|Kersten Hesselgren (b. 04-01-1872), Swedish
sociologist, was the first woman elected to both houses of the
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 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
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.