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February 10, 2001 · 


Surprise and Anger as Beijing Action goals are diluted

Their profile may be rising in international aid programs, but girls still have less chance than boys of surviving at birth, are less likely to
complete school, are more likely to toil inside and outside their own households, and are more likely to experience sexual exploitation and

This was the bad news that was delivered without sugar coating at a PrepCom panel discussion on the girl child on Tuesday.

‘Poverty plays a much larger role in the lives of girls than in the lives of boys,’ said Mary Purcell, who co-founded a working group on girls for the NGO Committee on UNICEF. ‘If the cost of education is high then it is boys who go to school. If food is limited it is boys who get fed first. If the mother is a single parent, it is girls who are expected to assume responsibility for domestic work.’

UNICEF has been a leading advocate of action on behalf of the girl child. But many feel the Outcome document, which UNICEF has helped to draft, is unacceptably vague on the crisis facing girls.

One young speaker who addressed the panel on behalf of the UNICEF/NGO Committee expressed astonishment that the draft Outcome document contains weaker language than Section L of the Beijing Platform for Action. (The UNICEF/NGO Committee takes an independent position from UNICEF on many issues while remaining in partnership with the agency. It is one of the sponsors of this publication).

The point being made in Section L of the Beijing Platform is that many of the threats to girls are a direct result of their gender. This why they aresubjected to fetal sex selection, infanticide, harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation (which is still practiced on baby girls), sexual violence, and the lack of access to health information and services.

It seems astonishing that UNICEF could allow such core concepts to get diluted in the crucial Outcome document.

Tuesday’s panel discussion may restore a sense of balance and a dose of reality. Ms. Kasama Veravam pointed out that girls are often left to care for younger siblings and fend for themselves.

As a result, they risk dropping out of school and falling into drugs, sex and criminal activities. While such behaviour in boys is forgiven, even condoned, girls are condemned, punished and further excluded.

Several speakers stressed the importance of collecting and disseminating gender-disaggregated data as a way of making discrimination against girls more visible. Dr. Croll, Head of Development Studies in Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said that policy-makers often refuse to recognise that family resources can be unequal or acknowledge that girls are routinely undervalued by societies.

Girls themselves subscribe to gender stereotypes and see themselves as less worthy, said Dr. Croll, even though girls often carry the largest share of family support.

‘The issues that get the most data get the most action. (When it comes to girls) we have the stories but not the statistics.’

The panel ended with a strong statement by Ms. Briskellia Alvarez of Venezuela, about the urgent need for the international community to respond to the violence, HIV/AIDS and inter-generational poverty suffered by girlsand women with programmes that promote life skills, self-esteem and leadership for girls.

Ms. Alvarez, who is President of the National Children and Youth Assembly in Caracas, brought the audience to their feet with her rousing exhortation:

‘Not only must we mobilize political will to overcome poverty and discrimination and injustice against girls. We will!’ But overall the mood was more sober than excited.

Source: CRIN information


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