For the vast majority of women the ten years between 1975 and 1985 passed without them even knowing - let alone caring - that the United Nations had dedicated a whole decade to concern for their situation. They continued working - pounding sorghum, transplanting rice seedlings, assembling digital watches, feeding children washing clothes, drying tears - oblivious to the speeches made and documents circulated during International Women’s Year in 1975; unaware that delegates from 133 countries met in Mexico City that same year to launch the Decade for Women; indifferent to the second conference, five years later in Copenhagen, to monitor progress made in the first half of the Decade.
And there can be little doubt that the hulabaloo surrounding the end-of-Decade conference in Nairobi this month will also take place without one single resolution or report disturbing the rhythm of their days.
But one achievement of the Decade is clear. Discrimination against women - and the need to rectify it - has been put firmly on the world agenda. And one question is asked much more readily now than ten years ago: is life getting better or worse for the world’s women?
Today there is more evidence available to answer that question than ever before. For a decade the UN has been collecting information about women in almost every country. In the past year alone 121 governments completed questionnaires on the position of women. And many UN agencies prepared special reports to submit to the end-of-Decade conference. In all, this comprises an unique body of evidence on the changing position of women around the world.
From this information, New Internationalist was asked by the UN to produce a report on The State of the World’s Women 1985.
This Report presents a global snapshot of women’s situation at the end of the Decade for Women. But such a picture - composed of fact and analysis - is only two-dimensional. To provide more depth requires insight into individual women’s experiences.
This is the reason we invited ten leading women writers - five from the rich world, five from the poor world - to take part in an international exchange, with Third World writers coming to the rich world - and vice versa - and writing on their impressions of particular aspects of women’s lives in their host countries.*
What follows is the result of these two enterprises. For New Internationalist readers we have adapted the Report, shortening or adding emphasis where necessary. And from the ten essays we have excerpted a series of glimpses into the lives of women around the world.
* The ten essays and a longer more comprehensive version of the Report,