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Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

When the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign began on November 25 — the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women — one of the first (of many) stories that astounded me concerned the pervasive and disturbing practice of securing “brides” at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. An article in the Washington Post described how older men from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even as far as Canada are brokering marriages with vulnerable Syrian women.

“U.N. officials said that most of the marriages are brokered and that many are not consensual. The results, they said, include increasing numbers of child brides and marriages that, in some cases, end in abandonment or forced prostitution. U.N. and Jordanian relief agencies estimate that some 500 underage Syrians have been wed this year.”

This is just one of many examples of injustices against women — which are often disguised as “humanitarian” efforts in response to war — and it highlights the challenges of sexual violence after conflict.

This year’s 16 Days campaign, which is based on the theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women,” aims to continue the work done in 2011 to challenge militarism and explore the deep socioeconomic structures that perpetuate gender-based violence. More than 4,000 organizations from 172 countries have participated in the campaign since it launched at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers in 1991. The campaign ends on December 10 — Human Rights Day. These dates were chosen to emphasize that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights. The campaign is successful because of the activism of millions of women and tens of thousands of organizations worldwide that are committed to ending gender-based violence.

The 16 Days campaign is an opportunity to reflect on what everyone can do to hold governments accountable and challenge the structures that allow gender-based violence to continue. Participation in the campaign is a chance to join other advocates to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to add your voice to those of women in other countries and regions who refuse to be silent. Gender-based violence is an issue that impacts all of us at multiple levels, and our governments have a responsibility to respond, protect, and prevent.

AAUW joins Women and Girls LEAD in promoting Women, War, and Peace; Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide; and The Invisible War — films showcased in this year’s campaign that amplify the stories of survivors and educate the public about the factors that contribute to violence. Be part of the global movement to end gender-based violence by watching the films, sharing the facts, and taking action.

Want to stay connected and learn more? Visit Women and Girls LEAD, the official 16 Days campaign website, or post and search for events on the campaign calendar.

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“If we unleash the potential of the world’s girls and young women, we will unleash a powerful force that will bring lasting change to all corners of the globe.”

—     Michelle Bachelet, undersecretary-general and executive director of U.N. Women

Thursday, October 11, marks the first-ever U.N. International Day of the Girl Child, a resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 19, 2011. The day was established to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.

The resolution “recognizes girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.” It also promotes girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. Many organizations and dedicated girl activists have engaged in a longstanding campaign to gain recognition and reserve a day for advocacy and action by and for girls. This declaration reinforces the United Nations’ pledge to end the discrimination, economic inequality, violence, and gender stereotypes that overwhelmingly affect girls. The focus for the inaugural day is on ending the devastating practice of child marriage.

Here are some sobering facts about girls around the world:

  • Every year, 10 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage.
  • Globally, 1 in 3 girls is denied a secondary education.
  • The leading cause of death for young women ages 15–19 in developing countries is pregnancy.
  • It is estimated that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under age 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence.

But there are many reasons to celebrate:

What can you do to celebrate the power of girls today and every day? Here are four ways to show your support, do something, and join the conversation:

  1. Show your solidarity with a Day of the Girl twibbon, and follow the hashtag #DayoftheGirl on Twitter.
  2. Check out the Day of the Girl virtual summit, and find an event in your area.
  3. Learn about these other campaigns to educate girls, end child marriage, and empower girls, such as Girls Not Brides, Because I Am a Girl, The Girl Effect, and CARE.
  4. Find out more about legislation in the U.S. Congress, such as the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (H.R. 2103).

You can also learn about AAUW’s Community Action Grant projects that are connecting local and international advocacy.

Camp GirlForward
Camp GirlForward provides educational and leadership opportunities to adolescent refugee girls ages 14–19 who have been resettled in Chicago from Bhutan, Iraq, Burundi, Congo, Sudan, and Burma. Through a specialized academic curriculum and regular enrichment activities, girls develop the English, math, computer, and leadership skills necessary to achieve their educational goals.

GlobalGirl Media Chicago
GlobalGirl Media develops the authentic voice and self-expression of teenage girls in underserved communities by training them to become citizen journalists and to harness the power of new digital media to inspire self-esteem, community activism, and social change. GGM empowers girls to make media that matters, improves media literacy, and encourages the promotion of healthier media messages about girls and women.

Help make the International Day of the Girl more than just a day — make it an ongoing movement to activate progress for girls around the world!

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AAUW International Fellow Helen Gebresillassie

In the nine months that I’ve spent working with AAUW fellows, the one thing that stands out in my mind is the passion each woman has for her field of study. AAUW International Fellows also have an unwavering passion for their home countries and a desire to improve their own education, skills, and knowledge so that they’re well-prepared to give back to their communities.

Helen Gebresillassie, who is from Ethiopia, received a 2006–07 International Fellowship to pursue a master’s degree in law at Columbia University. She felt lucky to have had the opportunity to study in the United States, particularly because she came from a country where most women, especially in rural areas, have few educational opportunities.

