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Gender Equality, Child Wellbeing Go Hand in Hand

Published: Tue 12 Dec 2006 10:04 AM
Gender Equality And Children’s Wellbeing Go Hand in Hand, Says New UNICEF Report
New York, Dec 11 2006 2:00PM
Calling for more action to counter pervasive discrimination against women, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today launched a report highlighting that “gender equality and the well-being of children go hand in hand,” and recommending a raft of measures, from greater investment in girls’ education to imposing quotas ensuring woman are better represented in politics.
Gender equality is also key to achieving all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight targets aimed at slashing poverty and other social ills by 2015, and not only the one aimed specifically at this form of discrimination, the head of UNICEF said in her foreword to the 160-page State of the World’s Children 2007 report.
“Gender equality and the well-being of children go hand in hand. When women are empowered to live full and productive lives, children prosper. UNICEF’s experience also shows the opposite: When women are denied equal opportunity within a society, children suffer,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.
“Working within countries to achieve Millennium Development Goal 3 – promoting gender equality and empowering women – will reap the double dividend of bettering the lives of both women and children. It will also contribute to achieving all the other goals,” she added, referring to reducing poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, as well as the other time-bound targets.
Despite progress in women’s status in recent decades, the lives of millions of girls and women are overshadowed by discrimination, disempowerment and poverty. Girls and women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and women in most places earn less than men for equal work, UNICEF said in a press release to publicize the launch.
Millions of women throughout the world are subject to physical and sexual violence, with little recourse to justice. As a result of discrimination, girls are less likely to attend school; nearly one out of every five girls who enroll in primary school in the developing world does not complete a primary education. Education levels among women, says the report, correlate with improved outcomes for child survival and development.
“Despite substantial gains in women’s empowerment since the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the UN
General Assembly in 1979, gender discrimination remains pervasive in every region of the world,” the report states, before offering seven key recommendations to enhance gender equality:
Education: Key actions include abolishing school fees and encouraging parents and communities to invest in girls’ education.
Financing: Little recognition has been given to the resources needed to meet the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Investment to eliminate gender discrimination must be integrated into government budgets and plans.
Legislation: National legislation in property law and inheritance rights should ensure a level playing field for women, alongside measures to prevent and respond to domestic violence and gender-based violence in conflict.
Legislative quotas: Quotas are a proven method of ensuring women’s participation in politics. Of the 20 countries with the most women in parliament, 17 use some form of quota system.
Women empowering women: Grassroots women’s movements have been vocal champions for equality and empowerment and should be involved in the early stages of policy formation so that programmes are designed with the needs of women and children in mind.
Engaging men and boys: Educating men and boys, as well as women and girls, on the benefits of gender equality and joint decision-making can help nurture more cooperative relationships.
Improved research and data: Better data and analysis are critical, especially on maternal mortality, violence against women, education, employment, wages, unpaid work and time use, and participation in politics.
Throughout the report, UNICEF backs up these recommendations with figures and grassroots evidence. For example, it quotes a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which found that if men and women had equal influence in decision-making, the incidence of underweight children under three years old in South Asia would fall by up to 13 percentage points, resulting in 13.4 million fewer undernourished children in the region. In sub-Saharan Africa, an additional 1.7 million children would be adequately nourished.
Women’s increased involvement in political systems can also have a positive impact on the well-being of children. Growing evidence from industrialized and developing countries alike suggests that women in legislative bodies have been especially effective advocates for children. Yet as of July 2006, women accounted for just under 17 per cent of all parliamentarians worldwide.
ENDS

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