Item 12: Integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective.

March 22 - April 28, 1999
Palais des Nations, GenevaIn many countries in the world the illiteracy rate among women is higher than that of men: in the Arab states the percentage of illiterate population 15 years and over is 31.6 for men and 55.8 for women, in Southern Asia it is 37.1 for men and 63.4 for women, in Sub-Saharan Africa it is 33.4 for men and 52.7 for women (UNESCO 1998). The gap is wide and this is unacceptable as we enter the third millennium. Male dominated governments and religious fundamentalist groups continue to deprive women of their rights, including their right to education, in the name of tradition, culture and religion. We have come to a point in history when we are being called to change such traditions which have their origins in customs and practices laid down in history in response to a particular situation, and which cease to be relevant today.

In the name of culture and religion women's rights have been neglected and even abused in human history. There still exists in some countries a certain mentality which argues that education is not necessary for the girl child and for women. It is not uncommon to hear people say, to educate a woman is like watering the neighbour's garden.

In Pakistan, Noor's ambition was to become a science teacher. At the age of fourteen she was forcibly taken out of school in the name of culture and religion. Her two elder sisters met the same fate.

The present form of neo-liberal globalization is contributing to the increase of poverty and the poor in our world. Families who are afflicted by this global reality often have to make a choice as to who among the children should be educated, and often the boy child is privileged. In some cases, economic problems are contributing to lack of tertiary education among girls; only 16.1% girls are in universities in the whole world (UNESCO, 1998). The external debt, especially of the heavily indebted and poorest countries has added to the number of non-school going children among whom two-thirds are girls. The Structural Adjustment Program enforced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund continues to deprive many a girl child of her right to education.

In India Kamala and Suresh have four children, two girls and two boys. They have dropped out of school for financial reasons. Suresh's brother has offered to help to educate the two boys till the primary level. The two girls are obliged to walk the streets each day to sell home-made pastries.

The arms trade and the consequent thirty-four local wars are also responsible for the growing illiteracy among girls and women in war-torn countries. In 1998 there were an estimated 31 million refugees and displaced persons, and 80% among them are women and children.

In Sri Lanka, Konara was looking forward to being a doctor. Due to the continued war in her region, she has not been able to resume her studies. She had two more years to complete her secondary school. She is now twenty and has given up all hopes of continuing her studies. Her whole family has been displaced and they have been living in a refugee camp for five years.

Fifty years after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights promised respect for human rights to all people, many governments have still failed to reform laws and practices that overtly discriminate against women and deny women's rights (Human Rights Watch World Report 1999). According to this same report, in 1998 women still saw their ability to enjoy basic human rights challenged at every turn. Some governments openly challenged the notion that universal human rights extend to women. Governments did little to remedy violence and discrimination against women, two significant indicators of women's secondary status in societies around the world. State-sponsored and State-tolerated discrimination continue unabated around the globe. Taliban authorities in Afghanistan, for example, confine women to their homes, cut off their access to education and health care, and beat them on the streets. The continued silence on the part of the international community in the face of such an abuse of human rights is a serious form of violence.

Implementation of women's rights remain slow and inconsistent, reflecting the unwillingness of international actors to change the structures that accommodate and encourage daily abuses of women's rights. Many governments refuse to recognize, let alone remedy, discriminatory laws and practices that have cemented women's inequality. Signs of progress recorded in 1998 remain isolated incidents rather than indices of meaningful change (Human Rights Watch World Report 1999).

At the 1995 U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, governments agreed that respect for women's rights must be the cornerstone of efforts to improve women's political, economic, and social status. These rights can be improved only through education. Education is the key to change. Education helps to conscientise, to reflect, to make responsible decisions. Education contributes to a greater awareness of our rights and responsibilities. Where women enjoy equal rights to education, women participate equally in decision-making at the political and economic, at national and international levels. It is not normal that there only 12% women in the world's parliaments. Our common future as we enter the third millennium depends on our globalized ability to promote education for all.

In conclusion, I would like to propose an INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE EDUCATION OF THE GIRL CHILD, in view of equal opportunities for education. According to the UNESCO 1998 statistics, gross enrolment ratios still show a low percentage for the girl child: in the Arab states 47.5%, in Southern Asia 49.3%, in Sub-Saharan Africa 37.4%. Each year such a day can be a call and a reminder for women and men to analyze problems relating to injustices to women, and together arrive at certain convictions and decisions. We women envisage the day when patriarchal societies can become past history, and we can live in partnership, searching together to build a new humanity where all rights are for all peoples.

Your Excellencies, I appeal to you as an United Nations Organization to bring about a change in humanity in the 21st century by bringing about a change in the status of women, and this is possible only if all are given equal opportunities for education, irrespective of gender, tradition, culture and religion.

Oral, Written or Summary: 
Meeting Year: 


UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-fifth session
Meeting Name: 
UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-fifth session