Much of Gebresillassie’s passion for law and education originates from her experiences in Ethiopia. Before receiving her fellowship, she worked as a legal adviser for the Forum on Street Children in Ethiopia (now called the Forum for Sustainable Child Empowerment), where she advocated for victims of sexual abuse and trafficking. She also served as the policy and advocacy adviser for CARE Ethiopia and as a legal extern for the United Nations.

In the recent Economist article “Maid in Ethiopia,” Gebresillassie discusses the state of economic and education inequity in her home country, particularly as it relates to women who work as maids. She says that these women are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and violence. She says that young women line up to get their passports to work in other countries but are unaware of the harsh reality they will face once they arrive. Ultimately, these women focus on the financial prospects they will gain and accept the risk, and many women feel as though they have no other options. Gebresillassie says she was honored to be interviewed by the Economist, but she hopes “to see a focus on action rather than the problem.” For this reason, Gebresillassie is committed to gaining expertise in a variety of specializations in law here in the United States.

For nearly five years, she has taught at Stony Brook University in New York, where she focuses on law and society. There, she has been able to engage students in discussions of social justice issues. Not only has she been able to enlighten her students about justice globally, but she also has learned more about the U.S. legal system. We are also proud to announce that she recently passed the New York bar examination!

“Diversifying my expertise will allow me to be more helpful in the country’s economic development agenda,” she says. This will no doubt help inform her work in variety of other human rights improvements in Ethiopia, the United States, and beyond.

Gebresillassie has an overwhelming desire to advance her homeland. She wants to improve economic equity and help empower marginalized groups. Her passion is one that I don’t witness often as a student in America, even in the nation’s capital.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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This week, at the 56th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the challenges, hopes, strengths, and resilience of the world’s rural women are taking center stage. This year’s priority theme is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges.” Women are central to the development of rural areas — they make up more of the agricultural labor force than men, produce the majority of food grown, and do most of the unpaid care work. Improving support for these women will make a major contribution to ending poverty and hunger, accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and realizing sustainable development. For those of us in the nongovernmental organization community, the excitement began when hundreds of women and girls of all ages came together from around the world on February 26 for NGO Forum Consultation Day to lay the groundwork for two weeks of workshops, panels, discussions, and interactions, both within the United Nations and at parallel events hosted by NGOs.

“We need to take off our high heels, roll up our sleeves, and fight viciously in the trenches like we did before Beijing [because] we have been toasting Beijing for too long.”

—       Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Laureate

Dozens of AAUW members hailing from all over — from California to Washington, D.C. — came together to participate as speakers, workshop facilitators, and advocates. They came from states and branches to the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund and Women Graduates-USA, ready to learn, share insight, and connect with the global family of women.

During the event, U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet provided an update on her organization’s first year and noted progress in a number of areas. The opportunity to hear Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia was a special treat — she passionately told us to “take off our high heels, roll up our sleeves, and fight viciously in the trenches like we did before Beijing [because] we have been toasting Beijing [the site of the Fourth World Conference on Women] for too long.”

We also heard from representatives of governments, international organizations, and multilateral organizations about the progress being made in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Passionate activists and grassroots leaders shared successful projects that are lifting the veil of poverty and helping women who are challenged by corruption, patriarchy, and apathy.

But what does it all mean? I heard from representatives of Norway, Cuba, South Africa, Portugal, Mexico, and Mozambique, among others, extolling the many policies and initiatives to promote gender equality. Organizations presented compelling projects with successful results in building microfinance, increasing economic security, and addressing legal rights. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, if all of these policies are really being carried out, why are women still the majority of the world’s poor and uneducated? Where are the female presidents, CEOs, legislators, and other decision makers? Why can’t women own or inherit land in some places or have control over our own bodies? Why is pay inequity still rampant around the world?

The U.N. events, which are taking place through March 9, are accessible via social media — you can follow the proceedings at @UN_CSW on Twitter and via the hashtag #CSW56. Many sessions are being webcast so that anyone can listen and watch. There is also a growing movement in support of convening a Fifth World Conference on Women (5WCW) that include efforts to encourage ambassadors to sponsor or co-sponsor a draft resolution proposing the conference in 2015.

We need action, legislation, and more political will for all women and girls to move forward.

Interested in supporting a Fifth World Conference on Women? Sign the petition, and get other organizations involved!

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“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

These simple yet powerful words, spoken in 1995 by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in an unforgettable speech at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, are well-known and often repeated around the globe. They remain as important today as when they were first spoken.

In her speech, Clinton further stated, “As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes — the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.”

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign was designed to bring individuals and groups together to fight such violence and discrimination. While the campaign officially ends on December 10, International Human Rights Day, we all know that there is no end until violence against women and girls — a violation of human rights — has been eliminated. This year was a transformational one as people, galvanized by social media, took to the streets in Egypt and Tunisia to claim their basic human rights. On International Human Rights Day, we also commemorate the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 63 years ago.

