Press Release - Poverty No Excuse for Denying Women's Rights, UNFPA Executive Director Declares

United Nations Population Fund

Contact in New York:
Hugh O'Haire
Alex Marshall
Fax: (212) 557-6416

KAMPALA, Uganda, 23 June--Poverty is no excuse for depriving girls and women of their human rights, Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said today. She spoke at a press conference at Kampala's International Conference Centre, called to explain the purposes of the round table on reproductive rights and the implementation of reproductive health programmes, which entered its second day on Tuesday.

No matter the extent of poverty in any society, she stressed, girls and women should have the same rights as boys and men to go to school, to work and to be independent. These rights must be promoted and protected on an equal basis.

"If poverty were the cause of all women's ills, men and women would suffer the same," Dr. Sadik said, disputing a Ugandan journalist's suggestion that poverty was the main reason women are denied their rights in many parts of the world. "Why are women stopped from owning land, opening bank accounts and seeking higher education? It is not because women are stupider than men." The denial of their rights is based on traditions about women's childbearing role. "Biology is being used to exploit them," she added.

"One sure way to eradicate poverty is to invest in all the people, men and women," the Executive Director stressed. She noted that microcredit organizations in various countries are now giving small-scale loans to women. "Women should be able to get into positions whereby they, too, can support their families."

Asked about UNFPA's efforts to protect women in refugee camps from rape and other rights abuses, she said the Fund supports reproductive health services for women in emergency situations, conflicts and disasters, and encourages them to use contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies. She noted that rape for political purposes is now considered a crime against humanity, and is "being addressed seriously and condemned at the highest levels of government all over Africa. Violence against women is no longer acceptable behaviour for men, even in cultures that once might have tolerated it."

Advocacy must be stepped up to change attitudes and cultural and social values that place less premium on women's worth than men's, Dr. Sadik said. "Women should be educated to make them more independent and to have more confidence in themselves. In this country, certainly, change is going on and some women are helping that change along. What we need is for more men to do more to encourage positive changes."

On UNFPA's work to help to put reproductive health concepts into operation in Uganda, the Executive Director said the Fund is helping the Government identity priorities, develop guidelines, and design indicators to illustrate baseline social conditions and determine criteria that can evaluate progress.

Since its arrival in the country, UNFPA has helped Uganda set up its own population institutions, and has spread the message of free choice in deciding the numbers and spacing of children and on the family planning methods to be used.

Greater efforts are required to allay unfounded fears that the provision of reproductive health and family planning services and information promotes irresponsible sexual behaviour, she said. The distribution of condoms in Uganda to prevent AIDS does not mean that sexual activities are being encouraged. "You have to protect your youth from diseases such as AIDS, even if you believe that they should not engage in sexual activities," she explained. "Because you oppose drunkenness does not mean that you allow a drunk who has an accident to die on the road. You have to treat his injuries."

The Executive Director listed some of the events that will be held as part of the ICPD+5 review process, noting that the Kampala round table is the second in a series of four. The third, on participation with civil society in the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, will be held from 27-30 July in Bangladesh. The fourth, on population and macro-economic linkages, is tentatively set for 4-7 November in Italy.

Back to Expert Round-table Meeting on Ensuring Reproductive Rights, and Implementing Sexual and Reproductive Health Programmes