Forced into early marriage and trafficked into sometimes life-threatening situations, girls around the world suffered some of the most severe forms of gender discrimination and abuse, civil society representatives told the Commission on the Status of Women today, urging that more be done by States and communities to ensure stronger penalties for perpetrators and legal recourse for victims.
In the penultimate day of its fifty-fifth session, the Commission concluded its general debate to review the Beijing Platform for Action and outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly amid demands that girls gain acceptable, accessible and affordable options for education, especially in the sciences, to give them the confidence they needed to find and use their voices.
“Girls are the most crucial constituents for change, now and in the future,” said a representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, who argued that ensuring girls’ and young women’s access to education could prevent violence from occurring throughout a woman’s life cycle.
Schools should be designed so that facilities like toilets and water fountains were safely accessible, she said. Awareness raising that informed girls of their rights — and how to claim them — must be widely implemented, as must programmes that educated men, boys, communities, and political and religious leaders about the unacceptability of any violence against girls.
Agreeing, a representative of the Girls Caucus said girls faced violence that was supported by their communities. Female genital mutilation, honour killings and physical abuse were just some of the traditions ingrained into certain cultures, and girls needed an “element of choice” in what constituted culturally acceptable acts. She urged working with community leaders to find alternative traditions and stronger penalties for perpetrators of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking.
Similar measures should be put in place for poor rural women, other speakers said, as those women were at the bottom of the economic and social strata in their countries. While most often the “backbone” of their families and communities, rural women were not present in sufficient numbers in meetings like those of the Commission and their voices went unheard in national and international forums. Their needs went unmet in such basic services as transport, housing and health care.
“Poor rural women face different challenges and opportunities than others,” asserted a representative of the Rural Development Leadership Network for the Rural Caucus, insisting that they be able to sit at the table of power. Poor rural women could achieve their own empowerment with the support of infrastructure and overall community development. National and international policies must be changed to promote the availability of land, transportation, markets and credit, among other things.
For its part, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), through its grants programme, had financed research on innovative practices related to gender equality and women’s empowerment, said Xenia von Lilien of IFAD’s Liaison Office in New York. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, the Fund’s grant to an agricultural research centre had introduced low-cost technologies for milk-processing, which helped rural women to earn profits from surplus production.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Misión Mujer (also on behalf of Centro de Estudio y Formación Integral de la Mujer, Fundación Eudes, Mujer para la Mujer, Vida y Familia de Guadalajara); Middle East Caucus; Education International (also the International Trade Union Confederation and Public Services International); Young Women’s Caucus; Asia Pacific Caucus; International Public Policy Institute, National Alliance for Women, and Women’s Intercultural Network, (on behalf of the UN Women’s Circle Campaign); Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem; and the International Network of Liberal Women.