Empowering Women and Girls Today Helps Power our Future

July 24, 2013|by Mary-Frances Wain, Deputy Executive Director
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Reaching the MDGs and advancing to the next stage will only be possible when we unleash the power of women.”  I am inspired by UNA-USA’s long-standing leadership in the girls' and women's movement, starting with our inception with the establishment of an office for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt from which she led a national campaign to increase American support of the United Nations.  Her words have resonated with me many times when I have worked hand-in-hand with women seeking to gain their rights against difficult odds: “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”

I am inspired each day by the UNA members who are lighting candles across the country.  UNA Women is now a little more than a year old and has welcomed 1,100 members.  More than half of the 25,000 students who participate in Global Classrooms® each year are girls.  And, in November, UNA-USA will honor Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who has become a global advocate for girls’ education, at our 55th annual Global Leadership Dinner in New York.  

The Millennium Development Goals have been that candle for so many around the globe. Millions of people have risen from extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality is declining, more people have access to improved sources of water, and more children than ever are in school, including girls.

Still, more is neededto light the way for future generations. Progress has been uneven within and among countries, and social and economic inequalities are widening.  Fifty-seven million children are not in school, and most of them are girls.  Across all industrialized nations, women earn more than 17% less than men – that figure is 19% in the U.S.  Women comprise only 17% of seats of government in general, and at the top seats of power only 7 of 150 elected heads of state in the world are women, and only 11 of 192 heads of government. 

So, how can each of us lend our voice and our support and light a candle in our communities?

First, participate in UNA Women. Become a member today.  Sign up to be a UNA Women lead for your Chapter. Get inside, up-to-the-minute briefings by joining the conversation via UNA Women’s conference call series.  For more information, please visit www.unausa.org/women.

Second, work with your UNA-USA member colleagues to ensure that building the next generation of global citizens is on your Chapter agenda.  One of the best ways to do this is to support your local Model UN program or club.  UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms has reached more than 250,000 students during the last 14 years, introducing not only incomparable global education, but also leadership and life skills to youth who have traditionally been excluded from the benefits of this experiential learning tool -- both girls and boys.

Another way to engage youth first-hand in a global dialogue is through the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign.  Many UNA-USA Chapters and local UNA Women members have already connected with their local Girl Up clubs, hosting educational events and joint fundraisers.  By visiting 10x10act.org and securing 100 community members to sign up, your Chapter can host a screening in your community of the powerful documentary Girl Rising, which presents an incomparable case for girls’ education.  The Documentary Group and 10x10 will also be honored at the 2013 Global Leadership Dinner for this groundbreaking film and related groundswell movement.

Third, and speaking of the Dinner, I hope you will participate in the 55th annual event, marking UNA-USA’s 70th anniversary. This will truly be an important moment for girls and women as well as for the United Nations. In fact, we are honored to present a special award to Malala Yousafzai to recognize her inspiring courage which has captured the world’s attention and shined a spotlight on the power of one voice in breaking oppression. 

Secretary-General Ban has called Malala a "symbol of hope" and a "daughter of the United Nations".  I hope you will join me, UNA-USA, the UN Foundation, the UN, and global leaders on November 6 to personally hear Malala speak.  Bring your mothers, sisters, nieces, and daughters to this historic evening to demonstrate your support for Malala, for girls and women, for the United Nations, and for UNA-USA. As is tradition, proceeds from the event directly support UNA-USA.

Lastly, each of us has the opportunity to lend our voices in setting the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  Gather your friends and family and visit www.MyWorld2015.org and cast your vote for the issues at the top of your agenda.  Empowering women and girls continues to be at the top of mine and the focus of my career, volunteer activities, and charitable contributions.  I believe that addressing the human rights of girls and women will have significant global impact on all of the most pressing issues of our day from population and climate change, sustainability and clean water, to peacekeeping and security.

As we celebrate UNA-USA’s 70th anniversary and honor girls and women from throughout our organizational history as well as the most inspiring change-agents of our time, I am so proud to be part of the American people’s movement for the United Nations and am delighted to have you with me as part of the UNA-USA family.

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