The launch of UN Women in the UN General Assembly Hall this week, February 24th, felt like a celebration. There was indeed a reason to celebrate. Who wouldn't celebrate the vision set forth by the United Nations for global gender equality and the empowerment of women? The leaders and celebrities participating in the program were impressive. Hosted by former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, energized in her new roles as UN Women's Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary General, the speakers ranged from top UN dignitaries to celebrities live and on video, including Geena Davis, Nicole Kidman and Shakira, among others. Ted Turner, who founded the UN Foundation with $1 billion in 1997, made a rare appearance. Here's hoping the Foundation will make a major contribution to UN Women. According to UN Women, $500 million is needed to run the program in the first year alone. The goal is ending discrimination against women. It's money well spent, since countries with greater gender equality have economies that are far more competitive and grow faster, as shown through research in 114 countries by the Global Gender Report, World Economic Forum, 2010.
While I was basking in the hopeful optimism of the UN Women launch, I glanced at my Blackberry and noticed at least five emails regarding Congressional anti-women activity bubbling up like a volcano on Capitol Hill. Was I in parallel worlds? Which world was reality?
Our very own Congress, specifically the Republican leadership, is threatening to take away women's liberties in health care and reproductive health services. This includes women's right to access lifesaving medical care. In fact they want to slash all funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of family planning services. For roughly 60 percent of their patients, PP serves as primary care physicians. For the gory details, read what Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has to say in her blog.
If there is no gender equality here in the U.S., how can we possibly expect it in the rest of the world? Are we the example for the world to follow? If so, UN Women and US women -- we're in big trouble.
Now that the celebration is over, we have to face the fact that there is enormous work required -- attitudes that must be changed, a Congress to educate, and money to be raised, to mention only a few of the tasks at hand in order to realize this goal of gender equality. As far as women go, we need to start with ourselves. How are we supporting the women in our life? Are we treating women with respect? Are we making women's successes, health care, leadership, security, and economic empowerment a top priority? If not, the time to do it is now. If not now, we'll be leaving our work to future generations.
Leslie Grossman, Women's Leadership Exchange