Work with Agents of Change to Promote Women’s Rights, Says UNFPA

5 March 2010
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, New York — People are critical agents of change in all cultures, who must be engaged to promote the rights of women and protect them from violence, said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Discriminatory attitudes and harmful practices are deeply rooted and are often stronger than the laws banning them, said Ms. Obaid. To end these practices, she added, it is necessary to go deeper, to wear a ‘cultural lens’, and to “use “culturally sensitive approaches” to promote change from within.”

Ms. Obaid’s comments were part of her keynote speech at “2020 VISION, Mobilizing for Women’s Rights and Eliminating Violence Against Women,” an event organized today by the Women’s Learning Partnership and the Social Research journal at The New School for Social Research in New York. The speech focused on the relationships among culture, gender and equality, and the potential for social and cultural changes to protect women and achieve equality.

The event’s other keynote speakers included Shirin Ebadi of Iran, the 2003 Nobel Laureate; Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN Commissioner for Human Rights; and Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

“At UNFPA, we have learned that understanding the cultures in which we work and being able to identifying positive elements within them can facilitate lasting change,” said Ms. Obaid. “This is not to say that violations of human rights should go unchallenged. On the contrary. The advantage of culturally sensitive approaches is that they provide insights on how to align cultural practices and human rights most effectively.

“We have found this to be true in tackling such challenges as female genital mutilation and cutting, in addressing violence against women including domestic abuse and honour killings, and in working with partners to end prenatal sex selection in Asian countries where an estimated 100 million girls are missing due to a preference for sons.”

Today’s gathering also included a number of gender and social justice activists from Bahrain, Brazil, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Nigeria who shared knowledge and best practices in achieving equal rights as citizens in their families and societies. They also discussed how to build on their collective experiences to eliminate violence against women and secure equality around the globe.

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