|"Advancing gender equality and equity and
the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence against women, and
ensuring womens ability to control their own fertility, are cornerstones of
population and development-related programmes," according to Principle 4 of the ICPD
Programme of Action. "The human rights of women and the girl child are an
inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights."
The Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social
Development, held in Copenhagen in March 1995, called for equal educational and work
opportunities for women.
The Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on
Women held in Beijing in September 1995 also called for universal access to quality health
services by 2015; equal land, credit and employment access to women; the establishment of
effective personal and political rights; and the education of girls and young women as the
key intervention for the empowerment of women.
In 1997, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights reiterated that womens rights are fundamental human rights. Women's social
status and access to education, employment and health care are closely linked to economic
development. Women in many countries still lack the right to own land, to inherit property
or to have access to credit; girls are denied schooling; female workers routinely face job
discrimination; and women's sexual and reproductive health needs are widely neglected.
Women often face legal and institutional barriers to
economic activity outside the home, including laws or customs that deny them the right to
own land, inherit property, establish credit or move up in their field of work.
Enhancement of their productive roles is especially
important for women whose status in society has been dependent solely on their
reproductive capabilities. In the absence of other sources of status, a womans
ability to decide about a marriage partner or family size is limited This is true for
women in all countries.
Education is a critical ingredient in the empowerment
process. Of the 960 million illiterate adults in the world, two thirds are female. The
ICPD Programme of Action calls for universal enrolment in primary school by the year 2015,
a time line influenced by the magnitude of the task. Despite progress in expanding access
to primary education throughout the world, an estimated 130 million children - including
90 million girls are not enrolled in primary school. And while enrolment in primary
and secondary school totals nearly 900 million children worldwide, there are about 85
million fewer girls than boys enrolled.
The level of education achieved by a woman is also strongly
associated with both lower infant mortality and lower fertility. In poorer countries,
where access to health care is often limited, each additional year of schooling is
associated with a
5 to 10 per cent decline in child deaths. And the impact of a womans
educational attainment on family size is second only to that of access to family planning
services. In combination, high levels of education and access to family planning services
translate into both lower infant mortality and lower fertility.
Gender discrimination often begins long before a girl
enters school. Deep-rooted traditions of son preference can result in both passive and
active neglect. A girl may be given less food than her brothers, be less likely to see a
doctor when ill or be prevented from attending school in order to help with household
chores and child care. Access to new technologies is compounding the problem of son
preference in some countries, where sex-selective abortion is a growing problem.
The ICPD Programme of Action recognizes that men, in most
societies, exercise preponderant power in nearly every sphere of life, ranging from
personal decisions regarding the size of families to the policy and programme decisions
taken at all levels of government. Achieving gender equality, equity and womens
empowerment will require the support of men.
Men also must play an active role in stopping the abuse of their daughters, wives,
mothers and sisters by joining the effort to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence
including domestic violence, child prostitution and rape.
Encouragement of joint decision-making in the family and of
male support for their partners choices related to reproduction is a vital component
of an empowering and participatory approach to reproductive health.
Family planning programmes traditionally focused primarily
on women via maternal and child health programmes. This approach generally neglected
"male methods" of contraception condoms, vasectomy and withdrawal. It
also placed responsibility for contraception decisions solely on women and impeded efforts
to promote male responsibility. It may even have deterred contraceptive use by women,
particularly in cultures where men dominate reproductive decision-making. (Where partners
disagree on the number of children or the use of contraceptives, the man's views will
The development and use of male methods of contraception
which are safe, effective, reversible and acceptable would expand the options for both men
and women, attract additional users and improve reproductive health. Male cooperation and
responsible sexual behaviour will be required to counter the AIDS pandemic and rising STD
rates, since the male condom is the most widely available barrier to disease transmission.
Men also need to be educated on the implications of their sexual behaviour for their
Programmes can be made more attractive to men in several
ways: separate clinics for males; modifying existing clinics at little cost, to make men
feel more welcome and to offer a broader range of services; services in the workplace;
community-based services for men, such as distribution of condoms and information;
commercial and social marketing; and promoting positive images of men and women.
|Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Female genital mutilation is a major public health issue: an
estimated 130 million women world-wide have undergone some form of the procedure. It is
practised, in one form or another, in around 40 countries, mostly in East and West Africa
and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. As a result of migration from these areas, it is now
also practised in Europe and North America.
Each year it is estimated that about 2 million or more girls are at risk of mutilation.
The procedure is usually performed on young girls or adolescents, and sometimes when a
woman has just given birth. Because it is typically performed outside the medical system,
without anaesthesia, using unclean instruments, it can have grave health consequences. The
commonest type of female genital mutilation is excision of the clitoris and the labia
minora, accounting for up to 80% of all cases. The most extreme is infibulation, which
constitutes about 15% of all procedures.
Governments, international organizations including UNFPA, women's organizations, human
rights groups, and national and international media are focusing increased
attention on the practice. The ICPD was the first international conference to speak out
plainly against it, calling on the international community to eliminate the practice,
which, it stressed, violates basic human rights and constitutes a major lifelong risk to
women's health. The Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women similarly
urged governments, international organizations and NGOs to help eliminate the practice.
|Women and AIDS
A number of factors increase womens risk of HIV
- womens customary economic and social dependence on a male partner
- inability to negotiate the use of condoms or to refuse sexual intercourse with their
- practices such as genital mutilation, proof of fertility prior to marriage, and anal
intercourse as a way of preserving virginity
- less access to STD prevention programmes for women, leading to untreated illnesses which
increase the risk of HIV transmission as much as 5 to 10-fold
- women under 18 are more vulnerable to STDs
- lack of educational and economic opportunities increasing economic dependence and the
likelihood of turning to commercial sex
- womens physiology, which puts them at greater risk during heterosexual intercourse
New studies from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) show that women
tend to have less access than men to HIV/AIDS prevention programmes. In sub-Saharan Africa
infected women are thought to outnumber infected men by 6 to 5. While women accounted for
41 per cent of all infected adults worldwide in 1997, women now represent 43 per cent of
all people over 15 living with HIV and AIDS. The studies also show that by the year 2000,
an estimated 13 million women worldwide will have been infected with HIV, of whom more
than 4 million will have died of AIDS.8 As more women become infected, there is a
consequent increase in infections among children resulting from mother-to-child