“Any discussion of the empowerment of women and gender equality needs to focus on girls,” stated Hamidon Ali, President of the Economic and Social Council of the U.N.
He was opening the first official meeting of the 15 year review of Platform for Action created in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Helping girls to “realize their rights” was a focus of 18 panelists, representing major agencies of the U.N. and prominent international non-government organizations.
“80 to 90 million children are not in school, and 60 percent of them are girls,” said Saad Hour, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. “And many girls are not even counted, because they are getting married at a young age and they are now considered as wives, not girls.”
The problem begins in the home, explained Barbara Reynolds, Senior Education Advisor for UNICEF. She said that many parents pass on the myth that “men earn the living and women stay at home.” However, she explained, “that is changing as more families need the income of both parents – in the current economic crisis.”
Improving equality between girls and boys was presented as the solution to many of the problems girl’s face. Panelists outlined the steps for reversing discrimination against girls – from the time they are born until they become adults.
In many cultures of the world, as girls enter adolescence, they are hidden from society at large, and forced to help at home.
A young woman from India, Ishita Chaudhry, said that adolescent girls often feel “powerless and disconnected.” In the last five years, she said her organization has helped over 5,000 young people take action on issues they are passionate about. She said that girls and women have an “urgent need about services that address their sexuality.”
And that is the basic crux of the matter. I have come to know that most issues at the United Nations, involving women and girls, eventually place great importance on “sexual and reproductive rights” – which includes abortion.
An invisible line separates the pro-life women from pro-abortion women, at U.N. conferences. Some activists see abortion as an important means of population control. Some see it as a way for girls to escape the responsibilities of pregnancy – to allow them to achieve a good education and training for future employment in better paying jobs.
It’s largely a religious issue with pro-life proponents. They see the formation of a child, whether born or unborn, as a gift from God – worthy of protection.
In my next article I will tell about a woman I met today, from Nigeria, who created an organization to help young pregnant girls – to find help in caring for the baby, and still get an education and training for improved working opportunities. It’s a heart-warming story.