Discrimination Against Women A Global Survey of the Economic, Educational, Social and Political Status of Women

By Eschel M. Rhoodie | Go to book overview

4. The International World

Often the status and plight of women transcend national boundaries: for example, the fates of refugees from war, famine, or political and religious oppression. Thus the economic status of women, their political rights and discrimination against women in general have also become the subject of international scrutiny, international conventions, and agreements which involve international law and international instruments of legal enforcement, such as the European Court whose findings have legal consequences for members of the E.E.C.

Much of the international impetus to improve the status of women came from the United Nations, where equality between the sexes has been a fundamental tenet of the United Nations charter. The charter ( 1946) specifically affirmed its faith in fundamental human rights and ". . . in the equal rights of men and women." A year later the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was established.

From there on, the male-dominated organization dragged its feet. In the first place, the newly established commission was just a subsidiary of the large Economic and Social Council ( U.N.E.S.C.O.) and had to compete for attention with a dozen other commissions. It took five years before Helvi Sippila, a Finnish lawyer on the Commission, became Assistant Secretary General for Social Humanitarian Affairs, the first woman to be named to such a high post in the United Nations. It was almost another decade before Lucille Mair became the first Under-Secretary General, one step up the ladder. She retired in 1982 and it was not until 1987 that two women were again named among the 26 Under-Secretaries of the United Nations. Secondly, after the Convention on Political Rights for Women came into force in 1954, it was not until 1976, with the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that the United Nations added to the core of women's rights under international law.

The International Labor Organization also adopted a small number of conventions and resolutions but otherwise the United Nations, preoccupied with racial discrimination and East-West, North-South ideological conflict, paid scant attention to the rights of women. When the United Nations finally proclaimed 1975 to be the International Women's Year, it did so "almost absent-mindedly," according to Jessie Bernard. 1

The International Year was to be devoted to promoting equality between men and women; to integrating women in the international development effort; and to recognizing women's increasing contribution to the development of friendly relations and cooperation among states and to the strengthening of world peace. "But their heart was not in it," Bernard later wrote. "Half of the

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