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Empowering women in a changing world

by on October 11, 2012 5:30 PM

STATE COLLEGE — If you are like me and compare your own life to that of your mother or grandmother you might come to the conclusion that women have made a lot of progress over the past half century or so. We have certainly made significant strides towards equality, and in many ways enjoy more opportunity, more participation, more political and economic power. But this is not universally true for women around the globe, and even in our own society there remain considerable barriers to be overcome. Consider a few facts, compiled by the United Nations agency UN Women:

  • 70 percent of the world’s poor are women.
  • Every minute of every day a woman dies from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these complications are preventable and treatable.
  • Women are major producers of food crops, but less than 2 percent of the world’s land is owned by women.
  • Women account for nearly two-thirds of the 776 million illiterate adults in the world, and in the poorest 60 percent of households, one in every three girls is out of school.
  • For every year beyond fourth grade a little girl attends school wages rise 20 percent.
  • 80 percent of human trafficking is in girls.
  • Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
  • More than 60 million girls worldwide are forced into early marriage before the age of 18.
  • Worldwide only 20% of members of national governments are women. In the U.S. 17 percent are women.
  • In 2011 25% of American women reported being sexual harassed in the workplace.

Now, if you are as uneasy as I am about such statistics, you might wonder what can be done to change these disheartening numbers. The upcoming United Nations Day Dinner Celebration hosted by the Centre County United Nations Association and its Council of Organizations on Sunday, October 21, will address this question and focus on how to empower women in our changing world. Guest speaker Gillian Sorensen, Senior Advisor at the United Nations Foundation and long-time UN career official, will address current UN initiatives to improve health, security, education, and opportunities for girls and women around the globe. She will shed light on how such work is affected by politics and culture, war and conflict, as well as on the historical circumstances surrounding women’s empowerment in various countries and address how the UN Foundation works to support women and girls globally.

At each United Nations Day celebration the UNA Council of Organizations offers the public an opportunity to have a positive impact on a significant global problem. This year our “Make a Difference Project” features KIVA, a micro-lending program that enables women around the world to develop self-sustaining businesses and lift themselves out of poverty. With a gift of $25, UN Day dinner guests may choose to support loans for women’s businesses in agriculture, retail, or food production. KIVA works in 80 countries and boasts a 98.8% repayment rate, which enables our gifts to be reused continually to support new business loans for women of marginal means. Gifts to KIVA may be made at the UN Day dinner (or in the month to follow). “Make a Difference Project” contributions make exceptional holiday gifts.

The annual UN Day Dinner celebration provides a powerful opportunity to listen, learn, exchange ideas with our distinguished speaker and guests from 30 nations -- as well as to make a significant difference in the lives of women working toward self-sufficiency. Our October 21 gathering at the Ramada Inn in State College begins at 5:30 with a social, where guests will have the chance to mingle, learn about Centre County UN Association and its Council of Organizations and view the results of an art contest on gender equity with entries from students in the Bellefonte and State College school districts which host Model UN Programs. Following the social, the audience will hear lively music from “Anatolian Fusion,” a Turkish band playing traditional music, and enjoy the balance of the program which features Sorensen’s address on “Empowering Women in a Changing World.”

To register for the UN Day dinner celebration at the Ramada Inn in State College, please go to the Centre County UN Association at or email [email protected] Tickets are $30 per person and seats need to be reserved by October 17.

Eva M. Letwin is a member of the Board of Directors of the Centre County United Nations Association, a bipartisan non-profit organization dedicated to building understanding of and support for the ideals and vital work of the United Nations among the American people. Eva may be reached at [email protected]

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