Women. Power. Peace.

International Women’s Day and WAND

As I write this, Betsy is attending some of the sessions of the yearly Commission on the Status of Women at the U.N. She is there to represent WAND and as a member of the Working Group for Women, Peace and Security, which is holding meetings and lobbying for the goals of U.N. Security Council Proposition 1325. So what should all of us be celebrating on International Women’s Day today?

My answer is somewhat mixed. It’s great that this is the 56th year of this commission. It is also true that the importance of women at the U.N. is growing with all the women’s groups now unified under one entity known as U.N. Women, chaired former president of Chile Michele Bachelet. As she said in her opening remarks, the number of women heads of state and elected officials around the world has grown along with the number of women serving in important positions at the U.N.

In addition to reports on crucial issues for women, the Commission has an annual topic—this year it is Empowering Rural Women. As Bachelet pointed out, rural women produce a huge percentage of the world’s food and if they had access to the resources men have, they would be able to feed many hundreds of millions more. Rural women being increasingly affected by climate change and need much better working conditions. However, yesterday’s N.Y. Times has the encouraging news that extreme poverty in the developing world has dropped and the U.N. Millennium goals for poverty are on the way to being met.

It’s good news, too, that the U.S. has adopted a National Action Plan for increasing women’s roles in world leadership for security and equal rights. Obama issued it and Clinton introduced it at a State Department press conference. Bachelet’s statement that, “The right to sexual and reproductive health is fundamental to women’s empowerment and gender equality,” should serve as a truth for women in the U.S. as well as around the world.

But it’s not good news that the U.S. is still one of a handful of countries that hasn’t ratified CEDAW, let alone shown much interest in improving women’s rights around the world. What about the women of Afghanistan whom WAND has pledged to support in any negotiations for peace in that country? Or the rights of women within our own nation which are under siege by some parts of our media and even by presidential candidates?

As for women’s untiring work for peace, when war talk heats up about an attack on Iran and women and their families continue to suffer from extreme violence in many countries, it’s hard to see our work bearing fruit. WAND, which has worked so hard to redirect military spending to human needs, has seen world military spending continue to rise. Betsy reports encouraging work on researching and publicizing military budgets around the world from a panel she went to by Canadian Women’s Voices for Peace. She noted that peace and military spending weren’t being featured enough at the Status of Women events.

We won’t be discouraged. The message for International Women’s Day 2012 is that the power of women is increasing annually with more women than ever finding ways to achieve their visions of equal human rights and a peaceful world.

-Sayre Sheldon and Betsy Rivard, NGO Representatives for WAND at the U.N.

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