Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women

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Advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence against women, and ensuring women's ability to control their own fertility, are cornerstones of population and development programmes.The human rights of women and the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political and social life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex, are priority objectives of the international community.
--Programme of Action, International Conference on Population and Development, Principle 4
Two major world conferences in the 1990s--the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995--revolutionized the international standards for the rights and health of the world's women.The ICPD put family planning, reproductive and sexual health care and women's empowerment squarely in the context of development, and underlined their critical importance to any social and economic progress. The Beijing conference went further, forging international commitments to promoting equality, development and peace for and with all the women of the world.Both international agreements stressed that equality between women and men is a human rights concern, and that empowering women ensures the development of a sustainable and equitable society--no society can reach this goal without taking both women's productive and reproductive roles into account. Both aimed to ensure that policies and programmes at all levels incorporate a gender perspective and address women's lives and their needs.The Beijing Platform for Action and the ICPD Programme of Action incorporate new and related objectives, drawn from practical experience, for addressing women's needs and rights in a holistic and integrated way. These include:
Securing women's human rights;
Ensuring male involvement and responsibility in reproductive health;
Providing quality services;
Taking a life-cycle approach to women’s health;
Attending to adolescent sexual and reproductive health needs;
Preventing and treating HIV/AIDS;
Eliminating all forms of violence against women, including damaging cultural practices such as female genital mutilation.
Both documents also emphasized the rights of women migrants and refugees.Women's human rights were a key issue at the 1999 United Nations General Assembly special session reviewing implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action (New York, 30 June-2 July). The "ICPD + 5" review showed that while significant gains have been made, women's reproductive rights and sexual health are still under threat in many ways. A similar review of progress since the Beijing conference is under way in 2000.As the lead United Nations agency for implementing the ICPD Programme of Action, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) plays a critical role in carrying out the mandates of Cairo and Beijing. UNFPA, the largest internationally funded source of population assistance to developing countries, helps developing countries improve their reproductive health and family planning services on the basis of individual choice. The Fund also helps countries formulate population policies that will support sustainable economic development.The Beijing Platform identified "12 critical areas" of action needed to empower women and ensure their human rights: women and poverty; education and training of women; women and health; violence against women; women and armed conflict; women and the economy; women in power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women; human rights of women; women and the media; women and the environment; and the girl-child.These areas are often interrelated, but spelling them out keeps each in the forefront of policy and programme considerations. UNFPA supports programmes and projects that cut across all areas, emphasizing the links between gender, population and development. Recognizing that poverty and economic crises have put a particularly heavy burden on women and girls, UNFPA has combined reproductive and sexual health services and information with micro-financing activities for women in many countries.At the same time, the Fund has learned that investing in women means removing all barriers that prevent women from realizing–or even exploring–their full potential as vital and valuable members of society. Education and training are essential.By allocating 60 per cent of its support in the area of reproductive and sexual health, the Fund has helped increase access to reproductive health and family planning services in many countries. It has fought the wildfire of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, focusing on women’s and girls’ vulnerability to this disease. UNFPA helps provide services and information to adolescent boys and girls (with special attention to the needs of girls) and emphasizes the need for men’s positive involvement in improving the status of women.UNFPA is a strong advocate for breaking the silence about the widespread violence against women. Several UNFPA-supported activities advocate the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM) and other harmful traditional practices. The Fund also plays an important role in providing reproductive and sexual health services and information to populations living in emergency situations.As an advocate for the equal participation of women and men at all decision-making levels, UNFPA has supported both governmental and non-governmental institutions in taking steps to bring about this change. The important role that the media can play as a catalyst for change has been aided through UNFPA-funded activities in many countries.This report highlights what UNFPA has done–and is doing–to support governments and civil society in each of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action. All UNFPA activities are built on the premise that women's rights are universal, indivisible and inalienable human rights that must be protected and promoted. Only by supporting and advocating for women's full empowerment at all stages of their lives can gender equality be achieved.

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