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Gender Equality and Development

UNESCO selected projects on Women and Gender, 1990-2002  
UNESCO selected projects on Women and Gender, 1990-2002


UNESCO's efforts in literacy, basic education, and non-formal education for girls and women in the 1990s focused on empowering poor women and providing skills and knowledge for local development. The Organization also introduced a strategy to help Member States update their education systems in order to foster lifelong education and equal access to education for all.

Communications and Media

In the 1990s, UNESCO became more focused on the relationship between women and the media. Issues of concern included: media access for women, the portrayal of women in the media, and the participation of women in the production process. UNESCO also became interested in how channels of non-formal education via the media (radio, soap operas, and cartoon books) affect women in society.

Peace and Security

UNESCO's organization-wide programme A Culture of Peace was initiated in the 1990s and harmonized well with the Organization's efforts on women and gender. The programme emphasizes the vital role of women in re-establishing peace and security in the Mediterranean region, with particular emphasis on the Balkans. It also supported women's initiatives for peace and participation in politics; trained young males in gender-sensitive, non-violent, egalitarian partnerships; and helped organize and provide neutral space for meetings between women from conflicting groups. An example of one initiative is the organization Hamwe, that was portrayed in the film The Doves of Rwanda (1996). This women's organization won the Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence. Overall, UNESCO's policy underlined the importance of women's status to the establishment and preservation of peace and security.

Natural Sciences and Environmental Management

In the late 1990's, UNESCO began promoting women's and gender issues in the management of natural resources and environmental protection. This was done primarily in promoting national and regional policies that facilitated women's involvement in water-resource development (1996-1999).

Social Sciences

The World Social Science Report (1999) discussed women, gender roles, and sex equality. It also stressed the belief that gender issues transform the subject matter, methodology and conceptual frameworks of the social sciences at large and that most gender studies are multi-disciplinary and linked to social action.

Human Rights

A meeting on the status of women in the Arab-Islamic world led to the founding of the Collectif 95 Maghreb Egalité which promotes women's status and human rights in the Magreb Region (1990). A collaborative study with the WHO and UNICEF on Rape as a tool of war, focusing on the Balkans, led to one of the first official reports by United Nations agencies on the subject (1994-1995). As a part of the human rights programme, two projects in Burkina Faso (1999-2002) and Malawi (1997-1999), aimed to put into effect the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The main outcome of these projects was a new commitment to the empowerment of women through training.

Additional human rights projects encouraged gender equality through a variety of other activities. The political participation of women was addressed through the support of debates on gender roles and their affects on the application of human rights and democracy. Other activities were aimed at increasing the status of indigenous women. A working group under UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee studied women's health from the perspectives of human rights and bioethics. This led to the publication of Women's Rights and Bioethics (2000) which analysed women's health and how this is influenced by cultural, medical, political and social factors. It also discussed violence against women, women as victims of war, and prostitution. This publication ultimately recommended an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral approach to analysing women's health.

Participation in Public Life

An international colloquium on women and democratisation in Central and Eastern Europe explored how new research methodologies can increase the participation of women in defining democracy (1991). A summer university for women of the Black Sea was organised by UNESCO and the Romanian Commission to UNESCO so as to exchange ideas and experiences between Eastern and Western Europe on women's issues including work and participation in public life (1992-1994). A working group was also established in order to enhance women's representation and to promote consideration of gender issues among southern African lawmakers. A meeting called Arab Women Modernity and Democracy was also held. Publications included Femmes Africaines et Démocratie and Women in Politics: Australia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand (1996).

Gender Issues and Cultural Diversity

The report by the World Commission on Culture and Development, Our Creative Diversity (1998), suggested strategies for achieving fundamental change in social structures. This included: development indicators to assess the status of women's rights; raising women's awareness of laws concerning their rights; adopting and enforcing policies allowing for informed, individual decisions on family planning and sex; integrating women's concerns into all UN projects; and promoting women's civic, cultural and political participation.

The World Culture Report 2000 on Cultural Diversity, Conflict and Pluralism emphasized that people's choices are limited by inequality of access to resources, political power, information and the media. It continued that women are pressed to observe traditions that exclude them from power and participation. Gender affects cultural practices and the division of labour thereby creating ramifications in both the politico-economic and cultural realms. This in turn can lead to conflicts between the values of gender equity and cultural specificity and in recognizing that both diversity and equality contribute to peace. Overall, there is a need to identify which cultural policies of gender difference can harmonize with social policies of equality.

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