She continued her work, and the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, with the next decade to be dedicated to women as well. That summer, Mexico City hosted the first World Conference on Women (it was led by a man).
“For the first time, governments met to discuss women’s issues at the highest levels,” Shahani told Isis International. “Women got together — north and south, rich and poor.”
Shahani was a vice chairwoman of the second conference, in Copenhagen in 1980, and secretary general of the third, in Nairobi in 1985. The Nairobi conference laid out a plan of action until 2000 on a broader range of issues than ever before, including a new focus on gender-based violence.
Shahani was tough on the people she worked with, but she was also caring, said Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo, a career diplomat from the Philippines who organized the Nairobi conference with Shahani. “She just wanted efficiency like all intelligent women,” she said.
In 1995, when the fourth conference was held in Beijing, Shahani led the Philippine delegation.
Leticia Ramos Shahani was born on Sept. 30, 1929, in Lingayen, Pangasinan Province, the second of three children in a politically prominent family. Her father, Narciso Ramos, was a lawmaker and diplomat who served as foreign secretary in the 1960s under Ferdinand Marcos, Shahani’s second cousin. Her mother, Angela Valdez, was a high school teacher.
Shahani’s education and career took her to the United States, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Wellesley College in 1951 and a master of arts in comparative literature from Columbia University in 1953. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of Paris in 1962, and joined the United Nations in New York two years later.
She had met her husband, the Indian writer and professor Ranjee Shahani, when she was 22 but didn’t marry him until 10 years later, after she had finished her studies and started working.