She’s an unusual choice for a United Nations Honorary Ambassador, but it’s official.
Today at the U.N. headquarters, in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appoint Wonder Woman — the Amazonian superhero of the endless legs and golden lasso who is (well, in comic book lore, anyway) one of the most powerful defenders of peace, justice, and equality — an Honorary Ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.
Ban Ki-moon will also announce the U.N.’s commitment to gender equality, the fifth of its 17 sustainable development goals, thereby pledging the organization’s support to helping women across the globe reach their full potential by ending discrimination, giving women equal rights to education, access to jobs and wages, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health, among others.
Health is one of the biggest barriers to gender empowerment and a key area that the U.N., various governments, and non-governmental organizations are working on.
Women’s health is also a hot-button topic in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.
“Truly enabling women to achieve gender equality means that they need to be healthy,” Nana Kuo, senior manager on the health team of U.N. agency Every Woman, Every Child, tells Yahoo Beauty. “There is a whole continuum for health, from enabling an adolescent girl to be in charge of her body to letting her decide when and how many children she should have to enabling her to make better choices about nutrition. Giving women access to education and access to different types of healthcare for them and their families helps create an overall circle of health that has a positive impact and allows women to become agents of change.”
To that end, addressing reproductive health challenges is an imperative.
In many parts of the world, women and girls have little or no access to period supplies, water, and proper sanitation. Add in the stigma, shame, and taboos that many cultures associate with menstruation — the combined effect serves to keep girls out of school and women out of work, says Leah Spelman, chief operations officer of the organization Days for Girls, which makes and distributes menstrual hygiene kits that can have a huge socio-economic impact on a country.
“To hold half of your country behind is bad economics, which is why a simple health intervention or hygiene solution adds up in such a huge way,” Spelman says.
In the U.S. too, it’s difficult for many women to manage their menstruation, says Jill Miller, New York chapter director for Days for Girls, so policymakers must take steps like the one taken in New York City in July to provide free pads and tampons to girls in public schools and women in shelters and prisons.
Health and hygiene are an even greater imperative in the face of humanitarian crises, such as floods, hurricanes, refugee crises, civil wars, and military offensives. In these and other situations, women and children are affected the most, says Sera Bonds, founder of Circle of Health International, and they need swift, contextual solutions for immediate empowerment.
“It is about meeting the woman right in front of you, based on all that we know about best practice and science, and recognizing that these are individual women in a crisis where it’s about survival, and the best we can do is meet them there,” she says.