PANEL DISCUSSIONS IN COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN FOCUS ON NEED FOR STRONGER LAWS PROTECTING GIRLS

27 February 2007
WOM/1610

PANEL DISCUSSIONS IN COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN FOCUS ON NEED FOR STRONGER LAWS PROTECTING GIRLS

27 February 2007
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1610
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-first Session

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)


Panel discussions in commission on status of women focus on need


for stronger laws protecting girls

 


Policy Initiatives, Capacity-Building

For Mainstreaming Gender Perspective Also Highlighted


At today’s two panel discussions, convened by the Commission on the Status of Women, which centred on the fifty-first session’s priority theme “Elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”, participants emphasized the need for more gender-disaggregated data to monitor the well-being of girls, who, in some societies, were “invisible” to policymakers because they lacked a voice.  Also discussed was the need to strengthen the laws that protect girls and to enact stiffer penalties against violators.


Those discussions formed part of the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.


The first panel discussion, held in the morning, centred on policy initiatives relating to the theme, while the afternoon session focused on ways to build a country’s capacity to mainstream a gender perspective, as their Governments developed, implemented and evaluated national policies to eliminate discrimination and violence.


Participants at the morning meeting said that girls’ invisibility made them continually vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, such as with girl soldiers recruited illegally by armed forces.  Abused by perpetrators who often acted with impunity, many girls became child mothers -- according to one expert, there was a “shockingly high” number of girl-headed households in some parts of Africa.  More resources must be directed to girls to prevent such occurrences, participants said, and countries must develop a uniform understanding of their obligations under human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


In the afternoon, participants discussed whether child marriage was a violation of a girl’s rights, leading to a discussion on the need to take a broader view of human rights when developing gender sensitive policies that challenged culturally-accepted views.


The outcomes of both discussions were designed to provide the Commission with input as it enters consultations on agreed conclusions on the priority theme, set to begin on Friday.


The Commission will meet again Wednesday, 28 February, to continue its general debate, which began on Monday.


Morning Panel


In her opening statement, Carmen María Gallardo Hernández (El Salvador), Chairperson of the Commission, explained that the morning panel had been designed to enrich the Commission’s discussion on the current priority theme -- the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child -- and to inform participants before they embarked on consultations on the agreed conclusions on that theme, expected to begin on Friday.  Attention was drawn to the Secretary-General’s report on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child (document E/CN.6/2007/2) and the report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children, presented to the General Assembly at its sixty-first session.


The panel of experts included Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Maria Lucia Pinto Leal, Professor of Social Work at Brasilia University, Brazil; Michal Komem, Program Manager of Youth Programs, Ashalim -- an association for planning and development of services for children and youth and their families, Israel;  Angela Kocze, a doctoral candidate in Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary; and Judith Bruce, Director of the Population Council’s Gender, Family and Development programme.


In the discussion that took place, participants learned of ways to influence Government policy to benefit at-risk girls, who tended to be “invisible” to policymakers because cultural practices hid them from view, or they were simply not empowered enough to exercise their voice.  Such girls were likely to drop out of school, enter into early marriage or become sexually exploited.  Those born into marginalized communities, such as Roma girls, faced multiple forms of discrimination -- systemic biases, institutional racism, economic hardship and social exclusion.


Meanwhile, in times of war, girls were more vulnerable than most to violence and deprivation, according to the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  Girls who chose to become, or were pressed to become, child soldiers, unwittingly opened themselves to sexual exploitation by perpetrators who acted with impunity.  Furthermore, girl combatants found difficulty reintegrating into society since their combatant skills were of no value, and were ostracized by men who did not want to marry women who once wielded weapons.  To that, another panellist added that the number of child mothers was “shockingly large” in conflict-ridden countries.  Yet, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes neglected girls, leaving them invisible.


That topic was also touched on by another panellist, who had attended the expert group meeting in September on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child, held in Italy.  Organized by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and attended by over 40 experts and observers from around the world, participants had emphasized the need to intervene quickly in girls’ lives once a problem had been spotted.  It was found that those interventions must be different from those used on adults, while keeping in mind that girls had distinct needs from boys.


