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Leaders of Struggle for Gender Equality Say Big Challenges Lie Ahead


Faster progress towards gender equality has been the theme of U.N. observances of International Women's Day. Leaders of the fight for women's equality are bracing for more big challenges ahead.

Three decades of struggle for gender equality have achieved great progress, but it is not enough. That was the overwhelming consensus among the 6,000 women attending the two-week conference at the United Nations on the status of women.

As they paused to observe International Women's Day Tuesday, there were expressions of frustrations at the slow pace of change in attitudes, and in laws that foster discrimination. Rania Aribizala, a delegate from Senegal, issued an impassioned plea for greater involvement by heads of governments. "What about those countries that have not yet made reform on discriminatory laws? Are we going to give them another millennium to do something? We are running out of patience? So what can we do in order to fast track this because we don't have time at our advantage?"

Noeleen Heyzer, director of the U.N. Women's Development Fund says one key to progress is to demand implementation of laws already on the books that address the multiple forms of discrimination women face. She pointed to laws in 45 countries that outlaw domestic violence.

But in many parts of the world, she said, leaders must become involved in efforts to change outdated and unfair laws, especially on issues such as inheritance and land rights. "Many countries in Africa are struggling so hard to change inheritance law and rights to land. A very good change has been Rwanda in 1999, and this has been almost step by step, taking each step at a time, and making sure that this happens. Many countries in the southern part of Asia, in the Middle East, all these are countries that we are increasingly trying to get them to re-look at issue of land rights as well as inheritance," she said.

The U.N. top adviser on women's issues, Rachel Mayanja, warned that the next 30 years promises to be just as difficult as the past 30. But Gertrude Mongella, who headed the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, reminded the audience of her rallying cry of 10 years ago. She said then "a revolution has begun, and there's no going back".