Info Service on Health Issues (December 06/09)
Development: A vicious circle of sexism and deprivation
of children continue to suffer from lack of food, health care and education
as long as their mothers suffer abuse and discrimination. This was the
finding in UNICEF’s report ‘The State of the World’s Children 2007’
the gist of which is reported in the following article which is reproduced
with the permission of South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6161,
13 December 2006.
Development: A vicious
circle of sexism and deprivation
By Haider Rizvi, IPS, New
York, 11 December 2006
Millions of children across
the world will continue to suffer from lack of food, health care and
education as long as their mothers are forced to live with abusive conditions
at home and discrimination in the workplace, according to a major new
study released here Monday.
"Gender equality and the well-being of children are inextricably
linked," said Ann Veneman, executive director of the United Nations
children's agency UNICEF, which prepared the report, titled "The
State of the World's Children 2007".
Calling for an end to gender inequality, Veneman and those who authored
the 148-page study note that despite some progress in their status,
millions of women around the world are still condemned to suffer from
physical and sexual violence.
The statistical analysis in the report shows that in most places, women
work harder and longer, but earn less than men. It also notes that women
continue to lack equal participation in decision-making at home as well
as in the sphere of public life.
The consequences of women's exclusion from household decisions can be
as dire for children as they are for women themselves, the study says,
explaining that in families in which women are key decision-makers,
the proportion of resources devoted to children is far greater than
those in which women have a less decisive role.
"This is because women generally place a higher premium than men
on welfare-related goals and are more likely to use their influences
and the resources they control to promote the needs of children in particular
and of the family in general," it said.
Convinced that gender parity plays a pivotal role in improving economic
and social conditions, researchers warned that continued discrimination
against women could jeopardise global efforts for poverty reduction
and other development-related issues.
Setting targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000,
world leaders had agreed that the MDGs must include achieving gender
parity in primary education by 2015.
But given the current pace of efforts towards that goal, the report
suggests no positive sign whatsoever. It notes that in many poor countries,
nearly 20% of the girls who are enrolled in primary schools eventually
fail to complete their education.
Noting that missing out on a primary education deprives a girl of the
opportunity to develop to her full potential, researchers stress that
educated women are more likely to send their children to school and
less likely to die in childbirth.
Recent UNICEF estimates indicate that an average of only 43% of girls
in the developing world attend secondary schools.
Education levels correlate with improved outcomes for child survival
and development, says the report, adding that measures to promote gender
equality could propel all of the other MDGs, from reducing poverty to
saving children's lives, improving maternal health, ensuring universal
education, combating HIV/AIDS, and protecting the environment.
"If we care about the health and well-being of children,"
said Veneman, "we must work now to ensure that women and girls
have equal opportunities to be educated, to participate in government,
to achieve economic self-sufficiency and to be protected from violence
Citing evidence from industrialised and developing countries alike,
the study suggests that women's increased involvement in political systems
can have a positive impact on the well-being of children.
Yet, as of July this year, it says, women accounted for just 17% of
all parliamentarians worldwide.
The release of the study coincides with the conclusion of a global campaign
known as "16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence." The
campaign, which is held each year between the International Day for
the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 and International
Human Rights Day on December 10, is fully backed by the UN and its various
UN researchers see violence against women as a pervasive violation of
human rights that continues to hinder efforts for gender equality.
Women's rights groups welcomed the UNICEF study. "Gender-based
violence is a serious threat to public health," Nora O' Connell
of the Women's Edge Coalition, a Washington-based organisation, told
"It's a barrier to economic development," she added.
Last month, in a separate study, the UN criticised its member states
for failing to adopt laws criminalising violence against women. The
report showed that at least 102 out of 192 UN member states had no specific
legal provisions on domestic violence.
UNICEF researchers point to a strong correlation between violence against
women and violence against children. Their study shows that every year,
as many as 275 million children worldwide become caught in the crossfire
of domestic violence.
Children who grow up in a violent home are more likely to suffer abuse
themselves than children who have a peaceful home life, according to
the report, which says that girls are more vulnerable to violence at
home than boys.
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