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 lives together


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- lives together

behind each of these negative realities, there are ingrained social structures and political institutions whose aim is to reinforce the status quo of inequality



The month of June 2000 was a high point for the consideration of social development and its relation to justice and peace. A UN General Assembly Special Session ‘ Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century’ was held in New York from 5 to 10 June. From the 26th of June to the first of July, another Special Session ‘ World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World’ was held in Geneva. Both Special Sessions complemented each other, and their coming together so closely in time was a positive sign of the growing centrality of social development and of a rights-based approach to development.

Social development is an important aspect of the prevention of violent conflicts as well as of the reconstruction of war-torn societies. Security, welfare, and identity questions were key issues discussed both by government delegates and NGO representatives present at both Special Sessions. The final resolution of the Geneva meeting stressed the need of ‘further strengthening of organisations and mechanisms working for the prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts. ‘ The resolution, in speaking of the many intra-state conflicts in the world today advised ‘to address their social roots and consequences.’

The two Special Sessions took place against a background of mixed and uneven trends throughout the world. There is wide agreement that the goals of social development are better education, higher standards of health and nutrition, less poverty, a cleaner environment, more equality of opportunity, greater individual freedom, and a richer cultural life. There have been advances on all these issues. Yet we also know of areas where wealth is concentrated and unequally distributed, where productivity is low, where learning opportunities are disparate or unavailable. Behind each of these negative realities, there are ingrained social structures and political institutions whose aim is to reinforce the status quo of inequality. Thus, building an enabling environment for advances in social development requires a sophisticated analysis of those institutions, values, and groups which are currently dominant.

The inequality between women and men is the theme of this useful study by the United Nations Population Fund. ‘Gender inequality holds back the growth of individuals, the development of countries, and the evolution of societies, to the disadvantage of both women and men.

The facts of gender inequality – the restrictions placed on women’s choices, opportunities and participation – have direct and often malign consequences for women’s health and education, and for their social and economic participation. Yet until recent years, these restrictions have been considered either unimportant or non-existent, either accepted or ignored. The reality of women’s lives has been invisible to men. This invisibility persists at all levels, from the family to the nation. Though they share the same space, women and men live in different worlds.‘

It is not easy to find the right balance in discussing gender issues. If one stresses the negative factors, as this UN report largely does, one ends with the image of women as universal victims. ‘Girls and women world-wide, across lines of income, class and culture, are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Violence against women includes rape, genital mutilation and sexual assault, forced use or non-use of contraceptives, ‘honour ‘ crimes, sexual trafficking, and dowry-related violence.‘

However both female genital mutilation and ‘honour’ killings do not have universal prevalence and are limited to certain geographical areas of the globe. The initiatives of the UN coupled with the vigorous campaigns of the NGOs are gradually eliminating these practices from the societies in which they are prevalent.

If one stresses the advances and the breakthroughs which women have made, this may give an overly optimistic perception. This has sometimes been the case with stories about the effectiveness of small loans to poor women on the model of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. There is a need for more detailed but relatively easy-to-understand studies of real situations. A good example of such writing is a new book published by Oxford University Press in New Delhi by Stuart Rutherford The Poor and Their Money. Rutherford, from his long research in India and Bangladesh, stresses the importance of life cycle events in shaping socio-economic life.

There is a growing use of the cycle of life as a universally understood pattern for social planning. A good study on this line is L. Heise Violence Against Women (World Bank Discussion Paper, 1994) A life-cycle approach to decent work for women highlights the prevalence, incidence and impact of discriminatory policies and practices which affect women at different stages of their life – from childhood to old age. In fact, discrimination can begin before birth. As this UN study notes ‘In some Asian countries, there are 105 adult men for every 100 women because of discrimination against girls. Although many countries have banned prenatal gender tests, illegal tests are available, and females are aborted more often than males.’

Progress in improving the status of women has been slow and uneven with persistent discrimination against women in the labour market, notably the gender gap in wages and unequal access to productive resources and capital. Sociocultural factors continue to influence gender relations that hinder women’s economic empowerment and exacerbate the feminisation of poverty.

Peace organisations with long experience in working to change attitudes and institutions of power also have a necessary role in the ‘gender wars’. The full development of the person requires modifications of gender images. The State of the World Population 2000 is a useful overview of the distance we still have to go.
René Wadlow


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