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UN calls on imams to promote rights of women

Chief of UN Population Fund calls on imams to promote rights of women

Winding up an official visit to Bangladesh, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Obaid addressed thousands of members of the Grand Conference of Imams, urging them to promote the full and equal participation of women in society, and she promised to give computers to a unique health clinic in the capital.

The meeting of the Grand Conference of Imams, which receives UNFPA and government support, was opened by Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who cited their role in promoting tolerance, equal rights and social welfare.

Ms. Obaid spoke to the imams about Islam’s assertion of the “right of girls to life, and not any life but to a life of dignity and respect, in which women are given both political participation and economic independence.”

“We hope the imams who have already received training/orientation are contributing to bring positive change towards the status of women,” she said. “Being at the grassroots level and close to the community, you are in a unique position not only to save the lives of women and infants, but also to support women’s participation in the overall development of the society.”

She called on the religious leaders to ensure that “the rights of women as members of the society are well guarded and protected.”

Earlier, as she walked into the reproductive health clinic in Dhaka, the first of its kind in South Asia, Ms. Obaid was showered with orange flower petals in traditional style. Clinic staff then briefed her on the services they provide -- family planning, adolescent-friendly information and services, maternal care, the management and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and response to violence against women.

Most of the clients are young women who had no place to go to for advice before the clinic opened in 2001 and one-third of them are poor.

About 100 deliveries per month are now performed at the centre, which is part of a wider network that extends to 11 municipal areas in Dhaka with 41 per cent of the city population, a total of 9 million people. Surveys show that slightly more than half of the urban population in Bangladesh lives below the poverty line, UNFPA said.

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