The Liz Library presents Irene Stuber's Women of Achievement - Women's History Month

Episode #WHM-10 for Day 10
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Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
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Kersten Hesselgren (b. 04-01-1872), Swedish sociologist, was the first woman elected to both houses of the Swedish Riksdag.
      She was one of Sweden's delegates to the League of Nations where in 1931 when she introduced the subject of the legal status of women in the League of Nations.
"(It) caused no little amusement among the men," she said.
      She prevailed, however, and the committee studied such things as women's right to vote, education, access to professions and well as the state of a married woman's right to their earnings, a separate name, ability to sign contracts.
      The study made, the men did nothing to implement it.

"It is all well for us to talk about raising the status of women; but so many of them live in homes so ill-equipped, kitchens so meagerly planned and furnished, that it is practically impossible for them to find time or energy to take any sort of part in public or community life .... if we want the women of the world to take an active part in the affairs of the world and of their communities, we must do more than give them equal status with men and urge them on to active public life -- we must make it possible for them to accept their responsibilities as citizens, to freely, and without anxiety or strain, take their place with men in order to accomplish, jointly, with the men of the world, those great tasks that must be fulfilled if thinking and living on this earth are to transcend to any degree at all the thinking and living it has known so far!"
      These words were spoken in 1946 by Bodil Begtrup (born 11- 12-1903), Danish delegate to United Nations and chair of the UN Status of Women subcommission. It was under her urging that the first international statement for the Human Rights of Women was adopted in 1946.
      Instead of merely writing the usual report coached in vague terms, Begtrup's subcommission prepared a 2,000 word, detailed statement.
      The report was revised to a few summarizing paragraphs because the male delegates on the Human Rights Commission (nine men and Eleanor Roosevelt) believed the call for rights for women infringed on the sovereign rights of individual countries.
      ER disagreed and with the pressure she and Begtrup exerted, the report was published in its entirety.
      Among the rights the report demanded were an office on women's affairs and an international women's conference, equal rights with men in all nations and in all fields including civil, education, economics, political and social, the abolition of prostitution, and the right to divorce.
      The report also referred to
"women as human beings," something some nations disagreed with on religious grounds. Begtrup said of the progress expected on the report, "It will move slowly. See me in a thousand years."

Since then, there have been four UN World Conferences on Women the last was held in 1995 in Beijing, China, at which Sec. General Boutros Boutros-Ghali SENT a statement that contained the line:
"There is a deplorable trend towards the organized humiliation of women."
      Boutros-Boutros, however, only talked but did not walk the walk about women's human rights.

Some facts from the United Nations about women worldwide: *Women account for half the food production in developing countries. In some African countries, they have to walk 10 kilometers or more to fetch water and fuel. * Much of the soil conservation in East Africa over the past decade as been carried out by women (since they do the farming and work). * In India, women provide 75% of the labor for transplanting and weeding rice, 60% for harvesting, and 33% for threshing. * In Kenya, men sit in groups under the shade trees so they can protect their women working in the fields from lions. That there are no lions in that part of Kenya is unimportant. * Women constitute half the world's population, perform nearly two-thirds of its work hours, receive one-tenth of the world's income, and own less than one-hundredth of the world's property. ^ W ^ O^ A ^

When Madeline Albright left her post as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to become President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, she became a world power-broker only second to the U.S. president himself. Boutros-Boutros got the boot and the new Secretary-General Kofi Annan was named. Madeline Albright was instrumental in the choice. Annan showed his strong feminist leanings almost immediately by appointed Mary Robinson (who was then president of Ireland) as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The position is only one tier below the Secretary General. MR is noted for her blistering condemnation of developed countries for ignoring the genocide and starvation in Somalia and for her opinion that internal human rights violations are not protected by the sovereignty of a nation. She is firmly committed to taking up the struggle against widespread gender discrimination as a matter of priority. Her Office is seeking to strengthen the human rights of women and integrate them into the broader human rights framework. Opposition to her reforms by repressive nations such as some African nations as well as most in the Arabic world has been unrelenting. At times it reached nit-picking lengths that prevented her from moving the commission offices into an area with parking! She finally won that battle and she is expected to win others although, she says, ""I thought when I asked something be done, it actually would be done; I had no idea (of the complex internal politics)." She is heading a revolution to bring human and women's rights to the forefront. Thousands of years of opposition by the powerful has only been dented thus far - BUT IT HAS BEEN DENTED! Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, another woman who speaks her mind, had soundly lashed out at the Vatican and Muslim fundamentalists (and other religions) for their opposition to abortion rights and sex education in a 1994 conference. Her side won! In January 1998, she was named head of the World Health Organization, strongly supported by the United States administration of Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright.

"We created our own little women's caucus (in the United Nations) and that terrified everybody. There were those from larger countries who complained about the fact that the ambassador from Liechtenstein had unfair access to the American ambassador, and I said there clearly was an easy way to rectify that. (That is, appoint more female ambassadors)." -- Madeleine Albright

In just a few years, after thousands of years of talk-talk, a handful of women working within the political structures of their nations to earn leadership positions are now redrawing the map of what is important to governments worldwide.

"Health, population and the environment -- these are not, as some might suggest, peripheral issues. They are central. They relate directly to the long-term security and well-being of our people and of all people. They will become increasingly important as we enter the 21st century." -- Madeleine Albright

Harlem Gro Brundtland, Mary Robinson, and Madeline Albright are powerful but they need help. It's time to get involved in the politics of your nation where things get done.

© 1990-2006 Irene Stuber, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71902. Originally web-published at We are indebted to Irene Stuber for compiling this collection and for granting us permission to make it available again. The text of the documents may be freely copied for nonprofit educational use. Except as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection are © 1998-2009 the liz library.  All rights reserved. This site is hosted and maintained by the liz library.