Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, March 13, 2006

Round Up of International Women's Day News and Views

Washington, D.C. – Last Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, a celebration of the world’s women which has been observed annually since 1911. LCHR has compiled a round-up of news stories on women’s rights to commemorate International Women’s Day, 2006. The compilation is merely a small sampling of stories describing women’s triumphs and struggles in various parts of the world. Join LCHR in standing up for women’s rights today and every day.

1) Head of UNICEF Addresses Human Rights Community on Importance of Gender Equality
2) Karzai Speaks Out Against Forced Marriages
3) Afghanistan to Track Violence Against Women
4) UN Commission on the Status of Women: Empowering Women Key to Development
5) International Women’s Day Message of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

1) Head of UNICEF Addresses Human Rights Community on Importance of Gender Equality

Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, gave the keynote address at the International Women’s Day forum, “Women Around the World: Recognizing Inequity, Promoting Opportunity,” about the progress women have made and the long road that remains to achieving true gender equality. The following is a selection of remarks from her poignant speech:

We are all benefactors of the Western world’s embrace, however imperfect, of equality and dignity for all people, and we have indeed “come a long way.”

But around the globe today, especially in developing countries, girls and women suffer in silence, out of range of the cameras, and off society’s radar. In too many nations and regions, they are still devalued and denied, or treated as second-class citizens. They are the victims of gross inequity, or all too often, much worse.

It is long past time that countries, cultures and communities everywhere, and particularly their men, accept that it is in their own best interests to treat women as equals.

Common sense and economics alike tell us that a society cannot possibly marginalize half its population and expect positive outcomes.

As Secretary-General Kofi Annan said:
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

Or as a woman in developing country recently put it, a country’s development is like a cart with two wheels, man and woman. If one of those wheels is not moving, the cart will not get very far.

Equality must be viewed through a prism that will benefit not just half our population, but all of the world. The empowerment of women is not just an issue for women, it is an issue for everyone.

When one woman suffers, we all suffer.

When one woman is abused, exploited or denied, all of humanity is debased.

LCHR President Kathryn Cameron Porter wholeheartedly supports Ms. Veneman’s sentiments and urges women to stand in solidarity with their sisters across the globe to make sure that no woman suffers.

Source: UNICEF (Please note: Quotes were derived from Veneman’s prepared remarks.)

2) Karzai Speaks Out Against Forced Marriages

Agence France-Presse reported on Afghanistan’s push to end forced marriages, especially the practice of taking “child brides.” President Hamid Karzai on March 8 called for an end to the practice of forced marriages, saying, "Girls are still being married off to pay for the crimes of others; they are married off to settle enmity; they are forced to marry at a young age.” Karzai made the remarks at an International Women's Day event. Women in Afghanistan "are forced to marry against their will, [and] in many cases they are forced to marry for cash their parents receive," Karzai added.

According to AFP:
An estimated 60-80 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan are imposed under such circumstances, and more than half of all girls are married before the age of 16, the statutory minimum for marriage in Afghanistan.

Karzai appealed to "tribal chiefs, ulemas [mullahs], the influential -- anyone who has a voice in the communities -- to speak against the violence against women, against the marriages of women to settle enmities, against forced marriages in villages, in provinces, in cities."

3) Afghanistan to Track Violence Against Women

In other news from Afghanistan, Xinhua news agency reported that the country’s Ministry for Women’s Affairs has started a database designed to track acts of violence against women. The project was announced on International Women’s Day. The United Nations Development Fund for Women will offer field trainings on how to interview victims of gender-related violence and will also help law enforcement officials prosecute abusers. According to the report, more than 100 Afghan women have committed self-immolation since 2005 due to domestic violence or forced marriage.

4) UN Commission on the Status of Women: Empowering Women Key to Development

From UN News:

Opening the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, UN Deputy-Secretary General Louise Fréchette said today [February 27] the international community is finally comprehending that empowering women and girls around the globe is the most effective tool for a country's development.

Studies have repeatedly shown that by giving women equal education and work opportunities and access to a society's decision-making processes, a country can boost its economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and improve the general population's nutrition and health, Ms. Fréchette told representatives gathered during the first day of the two-week meeting at UN headquarters in New York.

More than a decade after the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in 1995 in Beijing, the Commission will focus on two themes that it believes are crucial to women's progress around the world: their participation in development and their role in decision-making in all areas of society, from politics to business to media. More than 2,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were expected to attend the session.

"Ten years after the Beijing declaration, we still have far to go on actual representation of women at the highest levels of national and international leadership," Ms. Fréchette said. "That includes the United Nations itself, the Charter of which proclaims the equal rights of men and women."

Rachel N. Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the Outcome Document hammered out by global leaders at the 2005 World Summit as well as the UN's ongoing reform offer fresh opportunities to speed up the implementation of global commitments to women.

"A fully implemented and engendered Summit Outcome will usher in a new era for the empowerment and advancement of women," said Ms. Mayanja, noting that the Summit called for the increased representation of women in Government decision-making bodies.

5) International Women’s Day Message of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day -- the role of women in decision-making -- is central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole. As the Beijing Declaration tells us, “women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.”
The international community is finally beginning to understand a fundamental principle: women are every bit as affected as any man by the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century -- in economic and social development, as well as in peace and security. Often, they are more affected. It is, therefore, right and indeed necessary that women should be engaged in the decision-making processes in all areas, with equal strength and in equal numbers.
The world is also starting to grasp that there is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls. And I would venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.
We do have achievements to celebrate in women’s representation around the world. In January of this year, the proportion of women in national parliaments reached a new global high. There are now 11 women Heads of State or Government, in countries on every continent. And three countries – Chile, Spain and Sweden – now have gender parity in Government.
But we have far, far more to do. The rate of progress overall is slow. Let us remember that in individual countries, the increase in the number of women in decision-making has not happened by itself. Rather, it is often the result of institutional and electoral initiatives, such as the adoption of goals and quotas, political party commitment and sustained mobilization. It is also the result of targeted and concerted measures to improve the balance between life and work. Those are lessons every nation -- and the United Nations -- need to take very seriously.
At the 2005 World Summit, world leaders declared that “progress for women is progress for all”. On this International Women’s Day, let us rededicate ourselves to demonstrating the truth behind those words. Let us ensure that half the world’s population takes up its rightful place in the world’s decision-making.


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