Civil Society Speakers in Women’s Commission Say Girls Suffer Severe Gender Discrimination and Abuse, but Remain ‘Crucial Constituents for Change’

3 March 2011
WOM/1848

Civil Society Speakers in Women’s Commission Say Girls Suffer Severe Gender Discrimination and Abuse, but Remain ‘Crucial Constituents for Change’

3 March 2011
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1848
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-fifth Session

14th Meeting* (AM)


Civil Society Speakers in Women’s Commission Say Girls Suffer Severe Gender

 

Discrimination and Abuse, but Remain ‘Crucial Constituents for Change’

 


As Commission Heads into Last Day of Two-Week Session

Delegations Prepare Agreed Conclusions on Equal Access to Education


Forced into early marriage and trafficked into sometimes life-threatening situations, girls around the world suffered some of the most severe forms of gender discrimination and abuse, civil society representatives told the Commission on the Status of Women today, urging that more be done by States and communities to ensure stronger penalties for perpetrators and legal recourse for victims.


In the penultimate day of its fifty-fifth session, the Commission concluded its general debate to review the Beijing Platform for Action and outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly amid demands that girls gain acceptable, accessible and affordable options for education, especially in the sciences, to give them the confidence they needed to find and use their voices.


“Girls are the most crucial constituents for change, now and in the future,” said a representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, who argued that ensuring girls’ and young women’s access to education could prevent violence from occurring throughout a woman’s life cycle.


Schools should be designed so that facilities like toilets and water fountains were safely accessible, she said.  Awareness raising that informed girls of their rights — and how to claim them — must be widely implemented, as must programmes that educated men, boys, communities, and political and religious leaders about the unacceptability of any violence against girls.


Agreeing, a representative of the Girls Caucus said girls faced violence that was supported by their communities.  Female genital mutilation, honour killings and physical abuse were just some of the traditions ingrained into certain cultures, and girls needed an “element of choice” in what constituted culturally acceptable acts.  She urged working with community leaders to find alternative traditions and stronger penalties for perpetrators of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking.


Similar measures should be put in place for poor rural women, other speakers said, as those women were at the bottom of the economic and social strata in their countries.  While most often the “backbone” of their families and communities, rural women were not present in sufficient numbers in meetings like those of the Commission and their voices went unheard in national and international forums.  Their needs went unmet in such basic services as transport, housing and health care.


“Poor rural women face different challenges and opportunities than others,” asserted a representative of the Rural Development Leadership Network for the Rural Caucus, insisting that they be able to sit at the table of power.  Poor rural women could achieve their own empowerment with the support of infrastructure and overall community development.  National and international policies must be changed to promote the availability of land, transportation, markets and credit, among other things.


For its part, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), through its grants programme, had financed research on innovative practices related to gender equality and women’s empowerment, said Xenia von Lilien of IFAD’s Liaison Office in New York.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, the Fund’s grant to an agricultural research centre had introduced low-cost technologies for milk-processing, which helped rural women to earn profits from surplus production.


Also speaking today were the representatives of Misión Mujer (also on behalf of Centro de Estudio y Formación Integral de la Mujer, Fundación Eudes, Mujer para la Mujer, Vida y Familia de Guadalajara); Middle East Caucus; Education International (also the International Trade Union Confederation and Public Services International); Young Women’s Caucus; Asia Pacific Caucus; International Public Policy Institute, National Alliance for Women, and Women’s Intercultural Network, (on behalf of the UN Women’s Circle Campaign); Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem; and the International Network of Liberal Women.


The Permanent Observer for Partners in Population and Development also spoke.


The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 4 March, to conclude its fifty-fifth session, with action expected on three draft resolutions.


Background


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to conclude its general debate.


At the meeting’s outset, the Commission’s secretary said that due to a technical error on the part of the Secretariat, draft resolutions E/CN.6/2011/L.1, E/CN.6/2011/L.2 and E/CN.6/2011/L.3 would be introduced tomorrow morning and would be acted on during the Commission’s afternoon session.


General Discussion


SETHURAMIAH RAO, Permanent Observer for Partners in Population and Development, said the current role and status of women and their participation in national and global affairs was totally inadequate.  Women had been marginalized around the world by gender inequality and unequal access to education, especially at the secondary and tertiary level, and to well-paying jobs and political exclusion.  They also suffered from the risk of maternal mortality, unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, trafficking and early and enforced marriages.


The delegate said that investments in women’s empowerment and gender equality offered multiple rewards for accelerated social and economic progress, as well as for peace and security.  The imbalance in women’s representation in the disciplines of science, mathematics and engineering must be redressed to ensure both the rapid pace of development and to achieve greater gender equity in education and employment.  Investing in girls’ and women’s education had a positive multiplier effect for poverty reduction, developmental gains, demographic transition, reproductive health and rights and other benefits.  The Partners Alliance, which included 25 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, was committed to the promotion of South-South cooperation among developing countries and served as a good platform to share both lessons learned and current challenges.  South-South cooperation activities were encouraged in its member and other countries through training and capacity-building, knowledge sharing and information exchange.


