Surveying the status of women

A U.N. commission says that what's good for women is good for the world.

Published February 28, 2006 2:57PM (EST)

Yesterday marked the opening of the 50th meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a forum that was established in 1946 to promote women's social, civil, educational and economic rights around the world. For the next two weeks, more than 2,000 representatives from governments and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) are expected to arrive at the New York headquarters of the U.N.

According to Reuters, Monday's opening session was presided over by Louise Frechette, the U.N deputy secretary-general. Frechette began by explaining to the gathering that by integrating women and girls into the lives of their countries they stand not only to improve women's lives but also to strengthen their nations. "Studies have repeatedly shown that by giving women equal education and work opportunities and access to a society's decision-making processes, a country can boost its economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and improve the general population's nutrition and health," she said. "The world is starting to grasp that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls."

In an echo of Frechette's mission, across the street from the U.N. conference, Swiss Parliamentarian Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold has organized an exhibit highlighting 1,000 women from around the world who have dedicated their lives to activism. Honorees include an Indian economist and social worker, an African human rights campaigner and trade union leader, and an American who organizes low-income people in the south Bronx to train their neighbors in health education. "Everywhere [I go], I meet women who perform reconstruction and peace work in extremely dangerous surroundings ... They look for missing persons and struggle to acquire better living conditions for refugees ... They unequivocally condemn torture, murder and abductions, and they document with clandestine photos the war parties' brutalities," Vermot-Mangold explains. "It is women who are victims of war. It is women who weep for the dead, they are the survivors who press for a return to peace. Courageous and resolute, and without regard for personal safety, they demand peace."

Vermot-Mangold began the project over two years ago, reports Reuters, out of the belief that "a Nobel [Peace] Prize should be bestowed upon women contributing to world peace." In the prize's 100-year history, only a dozen women have received an award.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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