharing annual report cards (2017 & 2018) and an interactive webpage that situates our data within the framework of the Global Goals.


#2. Ensure Marginalised Women are Front and Centre of the Implementation and Review of the Goals

“I told them that my daughter is now a little baby, I can’t accept your request [to betroth her]. I told it to my husband, and he also agreed with me. It is this kind of decision-making which I didn’t know about before the programme. I understood from the programme not to give our daughters at a young age, and also I have persuaded my other daughters to get education.”

Woman graduate (Afghanistan, 2014)

Excluding marginalised groups from the implementation and monitoring of the Goals fundamentally undermines the Leave No One Behind commitment. This commitment hinges on the most marginalised benefiting from progress made to achieve the Goals. This requires an active process through which marginalised groups can be heard and are supported to drive forward the changes they want to see. This is necessary not only to improved governance (Goal 16) but also women’s empowerment (Goal 5).

The international community must ensure precise targeting of women who are at risk of being left behind: those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination related to conflict, poverty, lack of rights and gender-based violence. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that fragile and conflict affected states will be home to 62% of the global population living in extreme poverty by 2030, with women disproportionately and overwhelmingly affected by both poverty and conflict. A recent report by the Overseas Development Institute and International Rescue Committee concluded that “people caught in crisis risk being even more excluded from progress in 2030 than they are now.”

“Even where progress has been made, it has been highly uneven. Looking beyond national averages, our report uncovers yawning gaps between women and girls who, even within the same country, are living worlds apart.” 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, Turning Promises into Action, July 2018.

Closing the gender inequality gap is not only fundamental to women’s rights but is also key to achieving the Goals and the commitment to Leave No One Behind. Goal 16, for example, includes promoting non-discrimination and diversity through protections (Target 16.B) and improved representation (Target 16.7). Both of these require improvements in including marginalised and vulnerable groups. Women for Women International’s monitoring and evaluation findings further highlight the potential that can be unlocked when we identify and invest in marginalised women survivors of conflict. For example:

• At enrolment on our year-long training programme, only 21% of women participants in Afghanistan reported being involved in decisions about having more children compared to 65% at. This is key for meeting Target 5.6 on universal access to reproductive health and rights.
• At graduation, women participants in Afghanistan report a 27% increase of children in school, with the proportion of girls in school rising from 48% at enrolment to 61% at graduation. This is important for Goal 4 targets (quality education). Women for Women International further calls for governments and international institutions to put the voices of the most marginalised front and centre of the implementation Global Goals. For example, by establishing ongoing, meaningful dialogues with a diverse range of women’s organisations in conflict-affected countries.


#3. Provide Comprehensive and Long-term Support for Marginalised Women Affected by Conflict

“When I was only six years old, my parents gave me away to my uncle’s family in marriage to appease a family feud. My uncle was very abusive. He never let me see anyone or talk to my neighbours. I was excluded from family celebrations, and often heard the neighbours gossiping about me… I felt I had no one to help me out, so I decided to commit suicide. I tried it twice and I failed twice. After this, I went to the hospital for my depression.”

Zarghuna, Afghanistan graduate

Women affected by conflict have varied and intersecting needs. A comprehensive, long-term approach that takes into account women’s challenges and supports their social, economic and political empowerment is fundamental. The Global Goals is an ambitious framework, with just one of the 169 targets committing to end all violence and exploitation against women and girls by 2030 (Target 5.2.). For the Goals to fully meet people’s needs and promote the necessary transformational change for progress to be sustainable, comprehensive and long-term support must be provided. Emerging evidence, for example, highlights the effectiveness of combined economic and social programming in reducing intimate partner violence as well as promoting women’s broader empowerment. The recent Global Study on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 further notes the important contribution of women’s economic empowerment (Goals 1, 5 and 8) for household resilience to economic shocks and promoting wider stability (Goal 16). This is particularly important as conflict results in women often bearing the dual burden of carer and provider, including as heads of household. Although not included in the Goals’ monitoring framework, we have found that women’s ability to save money is key to their ability to mitigate economic shocks:

• In Afghanistan, women participants who report saving a portion of their earnings greatly increases from 9% at enrolment, to 35% at graduation.
• In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women saw an increase in the average amount of monthly savings – rising from $29.16 at enrolment to $68.04 at graduation.


#4. Engage Men as Allies

“Before I lived like my wife’s chief in the house. My wife could not say anything. But since the teachings, my wife is taking part in decision-making in the household.”

