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Women and Children First?

7 May 2012 One Comment

Patricia Smith Melton photo

- by Mary Liston Liepold
Editor in Chief

Back when men were the undisputed rulers of the universe, they often compared women and people of different races to children, and compared all three as animals to justify their treatment of such “lesser” beings. When we were compliant and their dispositions were kindly, they compared us to beasts of burden and other domesticated animals. When we were not compliant, they described us as wild animals, even as malevolent spirits or the agents of those spirits. Some kind of other-ing is essential to the domination mindset, since dominators want to think of themselves as rational, moral, and loyal to their own kind.

The culture of peace and cooperation that the dominators suppressed has grown stronger in modern times. International movements advocate with and for women, minorities, indigenous people, and other out-groups. Though no such movement has yet been entirely won, I contend that the revolution for children’s rights has the most ground still to gain.

Too many people still see children as the property of their parents; as their livestock, if you will. It’s hard enough to understand the harsh treatment that parents and others in authority have dealt out to children throughout most of history―usually in the name of education or moral formation. But how else to explain that the US, alone among nations with functioning governments, still hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Or that corporal punishment is legal in public schools in 19 of our 50 US states? How else to explain the hideous persistence of child abuse in all its forms, including sexual abuse and exploitation, the killing and kidnapping of street children, or the use of child soldiers and child slaves?

I still haven’t seen the new documentary Bully, so I don’t know if it points out that bullying isn’t just a problem between kids. I hope so, though.

Growing up isn’t easy for anyone. Neither is being an adult. But children who are bullied by adults often become bullies themselves. Children whose needs are met grow into strong adults who make the world better. Children whose rights are respected can be part of that world-building process at every age. And the world community stands behind them.

The Global Community Takes a Stand

In 1959 the United Nations issued the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, grounded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the League of Nations’ 1924 Geneva Declaration. International advocates expanded the 1959 declaration into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989 and took effect in 1990. It is the most widely accepted of all human rights treaties and the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. The Convention defines these rights in 54 articles and 2 Optional Protocols: On the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and On the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Pornography. Both were adopted in 2000 and entered into force in 2002. The convention spells out the basic human rights of children everywhere: the right to survive; to develop to the fullest; to be protected from abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural, and social life.

The Convention protects children’s rights by setting standards in health care, education, and legal, civil, and social services and providing a mechanism for accountability. Governments that ratify the Convention or one of its Optional Protocols must report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body of 18 experts charged with monitoring implementation, two years after ratification and every five years thereafter.

As the year 2000 approached, to further energize its advocacy for the world’s children, the United Nations adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and built a campaign around them, with the overarching objective to End Poverty and specific, realistic targets in each area. Taken together, they add up to the conditions that allow children to thrive. In short form, they are:

  • End hunger,
  • Ensure universal education,
  • Attain gender equity,
  • Ensure child health,
  • Ensure maternal health,
  • Stop HIV/AIDS,
  • Secure environmental sustainability, and
  • Secure global cooperation.

The eighth is the means to all the others, for none can be met without peace and concerted international effort. With two and a half years years left to the target date of 2o15, we have seen measurable progress on some indicators, but none are likely to be met. War and the obscene expenditures for war by rich and poor nations alike are a major impediment. So is the difficulty of securing even intra-national cooperation.

Among UN member nations, only Somalia, which has no recognized government, and the US have not yet ratified the Convention. The country that hosts the United Nations has a conspicuously poor record of signing its conventions, largely because of the polarized politics that our winner-take-all electoral system produces. The reason being given for the current administration’s inaction is that CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) is its top priority.

Most mothers would find it odd indeed to imagine their rights in competition with those of children. Still, anything that advances women also advances children. We hope for rapid progress on both.

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email
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One Comments to “Women and Children First?”
  1. Marissa Scott says:

    Very insightful Mary. Women in Niger (especially in rural areas) do backbreaking work to support their families and village. Who is there to support her? You are right to mention the U.S. and its lack of follow through on conventions and treaties. Just recently,the Department of Labor published a report stating that a disparity still exist on the subject of equal pay. We still have some of the most antiquated maternity laws than most industrial (and even some developing) countries.

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