TWN Info Service on Health Issues (December 06/09)

15 December 2006

Development: A vicious circle of sexism and deprivation

Millions 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.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

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 and discrimination."

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 agencies.

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 IPS.

"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.