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The First OIC Conference on "Women’s Role in the Development of OIC Member States"

© UNICEF Morocco/2005/Koch
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah (right) addresses the First Islamic Ministerial Conference on the Child.

Istanbul, 20-21 November 2006

Dr. Rima Salah
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
Speech on
Women’s Role in the Development of OIC Member States”

Honourable Secretary General of the OIC, Excellency Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Honourable Minister of State for Women and Children Excellency Ms. Nimet Cubukcu, Distinguished Participants.Allow me to begin by acknowledging the warmth and hospitality of the Government and people of Turkey and the Secretary General of the OIC for inviting us to this magnificent city to participate in the 1st OIC Conference on the Role of Women in the Development of OIC Member States.

This is indeed an auspicious gathering, and the first of many steps to ensure gender equality in Muslim countries.

Over the past day we have benefited from the wisdom of H.E Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey and the rich discussion of colleagues in this room.

Since time is short, I will focus my remarks around two issues which are of paramount importance for OIC States and which are the twin pillars on which a just society can be built namely;

  • education for girls and women, and

  • non discrimination and the elimination of gender violence.

A 21 year old said it for us all when she remarked “Educate the Girl Child today and liberate them from the bondage of discrimination in our societies. Education is freedom!”

Isabella Feliciano an 18 year old of the Girls’ Education Movement in Juba, in Southern Sudan expressed similar sentiments when she said “I learned that day that my voice is strong and powerful. Now I want to use my voice to help other children go to school. I want to tell the world that education should be free; that it is the right of every child.”

Ladies and gentlemen these girls are demanding what we should have been saying a long time ago. So let us work to ensure the right to education for children and women.

Personally I come to these gatherings with images of children in my mind and close to my heart – children I have met in recent months in my travels for UNICEF. For me, it is important to remember these children, to remind ourselves of why we travel long distances and sit through long hours at meetings like this.

Amidst the statistics and economic analysis, let us never forget why these discussions call on our energies and our time. It is so that the girls and boys I met recently in the occupied Palestinian territory can go to school, become literate, know their history, learn the ways of peace, and grow strong in a world that is safe and progressive.

It is millions of boys and girls caught up in current forgotten conflicts like Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon and OPT. These children that we hear of and many of us may not visit, but to whom we are nonetheless accountable; it is for these children whose future will determine our destiny, that we have come here.

In this connection UNICEF is gratified that the 2007 Session of the Commission on the Status Women (CSW) will devote a Special Session to “The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and Violence against the Girl Child”.

Dear colleagues, the inequities are many, and in order to correct the balance we will need to tip the scales in favour of girls and women. There is no basis for social injustice in Islam. What is needed is the insightful interpretation and application of the texts. There is no excuse for any harmful traditional practices and no basis for them has been found in religion.

UNICEF has just completed a two year study on Children and Islam with Al-Azhar University which demonstrates the compatibility between the principles and dictates of Islam revealed 1500 years ago and the issues which we are grappling with today.

Exactly one year ago, the OIC, ISESCO and UNICEF held the first Ministerial Meeting on Children and launched a major report on “Investing in Children in the Islamic World”. This report which is available on the UNICEF website provides us with valuable information on which to base our action plans. UNICEF encourages a similar study and report on women and girls in OIC Member States.

In this regard we are pleased that the Islamic FIQH Academy is a part of these deliberations and hope that we can all work together to produce the necessary evidence based reports to inform our action plans.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have all discussed the issues from the moment we came together. I can not stress enough that if our objectives are to be achieved, then the greatest attention must be paid to the complementarity between women’s rights and children’s rights. Since the Status of Women and the well being of children are deeply intertwined, advocates for children would be remiss if they failed to champion the cause of gender equality.

CEDAW and the CRC are sister treaties demanding freedom from violence and abuse and based on principles of non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

They set the standard for an equitable world, in which the rights of every human being are respected.

It is essential therefore, that country level efforts are accelerated to harmonize legislation with the articles and the principles of CRC and CEDAW as has been pointed out by the delegations of Qatar and Egypt.

UNICEF welcomes the steps that the OIC International Secretariat will take to restructure and reinvigorate the Division on Social Affairs and stands ready to extend its full cooperation and technical expertise in support of its mandate.

There is a famous Hadith which states: that when a child of Adam dies there are only three things that will serve him well;

Continuous charity, pious children, and a life spent in empowering and making a difference to the knowledge of others.

In conclusion as we leave Istanbul, let us recall that this planet is the inheritance of succeeding generations to whom we owe a better future.

I thank you for your attention.



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