Nicole's New Passion

updated 05/29/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

On May 13 Nicole Kidman hosted the 30th anniversary gala for UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, which works worldwide to empower women—lobbying for anti-rape laws and advocating for labor rights, among other activities. This summer she will be traveling to India for the group. She explained her involvement to PEOPLE's Nina Burleigh.

What attracted you to UNIFEM?

This is what I am passionate about—trying to help all women around the world reach their potential. As a child this was something that was embedded in my consciousness: trying to help people. And I felt like I had done nowhere near enough.

Where did that awareness come from?

My mother was a nurse, and my father is a psychologist. After school we'd catch the bus to spend afternoons at the hospital. I was around people suffering and dying. That had a huge impact because I saw [my mother] caring for people. I saw my father treating people and helping them. And I was raised in the Catholic church. If you don't fulfill something that you believed in as a child and you've pledged to your parents you will do, then you feel you are not on the right path.

You brought Keith Urban, your boyfriend, to UNIFEM's dinner.

He's actually my fiancé. I wouldn't be bringing my boyfriend. He's very good to me, and it was a beautiful time.

What first brought you to this cause?

My mother heard a program on the radio about what they were doing in Cambodia [where UNIFEM worked to raise awareness of violence against women]. She taped it—which is how I get almost all of my information. They were doing something, rather than just saying, "Oh, this is so dire."

How are you teaching your own children to care in the same way?

I support a children's hospital in Sydney that deals with children who are very, very sick. I've taken both of my children whenever I go there and visit. It's important that they see it. They are at the age now where it's important that they understand there are people in enormous pain. That makes [my children] richer people. That's how you acquire wisdom and compassion.

How does this work relate to your career?

As much as I love acting, it is a selfish profession. I've been given an enormous amount. So a lot of it is about giving back to people.

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