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The 12th Annual International Women's Day Celebration

The 12th International Women Day’s celebration in the University of Minnesota was prepared by the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and the Human Rights Program in the University of Minnesota. The event focused on the global challenges that are facing human (and particularly women and children’s) rights around the globe and in the United States, especially as these challenges relate to immigrants in the United States. The day’s motto was “Crossing Borders, Connecting Cultures?, and it was not focused only on the negative side and the challenges which are still facing human rights, but also on reasons for optimism and celebration of recent achievements by women in the U.S. and across the globe.

The event began with introduction by Barbara Frey, the director of the Human Right Program in the University of Minnesota, which other than introducing the keynote speaker who flew to Minnesota from New York shared the following information and statistics:
According to recent statistics, 20% (1 in 5) of the women in the world would be a victim of sexual violence during her lifetime. 10-60% would be victims of relationship violence (rates are vary greatly across the globe, and are about 22% in the United States). On the Positive side Ms. Frey pointed out that there is continued change through legislation and other forms of advocacy for women’s rights across the globe, for example: the former Soviet Union republic Moldova had just pass yesterday (Friday, 3/2/07) its first ever law to tackle the epidemic of relationship violence. Additionally, women’s rights were put on the agenda at least formally, being marked as one of eight indicators of development and protection of human rights around the world, and an issue that impact not just the women themselves but also their families, communities, nations and continents. Frey called on the people present to hold the legislators accountable for creation of change-not just in the declarative (theoretic) level but also in actual practice, budgeting and attention that will actually impact real women’s lives.
The keynote speaker in the IWD (International Women’s Day) celebration was Maria Jose Alcala, an activist with long and impressive international record in the human rights arena, including her being the principle author of the 2005 and 2006 report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Ms. Alcala spoke in length on many problems women and girls are faced with today, but also on some of their achievements, especially in the field of political empowerment and legislation. There are more and more women who take key positions in their countries leaderships, including roles as presidents in non-western countries such as Chile, Jamaica and Liberia (which have the first woman president in this continent history). Women also took the 2nd in command position in the UN and the 3rd in the U.S. (with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi).
Despite the recent developments, Alcala mentioned that only 17% of the political representatives in parliaments across the world are women, and that they are also a small minority among the UN representatives. Alcala also repeated the call to make representative accountable for their agenda promises at every level, from local municipalities to states and international organizations representatives who work in parliaments or the UN.
Maria Alcala shared the following statistics:
1) 25-50% of women in the western world have children before they are 18 years old.
2) 65% of women with children under 5 years of age were working (internationally) in 2005.
3) About 50% of all immigrants are women- that mean 95 million women.
4) 1.2 million people are trafficked annually, 80% (960,000) of them are girls and women. Most of the women are
trafficked from underdeveloped countries to western countries for the purpose of sexual slavery.
5) 50% of the sexual assaults (globally) are on women under the age of 15.
6) There are 19,000,000 unsafe abortions per year (internationally), 5 million of which are performed on women
under the age of 18.
7) In 2005 about a half (50%) of HIV positive carriers were women, and the number rises to 60% in the African
countries south of the Sahara (sub-Saharan Africa) and 75% of all teenage HIV carriers in this region are
young women.
8) There is estimated number of 340 million curable STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) cases per year, 1 billion
STI cases including the incurable ones.
9) 3 billion people, 50% of the world population, earn less than $2 a day, half of which are women.

To some it all up; education of young women (including “sex-ed?) is a matter of life or death for most of the women in the world. Family planning is directly tied not just to women (and generally human) rights, but also to communities economic welfare, development and health. Guess who is not supporting the UNFPA (United Nation Family Planning)? If you say United States you are right, if you say it because we have a fanatic president who rather that billions of women would contract STI and HIV, get pregnant and be poor single mothers, vulnerable to violence, economic and sexual exploitation- I am afraid I would have to once again agree with you.
Over 70 women and human rights and advocacy organizations supported the International Women Day’s celebration, most of which were local (or local chapters of national or international organizations). There was a wealth of opportunity to learn about different organizations, their activities, and opportunities for contribution to them (through volunteering, monitory support or even internships).
There were also two sessions of workshops (4 options in each section). I went to a mostly informative workshop on Women’s trafficking and sexual slavery in Turkey and Cambodia, and also on the attempt to spread around the “Tourist Code of Conduct? to educate and prevent the sexual victimization of children (mostly in under developed countries) by tourists (most of which are from western countries). This code of conduct is explained on “Air France? airplanes to “sex tourism? destinations, as well as other tourist agencies and industries across Europe and the globe, but guess in which country no airline is working with this code of conduct? (Yes, it is the U.S. again. Can you believe it?).
The second workshop I attended was titled “Global Needs, Global Changes: New Developments on Violence against Women?. This workshop focused on the challenges and advancement in legislation on violence against women across the globe. On July 2006 a UN report on violence against women established the (obvious) connection between violence against women, health and development across the globe. The report stated that legal report is the most efficient tool in bringing change, if the laws are enacted, implemented and monitored (to assure they are not ignored, and reach their target populations). There is also growing demand of governments to ensure violence victim’s safety, as a human rights issue and obligation, not just as states responsibility for their citizens’ welfare.
Once again, the workshop stressed the importance of education and health services for women as means of economic and social development; development money that goes to women yield stronger and healthier communities while money that goes to men is usually a wasted investments (as it is used for buying of weapons, prostituted women and other “status symbols?, or just plainly “disappear?).
Final note: while there are still many big challenges, there are also many positive developments and reasons to celebrate the International Women’s Day. Education, health care and peace are three of the most crucial ingredients of changing the world into a better place for all its inhabitants, and there are many good women (and men) that are working on development and implantation of these ingredients for development but additional help is always appreciated.

Happy International Women’s Day!