Before I loose this file forever, I want to share the “Study Guide” I made for directing a peruvian MUN, regarding gender inequality. If you think about it, gender inequality has existed from the beginning of human kind. It is one of the most ancient issues in humanity, and it is curious how that problem has evolved into many manifestations.
From the beginning of history women have faced discrimination, be it through lack of legal rights or blatantly being thought of as inferior. One of the first claims for gender equality was in 1405, when the author Christine de Pizan wrote in her book The Book of the City of Ladies that the oppression of women is founded on irrational prejudices. In 1774 an evangelical group called the ‘Shakers’ promoted statements regarding the equality of the sexes. These manifestations were radically progressive at the time, but they did not have a large impact on society. Historians state society was not yet ready for a drastic change.
Gender distinctions weren’t merely confined to one area of discrimination, but were rather spread out across all aspects of daily life. For example in the process of granting U.S. citizenship, while American women achieved the right to vote in 1920, their citizenship was still vested in a father or husband until 1934. Up until then, a woman would lose her citizenship if she married a man from another country.
However, after World War II, gender equality movements started having an important role in society, promoting equal rights for women and men. In the United States in 1964, Representative Howard Smith of the State of Virginia proposed a law to add a prohibition on gender discrimination into the Civil Rights Act, which was under consideration at the time. Many Congressmen did not welcome the initiative, but with leadership from Representative Martha Griffiths of the State of Michigan, the law passed. However, despite the law, the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was in charge of enforcing this law on the labor market, decided not to enforce the law’s protection of women workers.
This encouraged a group of feminists to create an organization to fight gender discrimination at its core: in courts and legislatures. Therefore, in 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was launched and it focused on lobbying for pro-equality laws and assisting women seeking legal aid as they battled workplace discrimination in the courts. All this seeking a basic thing: to open the existing political system for women’s participation.
UN Past Actions
Gender equality as a condition to achieving sustainable human development on a global scale has been emphasized in recent years. This issue has often been addressed by the United Nations through its wide scope of policies and conventions across multiple committees. From the Convention against Discrimination in Education adopted in 1960, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993 which addressed women’s right, to the Millennium Development Goals Declaration, the United Nations has served as a dialog table to discuss and promote gender equality.
In 2000, building upon a decade of conferences and summits, world leaders came together to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The declaration considers gender inequality as a characteristic of most societies, with males on average better positioned in social, economic and political hierarchies. In order to tackle this the third Millennium Development Goal (MDG) adopted was the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. This goal has been providing the impetus for governments to eliminate gender inequality in primary and secondary education by 2005 and in all levels by 2015.
In addition, several organisms and NGOs participate in this global discussion, such as UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) that has currently launched the He for She Campaign and is launching the Beijing+20 (Beijing Platform for Action Turns 20). Women Watch, the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, created in 1997, serves as a central gateway to information and resources on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women throughout the United Nations system, including the UN Women, the United Nations Secretariat, regional commissions, funds, programmes, specialized agencies, and academic and research institutions. Furthermore, several United Nations organs promote gender equality such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNESCAP, and more others.
Culture, tradition and resources
Though great efforts have been made and advances achieved, there is still much more to do. Education, health, nutrition and freedom are still distributed unfairly in many countries between men and women. In some Member States culture, tradition and underdevelopment stand in the way of women emerging as equals to men. Any efforts to remove poverty must address gender inequality to be truly sustainable and holistic, because gender inequality prevents adequate employment and pay for women.
Gender-based discrimination permeates all cultures, and is often manifested in the laws, policies and practices of institutions. For example, in many countries women are not afforded the same inheritance rights and property rights as men, nor are they allowed to testify in court. Even where constitutional guarantees provide for equality and laws protect women’s rights, discriminatory practices by law enforcement and security services, courts and others are major obstacles to women’s security and access to justice. Traditions and customs in certain regions may perpetuate gross violations of women’s and girl’s rights. Is it possible for the International Community impact every judicial system and stop discriminatory practices?
Despite the diversity of their political systems, throughout the Middle East and North Africa women’s rights are limited constantly. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive or even ride bikes, and men are not allowed to drive women they are not closely related to, this law results in several questions, one of them being: how to get 367,000 girls to school on buses that can only be driven by men? In Lebanon, women cannot file a divorce on the basis of abuse without the testimony of an eyewitness. In Egypt women can legally initiate a divorce but they must agree not only to renounce all rights to finance, but must also repay their dowries (they have to buy their freedom). In Israel, a man must grant his wife a get, a Jewish divorce writ that can only be given by a man to his wife. Additionally, in Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Yemen, married women must have their husband’s written permission to travel abroad, and they may be prevented from doing so for any reason. Do not get me wrong, I fully respect religion and tradition, however something can change right? I have not really discussed this topic with people from different culture than mine because I consider it to be sensitive, but I’ll gladly do so.