XENIA VON LILIEN, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Liaison Office in New York, said most women small-holder farmers struggled through their days using traditional technologies, which were labour-energy intensive.  “Women’s time, poverty and lack of access to improved technologies and techniques leads to low agricultural yields and low levels of food security,” she said, stressing that for such reasons, women’s well-being depended in part on labour-saving technologies.  To improve the situation, the Fund financed research on emerging issues and innovative practices related to gender equality and women’s empowerment.


She said that the Fund, through its grants programme, for example, supported the International Rice Research Institute, which involved women in evaluating new technologies and in decision-making in the biotechnology field.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Fund’s grant to an agricultural research centre had introduced low-cost technologies for milk-processing, which helped rural women to earn profits from surplus production.  The Fund was preparing for the Commission’s sixty-sixth session, which would be held under the theme of “The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”


GLORIA GUTIÉRREZ, who represented the organizations of Misión Mujer; Centro de Estudio y Formación Integral de la Mujer; Fundación Eudes; Mujer para la Mujer; and Vida y Familia de Guadalajara, said that education was essential for the development of human capital.  “Education for all” was the motto for the World Education Forum, which stressed that education should allow people to take control of their lives. While improved education coverage had been achieved, the same could not be said about the quality and permanency.  In Mexico, for example, of the 98 per cent of children who completed primary school, only 62 per cent would see their entire education finished.


The problem was disturbing for both sexes, she said, emphasizing that men were prone to various stereotyped behaviours, including the glorification of violence, promotion of sexual risk, drug abuse and even suicide.  The impacts of the “crisis of masculinity” affected women and had been greatly exacerbated by the global recession.  Against that backdrop, public policies and resource allocation should be used to foster a more comprehensive view of gender equality.


Speaking on behalf of the Middle East Caucus, FATIMA AHMED, Zenab for Women Development-Sudan, emphasized education as a fundamental right.  Women’s education would allow them to become better mothers and active members of society.  Access to education in the Middle East had improved, and more women were now pursuing higher education.  But illiteracy rates remained high among women, while gender gaps persisted.  Indeed, gender gaps were wider where literacy and education enrolment rates among women were generally lower.


She said the quality of education was a major concern throughout the region.  Co-education was one factor that contributed to higher dropout rates among girls in Sudan.  More effort was needed to build up educational opportunities, and richer countries inside and outside the region were encouraged to contribute to that effort.  Investing in education would enhance human capital, slow population growth and reduce poverty.


STARRY KRUEGER, Rural Development Leadership Network for the Rural Caucus, said that one quarter of the world’s population was composed of rural women and in many countries they produced most of the world’s food.  They were most often the backbone of their families and communities, yet they were at the bottom of the economic and social strata of their countries.  Rural women were not present in sufficient numbers at meetings like those of the Commission, and their voices were not heard in national and international areas.  “Poor rural women face different challenges and opportunities than others,” she stressed, noting that they lived far from urban power centres in isolated and remote areas and lacked access to land, transportation, suitable housing, health care and protection from exploitation and violence.


To overcome those barriers, she underscored the need for poor rural women to sit at the table of power.  Those women could achieve their own empowerment with the support of infrastructure and overall community development.  National and international policies must be changed to promote the availability of land, transportation, markets, credit, health care, education, suitable housing, appropriate technology, green energy, cultural expression and other elements that advanced the well-being and social equity of poor rural women and their families.  She asked that the Commission seek the meaningful engagement of rural poor women in planning for next year’s session.


MARGARET COOK, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Soroptimist International and World YWCA, said ensuring girls’ and young women’s access to education could prevent violence from occurring throughout a woman’s life.  Violence against women persisted in all social spheres, including education and work settings.  It was the girl child who was most at risk and suffered the most from the impacts of such abuse.  Good quality education of girls and boys could prevent that phenomenon.


She urged States to strengthen legal frameworks and systems and, where necessary, enact new laws to prevent and prosecute all cases of violence against women and girls.  Schools should be designed so that facilities like toilets and water fountains were safely accessible.  Awareness raising that informed girls of rights — and how to claim them — must be widely implemented, as must programmes that educated men, boys, communities, as well as political and religious leaders, about the unacceptability of any violence against girls.  “Girls are the most crucial constituents for change, now and in the future,” she said, urging States to listen to them and invest in their lives.


CAROLINE CHRISTIE, Girls Caucus, said that even in communities where women had job opportunities, pay discrepancies persisted and, in that context, demanded equal access to employment free of gender discrimination.  Moreover, girls must be informed about the relevance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to social progress.  Women required access to microfinancing and credit initiatives to enable them to fully pursue research and development opportunities in those professions.  Curricula that emphasized importance of female and male role modes were also needed.


