Heimo Laakkonen - Director, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, UNFPA

Your excellencies, 
Dear participants

It is an honor to be here and be part of such an important event. First of all, I would like to thank the Government of Georgia for their hospitality and leadership in organizing this conference. I would like to extend my gratitude also to our partners from the European Union and our colleagues from United Nations. 

Achieving gender equality stands at the heart of the development and one of the priority issues for UNFPA. It is a very complex goal and has many components. Only by addressing all the components of the problem we can get closer to gender equality. “Harmful practices” is one of those core components. The name speaks for itself. Harmful. They are harming girls and women in our societies. Practices. Those are practiced as part of the discriminatory social, cultural, and religious norms and traditions and relate to women’s and girls’ position in the family, community and society and to control over women’s freedom and choices.

“Harmful practices” reflect existing discrimination within society; they are interconnected with each other, and with other forms of violence and discrimination against women. Sadly, women and girls throughout the world are exposed to a wide range of “harmful practices” across their life cycle. In EECA region those practices mainly include“honor” killing and bride kidnapping, child and forced marriage, gender-biased sex selection, with last two being most prevalent.

While prevalence of child marriage varies across the region, some data are particularly alarming. For instance, 44 per cent of 15-19 years old Roma girls in Serbia are married or in union, of whom 14 per cent had married before the age of 15*.17 % of women in Georgia married under the age of 18 –one of the highest rates among the European Countries*. And we do not even know how many marriages happen up to 16 years as those are not officially registered.Child marriage robs a girl of her childhood-time necessary to develop physically, emotionally and psychologically. Being married so early and immature, those girls are often exposed to various forms of gender-based violence and discrimination within marriage. Their bodies are not ready yet for the childbearing, yet the social pressure is to have a child as soon as possible. As a result, girls face adolescent pregnancy and delivery related complications.

Recently UNFPA has initiated the study to explore the root causes of the child marriage in EECA region. Among leading causes perpetuation of gender inequality; social and economic upheaval, poverty, violent conflicts; conservatism towards women’s place in society; marginalization of certain ethnic or social groups; and poor implementation of existing legislation were identified. These are those we need to if we want to eliminate the child marriage in EECA countries. 

Another form of harmful practices observed in the region, son preference and gender biased sex selection, is manifested in EECA countries through the prenatal sex selection performed via sex–selective abortion or selection of embryo through in-vitro fertilization. Sex selection and skewed sex ratios are seen both as symptoms of gender inequality and as factor leading to further aggravation of inequality. The demographic imbalance between men and women has far-reaching social and economic impacts in any society. Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are among the most affected countries, however there is an assumption from the research community that the hidden trend is going on also in  some countries of Central Asia, Macedonia and Kosovo territory. In Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia we observe already the situation where up to 120 boys are born per 100 girls, reaching up to over 200in some areas of Armenia and Azerbaijan.Due to the gender biased sex selection over the last two decades, the harmful practice lead to  over 15,000 missing girls in Albania,110,000 in Azerbaijan and over 25,000 in Georgia. In Armenia over1200 girls are missing every year. The situation requires joint, comprehensive and multi-sectoral response.

UNFPA applies evidence-based advocacy and policy dialogue as the main strategy in addressing harmful practices in the region and globally. The efforts have resulted in policy level changes, specifically integration of combating harmful practices into national action plans in Azerbaijan and Armenia. High level commitment from the government officials in the two countries has been effectively demonstrated through the introduction of specific measures to support girls and address gender biased sex selection.   In Georgia, the root-cause study has been completed just recently. Based on the findings, UNFPA has initiated  interventions on the policy dialogue an awareness raising campaign for changing prevailing behaviors and attitudes of the population towards son preference and gender discrimination.

UNFPA Regional Office embarks the interregional cooperation to strengthen institutional capacity in regards to international best practices addressing prenatal sex selection.Using the  evidence-based arguments and programmes, UNFPA advances policy dialogue, awareness raising and educational campaigns on grassroots level through engagement of various stakeholders and community gatekeepers for refining legislative and policy framework  and changing stereotypes for the prevention of child marriages. To address gender biased sex selection UNFPA, in partnership with other UN agencies, advocate for and support the collection, analysis, dissemination and utilization of sex disaggregated data; support interventions that draw attention to skewed sex ratios and development of policies, guidelines and strategies that would address prenatal sex selection.

The obligation of States to enact legislation to address “harmful practices” has been established in international human rights treaties and taken up by the treaty bodies which monitor their implementation. UNFPA stands committed to assist governments, civil societies and other stakeholders in addressing harmful practices. Only through joint efforts we can shape a better world for our girls and women. The world we want for them.

I thank you for your attention.

*   UNFPA (2012) Marrying Too Young

** UNICEF (2011b), op. cit.

  • 19:00 -
    Welcome Reception hosted by President of Georgia H.E. Giorgi Margvelashvili

    Exhibition “50 Women from Georgia”
  • 09:00 –
  • 010:00 –
    Opening of the Conference
  • 10:30 –

    Exhibition “Women Members of Constituent Assembly 1919-21” presented by Ms. Thea Tsulukiani, Minister of Justice of Georgia
  • 11:00 –
    Thematic Session I – Women's political and economic empowerment cornerstones for the achievement of gender equality
  • 12:30 –
  • Exhibition “Gender Integration in the Georgian Armed Forces” presented by Ms. Tinatin Khidasheli, Minister of Defence of Georgia
  • 13:45 –
    Thematic Session II – Women as agents of positive change in peace and security efforts
  • 15:15 –
    Coffee Break
  • 15:45 –
    Thematic Session III – Joining forces to end violence against women and girls in public and private domains
  • 17:15 –
    Coffee Break
  • 17:30 –
    Adoption of the Tbilisi Declaration and Closing Remarks
  • 20:00 –
    Gala Dinner
Tbilisi Declaration

Draft version

We, the participants of the Conference,

Having gathered at the International High-Level Conference “Achieving Gender Equality – Challenges and opportunities in the European Neighbourhood Policy Region” in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2015 to renew our strong commitment to gender equality, human rights, the empowerment of women and girls...

Copyright © 2015, Achieving Gender Equality | Tbilisi, Georgia