Panama, 11 December, 2006 – Eliminating gender discrimination to promote women’s autonomy and their participation in decision-making throughout Latin America and the Caribbean will have profound and positive consequences for the survival and well-being of children, as stated in a newly-published report from UNICEF in the year of the 60th anniversary of the organization.
The cycle of discrimination begins during childhood and therefore, to achieve gender equality, children must receive quality education free of stereotypes and the opportunity to develop the same abilities to fight for their rights and participate in decision-making processes.
Gender equality produces “double dividends” that benefit women as well as children, and is decisive for the health and development of families, communities and countries, as enunciated in The State of the World’s Children 2007.
“UNICEF states that compliance with the rights of women and their empowerment is pivotal for the reality of children’s human rights in the region. To achieve gender equality implies, among other things, putting an end to stereotyped gender roles, discriminatory practices, and violence in schools and homes,” comments Nils Kastberg, Regional Director for UNICEF’s Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office.
Despite the progress that has been made in Latin America and the Caribbean in improving the plight of women over the past decade, discrimination, lack of autonomy and poverty overshadow the lives of millions of girls and women in homes, workplaces as well as in politics and government.
In many of the homes of the region, women continue to have less decision-making power, and this can affect children because women tend to make nutrition, health and education a priority for their children. Inequality in the home is also connected to domestic violence that, in Latin America and the Caribbean, affects between 10 – 36% of women and accounts for the death of 80,000 children annually. In Latin America and the Caribbean, women deal with discriminatory workplace conditions; they receive only 69% of the income level that men earn; and are employed in jobs where their security and social benefits are much more precarious. Progress under these conditions requires that, for children to be raised in an equal opportunity and education environment, the discriminatory and divisive gender role position patterns must be changed.
Participation by women and men in public policy and government is essential to achieve democracy for all citizens, including children. Even though there are still barriers, participation of women in public policy has increased throughout Latin America and the Caribbean over the past decade; in many countries a parliamentary elected job quota system has been established, and several women have established themselves as political leaders in the region, becoming presidents or prime ministers, such as has been the case in Bolivia, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, or Chile.
One of these leaders, Casimira Rodríguez Romero, Bolivia’s Minister of Justice, recounts in the UNICEF report her own testimony of life and struggle to have her voice be heard: “I awakened my conscience to strive, by creating with other women, the Domestic Workers Union of Cochabamaba in 1987. In seeing the legal inequalities, we only had half of our rights. (…) For six years we worked on a legislative proposal, despite taking it through a successive series of revisions. The first draft was idealistic, but during the ongoing process of revision it began to focus on rights. (…) We transformed our fears into courage so we would be heard by the authorities.”
Achievement of gender equality and women’s independence, as provided in the third Millennium Development Goal, will go beyond the implications it has for the well-being and survival of children. According to the report presented by UNICEF, gender equality will also drive all the other Millennium Goals, from reducing poverty and hunger to saving childrens’ lives, from improving the health of mothers to ensuring universal education, fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensuring the sustainability of the environment.
About UNICEF For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.