Empowering Women: Progress or not?

No. 1 Vol. XLVII 2010

This issue is devoted to examining the unique challenges facing women and girls across the world. Top academics, non-governmental workers, activists and United Nations officials write of how to address these challenges, whether they are effectively being addressed at all and, if so, what worked and why, and what did not and why not? Among the prominent contributions, including articles by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, Thoraya Obaid, Rachel Mayanja, UN Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron and UN Citizen Ambassador Emily Troutman, are essays and first-person accounts of war and sexual violence, safety of refugee women and girls and the UN system's coordinated response to protecting the rights of women and girls everywhere."

Asha-Rose Migiro

Time for Solidarity with Women of Haiti

I will never forget the time an earthquake shook Dodoma in 2002 when I was a parliamentarian in my home country of Tanzania. I had no idea how to react to the tremors and instinctively ran outside. Though I was fortunate that the tremors caused minimal damage, they brought home to me in a deeply personal way just how fragile we are. The earthquake that devastated Haiti brought these memories back vividly, and my heart went out to my many colleagues and the people of Haiti who have been deeply affected.

Ruth Dearnley

Prevention, Prosection and Protection - Human Trafficking

How much would you pay for a winter coat? How much would you pay for the child that made it? Fifty years ago, the abomination of slavery seemed like a thing of the past. But history has a way of repeating itself. Today, we find that human slavery is once again a sickening reality. At this moment, men, women and children are being trafficked and exploited all over the world: 2.4 million have been trafficked into forced labour worldwide of these, 600,000 to 800,000 are trafficked across borders each year and 12,000 children are working as slaves on cocoa plantations in West Africa.

Francisca de Haan

A Brief Survey of Women's Rights

The story of the global struggle for women's rights since 1945 is just beginning to be told. For a proper understanding of the continuities and changes in the struggle for women's rights during this period, we need to go back to the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. In addition, we need to consider more fully the important role of what are now often called traditional women's organizations in advancing women's rights on the international level, at least until 1975.

Ban Ki-moon

Toward a New Future for Haiti

The Petionville Golf Club sits upon a hillside overlooking Port au Prince and the sea. These days, its once-groomed fairways are home to nearly 50,000 people, among the 1.2 million displaced by the January 12 earthquake and crowded together in tents or tarpaulin lean-tos provided by the UN or international relief agencies.

Rachel Mayanja

Armed Conflict and Women - 10 Years of Security Council Resolution 1325

In October this year, the United Nations will commemorate the tenth anniversary of an important, but inadequately recognized international development landmark: Security Council resolution 1325, which recognized the importance of understanding the impact of armed conflict on women and girls and guaranteed their protection and full participation in peace agreements. Although late in coming, there are now signs of increased commitment and action to ensure that the goals of the resolution are met.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

United Nations Agencies Forward Together in the Response to Violence Against Women

Momentum is building to eliminate the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world -- violence against women. Studies show that 70 per cent of women experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Everywhere, communities, civil society and governments are mobilizing to end practices that harm the health, dignity, security and autonomy of women and negatively impact society as a whole. The United Nations system is working together to support partners in this effort.

Ban Ki-moon

Freedom of Expression, a Fundamental Human Right

Message on World Press Freedom Day, 2010

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But around the world, there are governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it.

Ban Ki-moon

The Deadline Has Arrived

Message on International Day for Biological Diversity, 2010

The planet's species and habitats, and the goods and services they provide, form the basis of our wealth, our health and our well-being. Yet, despite repeated global commitments to protect this heritage, the variety of life on Earth continues to decline at an unprecedented rate. Biodiversity loss is moving ecological systems ever closer to a tipping point beyond which they will no longer be able to fulfil their vital functions.

Rania Antonopoulos

Social Protection for Women

Periods of economic upheaval are always destabilizing and, as such, outcomes are uncertain. We are right now faced with a great danger and a great opportunity. The danger is that recovery efforts will favour those in positions of strength, reinforcing existing inequalities between and within countries. As this occurs, we will see existing disparities deepen, leading to social exclusion with grave social, economic and political repercussions. The opportunity is that leadership and bold policy action could reduce inequalities among countries and across gender lines.

Takyiwaa Manuh

Confronting Violence Against Women - What Has Worked Well and Why

Violence against women and girls is a virulent form of abuse and discrimination that transcends race, class and national identity. It takes many forms and may be physical, sexual, psychological and economic, but all are usually interrelated as they trigger complex feedback effects. Other specific types of violence, such as trafficking in women and girls, often occurs across national boundaries. It is estimated that annually up to 2 million people, many of who are from the 150 and more countries constituting the global South, are trafficked into prostitution, forced labour, slavery or servitude. By threatening the safety, freedom and autonomy of women and girls, gender-based violence violates women's human rights and prevents their full participation in society and from fulfilling their potential as human beings.

