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UNICEF Executive Board

Executive Board reviews efforts to promote gender equality

By Rebecca Zerzan

NEW YORK, USA, 6 June 2012 – On the second day of its 2012 Annual Session, the UNICEF Executive Board reviewed recent efforts to promote gender equality through all of UNICEF’s humanitarian and development programmes.

VIDEO: UNICEF Principal Advisor Anju Malhotra updates the UNICEF Executive Board on efforts to promote gender equality through UNICEF's programming.  Watch in RealPlayer


UNICEF Principal Advisor on Gender and Rights Anju Malhotra presented the findings of a report on a three-year strategic priority action plan to integrate a focus on gender equality across all aspects of the organization’s work.

“The sum of our work in the last year has produced notable achievements and progress,” Ms. Malhotra said. She noted that considerable strides have been made toward achieving gender equality in young children’s access to education, health care and other essential services, but significant inequalities arise as children reach adolescence.

“A pattern that is emerging is that gender equality is becoming more prominent in early childhood in areas like birth registration, early education and immunization,” Ms. Malhotra said. “However, in adolescence, there are significantly disparities.” Adolescent girls continue to be disproportionately forced into child marriages, she said.

Progress and partnerships

To address these and other persistent inequalities, UNICEF has forged a strong partnership with UN-Women and other UN agencies, which are jointly conducting programmes to reduce violence against women and eradicate female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). UNICEF is also working with governments around the world to incorporate gender perspectives into legislation and essential services.

© UNICEF video
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta and UNICEF Principal Advisor update the UNICEF Executive Board on gender equality in UNICEF programming.

These efforts have borne results: in Kenya, UNICEF partnerships with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development helped to successfully pass a bill prohibiting FGM/C. The Safe and Friendly Cities Initiative – launched together with UN-Women and UN-Habitat at last year’s Annual Session of the UNICEF Executive Board – is empowering communities to improve urban safety through a range of measures, including female-led police units, youth- and women-led mapping of cities’ safety conditions, improved lighting in high-risk areas, and strengthening advocacy to end sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Looking ahead

Still, some areas of UNICEF’s work have witnessed greater progress than others. “Child protection, education and HIV/AIDS see progress in gender focus,” Ms. Malhotra said. She noted that this was the result of a consistently high allocation of resources to promote gender equality in those sectors. The gender gap in net primary enrolment in developing countries has narrowed to 2 percentage points, for example. However, more must be done to integrate gender perspectives into child health and nutrition initiatives, she said.

“What we need to do is focus on what’s happening on the ground,” she continued. Gaps in reliable data have restricted the organization’s ability to assess and address gender inequalities. To remedy this, UNICEF has created enhanced monitoring systems that are now improving the collection and analysis of dependable information about the needs of girls and women across all sectors.

The organization is also looking to build on its community-level successes. “So far, a lot of UNICEF’s work on men and boys has been very community-oriented: working with traditional leaders; with boys in different camps; with community organizations to orient men on different concepts of masculinity. Those are good strategies but difficult to scale up,” said Ms. Malhotra. The next step, she said, is to look at institutions – schools, hospitals, parliaments – to see how these community-level successes can be scaled up.

The increased focus on gender equality, coupled with the improvements in data collection and monitoring, will have far-reaching results across all aspects of development, said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

“We are emphasizing the importance of concentrating on girls – whether focusing on education, violence or birth registration – which is going surprisingly well,” he said. “Gender mainstreaming can contribute to results… As we get more results… we will do a better job of analyzing what needs to be done.”



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