Thursday, May 28, 2009

UNIFEM, Violence Against Women, & the Global Significance of Sonia Sotomayor Going to SCOTUS

Nicole Kidman, UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador

Media figures have misrep- resented a remark that Sotomayor made in a speech published in 2002, claiming that she suggested, in the words of Fox News' Megyn Kelly, "that Latina judges are obviously better than white male judges." Further advancing the falsehood, numerous media figures have asserted that Sotomayor made a "racist statement." In fact, when Sotomayor asserted, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she was specifically discussing the importance of judicial diversity in determining race and sex discrimination cases. ... Myths and falsehoods surrounding the Sotomayor nomination, Media Matters, 5-27-09

UNIFEM, Violence Against Women, & the Global Significance of Sonia Sotomayor Going to SCOTUS

By Richard Power

Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be the first Latin American and only the third woman to ever be sworn into a seat on SCOTUS. The moment that Barack Obama, the first African American President of the USA, announced her as his nominee, the reactionary element within the body politic launched a disciplined but savage attack.

The fury will likely die down over time, simply because "there is no there there," but the visciousness of this coordinated campaign of abuse demands a powerful response, and this response should be framed in a global context.

The effort to protect and empower women in all societies, and at all strata of all societies, is an essential component of the overarching, global movement to rescue humanity from itself and establish a viable future for the generations to come.

The hatred spewed by Gingrich, Beck, Limbaugh, Rove and others in the past 48 hours should be called for what it is, i.e., misogynistic and, yes, racist (mirror, mirror on the wall). Indeed, the verbal wet work of Gingrich, Beck, Limbaugh, Rove and the others that has bled out over the air waves is nothing less than an act of violence against women.

Ironically, the remark that they seized on -- "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" -- is indeed Sotmayor's personal expression of a great and impersonal truth. And that great, impersonal truth is that simply swearing more women, and particularly more women of color, into more offices (high and low) in every nation throughout the world, will in itself improve our chances of survival as a species.

As the reactionary element unleashed its attack dogs, I happened to be reviewing UNIFEM's recently released annual report.

When United Nations fails, it usually fails very loudly and very visibly. But when the UN succeeds, it often does so quietly and without a great deal of visibility. UNIFEM, the United Nations's Fund for Women, is a compelling example of such successes.

UNIFEM works in several vital areas: strengthening women’s economic security and rights, ending violence against women, reversing the spread of HIV and AIDS among women and girls, and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war.

It is in this context that the nomination of Sotomayor should be celebrated and fought for fiercely through this coming summer. Her swearing in will constitute another quiet but powerful victory in the course of human evolution, and nothing less.

Violence against women is not something that is just physical, it is also verbal; nor is it something far away in some impoverished part of the world, it is right here infecting our own culture and our own body politic.

Here are four excerpts from UNIFEM's 2008-2009 Annual Report, highlighting work in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia:

In Burundi, significant progress was made when the traditional judicial institution for conflict resolution, the Bashingantahe, amended its Charter to allow for the effective involvement of women. UNIFEM supported the sensitization of the Bahingantahe on women’s rights and its role in addressing violence against women. For the first time, women are now admitted to participate as judges in the judicial sessions. Following the amendment, women comprise 40 percent of the judges in each session. A direct outcome has been an increase in cases of sexual violence heard by the Bahingantahe; more women are now willing to break the silence on violence and report cases of abuse.

In Nepal, UNIFEM in partnership with the National Commission for Women and local NGOs, supported efforts that contributed to securing a historic 33 percent representation of Voting in Nepal: advocacy and information campaigns helped secure a historic 33 percent representation of women in the Constituent Assembly, an interim body elected to draft the country’s new Constitution after the political strife of recent years.
Interventions included ensuring that the Constituent Assembly Election Act as well as the manifestos of political parties incorporated women’s needs, such as proportional representation of women in decisionmaking, free and accessible health care and a focus on economic and social rights. Booklets with biographical information of 1,000 women helped introduce potential candidates to the public. Radio and TV spots were broadcast as part of a civic education campaign that improved understanding of the electoral process and the importance of women in government. The investment paid off: on April 10 2008, Election Day, women voters outnumbered men. Nearly 3,500 women contested, representing 35 percent of all candidates – a stark contrast to previous elections in which the percentage of women candidates had never exceeded 6 percent.

Women using public transport can now feel safer in Mexico City. The burgeoning transport system used by millions has gotten a facelift aimed at preventing violence against women in buses and subways. The Safe Travelling programme provides specialized security personnel in select locations and dedicated women-only buses at certain hours, along with reserved entrances and compartments within subway cars. For the women in one of the world’s largest cities, these quality transport upgrades mean better access to education, health services and job markets. The improvements came after Mexico City pioneered a gender-responsive budget in 2008 that earmarked 1.12 percent of the city’s public resources for gender equality measures. In 2009, additional funds will be allocated to support access of violence survivors to justice and services. Gender responsive budgets ensure that the allocation of public resources benefi ts women and men equally. Since 2000, UNIFEM has worked with governments and civil society partners to introduce and advance this approach in over 30 countries.

To enhance women’s economic security and rights, UNIFEM in 2008 also partnered with the Government and civil society in Moldova to survey the situation of women in the labour market. The assessment informed the landmark National Action Plan on Employment of 2008. The plan mandates a review of the Labour Code, now underway, to address the areas of persistent discrimination faced by women, such as wage inequity, continued preference to employ men, and lack of job opportunities especially for young women of reproductive age in both the private and public sector. The amended Labour Code is expected to increase women’s employment and feed into the country’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including Goal 3, which focuses on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

To download the full report, click here.

Some Related Posts

Human Rights Update: UNIFEM Works for Achievement of the "Missing Goal" -- Ending Violence Against Women

UNIFEM Asks You to Take a Stand in the Global Fight to End Violence Against Women; It Will Cost You Nothing But the Time to Type Your Name

Human Rights Update: Most Basic Rights of Women Under Attack in Iran, the Congo & Even in Evo Morales' New Bolivia

Human Rights Update: Ending Violence Against Women is a Global Imperative; UNIFEM Launches Campaign

In This Century of Crisis, Empowering Women is Vital if the Human Race is to Prevail, i.e., Evolve

Global Campaign Against Poverty 10-17-07: Stand Up & Speak Out -- Raise Women Up, Defend Them Against Violence & Oppression, Put Them in Power

Human Rights Update 9-6-07: In the 21st Century, Sane Men are Feminists -- UNIFEM Works to Dismantle the Edifice of Dysfunction

Hard Rain Journal 2-17-07: UN Millennium Goals and Human Rights Update -- Healing Balm for the World? Feed Children, Empower Women

For a directory of Words of Power Human Rights Updates, click here.

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available now! Click here for more information.

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