Empower Women to Help Children: Gender Equality Produces a ‘Double Dividend’ that Benefits Both Women and Children, UNICEF Reports
Hanoi, 11 December 2006 - Eliminating gender discrimination and empowering women will have a profound and positive impact on the survival and well-being of children, according to a new UNICEF report issued on UNICEF’s 60th anniversary.
Gender equality produces the “double dividend” of benefiting both women and children and is pivotal to the health and development of families, communities and nations, according to The State of the World’s Children 2007.
“Gender equality and the well-being of children are inextricably linked,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “When women are empowered to lead full and productive lives, children and families prosper.”
According to the report, women’s influence in key decisions improves the lives of women and has a positive effect on child well-being and development.
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. 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 developing countries does not complete a primary education. Education levels among women, says the report, correlate with improved outcomes for child survival and development.
Viet Nam - A champion in the region
“In many areas, Viet Nam leads the Asia-Pacific region on gender equality indicators. On average, Viet Nam performs well in delivering education and health services to girls and boys, women and men. School enrolment rate show little difference between girls and boys. The gap between male and female literacy rates has been decreasing over time,” said UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam, Mr. Jesper Morch.
Viet Nam also has one of the highest economic participation rates in the world: 85% of men and 83% of women aged 15-60 engaged in economic activities (World Bank, 2003).
Persistent gender inequalities remain
Many Vietnamese people still hold strong believes regarding appropriate behaviour for women. Women are very often required to put their families first, even at the expense of their own health or aspirations; expected to defer to male authority. As a result, women may not be aware of or do not exercise the rights accorded to them by law and policy.
"Women need to be able to make choices in all areas of their life, including the question of fertility. They need to have the knowledge, power and means to plan how many children to have and when to have them. Women's and girls' rights - including their rights to education, employment and freedom from violence, abuse and discrimination - need to be protected. Without these, women become victims, and when their full human capital is not realized, the development of entire communities and nations suffers," said Mr. Ian Howie, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Viet Nam.
More gender issues are emerging
Rapid economic growth has brought new opportunities. However, due to gender inequalities in access to productive resources, women have much less capacity to compete.
Another challenge is domestic violence against women and exploitation for prostitution and trafficking. Although certain national policies for these problems are in place, a nationally coordinated and systematic approach is urgently needed.
Moreover, the situation of ethnic minority women is much behind in many communities. Around 60% of ethnic minorities are living below the poverty line (Viet Nam Household Living Standards Survey – VHLSS, 2004). As a result the infant and child mortality rates in Northern Mountainous region are twice the rates in Red River Delta region (Viet Nam Demographic Health Survey – VDHS, 2002); at least one-quarter of ethnic minority women are illiterate (VHLSS, 2004) and one-fifth of ethnic minority young women have reported never attending school (Survey Assessment of Vietnamese Youth – SAVY, 2003).
Although most migrants are likely to gain in terms of well-being, migrant women factory workers often have to work under poor working conditions while male workers are at higher risk of drug addiction and exposure to HIV/AIDS, which further burdens their wives and children.
A roadmap to gender equality
The State of the World’s Children 2007 presents seven key interventions 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.
Key to strong societies
The benefits of gender equality go beyond their direct impact on children. The State of the World’s Children shows how promoting gender equality and empowering women – Millennium Development Goal number 3 – will propel all of the other goals, from reducing poverty and hunger to saving children’s lives, improving maternal health, ensuring universal education, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability.
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