Academy award-winning actress Nicole Kidman has taken on a new job, as a United Nations goodwill ambassador.  Kidman will work to advance women's rights and gender equality.

The Australian movie star was introduced Thursday as goodwill envoy for the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Speaking to reporters, Kidman admitted she is no expert on UNIFEM's work.  She said she only learned about the agency after her mother told her of hearing a radio program about its work in Cambodia, helping rural women revive traditional silk-weaving skills as an alternative to being forced into exploitation.

"This really moved me, and it was at that point I tracked down who was the head of UNIFEM, and I called her up and said, listen, I heard about this, I heard about this work, and I would like to help and be involved in any way I can," said Ms. Kidman.  "So after many conversations and hearing many stories about the work they are doing around the world, here we are.  And I hope this will be a life-long commitment for me."

The 38-year-old actress said she plans to devote a considerable amount of time to UNIFEM over the long-term, starting with a world tour with the agency's chief, Noeleen Heyzer.

"This year I'm going to educate myself further by traveling with Noeleen and meeting the women and hearing their stories, and understanding first hand the issues they face, and so the countries we're considering possible visits to include Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Afghanistan and Cambodia," she said.  "And that's just the beginning. I'm interested in helping to give visibity to the pandemic of violence against women."

UNIFEM Director Heyzer says Kidman's star status will give a higher visibility to women's equality issues, and possibly help to speed up the pace of progress in a number of critical areas.

"This progress is too slow," she said.  "It is too slow when violence against women is still a pandemic in so many parts of the world. It is too slow when HIV/AIDS still has a woman's face, and a younger and younger woman's face, and where many women are still trafficked across borders; where there's a feminization of poverty."

Almost from its beginning, the United Nations has enlisted celebrities to focus attention on important issues. Actress Angelina Jolie has traveled widely as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency.

Kidman had also served for more than 10 years as an ambassador for the U.N. children's fund, UNICEF. But she says she will now focus mainly on her work for UNIFEM.