This week, delegates to the U.N.’s 51st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will begin meeting to “evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.” The theme of this year’s CSW is “the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child,” and the outcome is expected to focus on many issues, including condemning sex selection, infanticide, and child and forced marriage. PAI urges the delegates to examine the core issues that result in these horrible acts and honor previously agreed-to international commitments. These issues are symptoms of a deep-rooted tradition of discrimination against and violence toward women—one that the Commission challenges and must help member states to overcome.
We can all agree that young girls should not be forced into marriage and infant girls should not be killed just because they aren’t boys. The more difficult task comes not from condemning these actions, but in how to change these tragic customs. These acts will only begin to be eliminated by implementing laws and programs that assure the equal status of women in society, including access to education, equal property rigpopact and economic opportunity.
A key way to raise the status of women is by improving healthcare, particularly by increasing access to sexual and reproductive health and voluntary family planning services and supplies. These services and supplies allow a woman to decide for herself if and when to have children, giving her the opportunity to stay in school longer, to protect herself from sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS and to reduce the likelihood that she’ll bear a child in her teens or live in poverty.
Key to the Commission’s success is relying on past agreed-to language from international conferences and their follow-up meetings, such as the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing), the 2005 World Summit and the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (Durban). It is imperative that delegations also consider the contributions of the youth representatives to the meeting, whether they are official delegates or NGO representatives. The decisions that are made by the Commission and resulting documents pave the way for their future, and their input and perspective are invaluable.
Taking a comprehensive, holistic approach to empowering women is crucial. In addition to condemning forced and child marriage and sex selective infanticide, providing political support and funding for gender-sensitive education and programs will help improve women’s status in society and support women in taking control of their own lives.