ByÂ Anant Mishra:
“What we are learning around the world is that, if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish.” Hillary Rodham Clinton
The United Nations has always recognized the importance of gender equality in today’s world. The purpose of the United Nations is to “achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. As our international community has developed over the years, women have been granted many rights that were not afforded to them in the past; nevertheless more can be done to combat inequality. The United Nations has recognized the complexity of this issue and introduced eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals were compiled in order to spur international co-operation towards fighting global issues, such as poverty, inequality, development and health issues. The Millennium Development Goal 3 calls for all member-states to work towards empowering women in a sociological and economic manner. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has, since its birth in 1946, fought for the promotion of women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has been responsible for organizing and following up the world conferences on women in Mexico in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995.
In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing led the international community on a mission to eliminate gender disparities at all levels of education and achieving the Millennium Development Goal 2 by 2015. Even though agreements have been fostered by member-states, providing universal primary education to children around the world has proven to be one of the greatest problems facing the United Nations today. Without higher levels of education, women can become more susceptible to life-threatening diseases. Poor education can also lead to social problems such as poverty, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, and maternal mortality. Subsequently, increased efforts by member states to provide universal education to children will not only help achieve Millennium Development Goal 2, but also Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 as well.
The proper development of member-states plays a pivotal role in the advancement of women. Recognizing a need for international direction towards development, the United Nations established the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Gender mainstreaming was defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1997 as “a strategyÂ for making women’s, as well as men’s, concerns and experiences integral dimension of the policies and programs in all political, economic, and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men. The Commission on the Status of Women plays a catalytic role in promoting gender mainstreaming at the national level and within the United Nations System. Its work has led to increased efforts to mainstream a gender perspective into the work of other functional commissions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the work of the General Assembly on the human rights of women, as well as the work of the Security Council on women, peace and security.” Developing nations require assistance when developing their nations because they lack the resources to do so themselves. Increased development efforts by all members will help developing nations acquire communications technology. In turn, this will allow these developing nations to provide better education and overall health of the citizens in the country. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has been the pioneer of social and economic development for member states.
The United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the General Assembly, and the Security Council are all organs of the United Nations used to promote equality through gender mainstreaming. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) plays a pivotal role in gender mainstreaming at national levels and between the various organs of the United Nations. The Fourth World Conference on Women produced the Beijing Declaration in 1995. The Beijing Declaration reaffirmed the Commission on the Status of Women’s, and therefore the United Nations’, goal of promoting gender equality. The Beijing Declaration also led to the development of A/RES/64/141. This resolution was a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference and the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration.
Seventy two million children of primary school age are not attending school, out of which over 39 million, or 54 percent, are girls. Two thirds of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide are women. In some regions of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern and Western Asia, secondary education is still considered to be intangible for girls and women of all ages. “On a regional level, girls and boys have achieved equal access to primary education, except in some parts of Africa and Central Asia, where access to education facilities is still inadequate.” Statistically there are 96 girls for every 100 boys in primary schools globally. Secondary schools show a higher discrepancy. With generations of women with lower education beginning to have children, there is a perpetual cycle at hand. Without the knowledge and wisdom of a mother passed to a daughter, there is a chance for an endless line of uneducated women in certain regions. One uneducated woman can lead to five or more uneducated women due to the passing on of a sense of inequality and illiteracy to young girls. Low levels, or lack thereof, education can also lead to poor health and reproductive choices by younger girls. Consequently, low education in women can lead to other social problems such as infant mortality rate, propensity of sexually transmitted diseases, and teenage pregnancy.
Gender inequality varies tremendously across countries. The losses in achievement due to gender inequality range from 17 percent to 85 percent.
The Netherlands tops the list of the most gender-equal countries, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Improvements to the status of women in rural areas have also been discussed and practiced by the United Nations, such as A/RES/64/140. Discrimination is defined as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, social, cultural, civil or any other field”.
In our international community, discrimination is prevalent in the workforce. Occupational segregation and gender wage gaps continue to persist in all regions of the world. Part-time employment is common for women in most of the more developed regions and some less developed regions, and it is increasing almost everywhere for both men and women. Women have always been paid less and places in jobs of lower authority. Vulnerable employment, or own-account work and contributing family work are prevalent among women in many countries in Africa and Asia. Women spend at least twice as much time as men on domestic work. When all paid and unpaid work is considered, women work longer hours than men do. Female migrant workers can experience an even greater problem with job discrimination. The discrimination not only lies with the gender of the women, but also with the nationality of the women. This discrimination can not only lead to denial of work opportunity, but also violence. In turn, the General Assembly adopted A/RES/64/139 to stop violence against female migrant workers.
The United Nations has held four World Conferences in order to combat the problem of gender inequality and social development. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action “is an agenda for women’s empowerment. Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace”. The Beijing Platform for Action has a five-year, ten-year, and fifteen-year review and appraisal to make sure the implementation of the declaration in done so in a proper and efficient manner. As a follow-up to the Beijing Fourth World Conference, the General Assembly adopted A/RES/65/191 to ensure the implementation of the Platform for Action.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. CEDAW is often referred to as the international bill of rights for women by defining what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action. The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life including the right to vote and to stand for election, education, health and employment. The General Assembly has developed resolutions in regards to gender equality. In December of 2009, A/RES/64/138 and A/RES/64/137 were written and adopted in order to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and eliminate all forms of violence against women.
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women. UN Women is the entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women builds and merges on the work of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women. The main roles of UN Women are: to support inter- governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms, to help member states to implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it and to forge effective partnerships with civil society, to hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status”. It is through programs and conventions such as these that the United Nations, as well as Commission on the Status of Women, implements gender mainstreaming into our international community.
The United Nations maintains its commitment to ensure the adherence of all member states to the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Through well structured committees, like the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the United Nations can promulgate international co-operation to reduce the amount of inequality in our international community. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) remains dedicated to promoting equality in the political, social and economic realms of society. The CSW emphasizes the importance of universal primary education for all children regardless of race, gender or religion for social development to occur properly. Universal education can help prevent the widespread diseases like HIV/AIDS. In coalition with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the CSW can implement gender mainstreaming into the national governments of member states. However, in order for gender mainstreaming to be effective it must be integrated into the local level governments of member states also. The CSW is also aware of how detrimental discrimination can be on the development of nations. Nations in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia still have issues with workforce discrimination. Women must be afforded the same wages and employment opportunities as men. Vulnerable employment and wage gaps only impede a nation’s development.