Investing in the Early Years of Life Accelerates the Achievement of Gender Equity

Spotlighting Early Childhood Development and Care Initiatives as a Foundation for Achieving Gender Equity and the Empowerment of Women at the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

by guest author, Siobhán Golden, UN NGO Committee on Migration

Young mother wearing COVID-19 protection mask holds her young child while crossing a street. Photo by Marcin Jozwiak.
Young mother wearing COVID-19 protection mask holds her young child while crossing a street. Photo by Marcin Jozwiak.

The World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP), held a parallel panel event on 17 February 2021 at the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) titled, “Achieving Women’s Empowerment and Early Childhood Development and Care: A Two-Generational Win-Win”. The topic complemented this year’s CSW65 priority theme, ‘Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.’

The Commission took place in a hybrid format with all parallel events taking place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this created a more subdued atmosphere compared to the regular in-person events, the virtual platform provided a formative opportunity for attendees and organizations to connect and participate in the Commission from different parts of the globe.

►LEARN more about the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65).

OMEP parallel panel event — Achieving Women’s Empowerment and Early Childhood Development and Care: A Two-Generational Win-Win

Concerned young mother and daughter sitting together in an outdoor setting. Photo by Eye for Ebony.
Concerned young mother and daughter sitting together in an outdoor setting. Photo by Eye for Ebony.

Maria Pia Belloni, UN Representative for OMEP and event organizer, formulated the concept note for the parallel event, arguing that…

“Women’s and children’s poverty are closely interlinked. It is critical to achieve two-generational outcomes that advance women’s empowerment, keep girls in school, and promote successful outcomes for all children, including in migration contexts. [Early Childhood Development] ECD initiatives and enabling mothers to provide for their children, represent important steps toward these goals.”

Moderator

The panel event was moderated by Dr. Jessica Essary, Associate Professor of Education at Cazenovia College, and UN Representative for OMEP, The World Organization for Early Childhood Education.

Co-sponsors

In welcoming the speakers and attendees, Dr. Essary also acknowledged the event’s sponsors:

and ECPC member organizations:

The panel of global experts

Video recording of the parallel event “Achieving Women’s Empowerment, Early Childhood Development and Care: A Two Generational Win-Win” at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 65 / 2021.

The parallel event saw an interactive panel of four global experts amplify the benefits of investing in children’s early years of life as a means to achieving gender equity, more peaceful societies, and two generational outcomes that advance the empowerment and dignity of both women and children.

  1. Rima Salah— Chairperson, Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC); Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale Child Study Center; former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF
  2. Mercedes Mayol Lassalle — President, World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP)
  3. Raul Mercer — Coordinator of the Program of Social Sciences and Health at FLACSO, Buenos Aires, Argentina; member ISSOP (International Society of Social Pediatrics); member of the Lancet-UNICEF-WHO Commission
  4. Anne-Claire de Liedekerke — President, Make Mothers Matter (MMM)

►READ the speakers’ biographies.

Panel summary

1. Investing in the early years of life: A double dividend, towards the realization of gender equity and children’s rights

Panelist, Rima Salah, PhD

Thanking Dr. Jessica Essary and Maria Pia Belloni for their organization of the event, Dr. Rima Salah, Chair of ECPC, began her presentation by emphasizing the link between the discrimination of women of all ages and the oppression of children. In highlighting Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) as a successful tool for peacebuilding, human development, and sustainable development, Dr. Salah quoted former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan who opened at the CSW 2005 session,

“Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and the empowerment of women”.

During her presentation, she recalled the many frameworks which, over the last number of decades, have improved the status of women, narrowed gender gaps, made children more visible, and increased the global demand for gender equality and change, such as:

Yet, many women and children are still denied access to their rights “due to their identity, their socioeconomic status, their location…” and other discriminatory reasons, including their migratory status, which the global COVID-19 pandemic is set to further challenge, Dr. Salah, explained.

Many of the events and thematic discussions during this year’s Commission centered around the consequences and setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, women and girls are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, as reports of gender-based violence and early/forced marriages have increased. For many mothers, the instability of the pandemic is increasing psychosocial stress and disrupting their abilities to provide care and nurture for their children. Dr. Salah talked of the lasting negative impacts that these consequences will have on children and eventually, as children get older, on the whole of society. The ECPC has declared ECEC as an essential fabric to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through the provision of support for women, mothers, and caregivers, to create strong foundations for peace, equality, and social justice. Dr. Salah spoke with conviction, vision, and empathy, as she made an appeal to policymakers, community leaders, governments, and civil society to implement multi-sectoral quality ECEC programs that will benefit children, mothers, families, communities, and hence, give voice to every woman and child.

2. Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls from early childhood

Panelist, Mercedes Mayol Lasalle, M.A.

Mercedes Mayol Lassalle, OMEP World President, followed with a presentation focusing on how educating the new generation must be seen as a shared responsibility in order to create more ethical communities. Making reference to the intersectionality of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Ms. Lassalle argued that,

The achievement of “gender equality requires an approach that ensures equal access to education for all women, men and children”.

During the child’s first years, both family and school play important roles in influencing and supporting the development of their personality, social capacity, and behavioral patterns. Ms. Lassalle suggests that in order to allow children to internalize the values of gender equality, non-discrimination, and self-respect, from childhood, their caregivers and teachers must be supported with the adequate tools to teach about gender perspectives and promote a culture of gender equity which will be reflected in our future societies.

3. Promoting gender equity and rights from the start. A life-course perspective

Panelist, Paul Mercer, M.D.

This connection between early learning and participation in future societies was also considered by Dr. Raul Mercer, a member of ISSOP (International Society of Social Pediatrics) and Member of the Lancet-UNICEF-WHO Commission. His presentation centered around the life course perspective which allows one to observe and understand the influence that early experiences have on an individual across the lifespan. He emphasized that adverse experiences are not restricted to women and children individually, they too impact the community, political sphere, peace, and stability.

Dr. Mercer revealed that 1.1 billion children have been victims of the largest forced migration and displacement in history, having been uprooted from schools and homes and forced to live in other places. The lasting consequences that this will have on children, women, and societies are still unknown. A report by UNICEF and the WHO, entitled ‘A Future for the World’s Children?’, stresses the importance of recognizing the life course perspective to illustrate how inequity and struggle are passed from one generation to the next. To solve these challenges, Dr. Mercer stated that Governments must reconsider their healthcare priorities for women and children and recognize that health is a continuous process across the lifespan.

4. Valuing unpaid early childhood education and care for development and peace, children and women’s rights

Panelist, Anne-Claire de Liedekerke, M.A.

All speakers at the event recognized the care burden traditionally placed on women, as a lingering barrier to the empowerment of women and achievement of gender equality. “The recognition of unpaid care work is a Two-Generational Win-Win”, said Anne-Claire de Liedekerke, President of Make Mothers Matter. Women are mostly responsible for the care and nurturing of children, a role that is time-consuming and requires much energy, organization, and dependability. There is no question that mothers, as pregnant women, career professionals, leaders, and ongoing decision-makers in children’s lives are critical to social development and peace, as care is an investment in a child’s future. Hence, it is a grave injustice to mothers and women everywhere, that unpaid care work lacks funding, structure, and recognition as a contributor to the economy.

Ms. de Liedekerke’s contribution to this CSW event amplified the need to value unpaid care work and understand that the equitable distribution of care work is a foundation of gender equality, women’s empowerment, and responsible future adult behavior.

The way forward

Hopeful young mother and daughter holding a globe. Photo © Zhaojiankang / Dreamstime.com

The Forum’s interactive panel offered a comprehensive overview of the benefits of ECEC as a tool for achieving gender equity, social cohesion, and two generational outcomes that advance the empowerment of women and children. The way forward requires strengthened coordination and increased awareness to enhance the participation of women and the visibility of ECEC initiatives in concrete policy and government actions. The event was brought to a close by Dr. Jessica Essary as she underlined the urgency to act now in bringing ECEC to the forefront, stating that,

“Children are not only the future; they are here in our world right now.”

About

Author

Siobhán Golden is the current intern with Mercy International Association — Global Action, a faith-based organization engaging in advocacy for human rights and environmental justice at the international level. Siobhán has focused her work and studies on investigating issues related to the displacement of persons, environmental degradation, and global homelessness. She is passionate about the promotion and protection of Children’s Rights and is an active member of the Subcommittee on Children in Migration, of the UN NGO Committee on Migration. Siobhán is a graduate from the University of Limerick, Ireland, where she earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Spanish.

The 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

  • LEARN more about the 2021 session of the Commission on the Status of Women (15 to 26 March).
  • READ the 64-item CSW65 Agreed Conclusions — outcomes of the 2021 session, adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women (26 March 2021) that are deemed for negotiation by all UN Member States.

The Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

Where all children are the stars of today and leaders of tomorrow.

The ECPC is a global movement of United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia, practitioners, and the private sector focused on sharing scientific and practice-based evidence on how investment in early childhood development (ECD) can contribute to sustainable peace, social cohesion, and social justice. We recognize that investing in ECD is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for reducing violence, poverty, and exclusion and for building peaceful societies.

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Our mission is to create an inclusive movement for peace, social cohesion, social justice, and the prevention of violence through early childhood strategies.

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