World Should Rejoice Girls' Births The Way It Celebrates Boys', Says UNFPA Executive Director

  • 05 March 2003

NEW YORK - The Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, has urged all nations to intensify their efforts to improve the status and health of women, as they mark International Women's Day this week. The Day falls on 8 March.

Ms. Obaid being decorated at the conference of African women ministers and parliamentarians held in Cape Verde in October 2002. Both boys and girls decorated delegates with AIDS ribbons.

Speaking at an event for Women's Week at New York's International House, a residence for foreign and American scholars and students, Ms. Obaid said that human rights instruments have long encouraged States to ensure the equal treatment of all human beings and their protection from violence, which stems from gender inequality. Manifestations of violence, she said, include acid-throwing, rape, "honour" killings, dowry murder and the sex-selective elimination of girls.

In South Asia, for example, where parents prefer boys, the problem begins in the womb, said Ms. Obaid. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 100 million girls are missing, the result of sex-selective abortion, infanticide and neglect. These millions of girls were eliminated simply because they were girls.

"We must work together for a world where the birth of a girl is greeted everywhere with just as much joy and celebration as the birth of a boy," said Ms. Obaid. "The very first article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The 1978 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women offers a means of holding governments accountable. It imposes obligations on States parties to eliminate discrimination in private as well as public life."

Nations and communities should introduce policies and programmes as well as encourage greater social awareness and behavioural change to promote gender equality, Ms. Obaid urged. Equality would help reduce the imbalance in sex ratios and other manifestations of discrimination and violence against women.

"Violence against women has a profound impact on development," said Ms. Obaid. "It perpetuates poverty by reducing women's capacity to work outside the home, their mobility and access to information. … Gender-based violence severely limits women's full participation at home and in society."

For its part, UNFPA works to improve laws and policies and raise awareness on gender violence and discrimination said Ms. Obaid. It supports the training of health workers as well as that of police officers and judges to enforce relevant laws. UNFPA programmes, she added, involve men to generate greater awareness, support counselling and backs campaigns to eradicate harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting.

In India, UNFPA has developed a national advocacy strategy to end the pre-birth elimination of girls, Ms. Obaid said. In many countries, the Fund supports programmes efforts to sensitize law enforcement personnel about women's rights and to decrease the violence in women's lives. This week in Sierra Leone, Ms. Obaid continued, UNFPA is launching a ground-breaking initiative to train United Nations peacekeepers in HIV prevention and gender awareness. The initiative is a joint undertaking with the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

-- Abubakar Dungus

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