Twenty-five years after the historic Beijing women’s conference in China – a milestone in advancing equal rights – violence against women and girls is not only common, but widely accepted, a new UN report revealed on Wednesday.
While there have been remarkable gains for girls in education, little headway has been made to help shape a more equal, less violent environment for them, warned the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), together with UN Women and the non-governmental organization Plan International in their report, A New Era for Girls: Taking stock on 25 years of progress.
“25 years ago, the world’s governments made a commitment to women and girls, but they have only made partial good on that promise”, flagged UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
The report highlighted that in 2016, women and girls accounted for 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims globally, mostly involving sexual exploitation.
Moreover, an astonishing one-in-20 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, has experienced rape in her lifetime.
“While the world has mustered the political will to send many girls to school, it has come up embarrassingly short on equipping them with the skills and support they need not only to shape their own destinies, but to live in safety and dignity”, the UNICEF chief spelled out.
Lagging on equal rights
The report has been launched in line with the Generation Equality campaign to open a global conversation for action and accountability on gender equality, and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
“Since 1995 in Beijing, when a specific focus on ‘girl child’ issues first emerged, we have increasingly heard girls assert their rights and call us to account”, said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “But the world has not kept up with their expectations of responsible stewardship of the planet, a life without violence, and their hopes for economic independence”.
Girls today are at a startling risk of violence, whether it is in school, at home, or online as well as throughout their communities, which leads to physical, psychological and social consequences.
A New Era for Girls also covers harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), which continue to disrupt and damage the lives and potential of millions of girls around the world.
According the report, each year 12 million girls are married in childhood, and four million risk FGM.
And girls aged 15-19, are as likely to justify wife-beating, as boys of the same age.
“As long as women and girls have to use three times the time and energy of men on looking after the household, equal opportunities for girls to move from school into good jobs in safe workplaces are going to be out of reach”, said the UN Women chief.
“For everyone’s sake, that’s got to change, along with making sure that the skills girls learn are right for the new tech and digital jobs of the future, and that the violence against them ends”.
79 million fewer girls out of school
The report noted that in the past 20 years, the number of girls out-of-school has dropped by 79 million and over the last decade, more are actually likely to be in secondary school than boys.
However, it also pointed to negative trends for girls in nutrition and health.
For example, globalization has shifted traditional diets to more processed, unhealthy foods and aggressive marketing techniques targeting children have fuelled consumption, along with sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Access to education is not enough”, maintained the UNICEF chief, adding, “we must also change people’s behaviours and attitudes towards girls”.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing over poor mental health, exacerbated in part by the excessive use of digital technology.
A New Era for Girls revealed that suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls in that age bracket, surpassed only by maternal conditions.
Turning to their heightened risk of sexually-transmitted infection, the report found that some 970,000 adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 19 are living today with HIV – accounting for around three-in-four new infections among adolescents worldwide – as compared to 740,000 girls in 1995.
“True equality will only come when all girls are safe from violence, free to exercise their rights, and are able to enjoy equal opportunities in life”, concluded the UNICEF Executive Director.
ILO calls on Belarus President to respect workers’ rights and freedoms amid protests
The Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, has called on the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to prevent human rights violations and “ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms” during the wave of protests that have swept the country in recent weeks.
In his letter to the Belarus President, Ryder urged President Lukashenko to release and drop charges against six trade unionists who have been detained by the authorities after participating in peaceful protests and industrial action.
He reminded the President that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure a climate free from violence, threats or pressure against peacefully protesting workers and that any such allegations should be rapidly and independently investigated.
“I must urge you to do all in your power to prevent the occurrence of human rights violations and ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms,” Ryder’s letter said.
He expressed his deep concern at reports coming out of Belarus on the arrest, detention, imprisonment and mistreatment of workers’ leaders.
‘No one should be deprived of their freedom or be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike or protest,’ Ryder wrote.
The letter recalls that the ILO has been working with the Belarus government, and the national workers’ and employers’ organizations, for 16 years, helping to address issues raised by an ILO Commission of Inquiry in 2004 which was set up following serious infringements of trade union rights and freedoms in the country.
Ryder notes that while there has been some progress on these issues, “the Commission’s recommendations are far from being fully implemented.”
The intervention by the ILO Director-General follows a request made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
Switzerland: Draft anti-terrorism law sets ‘dangerous precedent’
A proposed new anti-terrorism law in Switzerland could set a dangerous precedent for the suppression of political dissent worldwide, a group of five independent UN human rights experts warned on Friday.
