Youth voices heard at opening of UN Commission on the Status of Women
By Rachel Bonham Carter
NEW YORK, USA, 26 February 2007 – The 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women opened at United Nations headquarters in New York this morning, launching two weeks of discussions and events in the run-up to International Women’s Day.
Opening statements included an address from a 17-year-old South African girl, Quilinta Nepaul, who asked that youth voices be heard in the debates.
“The Commission is aware that you [young people] are part of the solution,” said the Chairperson, Her Excellency Carmen María Gallardo of El Salvador, while introducing Quilinta to speak on the session’s key theme – the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.
Recommendations from youth
Quilinta used the opportunity to share the views and recommendations of over 1,300 young people from 59 countries, as compiled in a new report, ‘It’s Time to Listen to Us!’ She asked the Commission to carefully consider the findings, which were drawn from surveys and focus groups carried out over the last three months on the question of ending discrimination and violence against girls.
“The key finding of the survey is that unwritten laws still hold incredible power,” said Quilinta. “Many cultural practices are responsible for violations of girls’ rights. The most frequently mentioned practices in this report were dowry and bride price, child and forced marriages, son preference, ‘machismo’ and the female work burden.”
The report includes the following recommendations from young people to governments:
“Our report shows that children have strong opinions on how we want to shape our own future,” noted Quilinta. “It is time to listen to us and to act upon it.”
Several hundred representatives from governments, non-governmental organisations, UN agencies and civil society attended the opening of the Commission’s 51st Session. They were welcomed by UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro.
“For the past 60 years, this Commission has made remarkable contributions to improving the lives of women and girls around the globe,” Dr. Migiro said, adding that despite progress made in ending gender discrimination, there is a long way to go.
Dr. Migiro went on to congratulate UNICEF for The State of the World’s Children 2007 report, ‘Women and Children: The double dividend of gender equality’. She praised the report for highlighting the wider benefits of women’s rights and for explaining that “investing in women and girls is the best investment we can make.”
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman also addressed the commission through a recorded video message.
In addition to Quilinta’s opening remarks, two other young women – Chinyanta Chimba, 17, of Zambia and Vanessa Arevalu, 15, of Peru – gave presentations at high-level roundtable events this afternoon.