*** EQUALITY AND THE GIRL CHILD
Statement to the 36th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
Priority Theme: Equality
17 March 1992
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The Baha'i International Community appreciates this opportunity to share with the Commission on the Status of Women, under the priority theme equality, some comments on the effects of gender discrimination on girl children.
We have been heartened by the initiative taken by UNICEF to focus attention on the plight of girl children. We support wholeheartedly this commitment to an issue that deserves ongoing attention, and it is our hope that the Commission on the Status of Women, as the Preparatory Body for the Fourth World Conference on Women, will consider this matter an important item for discussion at the Conference.
In the view of the Baha'i International Community, the advancement of civilization now requires the full participation of everyone. If women are to help shape the future, girl children as well as boy children must be valued by their families and by society. We share UNICEF's distress at the blatant neglect of girl children and the justification of that neglect on the basis of culture and tradition. The Baha'i International Community welcomes the frankness of the "Progress Report on Achievements Made in the Implementation of UNICEF Policy on Women in Development Including the Situation of the Girl Child" (E/ICEF/1992/L) that will go before the UNICEF Executive board at it June session. While acknowledging culture as a "crucial bond in society," the report points to "the underlying problems of cultural attitudes" as one of the "major challenges to be overcome in efforts to improve the status and role of women." The report then calls for "fundamental changes in the valuation, socialization and education of children, both girls and boys," and "in the complex system of attitudes, power and privileges that determine the allocation of resources and entitlements between women and men within the family, community and nation." Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the Baha'i International Community, which operate at the grass roots level, are in the position to promote the kind of attitudinal change called for in this report, by encouraging community discussion about the benefits which might accrue if all of its human resources were developed.
Not only must girl children receive adequate food, health care, and education, they must be given every opportunity to develop their capacities. As women become educated and enter all fields of human endeavor, they will make unique contributions to the creation of a just world order -- an order characterized by vigor, cooperation, harmony, and a degree of compassion never before witnessed in history. In addition, as mothers they render an invaluable service to humanity by educating the next generation. In that capacity they will be the primary agents for the transformation of society. They, in particular, can inculcate in their children the self-esteem and respect for others essential for the advancement of civilization. It is clear, then, that the station of mothers, increasingly denigrated in many societies, is in reality of the greatest importance and highest merit.
Women and girls must be educated -- spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. A mother must be educated in all the relevant fields of knowledge in order to perform her role as transmitter of culture and values. A child needs a nurturing environment and wise guidance in the first years of life in order to develop sound character and a well trained mind. If the mother is unable, because of her own deficiencies, to provide her children with experiences which will equip them for later, formal schooling, they will find themselves at a serious, often crippling, disadvantage. It must be stressed, however, that this dual responsibility of developing the child's character and stimulating the intellect belongs, not only to the mother, but to the family as a whole and to the community. As it was pointed out in UNICEF's statement to the 1991 Commission on the Status of Women, "The family context provides unique opportunities for boy children and men to become involved in changing the status of the girl child and women."Non-governmental organizations can also contribute substantially by focusing attention on the girl child in their community-based activities.
Presently the world is caught in a cycle of miseducation, wherein harmful character traits are passed from one generation to the next, retarding social progress. One source of this miseducation is the failure to respect women, especially in the home. Consequently, harmful attitudes and habits, absorbed during childhood, are carried as adults from the family to the work place, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. The world can ill afford the consequences of continued ignorance and injustice, especially at this critical moment when prospects for establishing peace on this planet are bright. A conscious effort to educate the world's children and youth about the principle of the oneness of humanity could help break this cycle and prepare them to live as world citizens.
The cause of universal education deserves the utmost support that the governments of the world can lend it. For ignorance is indisputably the principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples and for the perpetuation of prejudice. No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens. Lack of resources limits the ability of many nations to meet their peoples' needs, imposing a certain ordering of priorities. It is for this reason that the decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.
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