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Is The UN Opening Its Doors To Women?

Is The UN Opening Its Doors To Women?

By Andreas von Warburg

The United Nations is not the most hospitable place for women. Only a handful of Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General are women, while UN female Ambassadors counts less than 18 – the New Zealand Ambassador, Rosemary Banks, being one of the few.

But the Organizations seems now a step closer to a more gender balanced approach to the UN agenda. The High-Level Panel on United Nations Reform has proposed the creation of the full-fledged agency for women. “The message is clear,” the report of the High-Level Panel reads. “While the UN remains a key actor in supporting countries to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, there is a strong sense that the UN system’s contribution has been incoherent, under-resourced and fragmented.”

As of now, women’s issues – from development to human rights, from social justice to empowerment at the political level – are entrusted to two entities in particular: the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), controlled by UNDP, and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), part of the Secretariat and headed by an Assistant Secretary-General. Other offices in the Department of Social and Economic Affairs and agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAIDS also deal extensively with women’s issues.

Now, the High-Level Panel, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this year to address imbalances and set up a plan for the future of the Organization, is proposing the creation of an enhanced, dynamic and independent policy, advocacy and operational agency for women’s empowerment and gender equality, to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General. “This entity should mobilize forces of change at the global level and inspire enhanced results at the country level,” the report reads. “The promotion of gender equality must remain the mandate of all UN entities.”

“If implemented and funded as recommended, the new organization will begin to correct over six decades of UN neglect and indifference toward women,” said Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and a long-standing advocate for a new agency “to replace the UN’s weak women’s machinery.”

The panel recommended that the new women’s entity must be fully and ambitiously funded. “We agree whole-heartedly,” commented Lewis. “To make up for lost time and turn rhetoric into reality, the new organization will need a budget of $1 billion.”

Last week, Kofi Annan has once again recognized the importance of the empowerment of women. “The world is starting to grasp that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls,” he said during the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Commission on the Status of Women. “Study after study has taught us that no other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health – including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.”


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