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The 8th March 2012 is International Women’s’ Day and the UN Women’s Regional Programme, Director Ms. Simone Oluch-Olunya acting interim for East and Horn of Africa presents this United Nations Joint Statement in Nebbi District, North Western Uganda.

The 8th March 2012 is International Women’s’ Day and the UN Women’s Regional Programme, Director Ms. Simone Oluch-Olunya acting interim for East and Horn of Africa presents this United Nations Joint Statement in Nebbi District, North Western Uganda.
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I am very excited to have been invited to celebrate this special day for women around the world with the people of Uganda, and to speak on behalf of the United Nations Country Team in Uganda at this occasion. This year marks the 101st anniversary of the International Women's Day. Worldwide, this day is commemorated every 8th of March to recognize the achievements of women in the economic, political and social spheres. On this day, we also focus on what needs to be done to provide greater opportunities for women so as to inspire their futures.

The United Nations is cognizant of the significant progress made by member states in policy commitments on achieving economic, social and political rights for women and its own role in supporting member states in achieving de facto enjoyment of these rights.  To this end the United Nations in July 2010 established UNWOMEN – the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women; a recognition that progress to date had been limited, especially between policy commitments and implementation both at the global and country levels.  UNWOMEN is mandated to support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission for the Status of Women (currently in session in New York) in the formulation of policies, global standards and norms; support member states who request it in the implementation of these global norms and standards through technical and financial support and through effective partnerships with civil society; and to hold the UN system accountable for its commitment on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.  

The 2012 theme for International Women’s Day is: ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures’ and it implores us to stimulate the minds of girls towards a future of equality, development and peace; to create enthusiasm within girls and provide them with the conducive environment for a future in which they can reach their full potential with dignity and human security, and an equal opportunity to effectively participate in national development.  

As we look back on women’s past struggles and accomplishments during this commemoration, it is equally important to reflect on how we can support girls and young women to overcome current challenges and have greater prospects for the attainment of economic, political and social rights. 

This is possible through accelerated efforts towards creating an enabling environment for girls to explore, nurture and fulfill their dreams to the fullest. It calls for urgent actions to help girls develop to their full potential; such as mentoring and connecting girls to female achievers and role models, putting in place systems and policies that will eliminate discrimination against women and girls, and strengthen the empowerment of women and the achievement of equality between women and men and girls and boys as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights and peace and security.  The United Nations through its various programmes is fully committed to supporting those mechanisms that address needs of women and girls.

Status of Women and Girls in Uganda
The Government of Uganda has strong policy commitments on gender equality and the empowerment of women that provides inspiration to many within and outside its borders for the attainment of these rights.  The strongest commitment comes from the Constitution which guarantees the rights of women and children.  Chapter 4 and Articles 33 and 34 of the Uganda Constitution 1995 provide for the following: -
• Full and equal dignity of women and men
• Provision of facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to realize their full potential and advancement
• Right to equal treatment with men which includes equal opportunity in political, economic and social activities
• Affirmative action for redressing past imbalances (created by history, tradition or custom)
• The prohibition of laws, cultures, customs and traditions that are in contravention of the dignity, welfare or interest of women and undermine their status
• The rights of children to education as a shared responsibility of the state and parents
• The right of protection of children from social and economic exploitation

The above commitments are in accordance with global norms and standards for women and children’s rights.  National laws, policies and programmes have been developed to give effect to these constitutional provisions.
 
Unfortunately however, violence against women and girls continues to severely compromise their human rights, hindering their ability to achieve their full potential and the realization of the national commitments on women’s and children’s rights.  For married (or co habiting) women between the ages of 15-49 years, the national prevalence of physical violence is 34.4%, sexual violence is 24.8% and emotional violence 39%.  For sexual and gender based violence for women and girls between 15-49 years, the statistics are even more alarming; 59.9% for physical violence and 39% for sexual violence.  In such an unsafe environment, the prospect of girls achieving their full potential is severely compromised.  Girls are also faced with a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services, harmful practices like female genital cutting/mutilation (FGM/C) and early marriages, which further reduce their self-esteem by reinforcing gender-based marginalization and inequality.

