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Parliamentarians Ask G8 to Focus on Women

PARIS, May 18 2011 (IPS) - Ahead of this month’s G8 summit in France, parliamentarians from 35 countries have issued a strong call for leaders of the world’s major economies to focus on the role of women and girls in development.

“We wish to draw the world’s attention to two aspects of human rights that are the most neglected – the situation facing girls and adolescent women and the challenges posed by global population dynamics at present,” said a resolution issued at the end of the Global Parliamentarians’ Summit held at France’s National Assembly on Monday and Tuesday.

France’s minister for Cooperation, Henri de Raincourt, told IPS that discussions of the issues affecting women and girls would form a “real part” of the G8 meeting.

“France insists on this,” he said. “The role of girls and women are absolutely central to development. France is militating in favour of the rights of women and young girls.”

The parliamentarians’ resolution said that 600 million girls and young women in the developing world “are in a vulnerable situation, facing injustices and inequities that constitute a major obstacle to social and human development, both at a personal and a societal level.”

In a report this week by anti-poverty group ONE, France, Italy and Germany were censured for failing to meet targets set for them at the 31st G8 summit held in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. France made good on 44 percent of its promised increases, compared with 86 percent from the United Kingdom.

Given this background, some delegates at the Global Parliamentarians’ Summit told IPS that they were not sure if any concrete action would emerge from their appeal. But they said that if nothing was done, the world would face greater instability as lack of investment in girls affects peace, progress and population growth.

“Women and girls are the backbone of our societies, but we’re failing to support their full potential,” said Raymonde Folco, a former member of Canada’s parliament and organiser of the previous summit in Ottawa last year.

“The time is right for action now,” she told IPS. “If people in power adopt certain concerns, the people working on the ground will have something to look forward to. We need to elect leaders who are feminist, people who are ready to do the work.”

The parliamentarians, from European Union member countries as well as from Africa, Asia and other regions, said they wanted governments to take into account the fact that “equality between men and women is still far from being achieved” and that “women and men live in realities that are very different.”

As a consequence of this, public development assistance expenses should be analysed and adapted to benefit those that most need it, the resolution said. Development aid should be used to stop the “feminisation of HIV AIDS” for instance, and its spread among young girls.

Danielle Bousquet, vice-president of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF), which co-organised the summit, said that the call to action would be sent to all G8 parliamentarians.

“It’s estimated that women receive less than two cents in every development dollar,” she told IPS. “We want that to change.”

Governments need to address the issue of the millions of girls out of school, and the problems of child marriages and unwanted pregnancies, delegates said at the summit titled ‘Girls and Population: the forgotten drivers of development’.

“We … are convinced that the violations of the human rights suffered by girls and adolescent women are severely impeding global development,” the parliamentarians stated. “It is their right to become actors in a world that is progressing: their future is our challenge, and their well-being is our priority.”

The French government currently holds the presidency of the G8. When the group’s heads of state meet in Deauville, northern France, on May 26-27, the parliamentarians’ resolution will be just one of the many issues on the table.

Funding to the world’s poorest countries will also be part of the debate, especially as the G8 has been criticised for delivering only 61 percent of the increased development aid that member states pledged in 2005 to give to sub-Saharan Africa by 2010.

Assiata Bocoum, a 15-year-old girl from Mali’s National Parliament of Children, sent a poignant appeal to G8/G20 leaders on behalf of young people. She called on governments to make the United Nations goal of education for all a reality and to take steps to protect girls from forced marriages.

“Child marriages are a big problem,” she said. “That’s one of the main issues affecting teenage girls in poor countries.”

Sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancies and early childbirth are other issues that parliamentarians and development experts would like to see addressed at the G8 summit.

“Girls having children at an early age is not good for them, and it’s catastrophic for the world,” said Judith Bruce, a senior analyst with the Population Council, an international non-governmental organisation.

She said that if current trends in certain sub-Saharan countries continue, between 30 and 70 percent of young women in these developing countries will be single mothers.

A key message from the Global Parliamentarians’ Summit was that focusing on girls and women was also a way to manage population growth. The number of people in the world will reach 7 billion this year, and the U.N. predicts a global population of 9 billion by 2050, which will put a severe strain on resources.

“We’ve been talking about family planning in my country since 1969, but now the issue is crucial,” said Maria-Goretti Agaleoue Adoua, a delegate to the summit, and one of the 17 women in Burkina Faso’s parliament of 111 members.

“It’s good to have children but we need to have children that we can feed, educate and keep in good health,” she told IPS. “We have to invest in ourselves and get partners interested in the subject to help us as well.”

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