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Penn Law and UN Women co-host high-level panel on gender equality and the law at United Nations HQ

March 28, 2016

By Tony Keffler, Penn Law International Programs Associate

A panel of distinguished diplomats and an audience of Penn Law community members joined UN Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on the evening of February 29. The event was organized to highlight the critical role of law schools, law students, and lawyers from all sectors in achieving the full rights of women and girls worldwide.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Penn Law’s Associate Dean for International Programs, opened the event by greeting the audience and addressing the main theme of the night. “More than any other profession, lawyers have a role to play in creating a more equal world under law,” said de Silva de Alwis. “That is why we are delighted to celebrate this evening with our Penn Law community, alumni working in the private sector, diplomats from over 30 country missions, and UN partners.”

In October of 2015, heads of states of 193 countries adopted the new Sustainable Development Goals to guide the future of the world’s development. Among these goals, Goal #5 establishes targets for achieving full economic empowerment of women, while eliminating all pernicious forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. “This goal is poised to alter the history of development,” de Silva de Alwis stated, “and we are here tonight to partner with UN Women to support the rewriting of development history.”

Penn Law also announced its upcoming partnership with UN Women, which will provide opportunities for Penn Law students to engage with legal regimes intended to achieve gender equality worldwide. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, provided opening remarks in which she commented that the partnership with Penn Law would serve as a model for the best law schools in the country to follow. “We cannot wait another century to achieve full economic and social rights for women,” she said. “The efforts of students and future lawyers are essential to creating a better future.”

Dean of Penn Law, Theodore W. Ruger, extended his thanks to the global leaders in attendance who have supported Penn Law’s international initiatives to end gender discrimination. Dean Ruger celebrated Penn Law’s new ties with the United Nations to promote full legal equality for women and girls, including a recent envoy to UNESCO’s Paris headquarters to take part in a panel with Secretary-General Irina Bokova on the necessity of equal education for women and girls.

“We, as lawyers, need to ensure that the rule of law functions as it should — protecting women around the world and allowing them to claim their right to be full members, and leaders, in their communities,” he affirmed.

Dean Ruger also noted Penn Law’s recent Inaugural Women’s Summit, which took place at Penn Law at the end of March 2016. Among those honored at the Summit were former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This Summit spotlighted women’s successes both inside and outside of the profession, while educating and promoting discussion of topics relevant to lawyers and other professionals seeking to promote gender equality.

The event also continued with a panel discussion by Mejía Vélez, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations; Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls; and William Burke-White, Penn Law professor and the inaugural director of the Perry World House.

The panelists discussed a broad range of topics that impact the world’s women and girls, including the political participation of women in official capacities and the role of equal access to primary and secondary education for girls. One of the recent successes of women’s political participation include the 2014 Colombia peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. Possibly without precedent in the field of conflict resolution, women accounted for more than 60 percent of the total participants.

The panelists also discussed the fact that the United States has yet to ratify The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which protects rights as broad-ranging as ensuring accessible reproductive health care to establishing equal opportunity in standing for political election. In addition to the United States, the other States that have failed to ratify CEDAW are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga.

To conclude the evening, former and current Penn Law students were recognized for their contributions in the area of international humanitarian and development law. Afterwards, the panelists kindly participated in a conversation with the audience.




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"Ending Gender Discrimination in Law and Practice" panel at the UN

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