CSW: Our education systems are failing women

Date: March 2, 2011
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New York: What happens when educational institutions fail to educate our next generation about the importance of health, sex and human rights?

Women die.

This was one of the topics discussed at this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, with the theme of promoting women’s and girls’ access to education, training, science and technology.

This is in line with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which provides for challenging stereotypes in education and eradicating gender-based violence in educational institutions.

But when we talk about education we very often forget that there is much more to education than academic subjects leading to certificates or degrees. If we want to halve gender-based violence by 2015, which is also stipulated in the SADC Protocol, governments must implement a wider variety of subjects to help tackle stigmatisation, discrimination and stereotypes.

Yesterday I listened to four panellists speak about sexual and reproductive rights issues and women’s right to safe abortion and equal treatment as sexual minorities.

They all agreed that more education is needed around these sensitive issues.

“Education, health and human rights have not gone into our schools,” argued Gill Greer, Director-General of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), noting that of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the least progress has been made on the fifth goal: Improving maternal health. “Women are dying not because we do not know how to save them but because society cannot take a decision.”

Greer argued for legalising abortion, noting that the impact of unsafe abortion is one of poverty because 90% of such abortions are performed in the developing world, accounting for 40% of preventable maternal deaths. “Women do not have the power to say no to sex: 21.6 million women in developing countries need post-abortion treatment. This is a killing field in Africa. It is our moral imperative to address this issue.”

Jacqueline Nolley, International Programme Associate for Catholics for Choice, provided a disturbing anecdote about a woman who was jailed for 30 years in El Salvador. “Accused of illegal abortion and subsequently of homicide, she was tried and imprisoned for 30 years,” she explained. “In fact, she had a miscarriage and police said it was an abortion. Abortion is a crime in El Salvador and she got the full sentence of 30 years imprisonment.”

There are so many untold human stories that need to be heard in order to bring about change and help educate people. Why aren’t we telling these stories in classrooms, along with lessons about algebra, world history and the alphabet?

There was also great concern yesterday about the issue of “corrective” rape of lesbians in Southern Africa, an issue closely linked to abortion and reproductive rights.

The 1 in 9 Campaign’s Carrie Shelver noted that South Africa’s Constitution is a model as far as outlawing discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. South Africa is also the only country in Africa that has legalised same-sex marriage.

“And yet gays and lesbians are experiencing extreme violence,” said Shelver. “South Africa is known to be the capital for rape. The sexual rights issues of lesbians need to be addressed urgently.”

One Cape Town Support group recently told ActionAid that it receives at least 10 new cases of “corrective” rape every week.

Shelver’s association is called 1 in 9 because it is estimated that only one out of every nine survivors reports their rape to police. “They do not see the criminal justice system as viable because secondary violence on lesbians and sex workers is very often perpetrated once the cases are reported,” she said.

Session moderator Gro Lindstad, Director of FOKUS, Forum for Women and Development, told participants that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is concerned about these issues, noting that decriminalisation of abortion must be a priority.

He has every right to be concerned.

Human Rights also mean that women must have the right to post-abortion care. Women should not die because of an abortion. Lesbians should not be scared to report a rape to police. More education is needed now.

“Twenty-two million women have no choice but to seek out which back street abortionist is the cheapest, putting their lives at stake,” said Greer. “Sexual education is a must and those thinking that girls will start having sex too early because of sexual education are only blaming the umbrella for the rain.”




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