The United Nations Millennium Development Goal will not be achieved for women and girls unless discriminatory provisions are removed, women’s access to justice is guaranteed and discriminatory social norms and stereotypes are transformed. These are the challenges that face the members of UN Commission on the Status of Women who come together this week to attend it’s 58th Sessional meeting in New York. Together they will review progress in access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology and they will make an assessment of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work as well as their access to productive resources. Other important task of the Commission at this session is to evaluate progress and failure in mainstreaming gender perspective into development implementation and evaluation of national policies and programs. They will continue to work till the end of the session on the 21st of March. While the Millennium Development Goals were intended to be a global set of goals, it is important to remember that the implementations of the framework has taken place largely at the national level. Country reports have shown that there are some innovations, but there are also some limitations in many areas. For examples: report on gender and poverty focused mainly on female-headed households but do not say anything about gender inequalities in terms of income and consumption within households. And very few countries reported on the gender dimension of nutrition, water, sanitation and the environment. Even when legal frameworks have been strengthened laws are often poorly implemented which limits women’s access to justice. Reports have also indicated that persistence of deeply entrenched discriminatory social norms, stereotypes and practices that hold back progress on gender equality remain a significant challenge.
I find the newly released UN-Habitat Report on State of Women in Cities (2012/1013) interesting to read. Women and men experience urbanization differently. Gender analysis gives us knowledge of how women have to deal with many forms of discrimination when coming to cities to find job. They often ends up getting low-paying job in the service sector, and in entertainment and sex-related industries with little opportunity for career advancement and life improvements. The report gives us a gender dimension on a city-productivity and better understanding of the relationship between gender and prosperity. Making city life safe for women is a challenging issue in urban development because women more than men are prone to become victims of violence in city streets, bus and train station. They also have to endure sexual harassment in their work place. The report suggests a review of policies and institutional framework relevant for mainstreaming gender concerns in city planning and management. The timing in releasing this report is good. It coincided with the 24th Session of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat (15-19 April 2013) under the theme of “Sustainable Urban Development: The Role Of Cities In Creating Improved Economic Opportunities For All”, which must mean equality of service and opportunity for women and men. I want to emphasize that for women living and working in cities, personal security and reduction of crime are all the time their main concerns. City Administration must make sure that streets and public space are well-lit at night. And it must go hand-in-hand with effective crime prevention programs. Elderly women are vulnerable physically, when moving around the cities on their own. They need specific protection measures and appropriate assistance. Recruitment of more female police officers is one action that will help a lot, especially in making women feel more secure in city environment. We must work together to remove all barriers to women’s participation in management of community livelihood in a sustainable human settlement and development of cities.
You have to look very heard to find one or two female designers of video games. This industry and tech-business are male-dominated world-wide. I feel better today when I read an article by Sarah Jane Stratford in Slate on the subject that has been of my concern for a long time, “Video Games as Applied Design – Without Women”. Stratford noted that there are very few women in designing content, production, and trade of video games. The field is totally male-dominated. We have to find out why this happens. I had spoken to many women in development groups during the past ten years suggesting to them that women, who are interested in changing bad female images in the mass media ( as sex objects, victims of sexual violence, passive spouse of macho men, beast of burden doing double work-load without complaining etc.) should get into this lucrative business. It is shocking that women comprise barely 12 percent of the creative force in video gaming. And that the number is declining. This phenomina reminds me of my experience when working as Regional Information Officer for UNICEF in Asia in the 60s and 70s. Headquarters’ senior staff told me to find two Asian boys to be featured in two children’s photographic-books to be printed by a New York publisher. I sent a letter to New York asking why don’t we choose one boy and one girl instead of two boys. I received a reply from a senior officer of UNICEF that the publisher said that book that focus on girl’s life-experience do not sell well. Therefore, he rejected my suggestion for gender-balance in this project. I had to comply and to go out and photograph two boys: one from Indonesia, one from Thailand: Ketut, Boy Woodcarver of Bali, and Galong, River Boy of Thailand. My experience in this co-production of the two children books shows how important it is that in getting girls and women to be focused by the media required a change of attitudes of not only women but also the decision- makers of the establishments. If we don’t want future video games to be designed and produced mostly by the men, we will have to first, encourage more women and girls to learn this technology, secondly, to create new kind of games that are fun for both boys and girls without male aggression and prejudice against women, and thirdly, find new source of funding from progressive male and female investors and fourthly to convince corporate managers that games produced by women focused on their adventures are as marketable as those of the boys. It is a gigantic task to imagine the impact that this new venture could make in every region of the world.
