20 years ago, back in 1994, The International Conference on Population and Development met in Cairo to dramatically refocus their work from general population control and family planning to women’s empowerment overall. At the time, there wasn’t much of a global initiative for improving the lives of women. At the meeting, they discussed sexual health advice, health services, the elimination of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. It turns out that this meeting was a catalyst for a host of global initiatives for women’s rights. After the meeting, nearly every country on the planet signed up to a program of action. As we hit the 20-year mark this September, let us take a moment to look back at some of the progress as well as the challenges that still remain.
Since 1994, the most significant shift has been in a general attitudinal way. Leaders of economies and nations around the world realize that they connote thrive if women (more than half the population) are not included in the benefits of men. This includes education, work, and general decision making in some countries, and safety from violence, equal pay in the workplace, and equality in the eyes of the law all over the world. Along with changes in written law, this notion that women are empowered and equal is growing. This is a wonderful win.
Of course, there is a backlash to all of this progress. Often as a result of political gain, there have been reactionary laws set up to prohibit the progress of women’s rights in some countries. Women’s rights organizations are increasingly finding themselves fighting only against these reactionary policies instead of making pure progress.
The statistics about women are still mortifying. One third of women in the world will be raped or physically abused in their life. Almost 150 million women have had female genital mutilation. There are more stats to prove there is still a lot of important work left to do, but you get the point.
Even with all the progress, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the work, particularly when women’s rights organizations are so underfunded. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development conducted a study of 700 organizations and found that the average income was only twenty thousand dollars.
So as the century continues, let’s find way to show our support for this important fight of gender equality and women’s rights. Find ways to help spread the word of good projects, and find ways to donate to organizations who are doing good work. Let’s make the next twenty years even more successful.