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What are Commonwealth girls made of?

By Renuka Singh who grew up as a West Indian girl.

What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice maybe, but not much else if they are born in most of the 54 Commonwealth nations.

A new report co-published by Plan UK and the Royal Common wealth Society used the 100 years of Women’s Day celebrations to highlight the fact that the female sex still lagged behind their male counterparts in terms of the socio-economic treatment. Though Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean stay close to the top of the charts, the rest of the Commonwealth nations stand as stark examples that even after a century of women’s rights, they are still treated like second-class citizens.

The report examined almost every aspect of human life across the board including life expectancy, nutrition and achievement and even looked at the numbers of athletes and medals won at the Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Scholarships. What came to light was that fair and equal rights had less to do with the country’s economic situation and more to do with its political strength.

Some of the poorest countries in the Commonwealth do relatively well against the eight measures used in the research, while some rich countries remain a long way off gender equality. Rwanda (10th) Mozambique (21st), and Malawi (23rd) all score highly despite being among some of the poorest countries in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth's richest country, Brunei Darussalam, only manages a rank of 23rd.

Dr Danny Sriskandarajah , director of the Royal Commonwealth Society  was quoted as saying that he hoped the relevant data would show Commonwealth leaders used their political will to promote women as agents of change.

Still though, the clearest indication of the inequality between the sexes is the disparity in salaries. Even in the best-performing countries, women earn only around four-fifths of male income on average. In New Zealand women earn only around 72 per cent of the average income. What is interesting about New Zealand though is that there are still twice as many men in its Parliament.

Also despite years of campaigning in some of the Western Commonwealth countries, Rwanda and South Africa top the female political participation table – Rwanda ranks first in the world in this regard. The United Kingdom ties with Pakistan at joint 17th.

Marie Staunton, chief executive of Plan UK called for bolder political will and said according to the research findings, countries that engender that type of politics made greater progress towards realising girls’ rights and lifting them out of poverty.

The report also revealed that globally 75 million girls remain out of school and remain and often undervalued and neglected part of society.

The research findings discovered:

• At the top of the chart, New Zealand. But Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are the second and third best place to be born a girl among the 54 Commonwealth countries of the world. Trinidad and Tobago also ranks among the highest in the world when it comes to promoting gender equality and providing equal opportunity for women.

• At the bottom of the chart, ranking joint 50th are Nigeria and Sierra Leone. India and Pakistan both score poorly, coming in 41st and 45th respectively.
• Five times more girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth in Nigeria and Sierra Leone than in New Zealand on average
• Girls in New Zealand can expect twice the number of years in school than girls in Nigeria.
• The UK ranks joint 8th with Singapore. Rwanda – the Commonwealth's newest member state – comes in at number 10.