On December 10 every year, the United Nations celebrates Human Rights Day. Today, I join friends around the world in reaffirming our commitment to the equal rights of women and men as enshrined in the Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights and in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is not enough for governments to enact law to punish and redress the wrong done to women and girls who are subject to any form of violence whether in the home, the workplace, the community or society. Women who are victims of violence must be provided with access to the mechanism of justice, effective and adequate remedies for the harm they have suffered. Both men and women need human rights education. Government and public institution must inform women of their rights in seeking redress through the justice system. It is heartening for me to see that more men are speaking out publicly on the need to stop violence against women and girls. At the recent meeting of the Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, Asian men such as Shun-ichi Murata, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Chulasingh Vasantasingh, Thailand ‘s Attorney General, and Phan Ouh Khoa, Vietnamese musician and activist had made commitment to eliminate violence against women in this region. They are following the good example of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a Korean, who continuously speaks in public to support human rights of women and makes commitment to eliminate violence against women and girls. It is important to remind the Asian governments that they had made commitment since they adopted in 1995 the Beijing Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in China nearly two decades ago to eradicate violence against the girl child which include female infanticide, pre-natal sex selection, genital mutilation, incest, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child prostitution and child pornography.
Selling daughters to the highest bidder is common practice around the world. It is one of the most outrageous act of parents in the marriage market. Girls, as young as 8, are married off to men of 40 years old in many Africans and South Asian countries. The United Nations for decades has condemned such action as child abuse. Child marriage is human rights violation by parents. We need a massive out-of school parent’s education program to change parents attitude towards daughters that they are not commodities to be exchange for cash. To treat daughters and sons equally. Despite laws that have been enacted by governments of many countries to prevent such a horrible practice, incidence of child marriage has remained constantly high. In 41 developing countries, the number of child marriages ranges as high as 75 percent in Niger in Africa to 30 percent in Haiti. This month, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released an interesting report “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage”. It contains trend at global and regional level, an Agenda for Action to give girls a chance, and profiles of ten countries with the highest rate of child marriage. Marriage too young for poor girls could mean a life without education, a life in servitude to a husband and a slave to members of her husband’s extended family. Then, when girls get pregnant early in their teens, it is not only an end to their own childhood, but also the beginning of taking on the burden of having a double-workload. They have joined in the vicious cycles of poverty, commonly known as a syndrome of “being a mother too soon”. Their parents have stolen their daughter’s choice for a better future. To punish parents for the crime of selling their daughters in marriage-market is not an effective way to end the abuse of young girls. Governments cannot do much on their own to change the attitude of its people and the hopeless situation. I think we need support from mass media and social communication network to campaign to keep girls in school, to provide them with education which include health, sex-education and HIV/AIDS prevention, and career opportunity. And, most of all, to give support to girls who have enough courage and strength to say “no” to their parents in an arranged marriage situation, and to insist in having their own life-choice for a better future.
Democracy, as practiced in our world today, is based on the principle of representation. Citizens of any democratic country has a right to vote, run for office and be elected. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Executive Director on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and former President of Chile, emphasized this point when she recently addressed the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference of Women Speakers of Parliament in India. “You cannot have representation of a population that is half women without having them be part of decision-making” she says. Statistically today, women constitute 51 percent of the world’s population. But the average of women in parliament is only 20 percent. After four decades of UN organized World Conference on Women, it is sad to say that men still make most important decision on how a country should be organized and run. To solve this problem, Ms. Bachelet is advocating for affirmative action as temporary special measures until we have a level playing field. She urges governments to adopt “quota” as special measure to increase the number of women in parliament and in decision-making positions. I am of half-minded about “quota” being used for gender equality when it comes to national election because it interferes with people’s freedom of choice to elect whomever they want, whether they are male or female, to represent them in parliament. But I cannot ignore the fact that through the use of “quota” as special measure, the number of countries that reached 30 percent of women in parliament has risen from 27 to 33 today. I therefore wish Ms. Bachelet best of luck in this difficult task which requires a world-wide change of attitude of the traditional male and female role in society.
Culture changes all the time. Men, more than women give direction to a change of attitude and behavior to fit the environment and the situation that they face in life. In most human societies, when the men dominate the direction of change, they are doing it to meet their own needs, their own power of control. As the head of family, they make the most important decisions without consulting with anyone. Wives and daughters are treated as dependent members of the family with no independent voice, no decision-making power. They have only to obey the order of the male head of the household. Conservative leaders of government’s and of most religions in the world support the male-dominated family structure. Women, by themselves, have little influence to change traditional culture which has victimized them. They need help from us, from liberal/democratic governments, local and international community organizations to protect them from perpetual cycles of torture, domestic violence, and from honor-killing by parents and male relatives. Women, who stand up for their human rights and dignity, have become prisoners in their own homes. Many have lost their lives as punishment. For decades, I have joined the United Nations global campaign to stop violence against women, and urge everyone to help women who are locked in this kind of life-threatening danger. We need both men and women to join in this joint effort to change this kind of oppressive culture that prevents the movement of women beyond the household compound, and limits their freedom of expression in the family and community.