She added that the expert group had found that national monitors were inadequate in tracking the lives of girls in subnational enclaves or overlooked communities.  Added to that, acts of violence against girls were sometimes seen as private family or community matters, leaving the victims hidden from society and continually vulnerable to abuse.  To that, an African non-governmental organization representative later added that girls in some cultures must undergo initiation rites:  severe pinching, tattooing, forced nudity, an obligation to provide sex, starvation and others.  Girls who protested against those rites were often punished, while the initiators often kept quiet about their practices.  It was suggested that such acts might well be classified as forms of violence, and States were urged to begin collecting data on such practices and to adopt laws to ban them, if found harmful.


As panellists shared ideas for potential solutions, delegates learned of “Girls on the Map!”, an initiative developed by an Israeli non-profit organization that was said to have changed the “oppressive practices” of the Government towards girls.  Through gender-sensitive research findings collected by the programme, budget priorities and allocations were shifted to benefit young girls in distress.  Some interventions to stem at-risk behaviour were developed with the involvement of the girls themselves -- an idea that aroused the interest of many delegates.  Yet another panellist suggested that dedicated spaces be developed at schools, internally displaced persons camps, workplaces and elsewhere, where girls could meet potential mentors and form strategies how to negotiate the very forces that confined them.


Throughout the discussion, delegates of several Member States said that their countries sought to combat discrimination and violence against girls through stricter laws, intended to curb sexual abuse and exploitation of children, human trafficking and corporal punishment.  Their comments mirrored that of one panellist who discussed Brazil’s progress in tackling violence against women and girls through victims’ assistance programmes, national prevention strategies and national legislation.  She said the country had enacted stiffer legislation to protect victims of trafficking and violence, and that the Penal Code had been amended to create stiffer penalties for sex crimes, child pornography, rape and incest.


She added that Brazilian officials had recently launched a national strategy to combat trafficking in persons and had instituted an inter-ministerial working group to set national priorities over the next two years on trafficking prevention and victims’ assistance.  Brazilian officials had also created the Intersectoral Commission to Combat Sexual Violence against Children and Adolescents.  Indeed, delegates from several other countries also said that policymaking in their countries involved a broad group of stakeholders, including civil society, legal and law enforcement professionals, different ministries of the Government and the media.


Participants in the morning discussion agreed that more resources must be directed to girls, and that there needed to be more linkages among existing human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  A delegate from the European Federation of Unpaid Parents and Carers at Home suggested that countries learn to value the unpaid contribution of women to their families, and to elevate their status within society and the economy.  Finally, progress could not be made without gender-disaggregated data, and more needed to be done in that regard.


Afternoon Panel


In his opening statement, Dicky Komar ( Indonesia), Vice-Chairperson of the Commission, welcomed participants to the panel discussion on gender mainstreaming, situations and programmatic matters.  He noted that, despite a heightened awareness of girls’ rights and the importance of gender mainstreaming, capacity-building was needed to ensure a greater impact of those concepts.


The discussion began with presentations from five panellists:  Amaryllis T. Torres, Commissioner, National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and Professor, University of the Philippines; Esther Odwaa Ofei-Aboagye, Director, Institute of Local Government Studies in Legon, Ghana; Ambassador Moushira Khattab, Egypt, member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Shanti Dairiam, Founder, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific and a member of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


One panellist focused on a strategic framework formed by the Philippines to address the worst forms of child labour, calling for the elimination of child slavery, prostitution, procurement for illicit activities like drug trafficking, and work deemed harmful to children’s health, safety and morals.  A gender analysis of hazardous forms of child labour had been undertaken by the Philippine Gender Assessment Project, to take stock of progress.  Indeed, a 2001 survey revealed that approximately one fourth of Filipino households -- particularly poor homes -- had children working either in their own household-operated enterprises or in other households, mainly in agriculture.  Some 4.18 million children worked under these circumstances, mainly to add to their family’s incomes, combining school and work.  More than half of the children were exposed to physical, biological, chemical or other hazardous conditions.


