International Women's Issues

International Women’s Issues: Let’s Give Thanks

After explaining last week’s post topic to my mother, she suggested that I write about something cheerful this week. “It’s Thanksgiving ““ write about what we should be thankful for in women’s rights!” It’s a pretty good idea. The news that gets airtime is usually bad news, and at least in the U.S., the recent conservative onslaught against women’s rights can sometimes be overwhelming. Still, there are good things happening, albeit perhaps not in the U.S. at the moment. Which is why I’ll look internationally, and focus this week on advancements, both globally and regionally, in women’s rights.


On a global level, UN Women turned one year old. UN Women was created in July of 2010, and became operational in January of this year. UN Women is short for the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which sums up the mandate quite nicely. The organization is comprised of four different UN bodies dedicated to women’s rights that have been combined to better advance gender equality and better serve the world’s women. By uniting all of the UN women’s groups under one tent, UN Women can advocate for equal rights for women with a much stronger, united voice, and can also consolidate resources. The body has a minimum operation budget of $500 million USD, twice the total of the four separate organizations, which may be taken as a sign of the UN’s commitment to gender equality.

UN Women is headed by Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and a “socialist pediatrician and epidemiologist.” Her appointment was heralded by civil society organizations worldwide, who cited her pro-woman reforms in Chile as a sign of good things to come. Bachelet’s appointment will also hopefully shed new light on women’s rights issues in Latin and South America.

Speaking of massive international civil society organizations for women, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created the Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) at the end of last year, and their first meeting was held in February of this year. The commission is comprised of two delegates from each ASEAN country, one for women’s rights, and one for children’s rights. In the months since the Commission’s first meeting, they have already created a network of organizations, both public and private, that provide social services for women. The network aims to promote best practices, the flow of resources and ideas, and also facilitate helping women who have been internationally trafficked. The Commission is also putting a keen eye towards fundraising, seeking out philanthropists and foundations interested in supporting female and child victims of violence. ACWC’s main five year goals involve combating violence against women and children, decreasing trafficking, and support for women and children with HIV/AIDS, among many others.

Perhaps some of the greatest people to appreciate this year are the 2011 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman shared the prize, in the name of the advancement of women’s rights and women’s role in peacebuilding. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the recently re-elected President of Liberia, the first female president in Africa, who has done amazing things to lead her country’s recovery from civil war. Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian activist, organized women throughout the country to end that war. There is a fantastic documentary on Gbowee called Pray the Devil Back to Hell, it’s available through Netflix, please go watch it. Gbowee was recently on The Daily Show, if you’d like a bit of an introduction to her first. Karman, a Yemeni activist, formed an organization called Women Journalists Without Chains, and is known as the Mother of the Revolution in Yemen. She fights for freedom of the press and women’s rights, and is the first Arab woman to win the Peace prize. Not only should we value these women for their huge contributions to improving the lives of women on this planet, we should also look at the significance of the Nobel Prize committee in finally recognizing the powerful role women play in peacebuilding and the fight for human rights.

In Europe, a major advancement came as the European Court of Human Rights ruled that forced sterilization is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerns V.C., a Slovakian citizen who is ethnically Roma, who was forcibly sterilized in a public hospital in Slovakia after giving birth via C-section. She was forced to sign a consent form she did not understand, while actively in labor, and was lied to by hospital staff. The court ruled in favor of V.C., yet did not formally recognize the ethnic elements of the case ““ this happened to V.C. because she is Roma. As forced sterilization of Roma women was literally government policy in some European countries a few decades ago (albeit under Communist rule) this is a significant step forward for Roma women.

In Haiti, where women face near-impossible challenges rebuilding from the earthquake and living in refugee camps, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ruled in March of this year that both the Haitian government and the international community failed to protect women and girls from rape in the refugee camps. The Commission ordered the government to provide support for victims and significant preventative measures. A key point of this ruling is the Commission’s explicit requirement that local women have leadership roles in carrying out this mandate.

In Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned in my first piece here, women were granted the right to vote “¦ in a country in which you’re not allowed to vote for much. Literally days after that happened, and perhaps more importantly, King Saud cancelled the public lashing of a woman found guilty of driving. The woman, Shaymah Jastaniah, was driving a relative to a hospital when she was arrested. I realize “let’s be thankful they’re not whipping women in the streets for driving” is setting a bar pretty low, but it’s a step forward. And steps forward, no matter how small, must be lauded, because that is how they grow.

So there we have it. From massive UN organizations to court rulings to small steps forward, women’s rights are advancing ““ albeit perhaps not as quickly as we’d like, but we’re still moving forward. Are there any major advancements that I missed? Anything you’re particularly thankful for this year, in terms of international women’s rights? Let me know in the comments!


3 replies on “International Women’s Issues: Let’s Give Thanks”

Leymah Gbowee is an amazing leader.

This piece reminds me of a group/documentary I have been thinking about lately in terms of changing the world in small steps. The group is called the 13 grandmothers: they are an international council of indigenous grandmothers who are working towards environmental justice and peace. Their philosophy is recognizing the 7 generations of work that came before and paying it forward to the 7 generations that will come after them. Its a way of thinking that goes beyond creating for immediate and sometimes temporary change. Heres a preview of the doc.

Its easy to forget about the good sometimes, especially since there is a constant barrage of things that arent. There are so many badass women around the world who I think  USians could learn a thing or two from.

Great piece.


I think it’s really important for us, from an extremely privileged position, to see and recognize the strides being made for women around the world, no matter how small or insignificant they seem. Every major societal change was started with a series of tiny events, so it’s so important to recognize these events when they happen.

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