Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Expectations Rise, as Well as Challenges

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Expectations Rise, as Well as Challenges

Article excerpt

As women's issues become increasingly global, the expectations are rising and the challenges getting larger. Familiar issues haven't gone away, but they're likely to get more prominence this year.

At the dawn of this new year, a note of cautious optimism is rising from female leaders, activists and advocates who are anticipating major new strides as "women issues" go global.

"Women issues are world issues," Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of U.N. Women and former president of Chile, said recently. "Today there is greater awareness than ever before that women's full participation is essential for peace, democracy and sustainable development."

At the same time, Alyse Nelson, chief executive of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nongovernmental organization that trains and empowers emerging female leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, noted that "the pace and nature of globalization have worn away the distinction between 'women's issues' and global issues. In 2013, women who find real solutions and leverage their leadership to empower others will rise to the international stage in increasing numbers -- and not because they're women. I believe these women are the vanguard of a new era of global leadership."

A universal vision seems at work here: Elect more women as heads of state and government (there are only 21 worldwide) and to parliaments, and promote more women to corporate boards and executive positions; advance and empower women in the developed and developing world; close the gender pay gap; and improve workplace conditions.

Meantime, violence against women, a central focus of U.N. Women's agenda, has exploded as a world issue.

"In some countries, up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated during their lifetimes," Ms. Bachelet said. "There can be no peace, no progress, when women live under the fear of violence."

Indeed, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student shot by Taliban attackers after she spoke up on behalf of girls' education, has become a global symbol, renewing efforts to protect schoolgirls in extreme patriarchal societies.

India, the world's largest democracy, was put on notice that women would not be silent anymore. Thousands of people have joined female demonstrators against government and police mishandling of rape cases and insensitivity to women in general. Large protests over a fatal gang rape became front-page news around the world, and protesters, led by women, demanded stronger laws against rape, sexual harassment and child abuse.

With the globalization of women's issues, world organizations are drumming up the support of activists the world over, of marquee names and celebrities. At the first Trust Women conference, convened by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune in London in December, participants and speakers -- from Queen Noor of Jordan to the model Christy Turlington -- debated complex issues like sexual slavery, child marriage and the role of women in the Arab world. …

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