During the 16 Days campaign, women, men, and communities around the world called for the elimination of violence against women by bringing attention to the overwhelming inequities and depth of suffering of women. The 2011 campaign calendar is a remarkable, inspiring display of worldwide activism that included a variety of activities:

  • A purple ribbon campaign, during which volunteers placed ribbons on telephone poles to represent the number of reported spousal assaults and sexual assaults in a one-year period
  • The Candlelight Walk to End Gendered Violence and the Reclaim the Night March
  • 16 Books for 16 Days, a list of books pertaining to domestic violence, sexual assault, or any type of gender-based violence
  • Film screenings of Miss Representation, which explores how the media’s depictions of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence in the United States
  • Public education seminars and outreach activities focusing on women’s participation in elections and seminars on the linkage between violence against women and violence in society

During the 16 Days campaign, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Violence against Women Act.  “Since VAWA’s passage in 1994, no other law has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence in our communities,” said Leahy. “The resources and training provided by VAWA have changed attitudes toward these reprehensible crimes, improved the response of law enforcement and the justice system, and provided essential services for victims struggling to rebuild their lives.”

So today, remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — because human rights are women’s rights. How did you spend your 16 Days?

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I enjoy the show MythBusters on the Discovery Channel and watch it with my children. It’s interesting to see how many of the legends that we assume to be true or that have been passed down through the years either have no basis in fact or are amazingly spot-on. It also satisfies the curiosity of “I wonder what would happen if … ?” and the excitement of seeing things blown up, run over, or tested to the limits that we tried as children (OK, at least I did). It’s science, adventure, and reality TV all wrapped into an actual learning opportunity (but don’t tell my kids that). Even President Barack Obama appeared on the show (but there were no fun explosions during his visit).

So of course I think it’s only fitting that for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, AAUW is a part of CARE’s effort to bust some ongoing myths about women. Perhaps there will be “explosions” of joy and excitement when women gather together to celebrate the accomplishments, skills, capacities, and vitality of women around the world. International Women’s Day is when the world honors and recognizes the successes of women, past and present. Even a decade ago it passed with little notice, but these days there’s so much to choose from, it’s amazing. There is such an increasing wave of promise and commitment to end the global inequities against women that we just witnessed at the United Nations — and debunking so many of the same, tired old myths is long overdue.

Here’s a sample of the myths that CARE identified that continue to degrade and demean women, even in 2011:

Girls can’t do math or science.
A woman’s place is in the home.
Women can’t be trusted with money.
She asked for it.

Reading the stories and watching the video of the powerful myth busters humbled me. Whether they were trailblazers of years past or heroes of today, they deserve recognition on this special day because they create a gateway for so many others.

I sat on the Metro this morning and looked at the women around me — all different in appearance and background but more alike than we recognize. We face so many common barriers — just because we are women. And more and more, the staggering cost to our world of excluding women in the economy, business, technology, education, and politics is painfully apparent. Women need to demand and be given dignity and human rights because the consequences of leaving us behind will change the equation for the world in ways that will challenge us all.

We don’t need a TV show to bust these myths about women. We’re doing a pretty good job ourselves. Besides, TV shows perpetuate many of the myths that keep us from moving forward.

What are you doing to honor the power, promise, and rights of women on International Women’s Day and every day? Who are your myth busters? Are you one?

Go ahead, bust a myth for International Women’s Day.

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The Washington Post estimates that Arianna Huffington’s “rough cut” of the new AOL and Huffington Post merger is worth $100 million. What do you do with that kind of money? I don’t begrudge anyone capitalizing on her or his business savvy and harnessing technology in new and important ways.(OK, maybe I do, just a little.)But it does make me think about the inequities faced by women and girls around the world and how technology has created incredible opportunities to enhance women’s lives globally—if somebody or some government (read: me, you, theirs, and ours) would just pay for it.

The 2010 report Bridging the Gender Divide: How Technology Can Advance Women Economically, published by the International Center for Research on Women, clearly articulates the many ways women’s lives could be enhanced through technology. Women in developing countries lag behind men in so many uses of technology — from cellphones to computers. On the most basic level, considering that rural women and girls spend between one and six hours per day collecting firewood or fetching water, they are “deprived of the basic benefits of technology such as efficient household energy for cooking, heating, and lighting,” according to the report. Just think how much easier lives could be made with access to efficient fuel, cookstoves, and clean water — not to mention receiving critical health information via cellphone.

In a few weeks, the United Nations will convene the 55th Commission on the Status of Women(CSW) in New York from February 22 to March 4. It’s an opportunity “to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards, and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.” U.N. member states present the efforts, policies, and progress made in their countries to address gender inequity. It’s a bit like giving countries credit for policies that they should be adopting anyway to support women’s human rights and gender equality.

This year’s primary theme, quite appropriately, is “access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science, and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”AAUW will participate in many CSW events at the United Nations and at parallel events (more than 20 per day) held nearby by nongovernmental organizations from around the world at the simultaneous NGO Committee on the Status of Women. We will host a workshop on gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and present on several other panels relating to the theme.

The creation of U.N. Women last year will hopefully provide a strong global voice for women and girls and address the many challenges the United Nations faces in its efforts to promote gender equality, especially funding. We need a dynamic and strong champion for women and girls that provides us all with a powerful voice at the global, regional, and local levels.

And we sure could use some of that $100 million.

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