Another panellist described how Ghana’s Ministry of Women and Children had partnered with development and non-State actors to build a girl-friendly school environment, with a strong focus on capacity-building.  In 1997, the Ministry of Education had set up a Girls Education Unit to provide technical assistance for mainstreaming girls’ education through appropriate policy inputs and best practices until girls achieved gender parity in school enrolment and retention.  The Ministry’s 2005-2008 Strategic Implementation Plan made it a top priority to enforce the 1998 Children’s Act and the Ghana Platform of Action on the Protection and Elimination of Child Labour.


Turning to the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- which, with 193 Members, was the most widely ratified human rights instrument -- delegates learned from a third panellist that States parties to the Convention were required to engage in gender mainstreaming, since understanding gender roles was thought to be central to addressing the rights of the child.  The panellist serving as a member of the Committee that oversees compliance to that Convention said that an understanding of gender roles was essential in addressing the rights of the child and, as such, the Committee’s reporting guidelines contained an umbrella clause requesting States parties to provide data disaggregated by sex.  It was acknowledged, however, that the United Nations and donor communities needed to work more closely with Member States to help build that capacity.


Some issues affecting the girl child were so complex as to defy solutions, especially when they touched on cultural sensitivities, in the eyes of another panellist, whose presentation was focused on child marriage.  In many countries, laws and policies against child marriages were inadequate, or not adequately enforced.  Meanwhile, the primacy given to virginity for girls at times gave rise to a compulsion to “protect” girls, and they were married off early to ensure the preservation of family honour.  In such cases, gender mainstreaming efforts must take a broader view of human rights, by addressing possible violations to the human rights of the girl child.  Countries must build a uniform understanding of girls’ rights, and learn to see that child marriage was a form of discrimination against girls, often impinging on her reproductive rights, right to work and right to choose.  That understanding should be built on existing human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.


In their exchange with panellists, delegates discussed their respective countries’ efforts regarding gender mainstreaming.  Some spoke of ways in which gender mainstreaming was being introduced at various levels of Government, such as Indonesia with its “gender analysis pathway”.  Others shared their experiences in monitoring compliance among Government bodies, including through a system of checklists such as in China.  A delegate from India talked about her country’s experience in installing gender sensitive budgets.


Other delegates wanted to know how capacity-building efforts should be conducted within communities, and how best to finance such efforts.  Also, since gender mainstreaming relied on gender sensitization among men and boys, one delegate asked how the lack of awareness and acceptance of new gender roles could be overcome.


Participants generally agreed that, in order to be effective, gender mainstreaming policies must be bolstered by legal frameworks and constitutional guarantees, and countries must develop laws that did not allow certain cultures or religions to opt out.  In addition, violations must be penalized, and support must be given to the girl whose rights had been violated.  In cases where girls’ rights competed with cultural norms, programmes should be put in place to resolve community resistance to cultural patterns of conduct.  Capacity-building must take account of multisectoral linkages.


As stressed by the Deputy Director of UNICEF, who was among the panellists, promoting gender equality and empowering women was at the core of the Millennium targets.  Violence against children kept them out of school, thwarting countries’ abilities to achieve targets in education.  UNICEF’s national-level “Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys” provided important social data for monitoring progress of the Millennium Goals and were used in more than 54 countries to gather household data on such things as female genital mutilation, domestic violence and domestic child labour.


She said UNICEF was also working to develop a greater appreciation of the links between the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  In Cuba and the Philippines, UNICEF and other United Nations agencies were developing training materials to strengthen the focus on women and girls.  In Syria, it had supported innovative multidisciplinary training of professionals, while staff in Lao People’s Democratic Republic had been trained to address gender-based violence.  Echoing the sentiments of several speakers, she called for capacity-building of parents, teachers and social workers and other community members to identify girls in need and to provide assistance where needed.


* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.