Posts from July, 2014

Towards a More Just and Equal Future

by Arielle Thomas

At a meeting entitled “Woman’s Access to Justice - Challenges and Best Practices” moderator Martin Sajdik, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), began the discussion with a universal truth: “Not a single country can claim to have achieved pure equality through men, women, boys, and girls.” By noting this, Mr. Sajdik opened up space for the panelists to discuss the steps that states have taken, both forward and backward, regarding equal legal rights for men and women. Panelist Lilian Hoffmeister touched on the advances in Austria regarding women’s access to freedom, and also mentioned a generally overlooked fact: “Half of humanity was not recorded in traditional history.” Beatrice Duncan of UN Women spoke of a program targeted toward fifteen countries that aims to combat the current gender inequalities in legal rights and stress the importance of women as actors within the justice system.

The most impressive speech, to me, was that of H.E. Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo of South Africa. Soft-spoken and modest, Ambassador Mamabolo discussed the great achievements that South Africa has made in the last few years regarding equality in legal and gender rights. He explained that because of the experience of apartheid, South Africa has a very unique outlook on preventative measures for inequality. According to the Ambassador, fifty-seven special offensives for gender inequality and sexual attacks have been created. He also mentioned a pending 50/50 gender equality bill in South Africa, which would require all companies, organizations, and entities in both public and private sectors to meet the 50/50 gender requirement regarding employees. Kingsley said, “The notion of discrimination in any form is something that is repugnant and must be dealt with very quickly and effectively.” South Africa’s accomplishments, of course, did not happen on their own. The moderator and several panelists noted that Ambassador Mamabolo has created, and continues to create groundbreaking changes toward a more equal society and legal system in South Africa.

VGIF grantees have also made important strides towards gender equality in their communities. For example, in a VGIF funded project in northern Ghana, 40 school girls received leadership training and opportunities to secure positions in their school governance systems. A recent graduate stated, “I have benefitted a lot from this project, since the day I was selected to be a member of the parliament. It was my first exposure to a meeting or workshop in my entire life and this, in fact gave me an encouraging interest in participating and standing up for leadership roles and other responsibilities that were to come my way.” 

As Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo stated towards the end of the meeting, “In South Africa, we’ve always said that women were oppressed politically, as workers, as women.” This outlook showcases why South Africa has been such a strong propeller of women’s rights, and illustrates why the outlook must be understood to move forward to a better and more equal future. 

Renewing Commitments for Gender Equality

by Wassila M. Hanafi

In 1995, men and women from all over the world came together in Beijing for the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women. A total of 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists worked together to draft the Beijing Declaration, a resolution confirming and outlining the principles of gender equality. The Declaration, adopted by the United Nations and signed by 189 governments, is accompanied by the Beijing Platform for Action - an agenda set forth by activists to achieve the overarching goal of women’s empowerment and equal participation in all spheres of life and in all countries.

Implementing the Beijing Platform for Action is mainly a responsibility of governments, but also of institutions in the public, private and non-governmental sectors at the community, national, sub-regional, regional and international levels. Implementation is crucial in order to achieve critical goals like reducing poverty among women and girls, ensuring access to education and training, protecting women’s and girls’ health and bodily integrity, and to achieve full and equal participation of men and women in social life, politics, and the economy.

VGIF existed long before the Beijing Declaration was created, but its goals are closely aligned to those set forth in both the Declaration and its Platform for Action. Over 45 years, the mostly volunteer run organization has funded more than 475 successful projects in 89 countries – projects that give women the opportunity to learn, raise their income capacities, become involved in local movements for women’s rights, and empower themselves. Supporting a wide variety of projects, from training and education to women’s health services, has given us a closer look at the challenges that women and girls are facing all over the world. Our grantees and their stories show us clearly that we still need to push ahead, tirelessly, for the realization of gender equality goals and the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Platform for Action. Major positive changes have been made, yet no country can claim to have achieved full equality between men and women. It is time for the global community to come together again for women and girls and complete this journey.

This past May, UN Women launched a yearlong campaign called “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity, Picture it!”  This campaign will feature videos, global twitter discussions and success stories regarding gender equality. The goal is to renew commitments and strengthen action for implementation of the Beijing Declaration in order to fully establish gender equality worldwide. Visit our website (vgif.org) and Facebook page in the coming months to read more about VGIF’s involvement in this exciting campaign.