The UN Connects with Oklahoma Women

 From Eleanor Roosevelt to Lou Kohlman,
A Short History of the Commission on the Status of Women

From the beginning, the UN has been committed to the advancement of the rights of women. It is true now. It was true when the UN Charter was signed in San Francisco in 1945.

Of the 160 original signatories of the UN Charter, only four were women — Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), Virginia Gildersleeve (United States), Bertha Lutz (Brazil) and Wu Yi-Fang (China) — but they succeeded in inscribing women’s rights in the founding document of the United Nations, which reaffirms in its preamble “…faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of Nations large and small.”

In 1946, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established as a way to promote, report on, and monitor issues relating to the political, economic, civil, social and educational rights of women.

The Commission on the Status of Women first met at Lake Success, New York, in February, 1947. All of the 15 government representatives were women. During its first session, the Commission declared as one of its guiding principles:

“To raise the status of women, irrespective of nationality, race, language or religion, to equality with men in all fields of human enterprise, and to eliminate all discrimination against women in the provisions of statutory law, in legal maxims or rules, or in interpretation of customary law.”

One of the first tasks of the CSW was to assist in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which ultimately emerged from the UN Commission on Human Rights (chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt).

Commission members inserted gender-sensitive language — arguing against references to “men” as a synonym for humanity and phrases like “men are brothers.” They succeeded in introducing new, inclusive language into the document.

Since the codification of the legal rights of women needed to be supported by data and analysis, the Commission embarked on a global assessment of the status of women. Extensive research produced a detailed, country-by-country picture of their political and legal standing, which over time became a basis for drafting human rights instruments. (See more at the UN Women website)

Eleanor Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy

On December 14, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10980 creating the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission was charged with the task of drafting recommendations for overcoming discrimination in government and private employment on the basis of sex as well as recommendations for services to enable women to “continue their role as wives and mothers while making a maximum contribution to the world around them.”

To chair this commission, Kennedy appointed Eleanor Roosevelt. She led the commission until her death in 1962.

According to Wikipedia, the creation of the Presidential CSW “…gave the federal government an incentive to again consider women’s rights and roles as being a serious issue worthy of political debate and public policy-making.”

By 1962, the creation of this national commission encouraged states and cities to begin studying women’s status in their own local areas. All fifty states had commissions in operation by 1967.

In Oklahoma, the first Commission on the Status of Women was established by Governor Henry Bellmon in 1965. Members of the commission advised the Governor on the problem of gender bias and key quality of life issues facing Oklahoma women and their families. Succeeding governors followed Mr. Bellmon’s example.

In 1994, the Oklahoma Legislature formally recognized the value of the Governor’s Commission. The Legislature voted to establish the commission in law and to give it additional duties. Since then, the members of the Commission have been appointed by the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, and the Speaker of the State House of Representatives.

(Read more about the Oklahoma CSW in our article, “A Network of Mutual Support“)

Today, the Oklahoma CSW organizes a biennial Women’s Summit. It coordinates the activities of the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. Additionally, it advises state agencies and employees on issues relating to gender bias; it monitors proposed legislation; and it acts as a resource and a clearinghouse for research on issues related to women and gender bias.

On Saturday, March 8th, the members of the Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association will be proud to welcome Lou Kohlman as the keynote speaker at our International Women’s Day luncheon.

Ms. Kohlman serves as the current Chair of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women. She is active in the Oklahoma Academy, the Harvard Club, and the Oklahoma County League of Women Voters.

You can reserve your place at the luncheon right now at our online reservations page … 
(Sorry … our online registration form has now closed)

… The cost is $20, with proceeds going to support the good work of the United Nations Association.

The luncheon program will be:

Saturday, March 8th
The Center
4325 NW 50th Street
Oklahoma City, OK   73112

Check-in is at 11:30am. The program kicks off at 12 Noon.

There is limited space available, and advance registration is required — so reserve your seat today.

You won’t find a nicer group of folks than the members and friends of the United Nations Association of the USA!

Who’s in the Pictures:

1. Eleanor Roosevelt — First Lady and first chairwoman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Mrs. Roosevelt also served on the board of directors of the American Association for the United Nations (later to become UNA-USA, the United Nations Association of the USA).

2. The Pioneer Woman — A monument honoring the pioneer women of America, this statue is located in Ponca City. When it was dedicated in 1930, an estimated 40,000 people came to hear Will Rogers pay tribute to Oklahoma’s pioneering women.

3. Te Ata Fisher — An actress and member of the Chickasaw Nation, Te Ata (aka, Mary Frances Thompson) was known for telling Native American stories. In the 1930’s, she performed as a representative of Native Americans at state dinners before President Franklin Roosevelt. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957, and named Oklahoma’s first State Treasure in 1987.

4. Malala Yousafzai — The world’s best known activist for the rights of women and girls.

5. Lou Kohlman — Chair of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, she will be the keynote speaker at our Women’s Day Luncheon on Saturday, March 8th.

6. Jeane Kirkpatrick — U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1981 – 1985), she is the namesake of the advocacy committee of our Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association.

7. Hannah Diggs Atkins — Inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982, Hannah Atkins served the people of Oklahoma as a State Representative, Secretary of State, and Cabinet Secretary for Social Services. From 1979 to 1982, Ms. Atkins was also a U.S. delegate to UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. After her retirement from public life, Ms. Atkins served in a voluntary capacity as the elected president of our Oklahoma City chapter of UNA-USA. 

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