The United Nations Development Assistance Framework for 2010-2014 has gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as one of the areas of special focus and a UN joint Programming on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (with 11 participating Agencies) was developed in 2009 and will run till 2014.  The programme is collaboration between the UN, the Government of Uganda and civil society to address critical gaps in the implementation of the Uganda Gender Policy 2007.  Its focus is to strengthen the national machinery for gender mainstreaming to ensure gender equitable protection of rights and service delivery, improve economic empowerment of women, enhance civil society capacity to demand and ensure accountability and effective and coherent UN support to gender responsive governance.  The programme has a strong focus on institutional strengthening, capacity development, girl child education and combating gender based violence.  It has been made possible by a generous financial commitment of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).   It will focus on national level activities and on 10 districts including Nebbi.  DFID through the United Nations is also supporting a Joint Programme on Population and the Government of Norway a UN Joint Programme on Sexual and Gender Based Violence.  We acknowledge the partnership with our development partners in providing services in these much needed areas.

United Nations Agencies through their regular programmes together with other stakeholders like the government of Uganda, donor agencies and civil society are supporting mechanisms for the empowerment of girls in the areas of education, ending violence against women and girls, reproductive health awareness and services etc.  Our work with government and civil society to address FGM, both at the policy development and implementation levels, has been encouraging.

Education
To secure the future of the girl child, education is key. The payoffs of education are high including social and economic benefits.  These include access to quality employment, social awareness, the ability and opportunity to participate in public decision making. These in turn lead to national economic growth because it creates a quality population that has skills to fully compete into the labour market.  Education for all is a basic human right.  Yet many girls’ access to education is compromised due to challenges like early marriage, unplanned pregnancies, sexual and other forms of gender-based violence at home, school, and the community at large despite the provision of Universal Primary and Universal Secondary Education Programmes in Uganda. 

The United Nations, through agencies like UNICEF and UNFPA is working not only towards ensuring girl child access to education and tertiary training, but also towards ensuring that children get a quality education in an environment free of violence. We believe that this will give girls the skills they need to compete in the labour market and also improve the quality of population since, as a well-known saying goes; ‘educate a girl, and educate a nation.’

Studies have linked education of women and girls to national welfare.  For example, with reduced child and maternal deaths, improved child health, and lower fertility. Women with at least some formal education are more likely than uneducated women to use contraception, marry later, have fewer children, and be better informed on the nutritional and other needs of children. This means that empowering girls with skills will build their economic power and self-esteem so as to make better decisions regarding their future, and henceforth the future of the whole nation.

Ensuring that adolescent girls can claim their right to sexual and reproductive health is a critical first step towards their empowerment towards securing a better future for them.

Economic Empowerment
The economic empowerment of women is critical in reducing their vulnerability to sexual and gender based violence.  It enhances the social status of women within their families and communities, reduces the economic dependency of women on men, their inability to walk away from violent situations and equally important shares the economic responsibilities within families, the absence of which fuels conflict and violence.
 
Inspiring Girls’ Futures
This begins at home. If Parents take deliberate action to inspire their daughters at a very early age and give them equal opportunities as their brothers, it will help them build and grow their self-esteem so as to confidently fit in society. Girls can be inspired by being provided the same opportunities as boys, including access to education, health and other basic needs.

Inspiring girls’ futures is a responsibility for everyone. Women achievers can be role-models to inspire the girls; policy makers can make policies work for girls; girls can support each other through peer groups to make this possible and the community as a whole can create an enabling environment to make this happen.

The United Nations is committed to making this happen. Together with the government of Uganda, civil society organizations and individuals who share our belief that it is possible to change the future of Women in this world if we empower girls. I will end with the words of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director UNFPA and UN Under- Secretary General, “Young people hold the key to the future, with the potential to transform the global political landscape and to propel economies through their creativity and capacities for innovation.”

 

 
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