She demanded that Governments and institutions take action by providing tax breaks and other monetary incentives for employers who ensured a gender equitable work environment and job opportunities.  “Education is not an option — it is a human right,” she stressed, adding that, around the world, girls faced violence that was supported by their communities.  Female genital mutilation, honour killings and physical abuse were ingrained in certain cultures, and it was necessary to work with community leaders to find alternative traditions.  Girls needed an element of choice in culturally acceptable acts.  Stronger penalties for perpetrators of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking were also needed.


NADINE MOLLOY, speaking on behalf of Education International, the International Trade Union Confederation and Public Services International, said investment in key public services was a key driver of development and gender equality.  Trade unions had grave concerns with current reductions to budgets that supported public services.  To achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to ensure education for all, investments in the public sector must be increased, not decreased.  Achieving equality in primary and secondary education and ensuring universal access were critical to overcoming development challenges and structural discrimination.  Gender-sensitive activities must improve on three axes:  curriculum; the learning and physical environment; and the quantity and quality of teachers.


She said that the normative framework necessary to support core policies already existed in the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as key International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.  Those could serve to overcome the full range of development challenges and gender equalities that impeded the smooth transition from the classroom to the career path and a decent workplace.  However, those instruments must be systematically applied.  Adequately funded strategic action was also urgently needed.


CATRIONA STANDFIELD, Young Women’s Caucus coordinated by World Association of Girls Guides and Girls Scouts and the World Y.W.C.A., called on Governments and the international community to ensure the equal access of girls and young women to education, training, science and technology, including young women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.  To achieve that, girls and young women must be engaged in policy dialogues on education to create safe learning environments and inclusive educational approaches.


She said that access to technical training, mentoring programmes and job markets in science and technology must also be facilitated.  Investment in formal and informal education and training should be increased, especially comprehensive sexuality education.  Budgets should be allocated to non-governmental organizations that delivered vocational and non-formal education programmes for girls and young women.  A rights-based approach to education policies was required to address gender and socio-economic inequality in learning environments.  Out-of-school girls must be reached through vocational and non-formal education programmes.


ANJANA SHAKYA, Asia Pacific Caucus, noted with concern that, after 15 years of pursuing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as 10 years of working to attain the Millennium Development Goals, insufficient progress had been made vis-à-vis commitments to education and scientific training, and information and communications technology, in particular.  Indeed, there were major gaps to be addressed.


In that context, she urged States to adopt and implement policies prohibiting employment discrimination, workplace harassment and all forms of exploitation of women and girls.  States also must recognize the right to education as a fundamental human right and address the sociocultural factors — including violence — that disadvantaged women and girls from entering and pursuing careers in science and technology.  Moreover, gender- and age-disaggregated data was imperative for assessing and enhancing opportunities for education.


ANELE HEIGES, International Public Policy Institute, National Alliance for Women, and Women’s Intercultural Network, on behalf of the UN Women’s Circle Campaign, said women’s voices were not adequately heard in public policy decisions and their participation was needed.  The United Nations Women Circle Campaign offered women and girls around the world an interactive workshop that was free, downloadable and written by local women and girls, and that provided an egalitarian setting in which to empower women to “speak for themselves”.  The programme taught listening without judgement, “win-win communication” and other skills that led to full participation and respect for differences.


She said that women, committed to their families and communities, understood both the problems and solutions of their societies, and they must become empowered to create change.  The Circle’s target groups were the most marginalized women, many of whom had been abused.  The Circle was dedicated to bringing women and girls — and their grass-roots organizations not yet connected to the United Nations — into a working relationship, and sought two-way communication with the Commission.


DIANA O’BRIEN, speaking on behalf of the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem and associated organizations, said women’s empowerment and gender equality were at risk in many areas around the world.  Four threats in the immediate future to women’s security and economic empowerment were:  land price increases; energy cost increases; unavailability of clean water; and food price increases.  Those threats to women’s status could be reduced by forward-looking and equitable Governments working to improve women’s lots.


She said that population growth was creating greater stress on the available resources in the three basic categories of water, food and energy, to which the more marginalized needed easy and equal access.  Moreover, having the right to buy, own or inherit land was, in many cases, a necessity to attaining self-sustainability.  Growing one’s own food was one way out of hunger and dependence.  Providing easy access to sufficient, clean and safe water for consumption and sanitation, to low-priced food and to affordable renewable energy should be priorities for Governments.  Yet those often were denied to women because of their gender, or economic or education level.  She called on the United Nations system to develop and implement policies to eradicate hunger and thirst.


MARIA BERTRAN, speaking on behalf of the International Network of Liberal Women and associated organizations, said the activities of the network were inspired by the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In its work, the Network applied the principles on which the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention was based.  She called for the provision of incentives to keep girls in school.  Gender violence in the schools and on the way to school also must be eliminated, and the promotion of equal distribution of family responsibilities was necessary for women’s employment.


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*     The 13th Meeting was closed.

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