Friday, March 9, 2012

Girls and the Control of their Bodies

A recent side event on “Girls and the Control of their Bodies” captured my attention. Organized and sponsored by the delegation from France, this panel discussion highlighted many important issues concerning the rights of girls and their bodies. Topics such as early and forced marriage, ending gender discrimination, fighting harassment in schools, violence against women, educational equality, and combating the hyper-sexualization of young girls in society provided a meaningful and fascinating forum. Focusing on political, economic, and social empowerment and development, the panel illustrated the significance of protecting women and girls from all of forms of discrimination, abuse, and marginalization in society. In addition to laws and policies safeguarding girls and women’s rights, the discussion also emphasized the power of education (for both females and males) in making progress in these areas.

I was inspired by Sihem Badi’s testimony. As Minister for Women’s Affairs in Tunisia, Ms. Badi spoke about the progress made in gaining civil rights for women and the enactment of new laws targeting young girls (for example, changing the legal age of  marriage to 18). She also highlighted legislative policies that have increased gender parity in the political arena. These strategies have resulted in 25% of the National Assembly made up of women. A new legal framework has expanded family health and reproductive protections while acknowledging that many inequalities and challenges still persist in society. Wider access to contraception and efforts to enhance women’s rights in education, the work place, and politics has led to positive developments in many communities. Another speaker discussed the work of international organizations to expand access to family planning – a link to women’s empowerment and a stronger capacity for girls to engage in basic education and vocational training.

Encouraged by the panel’s efforts to bring awareness and concrete action to this important issue, I began to think about my recent work in Cambodia and Nigeria. I would like to find out more about the work being done in each of these countries to protect the rights of girls (specific policies and strategies aimed at ending the marginalization of young girls and women?). In my opinion, local and national policymakers, as well as international organizations, must take a strong stand in eliminating these forms of discrimination against women. I applaud the work of the panel in addressing the human rights of girls and women in this area and look forward to hearing about new initiatives in the future. It would also be interesting for my high school students to examine this issue from a global context and determine how they might play a role in supporting these efforts.

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