In order to assess this important issue, we must understand culture “is part of the fabric of every society”, including our own. Culture is what shapes the way things are done and our own understanding of why this should be so. Having this said, treatment of gender is shaped by culture. Is cultural change necessary?
Another disturbing issue must be addressed, which is “babycide” or properly called as female infanticide. Female infanticide is the intentional killing of baby girls due to the preference for male babies and from the low value associated with the birth of females. This has likely accounted for millions of gender-selective deaths throughout history. It remains a critical concern, notably on the two most populous countries: China and India. In all cases, female infanticide reflects the low status accorded to women in most parts of the world. The bias against females in India is related to the fact that “Sons are called upon to provide the income; they are the ones who do most of the work in the fields. In this way sons are looked to as a type of insurance. With this perspective, it becomes clearer that the high value given to males decreases the value given to females. China appeared to recognize the linkage by allowing families in rural areas (where anti-female bias is stronger) a second child if the first was a girl. Nonetheless, in September 1997, the World Health Organization’s Regional Committee for the Western Pacific issued a report claiming that “more than 50 million women were estimated to be ‘missing’ in China because of the institutionalized killing and neglect of girls due to Beijing’s population control program that limits parents to one child.
Conflict, crisis and war zones
In addition, women’s situation is often exacerbated by conflict and crisis. Women constitute the majority of refugees and displaced persons, and are increasingly targeted by combatants. Discrimination in laws and institutions with respect to employment, property and inheritance rights, reproductive health, and marriage and family matters heighten women’s vulnerability both in conflict and post conflict. Yet, conflict and crisis involve transformations in gender relations. Peace processes and the post-conflict environment can thus provide a unique opportunity for progress on gender equality.
However, the ugly truth is that women are the most threatened by violence in armed conflicts. Violence against women, especially rape, has added its own brand of shame to recent wars. From conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Peru to Rwanda, girls and women have been singled out for rape, imprisonment, torture and execution. Rape, identified by psychologists as the most intrusive of traumatic events, has been documented in many armed conflicts including those in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cyprus, Haiti, Liberia, Somalia and Uganda. In addition to rape, girls and women are also subject to forced prostitution and trafficking during times of war, sometimes with the complicity of governments and military authorities. During World War II, women were abducted, imprisoned and forced to satisfy the sexual needs of occupying forces, and many Asian women were also involved in prostitution during the VietNam war. The trend continues in today’s conflicts.
Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo stated that warring groups use rape as a weapon because it destroys communities totally: “You destroy communities. You punish the men, and you punish the women, doing it in front of the men. It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”
During Mozambique’s conflict, young boys, who themselves had been traumatized by violence, were reported to threaten to kill or starve girls if they resisted the boys’ sexual advances. Sexual assault presents a major problem in camps for refugees and the displaced. The camps were located in isolated areas, and hundreds of women were raped in night raids or while foraging for firewood.
UNHCR, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF are promoting reproductive health services for refugees to counter high birth rates, maternal mortality, STDs and HIV/AIDS. UNICEF provides support for women affected by armed conflict in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Croatia, Georgia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia and the Sudan.
At present, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but to achieve that target at all levels of education is still a major concern for several countries. In general terms, global gender equality goals in primary education were reached, however some regions still don’t meet this standard. In southern Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. By 2012 the enrolment ratio was the same.
Furthermore, statistics show gender disparities are more prevalent at higher levels of education. In university level education, enrolment ratios have improved in most regions, but considerable disparities exist in all regions.
While the Shakers and other experimental utopian communities lost traction over the years, their ideas about women’s freedoms and social status eventually caught on. Today, women vote, own property and are free to pursue careers, no longer having to depend on men for financial support. However, the gender gap is still visible in the kinds of jobs women have access to, when compared to their male counterparts, and the amount of pay they are awarded for the same jobs as men.