Male graduate (DRC, 2016)

It is vital that efforts to support marginalised women engage with men as allies who can help to promote more enabling environments for women’s rights. As the Goals take a national-level perspective, the frameworks focus on protections for women’s rights, access to services and accountability for abuse rather than promoting normative changes – including the positive roles that men can play. In practice many protections for women’s rights exist but are not fully implemented. In the conflict-affected communities where we work, traditional or customary laws and practices are deferred to over national protections. These practices are often patriarchal and discriminate against women. Women for Women International has been a pioneer in men’s engagement activities. We work with male community leaders (e.g. traditional, military or religious) and male family members of our women participants in Afghanistan, the DRC, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Kosovo. We have trained almost 26,000 men in women’s rights and gender equality since we began this work in 2002. Whilst not explicitly recognised by the Goals, changing men’s attitudes and behaviours is crucial to realising women’s equality. Such changes include stopping negative actions as well as actively performing positive actions. Positive actions can be on both an individual level (including within the household) or on a wider, societal level. Women for Women International believes that men can become effective agents of change in promoting women’s equality, both for the women in their lives as well as in the wider society. Through our monitoring and evaluation, we see promising results as male graduates take action to support women’s equality:

• Across our men’s engagement activities in Afghanistan, the DRC and Nigeria, men were 80% more active in supporting women’s rights at graduation compared to enrolment (Goal 5).
• In Afghanistan, the number of male participants who reported having taken action to share information with their community about the effects of violence against women increased from 15% at enrolment to 39% at graduation (Target 5.2).


Marginalisation and Our Data

“My father died when I was three years old… Our land was given to my father’s brother, since none of my brothers were old enough to inherit. My mother lost everything. She was left to bring up seven children with no source of food or income. We had one meal a day and my mother worked so hard in other people’s fields to support us, but there was never any money to save, or pay for our school fees.”

Cinama, DRC gradaute

Women for Women International’s core work is centred on a holistic, rights-based programme to address the needs of marginalised women in conflict-affected countries. Since our foundation in 1993, we have worked with more than 479,000 marginalised women survivors of conflict in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. We define ‘marginalisation’ based on crucial areas of vulnerability:

• Conflict-affected, such as surviving violence (Target 5.2), being displaced (Goal 16), or the de facto head of the household. For example, 10% of the women we serve are widows or divorced and 9% are heads of households (global averages, 2017 graduates).
• Social exclusion, as evidenced by signs of malnutrition (target 2.2.) or poor hygiene (Goal 3), poorer than average living conditions, restrictive traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and/or cutting, forced or early marriage (target 5.3), or limited or no education (Goal 4). For example, at enrolment, 80-82% of women participants reported no or partial ability to read or write a sentence (global averages, 2017 graduates).
• Living in extreme poverty (Goal 1), perhaps due to unemployment, or limited to high risk or unsafe occupations, or responsible for dependents (children, elderly, disabled). For example, at enrolment onto the Women for Women International programme, only 19% of women report average personal earnings of at least $1.90, with the average daily personal earnings of $1.01 (global averages, 2017 graduates, USD Purchasing Power Parity).

In combination, these criteria help us to identify and reach the most marginalised women in the conflict-affected communities where we work. As highlighted, the combination of various Goals and targets also emphasise how interlinked and cross-cutting the experience of ‘marginalisation’ is for the women we serve. The data we collect is focused exclusively on marginalised women survivors of conflict. We rigorously collect data from about a third of women participants as they enrol into our year-long programme (baseline) and, from the same women, as they graduate (endline). We collect data through a survey that we have recently revised to increase accuracy and include international indicators, such as the Gender Equality Men scale.

The Cost of Leaving Women Behind

Continuing to leave marginalised women survivors of conflict behind will not only determine the failure of the Global Goals but will also fail to prevent further inequality – a root cause of both poverty and conflict. Conversely, genuinely and effectively stepping-up investment in the women we serve, and other marginalised groups can lead to significant progress in the ultimate goals of human rights, ending poverty and reducing conflict. These goals are truly universal – ones that benefit everyone and future generations.

Find out more about joining our global movement to support women survivors of conflict here:


About the Author /

Carron Mann is the Head of Policy and Advocacy at Women for Women International. She leads on the organisation’s global policy and advocacy work which connects grassroots advocacy training with in-country and international influence of policy and practice. Prior to joining Women for Women International UK, Carron worked for Amnesty International UK and EveryChild. She holds MAs in Conflict, Development and Security (University of Leeds) and International Relations (University of St Andrews).

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