Youth make clarion call to UN to end discrimination, violence against girls

Edith Lederer

Edith Lederer

NEW YORK - A South African teenager speaking on behalf of young people had a message for government ministers and officials attending a high-level UN meeting on ending discrimination and violence against girls: "It's time to listen to us!"

Quilinta Nepaul, 17, said participants at the yearly meeting of the UN's commission on the status of women, which opened on Monday, should talk to the more than 200 boys and girls participating in the 10-day session - and read and heed a report reflecting the views of more than 1300 young people from 59 countries.

The key finding of the report titled "It's time to listen to us!" is that unwritten laws hold incredible power when it comes to discrimination against girls and that many cultural practices were responsible for violations of girls' rights, she said.

These cultural practices include payment of a dowry or bride price, forced marriages, preferences for a son over a daughter, machismo and women's work burden, said Nepaul, who volunteers at the Phoenix Welfare Centre outside Durban to promote awareness of the rights of children and women.

"Young people identify the victimisation of girls and the lack of awareness of their rights as the major cause for discrimination and violence," she said.

"We also recognise education is one of the most powerful methods of eliminating violence and discrimination against girls."

Governments should provide access to "quality education" for all girls, severely punish those who commit violations against girls, and help ensure that "invisible girls" in marginalised areas get attention from local leaders, parents, teachers and others, she said.

Governments should also provide resources to youth and community-based groups, campaign against harmful cultural practices, and help girls gain the skills and knowledge they need for economic advancement.

"We call on governments to hear the ideas and concerns of the girls and boys themselves," Nepaul said.

"Our report shows that children have strong opinions on how we want to shape our future . It is time to listen to us and to act upon it."

When she finished speaking to loud applause, the commission's chairman, Carmen Maria Gallardo of El Salvador, said: "I think the commission is aware you are part of the solution.

"With education and political will," she said, "the 45-nation commission will be able to agree on recommendations to improve the situation of girls worldwide."

But despite advances since more than 180 governments adopted a blueprint to achieve equality of the sexes at the 1995 Beijing women's conference, Gallardo said, "girls continue to face discrimination, violence and neglect".

Deputy secretary-general Asha-Rose Migiro lauded the commission's decision to focus on eliminating discrimination and violence against girls.

"Most egregiously, violence against women and girls remains pervasive - perpetrated by family members, strangers and agents of the state in all regions of the world, in the public and private spheres, in peacetime and during armed conflict," she said.

"Ending this pandemic will require our individual and collective commitment," said Migiro, a former foreign minister of Tanzania.

"It will require us to create an environment where such violence is not tolerated.

"It will also require implementation of laws, prosecution of perpetrators, additional resources, and the full involvement of boys and men to change attitudes and behaviour," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Germany's federal minister for family affairs Ursula von der Leyen expressed concern at continuing gender stereotypes in education, jobs, political, economic and cultural influence.

Gender equality can only be reached "if both men and women work towards genuine equality of opportunities", she said.

"Therefore, new actions in a wide spectrum of areas to increase men's role in the empowerment of women are needed." - Sapa-AP