Event in New York addresses persistent and growing gender inequalities

© UNICEF video
From left: UNICEF's Daniel Seymour moderates a panel on girls' rights with Youth Advocate Donnady Coquila Lao, Norwegian Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion Audun Lysbakken, Ethical Global Initiative founder Mary Robinson and the founding director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership, Dr. Charlotte Bunch.

NEW YORK, USA, 4 March 2010 – A UNICEF-organized event in New York marked the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. Adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the Beijing Platform is the world's most comprehensive framework for achieving gender equality.

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A UNICEF Division of Policy and Practice paper, prepared for the anniversary, highlighted two factors that can cause gender gaps to grow. First, other forms of exclusion – such as poverty, ethnicity or minority status – can affect girls more negatively and compound gender discrimination. And second, gender gaps can grow as girls reach adolescence, thereby reducing the gains already made for girls in their early childhoods.

The event, held during the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, brought together H.E. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and the Founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative; H.E. Audun Lysbakken, Norway’s Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion; Dr. Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director and Senior Scholar at the Center for Women's Global Leadership; and Donnady Coquila Lao, a youth advocate from the Philippines.

Challenges remain
Ms. Lao noted that gains in gender equality had fallen short of the expectations that were set at the adoption of the Beijing Platform. "It’s very sad to know that children are not aware of gender equality," she said. "It is very disappointing."
© UNICEF video
Norwegian Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion Audun Lysbakken, Ethical Global Initiative Founder Mary Robinson and founding director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership Dr. Charlotte Bunch.

Other panellists agreed that progress has been slow, hampered by cultural attitudes, lack of political will and low priority for girls and women –as well as more recent challenges, including the global economic crisis and climate change. They emphasized the need to actively change attitudes about girls and women, and invest in promoting their rights and dignity.

“All of us are embedded in cultures that don’t entirely respect women,” said Dr. Bunch. “It will take more political will to counter that.”

“It’s our political responsibility to challenge culture and to change culture,” added Mr. Lysbakken.

Dignity important for girls

Ms. Robinson, Ireland’s first woman President, noted that Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says all human beings are born equal in rights and dignity. She encouraged the inclusion of dignity in the discussion about the human rights of girls, and a better appreciation of the ways in which dignity is built or undermined.

“Girls begin life by feeling that they are not as good as their brothers,” she said.

Participants also stressed the link between development and equality, and said that women’s roles in the informal sector should be valued more highly. They called for higher priority to be given to issues such as violence against women and girls, and child marriage.

Empowering adolescent girls

All of the panellists felt that the moment for change had come. Ms. Robinson said she hoped that this year's Commission on the Status of Women would create momentum for change that would feed into the Millennium Development Goals Summit later this year.

At the close of the discussion, Ms. Lao was asked to identify one thing that she thought would make a difference in the fight for gender equality. She suggested celebrating an international ‘Day of the Girl’. “Then, all girls will realize how important they are,” she said.

Later in the day, members of the United Nations Adolescent Girls Task Force jointly pledged to intensify efforts aimed at empowering adolescent girls – particularly the hardest-to-reach girls, 10 to 14 years of age – with increased support to developing countries during the next five years.

As UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry pointed out at a UN Foundation reception highlighting the task force’s commitment to adolescent girls: “We need to see girls not simply as victims of discrimination and abuse, but as empowered agents for social change. Empowered girls and boys are better able to make choices about their lives, to be actors in realizing their rights rather than recipients of services, and to become visible and active members of society.

“With its partners,” added Mr. Houry, “UNICEF will continue to promote the importance of girls’ issues in health, protection, education and HIV prevention, as well as in policy and legislation reforms. We will continue to make support to adolescent girls one of the strategic entry points in gender mainstreaming efforts and in the implementation of our renewed gender policy. And UNICEF will remain a strong advocate and active member of the Adolescent Girls Task Force.”




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3 March 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF’s call to world leaders to improve the rights of women and girls.
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