Discrimination Against Women Weakens All of Society

Wednesday, December 14 2011

Deeply rooted discrimination against women in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres weakens society as a whole, the United Nations human rights chief said on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the negative effects of discrimination are magnified by conflict, as well as natural or man-made disasters, such as the current economic crisis.

The meltdown in global markets and financial institutions and ensuing recession is likely to have a disproportionate impact on millions women, who already formed the majority of the poor and disenfranchised before the crisis developed.

“Unless gender-sensitive policies are adopted, I fear we may well witness a serious setback in areas where progress has taken decades to achieve,” she said in message for the Day, observed annually on 8 March.

Also, in an opinion piece published today in USA Today, Ms. Pillay said that growing up in apartheid South Africa as a person of colour and raised in poverty, she had experienced gender, race and class discrimination.

But, “I have seen the power of ordinary people who have stood up against injustices they faced and triumphed,” stressed the High Commissioner. “This Sunday, on International Women’s Day, I will celebrate the power of women to overcome the vulnerabilities resulting from these multiple forms of discrimination.”
In the workplace women still do not receive equal pay for equal work, do not enjoy the legal protection afforded to men, and domestic workers – especially migrants – often fall outside the scope of labour laws.

Discrimination also demonstrates itself in violence against women, which the UN regards as pandemic, warned Ms. Pillay. “I have seen firsthand the effect of this violence on women, children and families, wrecked by these crimes that are too often hidden and protected with impunity.”

Yakin Ertürk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, also marked the Day with a statement underscoring the importance for men and women to join forces in this time of economic turmoil.

“The scale and impact of the current crisis is still largely unknown, but it is expected that women and girls in both developed and developing countries will be particularly affected by job cuts, loss of livelihoods, increased responsibilities in all spheres of their life, and an increased risk of societal and domestic violence,” said Ms. Ertürk.

She highlighted the World Bank’s prediction of 53 million more people being driven into poverty in developing countries this year, bringing the total number of those living on less than $2 a day to over 1.5 billion.

“Studies have shown that violence against women intensifies when men experience displacement and dispossession related to economic crises, migration, war, foreign occupation or other situations where masculinities compete and power relations are altered in society,” added Ms. Ertürk.

Ms. Pillay noted, however, that there is a new generation of powerful women growing up around the world with a strong sense of their identity and strength.

“They say ‘no’ to harmful practices such as early marriage, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. They want to go to school and get an education. They want to be lawyers, doctors, judges and members of parliament. They want to change the world. I celebrate these girls on International Women’s Day. They are our future.”

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