The draft legislation, currently before the Swiss Parliament, expands the definition of terrorism and no longer requires the prospect of any crime at all, they said, in a plea for a last-minute reversal by legislators.
‘Expansive’ definition of terrorism
Citing international standards, the experts defined terrorism as the intimidation or coercion of populations or governments through violence that causes death or serious injury, or the taking of hostages.
Under the bill, “terrorist activity” may encompass even lawful acts aimed at influencing or modifying the constitutional order, such as legitimate activities of journalists, civil society and political activists.
“Expanding the definition of terrorism to any non-violent campaign involving the spreading of fear goes far beyond current Swiss domestic law and violates international standards”, said the experts, all of whom were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.
“This excessively expansive definition sets a dangerous precedent and risks serving as a model for authoritarian governments seeking to suppress political dissent including through torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Other sections of the draft law have also raised concerns, such as those giving the federal police extensive authority to designate “potential terrorists” and to decide preventive measures against them.
The rights experts had earlier written to the Swiss authorities, expressing their concerns about the incompatibility of the bill with human rights and international best practices in counter-terrorism. However, no changes were implemented.
“While we recognize the serious security risks posed by terrorism, we very much regret that the Swiss authorities have declined this opportunity to benefit from our technical assistance and expertise on how to combine effective preventive measures with respect for human rights”, they said.
The experts called on Swiss parliamentarians to keep in mind their country’s traditionally strong commitment to human rights, urging them to reject a law which “is bound to become a serious stain on Switzerland’s otherwise strong human rights legacy.”
Burkina Faso: Over 535,000 children under five ‘acutely’ malnourished
New data from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed worsening nutritional situation for children in Burkina Faso, with more than 535,000 children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition – an unprecedented level.
Among them, some 156,500 children are “severely” malnourished, leaving them nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children, according to UNICEF.
“The aggravating factors causing the nutritional situation of children to deteriorate are primarily linked to the displacement of populations due to insecurity, reduced access to livelihoods and reduced access to health care and nutrition,” said James Mugaju, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Burkina Faso.
“The coronavirus pandemic has had a brutal impact on households and their ability to provide for the basic needs of their children. Children are paying the highest price, facing a triple crisis: security, health and food,” he added.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, has over one million internally displaced persons – 60 per cent of whom are children, and 3.3 million suffer from acute food insecurity.
Worst affected regions
According to the survey, the town of Gorom-Gorom in the Sahel region and the Barsalogho site for internally displaced persons in the Centre-Nord region are worst affected, where children under five suffering from global acute malnutrition recorded 18.4 per cent and 16.1 per cent, respectively. The figures exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
Equally alarming is the situation in Dori, Gorgadji, Bourzanga and Fada N’Gourma communes, all of which have a high prevalence of global acute malnutrition, ranging from 12.5 per cent to 13.6 per cent. Children in the Barsalogho, Kongoussi, Ouahigouya, Kaya and Matiacoali communes also have concerning prevalence rates of acute malnutrition, ranging from 8.6 per cent to 9.6 per cent.
Areas where children are particularly affected by acute malnutrition are also those with the highest number of acutely food-insecure families, said UNICEF, calling for intensified efforts to ensure the continuity of nutrition services to provide an integrated package of prevention and treatment of malnutrition to reach the children in urgent need.
“This is essential because good nutrition for children, from their first days and months, protects them from disease and infection, and helps them to recover when they fall ill,” said Mr. Mugaju.
UNICEF and its partners have stepped up their response. Community health workers have been mobilized to travel to the most remote areas to screen and treat malnourished children at the community level, where they also provide advice on the best feeding practices for infants and young children, including in emergency situations.
The UN agency is also supporting health authorities and is strengthening efforts to procure and deliver therapeutic foods, such as milk and ready-to-use therapeutic foods, to treat acute malnutrition. More than 52,600 cartons or about 737 tonnes of therapeutic food have been delivered to healthcare facilities and 51,685 children with severe acute malnutrition have been treated since January 2020.
UNICEF Deputy Representative James Mugaju highlighted the importance of working together to support children.
“Well-nourished girls and boys ensure good physical and cognitive development, which will give them equal opportunities to grow up fulfilled and reach their full potential,” he said.
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