The number of youth in Today’s world is growing fast. There are 1.8 billions of them, and up to 43 per cent of the world’s population is under the age of 25 as estimated by the United Nations. This rapid increase of this age group in the population is of particular concern to many people working in national and international organizations, namely, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Realizing that youth of both sexes in all developing countries are key actors influencing the population growth rate, for decades, UNFPA has developed successful advocacy programs to encourage adolescents and youth groups to behave responsibly in their sexual and reproductive activities. These programs have made a lot of differences to the achievement of world sustainable development. Peer-group discussions on prevention of HIV/AIDS and safe-sex help to guarantee success. All through the nineties, UNFPA has organized, with governments and non-governmental organizations, roundtable discussion on various population issues to ensure reproductive rights, to review the effectiveness of sexual and reproductive health programs, to equally involve young women and men in family planning communication and the distribution of condoms and other contraceptives to those in need. At the end of this year, from 4-6 December, UNFPA is a key sponsor of the Global Youth Forum to be held in Bali, Indonesia. It is expected that 900 young women and men will come together to brain storm and further strategize new priorities for action in population, reproductive rights, health and family planning as set out in the ICPD Program of Action, ICPD Beyond 2014. Application is still opened for youth around the world who wish to participate.
In 1994, I ran into Joan Dunlop in Egypt when I attended the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo. When I walked from the Plenary hall into the exhibition area, my eyes caught Joan kneeling down to talk with Bella Abzug in front of her chair. The two of them were surrounded by Catholic priests and the “Right to Life” activists displayed a box of fetus and women’s womb that made of plastic to delegates and other Conference participants. A part of their publicity campaign against abortion and women’s right to be in charge of their own body and reproductive health. I took the pictures of what I saw that day because it showed us how difficult it was then in advocacy for women’s health and safe motherhood. This group of church-supported activists, combined with the representatives of conservative male-dominated governments and non-governmental organizations, were the main obstacles to the inclusion of women’s rights and reproductive health into the Cairo Programme of Action. By fighting against safe-abortion for women’s health, they were promoting a “forced pregnancy” on women and prevent them of reproductive choice.
Joan Dunlop, former President of the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Bella Abzug, former USA Congresswoman and many other key women’s right activists fought this kind of battle for us in many other venues not just in Cairo to put women’s right issues on international agendas.Now that both of them are no longer with us, and with Joan recent passing, I want to honor them by putting my 1994 photographs online. Both Joan and Bella were two of my friends who have gone through a lot of troubles to fight for our rights especially the right to be in control of our own health and well-being.
We owed it to them that since 1994, women have these rights guaranteed by the United Nations and at world level as written in the ICPD Programme of Action adopted in Cairo. That Conference had made a shift to the framework of reproductive rights and reproductive health in addressing population and family planning policies. Joan and Bella lobbied very hard among NGOs and government delegations to get there. They did succeed in reconfirming the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so. The ICPD Programme of Action also guaranteed the rights of women to make decisions concerning reproduction, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.
I remember well the many discussions I had with Joan on women’s rights/development throughout the 70s and the 80s, starting in Mexico at the first UN Conference on Women (1975), then at the Wellesley Women and Development (1976), and other follow-up of WID international meetings in Washington D.C. I have a happy memory of my lunch, at her invitation, at the restaurant for executives high above the clouds on top of the J.D.Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. It is my honor to join in the celebration of her life and the various important contributions that she had made to women’s rights and health globally.
I cannot let this year ends without commendation of the relentless efforts of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) to lobby for women’s right ever since 1995. They are determined to see that Afghan women (half of the population) are included in all national and international peace negotiations. They are making sure that organizers of the International Conference on Afghanistan which was held in Bonn last September include a significant number of women in leadership position, their achievements and their struggles for equal rights and freedom in the building of a better future for Afghanistan. The Network mobilizes for support under the slogan “You can’t build peace by leaving out half of the population”. Their main target is to have 30% inclusion of women within the leadership and management of the High Peace Council. They have noted with dissatisfaction the low number of women who participate in leadership position (about 13% on the High Peace Council and 10-15% on the Provincial Peace Council). They urge that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to get a stronger mandate to improve women’s participation in crafting the future of Afghanistan. Defending women’s right in Afghanistan is not an easy task. Often, it is out right dangerous undertaking. The presence of men with guns in many transitional provinces has created fear among the populations, especially the parents who have pulled out their sons and daughters from schools and other public social services. Girl’s schools have been reported to receive threatening letters. In Afghanistan, defenders of women’s right, the parents and local teachers need security protection which the local Afghan government cannot fully provide. Worst, the communities do not trust the integrity of national security force. They are afraid that when the Coalition Force withdraw from Afghanistan, women and girls will be targeted for attack by the Taliban and/or subject to rape and abuse at the hands of the national security forces. It is my hope that in 2012, the Afghan Government and their international supporters will have the capacity to provide adequate security to Afghan women and girls including their protectors from harms by the Taliban and other conservative forces in Afghan society. I want to celebrate the bravery and determination of the Afghan Women’s Network for the success of their activities in 2012.