8 March - International Women's DayParis - Violence against women and children is not just a ‘women's issue,’ but something that "concerns us all, as an issue of equality and equity," UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura points out in a message to mark International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8.
Placing his message within the context of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), Mr Matsuura denounces the many forms of violence against women and girls in all countries. He appeals to"governments, civil society organizations and the international community to promote respect for internationally-recognized principles, norms and standards of human rights, particularly women’s rights and children’s rights which," he said, "are an inalienable and integral part of universal human rights."
Violence against women is just one aspect of continuing discrimination, despite progress in legislation. Women account for two-thirds of the world’s 880 million illiterate adults and for two-thirds of the planet’s 2.8 billion poor who live on less than two dollars a day. Two-thirds of the 113 million children who do not go to school are girls, as are most school dropouts.
Combating violence means fighting against inequality, to which UNESCO is contributing in its fields of competence by helping women to occupy their rightful position. Women are a priority group for the Organization and all its programmes – in education, science, communication and culture – are required to include the goal of gender equality.
Educating girls is a priority for UNESCO, which is also working to eliminate sexist stereotypes from school textbooks and to increase teachers’ awareness of gender equality. To promote women in the sciences, the "Women, Science and Technology" programme includes a number of university chairs and networks linking more than 50 universities around the world. In communication, for example, UNESCO is taking part in projects in Asia to increase women’s access to the new technologies. In recentyears, UNESCO has also done research into traditional methods of conflict resolution practices by women in Africa and into male roles and violence.
Political will appears to be weak where the protection of women against violence is concerned, despite the many international standard-setting instruments, ratified by most countries; from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), supplemented by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993).
UNESCO recently added a new instrument to this arsenal with its Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the Organization’s General Conference in November 2001. Its 4th Article states: "No-one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope". This can serve as a valuable instrument for women and organizations fighting practices such as sexual mutilation, child marriages and "crimes of honour."
In his message, the Director-General welcomes the new opportunities for women in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime. UNESCO is working with them and is taking part in the Afghan Women’s Consultation organized in Kabul, March 6 to 8, by the Afghan women’s affairs ministry and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), with the help of other UN agencies. Women from all sectors of Afghan society are being invited to make practical recommendations about their role in building peace and reconstructing the country.
UNESCO’s Director-General concludes his message by quoting an Afghan woman who said that "society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken. Let us resolve to ensure that all societies fly with both wings, of equal strength and with equal dignity."