Youths gather to discuss UN millennium goals

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Youths gather to discuss UN millennium goals

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ICHEON, Gyeonggi ― At the end of a narrow road flanked by tall leafy trees, the scorching sun shone down on 26 national flags flying in front of the Unesco Peace Center. On Aug. 4, the center was the site of the opening ceremony for the 41st International Youth Camp held by the Korean National Commission for Unesco. The participants, all in purple shirts, were discussing the eight “UN Millennium Development Goals” formulated in 2000 for accomplishment by 2015 ― to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability; and to develop a global partnership for development.
One of the most hotly discussed topics was that of gender equality. The participants, in eight groups, talked about the situation in their home countries.
“Stereotyped gender roles haven’t changed much. Women [are supposed to] belong in the kitchen, and men belong at work, even though we see more gender equality,” said Lim Ee Ling, from Malaysia. “In addition, [people think] women still should quit their jobs and take care of babies.” Malaysia ranked 50th out of 140 nations in the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) of the UN Development Program last year.
“That’s because women understand babies more than men,” Eisa Al-Ali, from the United Arab Emirates, countered, to gasps from female participants. His nation was not included in the GDI. He went on to tell his group that his Muslim religion allows a man to have four wives.
“I’d been wondering how Muslim women feel about it, and asked when I met one. I was surprised that they were quite okay with the idea,” Ms. Ling said.
“Well, I don’t want my husband to have another wife,” said Mariam Behzad, a Muslim from Bahrain whose mother was Korean, in another group. She added, “Muslims also allow intra-family marriage, which I’m completely against. That’s out of question.”
Even though she is Muslim, Ms. Behzad wasn’t wearing a hijab, the head scarf that many Islamic women wear. “In Bahrain, women can’t go out with men together, because it isn’t good for their reputation,” she said. “I’m conservative in a way by doing that, but I’m not that conservative when it comes to wearing a scarf and eating only halal food [permitted by the religion],” she added. Bahrain ranked 41st in the GDI last year.
The UN hoped to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and at all levels by 2015. It said in a 2005 report that there has been a little progress, but there are still huge gender gaps in wages, job security and the number of seats held at the highest levels of government ― with women holding only 16 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide.
Korea ranked 27th out of 140 nations in the GDI last year, 59th out of 80 nations in gender empowerment measures, and had a ratio of estimated female to male earned income of 0.48, according to a report by the UN Development Program last year. In addition, the wage gap between men and women in large companies was about 22 million won ($23,000) on average last year, according to a Job Korea report to the Financial Supervisory Service earlier this year.
The 10-day camp is a place that the young from around the world gather to discuss global issues and go on field studies. This year, they are going to 12 destinations in Korea to study such topics as “Peace and Environment,” “Establishing Sustainable Eco-Villages,” “Multicultural Society,” “Youth Alienation,” “Wetland Conservation,” Cultural Heritage” and “Environment and Ecology.” This year’s theme is “Challenge Today, Change Tomorrow.” About 110 people from 26 nations participated.
The first International Youth Camp was held in 1966 under the name “International Work Camp,” as Unesco Korea felt it needed more youth programs. At that time, the camp focused ― not surprisingly ― on working, paving roads and building bridges as the nation was in the heat of industrial development, said Cho Woo-jin, program specialist of the youth team at Unesco Korea.
“As we started adding the intellectual side and cultural exchanges, we changed the name in 1979, and included workshops, seminars and performances in the program. But we still offer opportunities for participants to use their bodies, to do real work, because many participants don’t have such chances often,” he added.
“I hope the young get more interested in the world and show more care to others through being involved in the camp,” said Lee Sun-jae, the camp director, who has run the camp for about 20 years. “Many of them are ignorant of what’s going on in other parts of the world, and it would be great if they could spend one more minute to think about current issues happening in the world,” he said.
“Also, when they return to their homes and hear news about other nations, I hope they think of the people living there first, including those who they met here, instead of considering it just as a thing that’s happening somewhere else,” Mr. Lee added.


by Park Sung-ha
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