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Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results


Chapter III

The Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: A Women´s Agenda for the Twenty-first Century

12 The girl-child: existentially disadvantaged
Analysis

"The States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child´s or his or her parent´s or legal guardian´s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or status". These solemn promises are included in Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. For millions of girls they are still far from reality and inaccessible. In real life, girls are clearly discriminated against from the earliest stages of life.

Under-nourished, maltreated and under-educated

The Platform for Action of Beijing concludes: "Girls are often treated as inferior and are socialized to put themselves last, thus undermining their self-esteem. Discrimination and neglect in childhood can initiate a lifelong downward spiral of deprivation and exclusion from the social mainstream".

Raised to become second-class beings

In some parts of the world, men outnumber women by 5 in 100. The reasons for this include abortions of female foetuses, female infanticide, discrimination against girls in food allocations, hard work and neglect of their health. These selective practices related to girls´ health and nutrition have serious consequences: according to the Platform, 450 million adult women are stunted as a result of childhood malnutrition.
What adult women experience as continuously excessive demands on them has often been learned in childhood. The double burden of domestic and professional work is often preceded by the expectation that young girls manage both school and - frequently more demanding - domestic chores at an early age. The Platform identifies this dual responsibility as a major cause of early drop-out from schooling. In some countries, the number of educated children has grown in the last two decades, but boys have fared proportionately much better than girls in this context. In 1990, 130 million children had no access to schooling; of these, 81 million were girls. The Platform attributes this to traditional attitudes, child labour, early marriages, lack of funds and adequate schooling facilities and premature pregnancies. In some countries, the shortage of women teachers may also be an obstacle for the enrolment of girls. Inequality continues in the educational system itself through gender-biased teaching and curricular materials and discrimination in classroom interaction and teachers´ attitudes.

Scholastic and domestic chores: a double burden on the shoulders of the young

The number of girls in secondary schools remains extremely low in many countries. Often they are not given the opportunity or the encouragement to pursue scientific and technical education and training, in particular. The Platform notes a tendency to exclude girls from social, political and economic life in early childhood. Boys are encouraged to participate, girls are not.

Exclusion from birth

Each year 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth. Pregnancy and delivery in childhood or adolescence mean a particularly high risk for the mothers. Their children have a higher level of morbidity, and infant mortality is also higher. Early pregnancies and deliveries are obstacles to better educational, economic and social opportunities of women and their children.

Too much force, too little information: too many children become mothers

There is no protected space for girls, they are defenceless in the face of attacks. "Sexual violence and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV / Aids have a devastating effect on children´s health, and girls are more vulnerable than boys to the consequences of unprotected and premature sexual relations".

Violence and exploitation are ever-present

Girls are more vulnerable than their male opposites to all kinds of violence due to factors as youth, social pressures and lack of protective laws. Disabled girls face additional risks due to their disabilities. According to the Platform, some children need special protection, "especially the abandoned, homeless and displaced, street children, children in areas of conflict, or children who are discriminated against because they belong to an ethnic or racial minority group".

Strategies and actions to be taken

Against this background, the Platform formulates the first strategic objective in the name of gender bias in politics: "Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child". The following eight actions, proposed to the global family, are targeted towards concrete sets of problems:

  • Discriminatory cultural attitudes and practices must be firmly eradicated by all those concerned.
  • Girls´ needs and opportunities require more sensitive measures.
  • Equality in education and training.
  • Equality in matters of health and nutrition.
  • Exploitation of child labour must be eliminated.
  • Girls must be better protected at work.
  • Girls must be encouraged to participate in social life, their status in the family must be improved.
  • Violence against the girl-child must be stopped.

The Platform proposes 58 specific actions with the aim of implementing these objectives.

Violence against the women of tomorrow must be stopped

Of all the international agreements which are binding under international law, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 has achieved the highest degree of ratification.174 States had ratified it by the end of 1994. In accordance with the Vienna Conference on Human Rights, the Platform for Action demands that the still-existing gap in ratification be closed.

Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and monitor its full implementation

The States that have ratified the Convention commit themselves to its full implementation by "the adoption of all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures and by fostering an enabling environment..."
Any injustice and obstacles in respect of inheritance faced by girls must be eliminated by legislation "that guarantees equal right to succession and ensures equal right to inherit, regardless of the sex of the child". Data collected for policy-making and decision-making of all kinds and for concrete programmes, for example in health and education, must include a gender perspective.
The existing disparities between girls and boys in primary education must be eliminated as a first step. Questions of health and nutrition must be part of literacy programmes for the benefit of girls. The Platform proposes for those girls who remain excluded from formal education to be promoted by so-called functional literacy programmes. Equal access to secondary education should be ensured by the year 2005 and equal access to all forms of higher education to follow suit. Special incentives, for example scholarships, should be introduced to increase enrolment and to improve retention rates of girls. The Platform focuses attention on the weakest members in the system, also in education: It emphasizes the right to full participation in social life for girls with disabilities; additional efforts are required for their educational needs in particular.

Equal access to secondary schools by the year 2005

In line with the tasks related to violence against women, the Platform calls upon Governments to protect girls against violence more effectively. There is a lack of legislation "protecting girls from all forms of violence, including female infanticide and prenatal sex selection, genital mutilation, incest, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child prostitution and child pornography...".

Effective prevention of violence

Girls who have become victims of violence need better and more assistance. It should be provided through age-sensitive, discreet and safe programmes which offer medical, social and psychological support services. In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Platform demands active protection of children from economic exploitation. It advocats a minimum age for access to the labour markets for girls as well to be incorporated in national legislation.

More assistance for victims of violence

Health education must be clearly reoriented towards the needs and concerns of girls and must ensure intensive information regarding the physiology of reproduction, reproductive and sexual health. This applies also to information about the risks of HIV infection, Aids prevention and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Protect girls´ health

The Platform recalls the relevant agreements made at the International Conference on Population and demands their implementation. For the benefit of girls´ physical and mental health, discrimination in food allocation and health care must be eliminated. Primary health-care programmes must be augmented. In view of improved availability of prenatal sex determination, the Platform is afraid of a further increase of abortions of female foetuses, as long as son preference persists. It is therefore necessary to address the underlying economic and social causes of this preference in order to eradicate all existential disadvantages for girls.

Comply with Cairo agreements

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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997