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UNICEF's One-Sided Pursuit of Gender Equality
April 22, 2003
by Carey Roberts

Mention UNICEF, and most people think of stick-figure greeting cards and crayon-color calendars. Indeed, UNICEF is the best-known child rights organization in the world. According to its website, "UNICEF works for health, education, equality and protection for every child."

In 1995, Carol Bellamy took over at the helm of UNICEF. Since then, UNICEF has become increasingly focused on gender equality. This Special Report analyzes the UNICEF sex-specific programs for girls and boys.

Girls' Programs

A review of the UNICEF publications reveals 4 gender-specific publications for girls (www.unicef.org/infores/publications.htm):

  1. Lessons from South Asia to End Violence Against Women and Girls
  2. Human Rights for Children and Women
  3. Quality Education for All: From a Girl's Point of View
  4. Educating Girls: Transforming the Future

Likewise, the recent UNICEF report, "The State of the World's Children 2003," includes an entire table (Table 7) that details female attendance ratios in primary and secondary schools, contraceptive use, maternal mortality figures, and the like.

Go Girls!

The most visible of the UNICEF gender equality campaigns is the Go Girls! program, which has the laudable goal of encouraging more girls to attend school in 25 priority countries around the world (www.unicef.org/noteworthy/girlseducation/index.html).

Carol Bellamy gave this ringing endorsement to the Go Girls! effort: "There can be no significant or sustainable transformation in societies and no significant reduction in poverty until girls receive the quality basic education they need to take their rightful place as equal partners in development."

And according to the UNICEF website, the problem has reached crisis proportions: "More than 120 million children of school age are out of school. The majority are girls. Such is the crisis in girl's education."

The implication of these statements is that the gulf in educational participation between boys and girls is deep and wide. So exactly how big is the "crisis" in female education?

According to the recent UNICEF report, "Progress Since the World Summit for Children -- A Statistical Review, 2001," page 11 (www.unicef.org/pubsgen/wethechildren-stats/index.html): "Between 1990 and 1999, the gender gap was halved, falling from 6 percentage points to 3 percentage points."

In other words, girls trail boys in their school attendance by only 3%. That is the "crisis" in girls' education.

The Crisis in Boys' Health

Recent publications from the World Health Organization document the widespread health disparities that boys face (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth/message/732):

  1. In 6 out of the 8 regions of the world, the overall Disability-Adjusted Life Years for boys 10-19 years old is lower than for girls of the same age.
  2. Infant and adolescent boys are more likely to be undernourished than girls.
  3. Boys endure more physical punishment at home than girls.
  4. Boys are at higher risk of suffering from work-related injuries.
  5. Boys ages 5-14 are at higher risk of suicide than girls.
  6. Boys are twice as likely to die of war-related injuries as girls.
  7. Boys are less likely than girls to seek health services when they need them.

Despite these documented disparities that place the lives and welfare of boys at risk, a thorough review of the UNICEF website fails to identify a single program or official statement that addresses the unique problems of boys.

UNICEF does not offer any publications that specifically address the needs of boys. The "State of the World's Children 2003" does not include a table devoted to boys' needs. And UNICEF does not sponsor a Go Boys! program that is designed to help boys to achieve equality with girls in their health status.

The Right to Life

One could argue that the right to life is the most fundamental right of all. But that is a right that many boys will never be able to claim.

At UNICEF, boys can never fall on the short end of a gender disparity, no matter what the facts may say.

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