In many areas of Afghanistan, and other regions in Asia, girls are taken out of school when they hit puberty. Cultural factors related to the ‘correctness’ of sending girls to school, reluctance to send girls and boys to the same school after third grade, as well as the perceived and real security threats related to girls walking to school and attending classes all contribute to slowing down the enrollment of girls in schools. The enormous lack of female teachers, who are fundamental (because girls cannot be taught by a man after a certain age), is having a negative impact on girls’ education. Literacy rates among young Afghan women are low: only 18 per cent of women between 15 and 24 can read. While the total number of children enrolled in primary schools is increasing tremendously, the percentage of female students is not.
Employment has been a key issue and is now one of the major indicators of gender inequality. While there has been progress in recent decades in engaging women in the global workforce, there has been considerably less advance on improving the conditions under which they work. Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labor market: In 2010, on average across OECD countries, 65% of women were in the labor force compared to 79% of men.
Income inequality is another major issue. Even though the gender wage gap has narrowed, it is still large: among full-time employees in 2010, women earned, on average 16% less than men. Hungary had the smallest gender gap in wages (6%), however in Korea women earned, on average, 39% less than men. Ensuring equal opportunities for men and women is an important step towards achieving women’s rights and enhancing their development, self-esteem and influence in society.
According to labor specialists, income discrimination is more notorious in young women, as they are considered more likely to undertake maternity leave, which translates into higher labor costs for employers, than their male counterparts.
The gender pay gap is a clear prove of the existence of gender inequality nowadays. This consists of a difference between men’s and women’s pay, based on the average difference in gross hourly earnings of all employees. The clear impact is that women earn less over their lifetimes, resulting in lower pensions. For example, in 2012, 21.7% of women aged 65 and over were at risk of poverty, compared to 16.3% of men. On average, women in the European Union earn around 16% less per hour than men, although this percentage may vary depending on the country, however it increases in african and asian countries.
The main goal of feminist movements has been to promote political participation of women. Historically, women had few (if any) political representation in governments and had few rights compared to those of men. Since then, society has improved dramatically, and the situation of women in politics has changed almost completely.
The proportion of women with seats in parliament increased in forty-two of the sixty-four chambers renewed in 2013 worldwide. The proportion of women rose by more than 20 percentage points, in two chambers Grenada and Zimbabwe These were followed by four countries: Saudi Arabia, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, with an increase of more than 15 percentage points in the lower houses. However, women’s shares declined in 14 chambers. Legislated or voluntary quotas were used in 39 chambers holding elections. Such measures impact positively on women’s access to parliament. Additionally, women’s political participation has increased, being that in January 2014, in 46 countries more than 30% of members of parliament in at least one chamber were women. However, quotas alone are not enough: political parties need to field more women candidates.
In 2013 a growing awareness of the importance of ending political violence against women surged. Pre- and post-electoral violence —which includes intimidation, physical assault and other forms of aggression towards candidates and elected women— is a common deterrent to women’s political participation in any part of the world. Countries such as Bolivia and Mexico have taken the lead by passing legislation to redress this issue that deters women from political involvement.
Domestic violence was named as a “pandemic”, because is a chronic issue that affects millions of women worldwide. According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. However, some national violence studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner. Another data shows that for all women killed in 2012; at least half were killed by intimate partners or family members due to domestic violence.
A main problem is that domestic violence tends to be recurrent in several household primarily in rural areas in developing countries. Women in most cases are too afraid to seek for help that is why most of the cases of violence go unreported. For instance, a study based on interviews with 42,000 women across the 28 Member States of the European Union revealed that only 14 per cent of women reported their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police.
Additionally, there has been many cases around the African and Asian region, regarding acid attacks to women by men, that were caused either neglect to marry or by a simple insult. Acid attacks, however, have become recurrent nowadays. In Iran, acid attacks are causing horror in women, since in several neighborhoods Zealots on motorcycles are throwing acid at women whose veils are deemed too loose. Even though authorities do not support this actions, men’s view of women is what is causing the attacks.
Another main issue at hand, and in several countries considered as a form of violence, is sexual harassment, which is higher in urban areas, and includes from street harassment to work sexual harassment.
Although action has been done, for example the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women recommends that states parties “promote research, collect data and compile statistics, especially concerning domestic violence, relating to the prevalence of different forms of violence against women and encourage research on the causes, nature, seriousness and consequences of violence against women and on the effectiveness of measures implemented to prevent and redress violence against women“.
 As seen by the data available, from awareness campaigns for both women and men to sanctions and specialized programmes, further actions must be done in order to reduce and eliminate domestic violence.
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