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INT’L WOMEN’S DAY: Groups Blast U.N. on Gender Parity

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2006 (IPS) - A coalition of international women’s organisations – including more than 240 women from over 50 countries – has castigated both U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the 191 member states for paying “lip service” to the cause of gender parity in the world body.

“We are disappointed and frankly outraged that gender equality and strengthening the women’s machineries within the U.N. system are barely noted, and are not addressed as a central part of the U.N.’s reform agenda,” says the letter released here, in advance of International Women’s Day scheduled to be commemorated Wednesday.

The letter is signed by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women, the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The groups say they are disappointed over the appointment last week of Mark Malloch Brown of Britain to succeed Louise Frechette of Canada as the new deputy secretary-general, the second highest ranking job in the world body.

The coalition says it expected a continued gender balance between the secretary-general and his deputy, and would have therefore preferred another woman to succeed Frechette.

“We already knew that only lip service was being given to gender parity,” WEDO’s Executive Director June Zeitlin said Monday.


“The United Nations is going in the wrong direction. We need new and innovative leadership and the way to get that is by ensuring we reach 50:50 women and men in all decision-making positions,” Zeitlin said in a statement released here.

“We are deeply concerned that the position of women in high-level U.N. posts has stagnated,” the letter complains.

The women’s groups are also outraged that a short list of candidates released last week for the position of executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) does not contain a single woman.

“This is unacceptable,” says the letter,” At the very least, the United Nations should set an example of gender balance in all high-level decision making positions.”

The all-male list of candidates for UNEP executive director includes: Borge Brende (Norway), a former minister of environment; Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandi (Costa Rica), currently minister of environment and energy; Shafqat Kakakhel (Pakistan), deputy executive director of UNEP; Rajendra K. Pachauri (India), director-general, Energy and Resource Institute; and Achim Steiner (Germany), director-general of the World Conservation Union. The outgoing UNEP executive director is Klaus Topfer of Germany.

Last week, Rachel Mayanja, U.N. assistant secretary-general and special adviser on gender issues, provided a statistical update of the status of women in the Secretariat and the U.N. system.

As of December 2005, she said, the percentage of women in the professional and higher categories was about 37.2 percent. “Basically, there was no change from last year,” she pointed out.

But women did lose some ground at senior levels. Women represent 26 percent of staff at the Director (D-1) level and above, a decrease of 2.9 percentage points since 2004. Women represent 27.3 percent at the D-1 level alone, a decrease of 5.2 percentage points since 2004.

Mayanja also said that among the 31 individual departments or offices in the Secretariat (with 20 or more professional staff), only five have met or exceeded the gender balance target and 10 have reached 40 to 49 percent.

“The lesson is clear. More concerted action is needed even to maintain the current representation of women, particularly at the D-1 and above level. Recruitment and retention must be targeted by level,” she added.

Mayanja also appealed to member states to “recommend qualified women for senior level positions to help us achieve the goal that you have mandated us”.

Meanwhile, the letter from the women’s coalition says that for more than six decades, women’s groups and others from around the world have been strong supporters of the United Nations.

“We have actively shaped the U.N.’s work on peace, human rights, development, security and environmental issues, and, of course, on gender equality. The United Nations is at a critical juncture.”

At the 2005 World Summit last December, women’s organisations successfully advocated for greater commitments on gender equality and expected to see these commitments implemented in the U.N. reform follow-up, the letter adds. But the results have been poor..

A wide ranging Platform of Action was adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

“We must ask how it can be that more than 10 years after the commitment to gender parity at the Beijing Conference, the United Nations is still offering only token representation of women on critical committees, high level expert panels and in senior positions within the organisation,” it says.

The letter says that “mechanisms and processes dealing with U.N. reform have failed to display a consistent and visible commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment”.

For example, it points out that the new High-Level Panel on U.N. system-wide coherence in areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment has only three women out of 15 members.

“We urge that additional women be added to the panel and that gender equality issues be explicitly considered under each theme,” it says.

Furthermore, it says, the panel should be mandated to hold consultations with civil society groups, especially those working on women’s rights, in order to ensure consideration of the impact on women of any proposed reforms.

Women’s groups call for serious consideration to be given to the implications of the current reforms on the women’s equality agenda, the letter notes.

“The pattern of publicly adopted commitments and statements followed by lack of implementation sets a disheartening precedent which retards the work and reputation of the United Nations and impedes the urgently-needed progress of gender equality worldwide,” the letter concludes.

 
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