This year we celebrate 70 years of Women and The United Nations. What is that 70-year history and what exactly has been accomplished?
Since the end of the Second World War women and men have met to discuss the issues faced by women around the world and how to solve the discrimination and violence faced by women. 1946 was the birth of The Commission on the Status of Women with the purpose to study women on an international scale. Since its inception, representatives of member states meet to discuss ways in which to promote gender equality worldwide.
The Commission is not the only way in which the UN has dedicated itself to women’s issues. In 1975, The United Nations would have its first of four World Conference on Women. The 1975 conference was held in Mexico City and a dialogue of gender in international community was opened. A year after the conference the General Assembly then declared The Decade of Women that lasted from 1976 to 1985.
During the Cold War the second and third world conferences on women were held (in Copenhagen and Nairobi respectively). In the 1980 conference at Copenhagen, the human rights violations and situations in places like Bolivia, Chile, El Salvador, Lebanon, Namibia and South Africa and specifically the effects they had on women were discussed. The Nairobi conference, which was held five years after the one in Copenhagen, was an intergovernmental dialogue on the role of women in education for peace, peace research, decision-making and non-governmental activities related to peace.
In September of 1995 the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. It was the largest UN conference ever held with 189 countries participating. This conference highlighted the link between the participation of women in all spheres as full citizens, and the prospects of building new, democratic societies and fostering peace process through gender balanced participation in conflict resolution and decision-making at national and international levels. While the previous conferences helped improve women’s conditions it had yet to tackle the patriarchal relationship that made men more powerful than women. Fundamental transformations happened in Beijing when the conference recognized the entire social structure and the relationship between men and women inside that structure needed to be reevaluated in order for progress to be made. The conference affirmed that women’s rights were human rights and that gender was an issue for universal concern. The adoption of the Beijing platform meant that member states had committed themselves to include gender in all their institutions, policies, planning and decision-making. This commitment brought hope that women would finally be brought into formal peace making situations.
In 2000 the UN issued with Resolution 1325: Women, Peace and Security. It was the first time the United Nations addressed the impact of armed conflict on women. It recognized that the contributions made by women have been undervalued and underutilized when it comes to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and conflict resolution. It set out to increase the representation of women at all levels of decision-making and add gender perspective to post conflict processes, UN programing and UN peace support operations.
Since 1946 there has been significant progress in improving gender equality around the world but that doesn’t mean all the work is finished. Women and girls around the world are still denied, among many other things, education, formal roles in the political process, healthcare, and security. According to UN Women:
- There are 37 nations world wide in which women account for less then 10 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses
- Women in most countries only earn on average 60 to 75 percent of what men earn
- In rural areas, many women derive their livelihoods from small-scale farming, almost always informal and often unpaid
- It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives
- Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children
The sixtieth session of the commission will take place in New York City in March of this year. The theme for discussion is women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.
To learn more about the story of women and the UN check out the Women’s Museum of California’s exhibit running from February 5th – March 27th 2016