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UNICEF Says Gender Equality Helps Women, Children

The UN Children's Fund says eliminating gender discrimination and empowering women will have a positive impact on the survival and well being of children. UNICEF has just issued its 2007 State of the World's Children report to coincide with the agency's 60th anniversary. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The UNICEF report shows that gender equality and the well-being of children go hand-in-hand. The Editor of the State of the World's Children Report, David Anthony, says gender equality benefits both women and children.

"Healthy, confident, educated, empowered women tend to have healthy, educated and empowered children," said David Anthony. "There is clear evidence that a mother's education, for example or a mother's influence in household decision, it correlates positively with better levels of nutrition, access or taken to health care and child survival rates in different parts of the world."

A Study by the International Food Policy Research Institute finds if men and women had equal influence in decisionmaking, there would be more than 13 million fewer undernourished children in South Asia. It also finds nearly two million additional children in sub-Saharan Africa would be adequately nourished.

The report says progress has been made in women's status in recent decades, but the lives of millions of girls and women continue to be overshadowed by discrimination and poverty. It says girls and women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, particularly in southern Africa, where they are twice as susceptible as men to getting infected with HIV.

The report also notes the low status of women in South Asia is behind the widespread female infanticide, which is causing a dramatic imbalance in the demographics of the region.

UNICEF says women in most places earn less for equal work than do men. It says millions of women throughout the world are subject to physical and sexual violence, with little recourse to justice. Because of discrimination, it says girls are less likely to attend school.

Anthony says gender equality in several key areas will go a long way toward lessening discrimination against women and in advancing the rights of children.

"Equality in the household, equality in the workplace and equality in government structures and political systems.," he said. "And, equality in decision making is what is being called for. Making these crucial decisions, if women keep from being cut out of crucial decisions and do not have an influence over these aspects of their lives and those of their children, then it is going to be very hard to fight gender discrimination."

UNICEF says greater involvement by women in politics would have a positive impact on the well being of children. It says growing evidence from both industrialized and developing countries suggests women in politics are effective advocates for children.