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Action still needed on women’s issues

Published in St. Louis American, Thursday, April 9, 2015

I can hardly believe it’s been 20 years since I participated in the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. It’s even more unbelievable to see the lack of progress on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

When 200 girls can be brazenly abducted and sold into slavery by Nigeria’s infamous Boko Haram and African-American women still earn only 64 cents on the dollar, it’s clear that women around the world have a long way to go to gain equality, dignity and security.

The United Nations has convened several international conferences on and for women. The first took place in Mexico City in 1975. Then there was Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995. Since Beijing, there have been a series of five-year reviews.

I was fortunate to have participated in the conferences in Nairobi and Beijing. These uplifting and empowering gatherings brought together tens of thousands of women to talk about our conditions and solutions to our issues.

Many observers saw the Beijing conference as pivotal because the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted unanimously by 189 countries. This agenda for women’s development and empowerment looked at 12 critical areas such as education, health, violence, and poverty. Countries who signed on are required to report progress as part of their commitment to the Platform for Action. The results on their implementation of the Platform will be presented at the Beijing+20 meeting in Geneva later this year.

Globally, 800 women in the world are still dying every single day due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. Millions of women and girls are trapped in human trafficking for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Women in the cities of developing countries are twice as likely as men to experience violence. Because of extreme poverty and political or religious policies, health and education are still out of reach for many women.

Women don’t need an official report to tell them what’s happening with the status of women. We know there’s not real progress by what’s happening with the women around us.

Women and our allies must get more educated about how the systems of women’s oppression are perpetuated. Together, we must organize to dismantle the institutions that support sexism and gender discrimination and end the policies that provide the life blood to sustain these institutions.

Every day must be International Women’s Day and every month is Women’s History Month, not just the month of March. If we do the hard work, maybe the U.S. will have a respectful report card to show in Geneva and the lives of women will truly be better on all levels.

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