United Nations -- At most International conferences, especially those held by the United Nations, women's issues are usually highlighted first. Child custody, violence against women, gender equality and the right to personal property are the most popular subjects debated during these gatherings.
These issues are passionately discussed for a week or so, and then everyone typically forgets what they signed or promised to review upon returning to their own countries.
During last week's Summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York City, achieving key advances for women is one of the most critical issues being discussed amongst the world leaders who have gathered for the summit in New York. They have made it a priority to formally agree that certain developments for women must be realized by all signatories of the agreement by 2015. If history serves as a guide, we should expect that the same problems discussed this time around will remain on next year's Summit agenda.
The landmark declaration adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, reaffirms that "all human begins are born free and equal in dignity and rights" and "everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms... without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, and religion... birth or other status." When the international feminist movement began to gain momentum during the 1970s, the General Assembly designated 1975 as International Woman's year, and held the first world conference on women in Mexico City. At the urging of the conference, it declared the years 1976 to 1985 to be the UN decade for women. The second world conference on women was held in Copenhagen in 1980, and five years later another conference to review the United Nations decade for women held in Nairobi. Then a fourth one was held in Beijing in 1995 and then Beijing+5 was held in New York, and so on. Many more gatherings and conferences took place that expressed the importance of women rights, and unfortunately, none of them managed to get anywhere.
UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman is the spokesperson for Say NO -- United to End Violence against Women. But how does a beautiful television clip featuring Ms. Kidman actually help, for example, the women of Rwanda who suffered through genocide and were raped during their country's brutal civil war? The reality for women on the ground is too detached from the international conferences in Geneva and New York and the beautiful video clips featuring attractive actresses. When we talk about the use of force against women, we are referring to the countless underage girls who are forced by their families to enter into an arranged marriage. When we talk about sex trafficking, we are talking about the families who, deep in poverty, sell their daughters for food. Shall we believe that Nicole Kidman's messages will actually reach the ears of a girl who is brought to Dubai to be a sex worker and locked up inside of a shelter, and convince that girl to say "NO"?
The kind messages conveyed by celebrities asking for help for victims of violence don't materialize into actual aid on the ground for those people who really need it. But education and development programs that, for instance, pressure families to send their girls to school ultimately put those girls on the track towards understanding what gender equality is, and empower them to stand up for their own rights. Girls whose futures would otherwise be scarred by forced prostitution and drug use could follow a different path if states make funds available to them for education or employment programs.
To solve women's issues globally, policy makers and educators must focus on reducing poverty and increasing education rates in those countries reporting the highest levels of violence against women.
No matter what part of the world in which a woman lives, education and financial independence are what will help her become more aware of her rights, and give her the strength to demand those rights from her own government? That kind of empowerment can lead to major changes and achieve the goals that world leaders say they would like to achieve by 2015.