Culture, Gender and Human Rights

Tarcila Rivera Zea possesses leadership in abundance. She is the coordinator of a network of South American indigenous women and head of CHIRAPAQ (Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú). Tarcila is vibrant, energetic and easily recognized throughout the network of women’s organizations that she strives to maintain and expand through the UNFPA-supported Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas. Over the last 25 years, her efforts have helped to influence local public policy and to promote gender equality and reproductive rights. Her aim? To empower indigenous women to claim political representation so that everyone can enjoy “life with dignity�.

Attention to culture, gender and human rights is key to achieving UNFPA’s mandate. Culturally sensitive programming means involving communities in completely different contexts to support and “own� human rights. Gender mainstreaming is a strategic response to the widespread denial of the human rights of women. And all human beings are entitled to equal rights and protection. In 2006, these concerns converged in two complex issues: gender-based violence and the alarming proportion of women living with HIV/AIDS.

Advancing Equality for Women and Girls

Gender equality advances development and reduces poverty—it is a human right integral to the achievement of all of the Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, UNFPA developed a comprehensive strategy to mainstream a gender perspective into all programming. During that same year:

All People are Entitled to Equal Rights and Protection

It is important to work within communities to nurture and cultivate respect for human rights as a full part of their value system. UNFPA supports programmes that give women, men and young people the information, life skills and education they need to claim their rights. In 2006:

Spectators attending a UNFPA-supported film festival focusing on the problem of genderbased violence. The November 2006 festival, held in Dakar, Senegal, featured 84 films from 18 African countries.

Taking a Culturally Sensitive Approach to Promote Human Rights

UNFPA works from within diverse cultures to achieve goals relating to the well-being of communities and the rights of all individuals. In 2006:


“In all countries of the world, violence against women persists as a pervasive scourge, endangering women’s lives and violating their rights. Such violence also impoverishes families and communities, drains government resources and restricts economic development.�—2006 report of the United Nations Secretary-General.

Gender-based violence attracted high-level attention in 2006. In October, the United Nations released a landmark study recommending that the world commit more resources to prevent and eliminate violence against women. At least 102 of the 192 Member States have no specific legal sanctions against domestic violence, and marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in 53 countries. To follow up, UNFPA and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women co-chaired the United Nations Task Force on Violence against Women.

National action plans to prevent and address violence against women and girls were the focus of joint efforts with sister agencies in the United Nations and United Nations country teams. In 2006, UNFPA built the capacity of national counterparts in Algeria to report cases of gender-based violence; worked with Morocco’s health and justice systems to implement their national strategy to combat violence against women; assisted a legal reform commission in Guatemala; and joined partners from the grass-roots level to the highest levels of government to raise awareness of domestic violence in Romania.

UNFPA joined rights organizations worldwide for the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women. UNFPA and Senegal hosted an African film festival, which included journalist training on gender-based violence, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Training workshops for NGOs helped build capacity to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. UNFPA also continued to support United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), the first legislation ever passed to specifically address the impact of war on women and to call for increased female involvement in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Men like Bishop Xavier Chitanda of Zimbabwe exemplify how men can be powerful allies when they speak out on behalf of women and girls. In 2006, Bishop Chitanda used the power of faith to transform lives and communities, especially with regard to ending wife inheritance, polygamy and marriage between older men and young girls, while preaching his “anti-AIDS gospel� to packed audiences in churches.

Countries in every region have worked with UNFPA to reach men with information, education and services that relate to family planning, maternal health, HIV prevention and gender-based violence. In 2006, men challenged destructive concepts of masculinity in Zimbabwe through Padare—A Men’s Forum on Gender, which reaches men and boys in schools, pubs, sports clubs and churches, and encourages male parliamentarians to generate gender-sensitive legislation. With UNFPA assistance, the Association for Female Lawyers in Liberia successfully mobilized fathers to support new legislation increasing penalties for gender-based violence and rape. Men in Turkey responded to a UNFPAsupported campaign in which sports heroes announced that violence against women is a crime that reveals weakness, not strength. And in China, the Ministry of Railways partnered with UNFPA to reach men between the ages of 25 and 40 with HIV prevention messages through flyers and messages broadcast over video screens on commuter trains.

Culture, Gender and Human Rights