WASHINGTON—More women are serving as legislators than at any time in history, but the world still has a long way to go on its journey toward gender equality, which could also help to promote world peace, according to the United Nations.
The proportion of women in national legislative bodies reached an all-time high in 2006, “but we have far, far more to do,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement released March 8, which is International Women's Day.
The world is “starting to grasp that there is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls,” Annan said.
“And I would venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended,” he added.
Last year, world leaders had declared at the World Summit 2005 that “progress for women is progress for all,” Annan said. “On this International Women’s Day, let us rededicate ourselves to demonstrating the truth behind those words.”
“Let us ensure that half the world’s population takes up its rightful place in the world’s decision-making,” he said.
In Stalinist North Korea, women are theoretically the equals of men, making up 20 percent of legislative representatives, although the job means little in the face of the totalitarian power of the Korean Workers’ Party.
"In North Korea, the system of equality was defined only in written words. But there was no actual change of attitude,” North Korean defector and author Choi Jin-ee told RFA reporter Soo-kyung Lee in Seoul.
There is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls.
“Men and women go to school and go to work equally. But at work, all the low-status jobs are done by women,” she said. “The biggest stressor for North Korean women is that they are not treated equally. Men don’t help with women’s work.”
U.S.-based Uyghur dissident Rabiya Kadeer said she was saddened at the sharp contrast between the status of American and European women and those from her Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghur people in northwestern China. "It hurts my heart to compare the situation of Uyghur women to that of other women," she told RFA’s Uyghur service.
"I thought about some Uyghur women who have no confidence in themselves. They do not pay attention to their own situation and to the environment that they are living in," she said.
"They view themselves as 'only women', and they do not believe they can do much to contribute to society...Overall, Uyghur women have very limited power or status," Kadeer said.
China’s ruling Communist Party, which came to power on a platform of equality for women, promoting literacy in poverty-stricken rural areas and rehabilitating prostitutes and trafficked women as part of the “New China” of 1949, now presides over a widening gap between rich and poor, and growing complaints of discrimination against women.
Sociology professor Deng Xiaokang, of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, said portrayals of women in China’s media were largely to blame.
“Traditionally, Chinese society has always regarded women as less important than men, and men have always been in the mainstream of power and social position,” Deng told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“This attitude of men towards women is reflected in the media. Not enough of the portrayal of women in the Chinese media is about empowering women,” Deng said.
Cambodian Women's Affairs Minister Ung Kantha Phavy said the government was committed to boosting women's empowerment through economic activity. “We think that women cannot stay out of poverty, or escape abuses if they do not have economic power," she told RFA's Khmer service.
"For this reason, we need to help women to understand these issues clearly and to help them strengthen their capabilities in education, in learning skills, to look for jobs or have their own professions," she said.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that more attention was needed to help women who are trafficked for sexual exploitation the world over to overcome stigma and discrimination.
"There is an increasing awareness of human trafficking around the world today,” IOM deputy director general Ndioro Ndiaye said in a statement released March 8.
“We have to change attitudes. Too often, women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation are victims twice over,” she said.
Original reporting in Mandarin by An Pei, by RFA's Khmer and Uyghur services, and in Korean by Soo-kyung Lee. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Korean service director Jaehoon Ahn. RFA Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Additional translation and compilation for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.