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UN Week – 2/20/12

February 21, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

by John and Douglas Carey 

Contents of this issue: US Efforts for Women and Girls Worldwide

What follows is a real “scoop,” meaning that, important though it is, you probably won’t find it even mentioned in newspapers, on the radio or on network TV. It is a significant statement by a high-ranking US Government official on where our country stands concerning women’s rights. The official is Esther Brimmer, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. Here is part of what she said on February 15th  at Spelman College:

“It is truly an honor for me to be in Atlanta at America’s oldest historically black college for women, particularly during Black History Month, to discuss some of the many ways the President and Secretary of State are supporting the empowerment of women and girls globally. * * *

“Women and girls around the world face a breadth of challenges – lack of education and basic literacy skills, sexual and gender-based violence, rampant discrimination, the lack of economic opportunities and political participation, and more. – * * *

“Today, women, mainly in the world’s poorest communities, represent about two-thirds of the nearly 800 million illiterate adults around the world. That is why the United States is working the specialized agencies such as United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to expand girls’ and women’s access to education. Seeking to end this imbalance, Secretary Clinton spoke to UNESCO last May to launch the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. In Paris, she joined UNESCO’s Executive Director Irina Bokova, world leaders, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, including American companies, in pledging to support education for women and girls. * * * Indeed, we also know that birth rates, HIV infections, incidents of domestic violence and female cutting all decline when education rises. * * *

“Working together with other governments, NGOs, and private partners also allows us to multiply our impact, reaching more women and girls in meaningful ways than if we acted alone. It is because of the power of these partnerships that we have been at the forefront of bringing together diverse groups of governments, foundations, and corporations.

“For example, the United States helped broker an agreement between Procter and Gamble and UNESCO to fund literacy training for girls in Senegal. Today only 33% of Senegalese women are literate. This modestly funded agreement will impact 40,000 women in Senegal enhancing their literacy and increasing their income and quality of their environment.

“We also have partners, like Nokia, with whom we work in multiple venues. Nokia is a partner in the UNESCO Global Partnership, but they are also one of our partners in the mWomen program. This initiative – led by the Cherie Blair Foundation and the GSM Association, a mobile telephone In-dustry group – aims to reduce the gender gap in access to mobile technology of 300 million in the developing world, by 50 percent, in the next three years. By increasing women’s access to cell phones, the programs enables them to gain access to mobile education and mobile banking, which are critical tools for girls and women to strengthen their education and participate in developing markets. * * *

“We were at the forefront in 2009 and 2010 in leading efforts at the UN to support the consolidation of the UN’s existing gender-related institu-tions into a single more effective women’s agency. It was our goal at the UN to elevate women’s issues to their rightful status.

“Our efforts were successful; UN Women formally began operations on January 1, 2011 with a comprehensive mandate to work on all issues related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Its Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, is an impressive leader, as you know she is the former President of Chile. * * *

“Additionally, the Administration supports UN Women efforts to advance women’s political participation through technical assistance, research, and training, with a focus on countries in transition, including countries in the Middle East. We hope to complement ongoing UN Women projects aimed at greater political participation for women in Latin America and in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. * * *

“Every day, women are starting their own businesses. Between 1997 and 2008, women-owned businesses in the U.S. grew at twice the national average for all other business types. An estimated 10.1 million companies, 40% of all privately-owned firms, were owned by women as of 2008.

“What we know is that women-run small and medium sized businesses in the U.S. and internationally accelerate economic growth, and many countries have made progress on laws and regulations concerning inheritance and property ownership, working hours, and retirement ages. Yet women face barriers in the U.S. and globally starting these businesses, including challenges connected with access to training, mentors, finance, technology, and markets. These challenges need to be addressed in order for women to fulfill their potential to increase their livelihoods and contribute to the broader economy. * * *

“The theme of the spring 2011 UN Commission on the Status of Women session was ‘Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science, and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.’

“At that Commission meeting, the U.S. pointed out that the emerging green economy is shaping employment opportunities, and women can gain a stronger position in the workforce through green jobs. The Department of Labor is leading efforts domestically along with policy-makers, employers, workforce professionals, educators, and trainers to focus their efforts on having women participate in and benefit from the new green economy. Women have made great strides in some male-dominated occupations, but still make up only a small portion of the workers in these jobs. * * *

“Building on the Administration’s strong commitment to expand educational exchanges and new opportunities in entrepreneurship and science, the U.S. launched the TechWomen Program in 2011 to promote professional development and sustainable relationships for women tech-nology leaders from the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the most prominent U.S. technology companies are committed to participating in the program. Last summer we saw the first graduates from this program, thirty-seven women from places such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Moroc-co, the West Bank and Gaza. Building on the success of the TechWomen program Secretary Clinton also announced a similar initiative called TechGirls that will bring teenage girls from the Middle East and North Africa for educational programming in the United States.

“Earlier this month, we commemorated the Ninth Annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Female genital mutilation/cutting occurs in many countries around the world transcending cultures and religions. In addition to causing intense pain and psychological trauma, the procedure carries with it severe short and long-term health risks: including hemorrhaging; infection, including increased risk of HIV transmission; birth complications; and even death. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stressed, violence toward women and girls isn’t cultural — it’s criminal. We have supported efforts to abandon this egregious practice since the early 1990s, and consider it not only a public health issue, but a violation of women’s rights and dignity.”

Since you won’t hear about any of this in other news media, I hope you will find the information not only informative but also encouraging.

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