Friday, February 11, 2011

The Status of Women in 2011

by Rineke van Dam (junior representative WO=MEN)

The Big Apple, symbol for economic vibrancy, cultural exchange and tempting opportunities. When I receive the call from Joni van de Sand working for WO=MEN that I have been selected as junior representative to attend the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, I feel thrilled and a bit intimidated. Such an opportunity needs to be harnessed. The same evening, I delve into the program for the upcoming session. I need to be well prepared to valuably contribute to discussions on the position of women in the world of today.

Missing Women
The theme under review is the ‘elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child’. This theme makes me think about Amartya Sen’s intriguing example on the implications of discrimination against the girl child. He comes up with the concept of “missing women” and argues that due to unequal access to healthcare and nutrition in a number of countries, mortality rate for young girls and women is considerably higher than for boys and men. As a result, an estimated number of 100 million women are ‘missing’ in South Asia, West Asia and North Africa. Particularly in countries struck by poverty, the girl child suffers disproportionally. This year, the CSW will look at to what extent the conclusions that were drawn on this topic in 2007 have been followed up.

Working Women
The priority theme of this year’s session will be the ‘access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work’. It is a mouth-full making it rather difficult to grasp. Therefore, I rather summarize it as the economic opportunities for women and their ability to participate in the economy in a ‘decent’ manner. I particularly find women’s participation in the labor market a key area to take action in. During my studies, I learned that women generally take the lower paid jobs requiring the least skills and responsibility. Moreover, their jobs often have the least security with little or no social benefits when they fall sick or retire. Such trends are not only found in the Global South (Africa, Asia and Latin America). Wage gaps and discrepancies in access to ‘better’ jobs continue to exist in Europe and the US as well. Considering the feminization of poverty, it is crucial that the gendered access to economic opportunities is put on the agenda of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Motorbike delivery
Lastly, this year’s session will touch upon maternal mortality and morbidity. As an employee of AMREF Flying Doctors, I have seen how gender inequality and poverty contribute to unacceptably high mortality rates of pregnant women. During a visit to Busia, Kenya, a mother of twins told me how she almost died during delivery. The first child was born at home but the placenta would not come out, nor the second child. She had to be transported for 30 minutes over a rough road on the back of a motorbike to reach a health facility. Now she is the lucky mother of two lively boys and can tell the story, something not many other mothers can replicate.

Women in New York
From the 22nd of February until the 4th of March, Joni van de Sand and I will be attending the CSW in New York to discuss all these issues. Through this blog, we will keep you updated with the most relevant developments, interesting events and ‘juicy’ details. Do not hesitate to give comments, ask questions and even to post your own blog by sending your input to!

See you in New York!


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