An Inside Look at UN Women's First Year
By Elizabeth Dickinson
TOTOTA, Liberia--It's mid-day in early March and about a hundred women and girls are squeezed into a round "peace hut" in the Liberian village of Totota with the head of the new U.N. Agency, U.N. Women, looking on. Michelle Bachelet's face draws a look of compassion and concern as the ceremonies begin. A woman, perhaps twenty-something with a child in her arms, begins explaining with graphic hand gestures how her husband beat her; she had bruises and could barely walk afterwards. Her husband looks at the ground until it's his turn to reply. He agrees that he beat her, just not as bad as she says. The female judge moderating the process reprimands him and beseeches peace in the household.Continue reading....
When Bachelet took her first overseas trip in March, she likely surprised many by choosing Liberia, a tiny war-torn country on the West African coast. By many nominal measures, Liberia is an awful place to be a woman. Mothers have a 1 in 20 chance of dying in childbirth during their lifetimes, only about half of females attend secondary school, and about half of rural women marry when they're still technically children. But in one area in particular, Liberia is breaking record books: post-conflict justice, particularly for women, through mechanisms like the Totota peace hut. "I believe that women are very important agents of change, agents of development, agents of peace," Bachelet told me during that trip in March.
Five months later, U.N. Women is releasing its first annual look at the state of females worldwide. And it focuses on exactly that: peace and justice, a sector that underlies many of the areas in which women lag behind -- from property rights, to political participation, to economic opportunity, the report argues. Good laws have to be in place to protect women's rights. But perhaps even more crucially, a strong judicial system has to be able to act when those rights are denied, misappropriated, or trampled. In other words, the courts -- as the enforcers of rights and equality -- are vital to strengthening the position of women in the world.
As U.N. Women's first report, the 169-page document isn't just an annual report. It's also a glimpse into how Bachelet's philosophy about the agency should work: On the key institutions and structures without which everything else falls apart. The judicial system and the rule of law are things that Bachelet knows -- from firsthand experience as Chile's defense minister, and later president -- are key to building just societies. "I have a very deep commitment with justice, and of course women's rights is a matter of justice for me," she told me in March. "We have to do all we could to give them the possibilities and rights that they deserve."
Originally posted at www.elizabeth-dickinson.com