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Deputy Executive Director talks women’s and children’s rights in the Middle East and Africa
NEW YORK, USA, 10 December 2006 – As UNICEF launches its flagship annual report, ‘The State of the World’s Children’ – which focuses this year on the links between women’s rights and children’s well-being – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah has just returned from an extensive field visit in which those links featured prominently.
“There is no way you can be an advocate for women’s rights without being an advocate for children’s rights – and there is no way to be an advocate for children’s rights without being an advocate for women’s rights,” she said.
Ms. Salah’s trip brought her to:
- High-level discussions in Cairo on early childhood development and education
- This year’s African Development Forum in Ethiopia, which focused on youth and leadership
- An Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) forum in Turkey
- A meeting back in Egypt on HIV/AIDS and the role of Arab women in peace-building.
Education and development
In Cairo, Ms. Salah participated in the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative partnership meeting and ‘Education for All’ talks to discuss early childhood care and gender disparities in education.
“Early childhood development is important because this is when the child grows physically, but the psycho-social stimulation of children is also very important,” she noted. “We are talking about an integrated programme that deals with the physical well-being of the child, but also we’re talking about socialization, and gender socialization.”
At the African Development Forum in Ethiopia, Ms. Salah explained, the Cairo discussions on education proved very pertinent. She said the Forum showed that African governments are now realizing the importance of youth participation in the continent’s development.
“In Africa, 50 per cent of children do not finish primary education,” she pointed out. “How can they ever take part in the development of their country if they don’t even finish primary education?”
Ending harmful practices
The role of women in the development of the OIC countries was the focus of the Islamic Forum that brought Ms. Salah to Istanbul. For the first time, women ministers were among the more than 30 officials who participated in the talks on technology, girls’ education and woman-friendly legislation.
“My message there was: All the harmful traditional practices find no grounding in the texts of Islam,” said Ms. Salah. “Women and men are equal and we have to show it.”
Among the harmful practices discussed at the meeting were female genital mutilation, early marriage and honour killings.
Back in Egypt, Ms. Salah participated in the closing ceremony of a meeting on the role of women in peace-building and reconstruction. Organized by Her Excellency Suzanne Mubarak, the First Lady of Egypt, the meeting featured the formation of a new coalition of Arab women for peace.
“This is very symbolic,” said Ms. Salah. “It shows that there is a movement of Arab women, which means that Arab women feel that they have a role to play.”
Rights of women and children
In the end, all these wide-ranging discussions – on girls’ education, building peace and tolerance, enhancing the role of women in the Islamic world and more – were linked, in that the participants look to UNICEF for help on policies affecting the rights of women and children.
‘The State of the World’s Children 2007’ underlines the importance of ensuring those rights by empowering women to participate fully in decisions that affect their lives.
“There is no way you can be an advocate for women’s rights without being an advocate for children’s rights – and there is no way to be an advocate for children’s rights without being an advocate for women’s rights,” said Ms. Salah.