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If One Wing is Broken, No One Can Fly

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2014 (IPS) - Before an audience of over a thousand people in the historic Apollo Theatre in West Harlem, UN Women launched a major global campaign Thursday to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women.

Called ‘Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!’, the campaign seeks to revive the spirit of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which marked a major turning point in the gender equality movement nearly two decades ago when it was unanimously accepted by 189 countries.

Reflecting on 20 years of struggles for women’s rights, though, is a sobering process.

Despite years of efforts to end gender-based violence, one in every three women and girls experience some form of sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Despite billions spent on rural development, women in sub-Saharan Africa spend an estimated 16 million hours a day fetching water.

And despite fierce struggles for equal representation of women in politics, by January 2014 only nine women were serving as heads of state, and just 15 as heads of government.

As UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out to much applause, “The Beijing Platform is still unfinished business.”

She drew attention to the success stories, pointing out that the percentage of girls enrolled in primary schools increased from 75 to 90 percent in the last 20 years. She also noted important developments in access to healthcare, which have halved the number of women who die during childbirth in the two decades since Beijing.

“Still,” she added, “a full 800 women still die in childbirth every day, most from preventable diseases.” And while the world has made strides in combating such travesties as female genital mutilation, she said, “An estimated 30 million girls are at risk of being cut in the next decade.”

She concluded: “Progress? Yes. But it is too slow. And too little.”

With the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaching fast, the ‘Empowering Women’ campaign has identified 2030 as the year for the Beijing Platform to become obsolete in light of full gender equality around the world.

Already the campaign has reached 40 million people on social media, and aims to go even further to educate the world on 12 critical areas of concern for women and girls – originally articulated in Beijing but very much relevant today – including: reducing women’s share of poverty; protecting women and girls from discrimination and violence; ensuring women’s full and equal participation in the workforce; and safeguarding women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Ample research exists to prove that including women at every level of development brings tangible results for the entire community. For instance, research on local councils across rural India found that projects to improve access to fresh water were 62 percent higher in areas where women formed an integral part of village councils.

According to UN Women, “Equalising access to resources and services for women farmers would boost output and eliminate hunger for 150 million people.”

The agency also found that “for every one additional year of education for women, child mortality decreases by 9.5 percent.”

Interspersed with music and poetry, a line of distinguished speakers took the stage Thursday night to affirm their commitment to these goals – including several men who stressed the need for men and boys to become dedicated partners on the road to women’s rights.

Addressing the massive audience, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called attention to such tragedies as the attempted assassination of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012, as well as the recent spate of kidnappings of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

He urged men to join the work of ending such brazen acts of violence.

An online platform called ‘heforshe.org’, launched by UN Women, encourages such efforts by providing men the space to share their stories, learn from others and join in the fight against gender-based violence and inequality.

As Gloria Steinem, long-time women’s rights champion and author of the bestselling book ‘Revolution From Within’, pointed out as she left the stage: “We need to start seeing humanity as a bird with two wings. If one wing is broken, no one can fly.”

Picture it.

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