The selection of Malala Yousafzai as the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner underscores the importance of empowering individuals who fight for the promotion and respect of girls and women around the world.
In the U.S. and other western countries, women’s rights are facing several problems. First, there is the issue of equal pay for equal work and the low representation of women in top jobs and high level positions. Just last week in the U.S., Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told women that not asking for a raise is “good karma” and that “the system will give you the right raises as you go along.” Despite apologizing, such comment illustrates a real problem and the lasting male-dominated structure of American society.
In many developing countries, individuals fighting for the promotion and awareness of women’s rights have increased but still remain weak. The patriarchal structures of countries like Pakistan, India, and others have offered a safe haven to perpetual violations. In the case of India, the country recently faced a wake-up call after the announcement of several cases of gang rape and the killing of women under the order of tribal elders. The Indian legislature is now under pressure from the public to punish rapists and protect women’s rights.
Internationally, the protection of a woman’s body through legal action has progressively increased in Western Europe. One of the most talked about cases has been the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The topic of FGM has created tensions in Western European countries between minority ethnic groups and western societies. Members of ethnic groups from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa claim that FGM is part of their cultural heritage, while Western governments argue that it is an act of torture and a direct symbol of inequality. Britain, in particular, has made FGM a criminal offense with the adoption of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act of 1985, which was replaced in 2003 by the Female Genital Mutilation Act. This year, the first clinic providing support to female victims of FGM has opened and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced criminal action against two individuals for performing FGMs.
The United Nations has played and should continue to play an important role in order to promote awareness on issues facing women and girls around the world. Respect of all individuals is a core component of the UN’s value system as directly stipulated in Article 1 of the UN Charter. Starting in the 1970s, the UN has been the largest platform for the discussion on the right and role of women in the world and assuring their protection and empowerment. Unfortunately, UN power and influence can only go so far. Nation-States are the one with the legal authority to implement and enforce laws nationally and locally to protect women. Instead of leaving it all to karma, countries throughout the world need to do more to educate and promote the advancement and protection of women.