By Branwyn Lancourt
NEW YORK, USA, 1 March 2011 – UNICEF and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched a joint publication, ‘Women’s and Children’s Rights: Making the Connection,’ last week with a panel session on tensions and opportunities in their shared goal of securing the rights of women and children worldwide.
|VIDEO: 25 February 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Eduardo Cure reports on the launch of the UNICEF-UN Population Fund joint publication, ‘Women’s and Children’s Rights: Making the Connection.’ Watch in RealPlayer|
Attendees at the 25 February event spilled into the Danny Kaye Visitor’s Centre at UNICEF House, some water-logged from the unrelenting rain outside. The inclement weather could do nothing to dampen enthusiasm, however, as the audience was soon caught up in a compelling conversation.
The four panellists were Dr. Nafis Sadik, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General and Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific; Stephen Lewis, Co-director of the international advocacy organization AIDS-Free World; Marta Santos Pais, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children; and Fabiola, 17, a youth advocate and member of Plan Cameroon’s Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media project.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0319/Susan Markisz|
|Co-founder and Co-Director of AIDS-Free World Stephen Lewis (centre) speaks at the panel discussion ‘Women’s and Children’s Rights: Making the Connection’ at UNICEF House with (from left) UNICEF Gender and Rights Chief Daniel Seymour, youth activist Fabiola, 17, from Cameroon, and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais.|
Breaking the cycle
Each panel member brought a wealth of experience, insight and ideas on how women’s and children’s rights advocates can better work together. On specific challenges that hinder collaboration, Dr. Sadik said UNICEF and UNFPA needed to work harder to instil women with a greater knowledge of their rights earlier in their lives.
“Beginning with adolescents is already too late,” Ms. Sadik said. “You can’t empower women after the fact. You need to start with the child.”
Fabiola echoed these sentiments. “If women don’t know their own rights, how can they understand the rights of their children? she asked. “This cycle of behaviour must be broken.”
|Youth delegate Fabiola (left), 17, from Cameroon, speaks at the panel discussion co-hosted by UNICEF and the UN Population Fund. Co-founder and Co-Director of AIDS-Free World Stephen Lewis is beside her.|
‘A solid foundation’
For reasons of politics, religion and gender, the needs and rights of women and children historically have been addressed largely in isolation from each other. Child care, for example, is often seen as the sole responsibility of the mother, and there is a perceived conflict between a woman’s right to personal development and the best interests of her child.
Combining efforts behind the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) can go a long way to ensuring that the concerns of both women and children are considered equally. The provisions of the CRC and CEDAW treaties overlap and reinforce each other in many areas.
“These two treaties provide a solid foundation and highlight the need to work for the protection of all women, despite age,” explained Ms. Pais, who was a member of the group that drafted CRC and its two Optional Protocols. “CEDAW and CRC are now working together, but we need to reach out to a broader audience by promoting joint country visits and encouraging joint thematic debates.”
|Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General and Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Dr. Nafis Sadik speaks at the panel discussion at UNICEF House.|
Although the panellists fully acknowledged progress made in the promotion of women’s and children’s rights around the world, there was a general consensus that more needed to be done.
“There is a tendency to view women exclusively as mothers – as mere reproductive vessels,” Mr. Lewis said.
“The rights of women continue to take a backseat to the rights of children, specifically when it comes to addressing the AIDS problem,” he added. “The emphasis in HIV/AIDS prevention is always on the life of the child. Women are seen as subsidiary. The focus should be equal on both child and mother.”
‘Women’s and Children’s Rights: Making the Connection’
Download the full report [PDF]