UNESCO International Forum of NGOs

4th International Forum of NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO
UNESCO Headquarters, Paris
June 29-30, 2015

Global poverty has been reduced in recent years, but inequalities among regions, groups and individuals remain. Poverty is not only a financial issue but also multidimensional and results in social, economic and political exclusion.

Why talk about the role of women in fighting poverty? Why debate the role of women rather than the role of women and men? The answer is that women are disproportionately hit by poverty in comparison to men. The concept “the feminization of poverty” comprises three dimensions; 70 % of the world’s poor are women; the majority of the group of people living in extreme poverty (less than 1 dollar/day) are women and the number of poor women is increasing disproportionately compared to the number of poor men.

Of the 780 million illiterate people in the world, two thirds are women. Moreover, women constitute 70 % of the world’s total workforce, produce 60 % of the world’s food but earn only 10 % of the total income and own less than 1 % of property.

In many parts of the world, women suffer discrimination because of their gender in multiple ways, including little or no education, insufficient health care, domestic and sexual violence and low salaries or difficulties finding and keeping jobs.

The year of 1975, International Women’s year, was a landmark in women’s history as it was followed by the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985), the creation of the Commission of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979 as well as the International conferences of Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).

This year marks the end of the Millennium Development Goals and the beginning of the Post 2015 Agenda of Sustainable Development. It is also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference and the 59th Commission of the Status of Women.

The 4th International Forum of NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO was held at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on June 29- 30th 2015. With approximately 300 participants from NGOs from all over the world, the goal of the Forum was to review the progress that has been made in the field of women and poverty. IFMSA had three representatives from different countries: Michalina Drejza (IFMSA SCORA Director), Arthur Mello (IFMSA LO Public Health Issues) and Emelie Looft (IFMSA- Sweden LPO).

The Forum was hosted by Mr Eric Falt, UNESCO Assistant Director- General for External Relations and Public Information and Ms Martine Levy, Chairperson of the International Conference of NGOs in the UNESCO NGOs Liaison Committee. During two intense days, the participants were presented with data and hard facts from the different regions of the world on the current situation and the progress that has been made. The participants also had the opportunity to listen to testimonials from the different NGOs and get an insight in how they work. There were also thematic sessions and panel discussions debating the NGOs best practices to fight poverty.

The Forum discussed how women can drive poverty eradication by utilising their capacities that in many parts of the world are being undermined. The United Nations have estimated that if women would be given the same access to land, fertilizers, water and crops for food production, more than 100 million people would be lifted out of hunger.

Education was also discussed at length since it is widely regarded as the one key element to eradicate poverty. Education for women has many benefits; it reduces the birth rate, maternal mortality rate and the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as improves conditions for the whole family since educated women will have a better chance to provide for their families. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”.

Women constitute the majority of the informal economy and globally women do the vast majority of unpaid work in the house. This work is not recognized or acknowledged, still many economies would fall apart without it. According to reports the unpaid housework in many societies constitutes about 30- 50% of BNP. This is problematic for women since this means that most women have two jobs; paid and unpaid. In the end democracy starts at home, with treating girls and boys the same and giving them the same opportunities.

Moreover, the Forum also discussed that empowerment and leadership goes hand in hand and the importance of women being involved in decision making. “When you seclude half the population of peace negotiations you can’t be surprised that they are not sustainable” says Ms Frederique Bedos, journalist.

IFMSA has been working on Women’s empowerment and gender equality especially embracing all actions during International Women’s Day celebrations. A new program on Gender Based Violence will be up for adoption during our next August Meeting 2015 in Macedonia. If adopted, we will be targeting Violence against women and Gender Inequalities, gathering empowerment actions and cooperating with other organizations working on ending women’s poverty.

Entry written by Emelie Looft (IFMSA-Sweden), Michalina Drejza (IFMSA SCORA Director) and Diogo Martins (IFMSA Liaison Officer to UNESCO)


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