Empowering Women and Girls


With funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), COL initiated a three-year project – ‘Empowering Women and Girls in the Commonwealth’. This project aims to improve the realisation of human rights for women and girls from disadvantaged communities in selected areas of five Commonwealth member states: Bangladesh, Malawi, Mozambique, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only fundamental human rights but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world and a precondition for realising all goals in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. There has been progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment over the past decades, but the social and economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse this progress and greatly increase deprivations for the most vulnerable girls and women (United Nations: Gender equality and women’s empowerment). It is a pressing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. If women — who account for half the world’s working-age population — were afforded the same equity as men in the labour market, the global annual GDP could potentially grow by as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26%, by the year 2025. Moreover, gender inequality in education prevents progress in reducing unintended pregnancies and high fertility and child mortality rates, thereby compromising a country’s well-being. Societies that encourage women to hold political leadership positions demonstrate more equally balanced schools and are more peaceful and equitable overall. (UNSDG | Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment)

The situation for girls in Malawi and Mozambique remains challenging, with issues such as child marriage and limited educational opportunities continuing to pose significant barriers. (Unlocking Malawi’s Economic Growth by Bridging the Widening Gender Gaps in the labour workforce (worldbank.org) and Time for bold action to advance gender parity in Mozambique (worldbank.org). 42% of women and girls are married by the age of 18 in Malawi and of those 52% have no or only pre-primary education (Malawi 2019-20 MICS Survey Findings Report_English.pdf (mics-surveys-prod.s3.amazonaws.com).  In Mozambique the figure is much higher with 53% of women and girls  married by age 18 (Child marriage atlas – Girls Not Brides). Bangladesh also had a drop in gender parity indicators, with women and girls holding only 21% of seats in parliament and 8% of ministerial-level jobs. Sri Lanka, while having made slight improvements in gender parity, only has 33% of women and girls making up the labour force. (Labour force participation rate (percentage of population) – World Bank Gender Data Portal).


The scope for the project is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. Some of the broader and more general areas of focus include:

Educational Attainment – Providing access to education and training programs that help women and girls develop new skills, knowledge and competencies.

Healthcare – Improving access to healthcare services that address the unique health needs of women and girls.

Human Rights – Working towards women and girls’ equal enjoyment of all human rights, including freedom from violence, sexual and reproductive rights, access to justice, socio-economic equality, and participation in decision-making. These human rights need to be realised within the unique context of each country.

Economic Opportunity – Creating opportunities for women and girls to participate in the economy as entrepreneurs, business owners, or wage earners. This could include programs that provide access to microfinance, business development services or job training.

Leadership Development – Building the capacity of women and girls to participate in decision-making processes at all levels of society. This could include programs that focus on leadership training, mentorship or advocacy.

Community Support – Creating a supportive environment where women and girls can access resources, networks and social support systems that help them achieve their goals. This could include programs that spotlight community mobilisation, awareness-raising campaigns or peer support groups, such as boys’ clubs and gender equality committees.


This project aims to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Improved empowerment of women and girls, including women/girls with disabilities from disadvantaged communities, asserting their equality of rights and dealing with dominant social norms that perpetuate gender inequality and gender-based violence.
  • Improved and equitable attainment of lower secondary education among women and girls, including women and girls with disabilities from disadvantaged communities.
  • Enhanced livelihood opportunities with sustainable climate resilient practices and improved incomes among women and girls, including women/girls with disabilities from disadvantaged communities.

The EWG project will directly reach 75,000 women and girls, while building the capacity of 20,000 men and boys. Using a context-specific and holistic approach, with coordinated interventions operating at the individual, household, community and societal levels, the project will also engage government officials, community leaders, women’s rights and civil society organisations, financial institutions and employers to create a safe an enabling environment for the successful implementation and the sustainability of the project. In total, 400,000 community members will be reached through public campaigns.

Guiding Principles

A combination of three multi-layered, critical, gender-focused and intersectional frameworks will be used parallelly to guide the project work and better understand the unique challenges faced by women and girls:

  • Gender Equality Analysis Framework – to understand the context in which women and girls and men and boys exist and how programs and policies can better address the realities of both groups to create gender parity.
  • Climate and Gender Analysis Framework – climate change acts as a ‘threat multiplier’, meaning for women and girls who already experience vulnerability in economic empowerment, political protection and social empowerment, climate change and climate-related disasters can enhance these vulnerabilities.
  • Persons with Disability and Gender Analysis Framework – The disability-inclusive development (DID) lens puts an emphasis on how persons with disabilities must be recognised as rights-holding, equal members of society who must be actively engaged in the development process irrespective of their impairment or other factors such as race, age, ethnicity or gender.


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