Ban Ki-moon

Help and Support Migrant Families Around the World

Message on International Day of Families, 2010

This year's commemoration of the International Day of Families focuses on the impact of migration on families around the world. Rising social and economic disparities create both pressures and incentives for people to leave their homes in search of better opportunities. Many migrate out of necessity due to poverty, unemployment, political or armed conflicts or violations of human rights.

Theo-Ben Gurirab

Women in Politics - The Fight to End Violence Against Women

Despite the remarkable progress of women in many professions, politics is not one of them. Indeed, around the world, women have been conspicuous by their absence in decision and policy making in government. When the United Nations First World Conference on Women was held in Mexico City in 1975, the international community was reminded that discrimination against women remained a persistent problem in many countries; and even though governments were called upon to develop strategies to promote the equal participation of women, political participation was not yet identified as a priority. Since then, though there has been an increasing focus on women's representation and their impact on decision-making structures, the increased attention did not reflect in immediate results. For example, in 1975 women accounted for 10.9 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide; ten years later it increased by one mere percentage point to 11.9 per cent.

Ruthie Ackerman

When Things Fall Apart

Liberia shows the way to deal with gender-based violence by establishing special courts and laws to try rapists and through empowering women and girls.

An Invisible Life

An Invisible Life was created by Allan Markman and Conor Hughes. Allan Markman, the art director, is Senior Designer with the Graphic Design Unit/United Nations Department of Public Information. Conor Huges, the artist is a content designer with the United Nations Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. He graduated in Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts, New York.

Asha-Rose Migiro

Hungry to Learn

See also Ms. Migiro's Time for Solidarity with the Women of Haiti, a personal essay on the need for solidarity with the mothers and children of Haiti. Mine is the rare job that allows me to meet, within the span of a very few hours, both a president and a homeless mother. And each told me the same thing. Three months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, President Préval welcomed me to his offices in Port au Prince -- a modest building in the gardens behind his ruined presidential palace. Education, he said straight-off, must be a corner stone of the international effort to rebuild Haiti. Without that, there is no future.

Didier Fassin

A Story of Violence

Let us call her Magda. The name is invented, but the story is real. She was born in Lesotho 35 years ago. Her life exemplifies the burden of physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women.

Hoong Eng Khoo

Educate Girls, Eradicate Poverty - A Mutually Reinforcing Goal

There is no question that educating girls is a prerequisite for eradicating poverty. Education empowers and transforms women. It allows them to break the traditional cycle of exclusion that keeps them at home and disengaged from decision making. Education, especially higher education, can prepare women to take on roles of responsibility in government, business and civil society. Women make ideal leaders: numerous studies have demonstrated that they tend to allocate resources more wisely than men. For example, women spend a larger percentage of their income on food and education for their children. Thus, strengthening the economic and political role of women directly benefits the next generation. To provide an excellent university education for women is to make long-term investment in their and their children's futures.

Liza Gross

Invisible in the Media

Back in the eighteenth century, the Anglo Irish philosopher George Berkeley summarized his theory of immaterialism in the following dictum: to be is to be perceived. It is safe to assume that the gender problematic was the furthest consideration from the good bishop's mind when he came up with this insight, but his philosophical epiphany aptly describes the plight of women worldwide when it comes to media coverage: they are either absent from the news, and so cannot be perceived since they are not there, or they are included within certain narrow parameters that limit a full perception of their societal contribution. This state of affairs varies globally, but in general women and girls are seldom featured in journalism as narrators of their own experience or as authoritative sources on any given topic. In addition, whenever they are featured, it is in stereotypical roles.

Charlize Theron

At What Point Does One Lose One's Humanity?

I have been incredibly blessed in my life to be able to travel. Seeing the world and its diversity first hand has been the greatest teacher, and never have I learned a more difficult lesson then when I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2009. The DRC, bordered by nine different countries, is home to over 200 ethnic groups, making it literally the heart of Africa. This country is in a state of emergency. Various militias and complicated politics all play a part in the devastation of the land and the population, but no one is suffering more than the women and young girls. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been beaten, tortured and raped -- atrocities beyond anything that I have ever heard of or could imagine.

Emily Troutman

In Haiti... The World From Her Mother's Side

As the earthquake shook the house around her, ten-year-old Dessica ran outside and into a field behind her small street. Did you run out alone? I asked. Yes, she says. You didn't wait for your mother or your sisters or brothers? No, she says. I just ran.

Mulki Al-Sharmani

Navigating Refugee Life

Those of us concerned with violence against refugee women and girls may agree on two things: the first is that the magnitude of the problem is grave, and the second is that although there have been numerous efforts to address the problem in the past three decades, the effectiveness of the outcomes remains to be debated.

Anne-Marie Goetz

Sexual Violence as a War Tactic - Security Council Resolution 1888: Next Steps

At the end of September 2009, two sharply contrasting events coincided: the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduced resolution 1888 at the United Nations Security Council on 30 September which, like resolution 1820 passed the previous year, condemns conflict-related sexual violence and aims to equip the UN with measures to prevent it and to address impunity.