[Viewpoint] Working to increase women’s impactYesterday was International Women’s Day. This year, it also marked the 15th anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing. Fifteen years ago, 189 countries signed on to a Platform for Action that affirmed the need to work for women’s equality in access to education, health care, jobs, credit and more. It stressed the need to have women participate fully in the economic and political life of their countries, and to protect women’s right to live free from violence. It was at this conference that then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton declared human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.
In the spirit of that conference, the United States has been working to integrate “women’s issues” into mainstream foreign policy, because they cut across traditional spheres of concern.
They are international development issues: Study upon study has shown that aid given to women is reinvested in their communities, and skills-development programs turn women into drivers of economic growth.
And they are peace and security issues: When women are targeted in conflicts around the world, societies fray and destabilize; the places that seek to exclude and constrain women are those in which extremist ideologies find receptive homes. The status of women is a bellwether for nations’ political and economic health.
Women’s issues are a critical component of the most urgent transnational problems we face today, and they should be on the agenda of everyone - men and women - from the grassroots to the policy-making levels, in political life and beyond. Violence against women is endemic worldwide. Ending it requires everyone’s participation, including an active and vocal role for men and for religious leaders of both sexes. The United States is supporting programs around the globe in order that their voices be heard.
The Republic of Korea’s commitment to promoting women’s rights domestically and through the United Nations is commendable. Korea’s leadership on women’s issues is yet another example of how our shared values are reinforcing our alliance and effecting positive global change. We encourage the government and civil society to continue to dedicate resources to ending domestic violence and enacting policies that will enable a better work-life balance for both men and women.
In the Republic of Korea, the U.S. Embassy is working to raise the profile of Korean women leaders in global women’s issues. We supported two women leaders to attend the Global Summit for Women Leaders in Geneva last December.
On International Women’s Day, Secretary of State Clinton presented one of 10 global Awards for International Women of Courage to Dr. Lee Ae-ran. Demonstrating exceptional courage, innovation and leadership, Dr. Lee has gone from being an inmate in one of North Korea’s harshest prison camps to becoming the first female North Korean defector to earn a Ph.D. in South Korea and the first defector to run for a seat in the National Assembly. Dr. Lee works actively to promote the improvement of human rights in North Korea and to aid the refugee community in South Korea. Her courage and perseverance remind us all that one person can have a large impact on their community and in the world.
Despite the pledge made in 1995 by so many countries to end the discrimination that robs the world of the talent it desperately needs, women are still the majority of the world’s poor, unhealthy, underfed and uneducated. To the silent majority around the globe that supports women’s equality, we say: The time to translate support into action is now.
We look forward to the time when International Women’s Day will be a historical and retrospective celebration of women’s path to equality - when every day belongs equally to women and to men.
*The writer is the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea.
By Kathleen Stephens