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Monday, March 27, 2017
- A coalition of more than 140 international non-governmental organisations and women’s groups is gratified that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expressing public support for the creation of a new U.N. agency for women.
A coalition of over 140 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women’s groups is gratified that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expressing public support for the creation of a new U.N. agency for women.
“We believe the public support of the secretary-general is a very important step in moving closer towards the implementation of this new women’s entity,” June Zeitlin, executive director of the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), told IPS.
She said the secretary-general last week called on member states to take up this proposal, as did the women from around the world who were in New York for the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concluded a two-week session Friday.
The proposal for a new U.N. women’s agency was made last November by a 15-member “High-Level Panel on U.N. System-Wide Coherence”, comprising heads of government, former world political leaders and senior government and U.N. officials.
On International Women’s Day, which was commemorated at the United Nations and around the globe last Thursday, the secretary-general said such a new body should be able to call on all of the U.N. system’s resources in the work to empower women and realise gender equality worldwide.
The proposal for the creation of a new gender architecture includes the consolidation of three existing U.N. entities – the U.N. Development Fund for Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women – under a single new U.N. agency to be headed by an under-secretary-general, the third highest ranking post in the world body.
But its implementation will require the blessings of the 192-member General Assembly, which has not given any indication of how it will respond.
Asked if she was confident that member states would support the proposal, Zeitlin said that women who spoke to their government representatives here at the United Nations last week will continue these discussions back at home in their nation’s capitals.
“To date, we have heard of no opposition by member states to strengthening the gender equality architecture,” she added.
“However, we do understand that countries have questions and want more information on a number of issues, including about how the new entity will operate, particularly at the national level, and where the new resources will come from.”
In a letter to the secretary-general last week, the coalition of over 140 NGOs said: “We call upon U.N. member states and the secretary-general to take swift actions to initiate and support efforts to strengthen the architecture for women’s equality in the General Assembly deliberations during its (current) 61st session,” which ends in early September.
The coalition says the upgrading of women’s equality work within the U.N. system is long overdue. “It is imperative at this critical juncture that member states and the U.N. system take bold action – and provide the leadership and resources required – to make these recommendations a reality,” the groups said.
The 140 NGOs, spanning all of the continents, included Asia Pacific Women’s Watch, Canadian Federation of University Women, Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, European Women’s Lobby, African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, International Federation of Women’s Lawyers and the World Federation of U.N. Associations.
Charlotte Bunch of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership said the letter signed by all of the NGOs was delivered to the secretary-general on International Women’s Day.
“It is our hope that this will get the process moving again among governments,” she told IPS.
Bunch pointed out that the coalition was also successful in getting the issue discussed at the General Assembly’s special thematic session on gender last week, and with governments around the CSW session.
“While we do not know exactly what will be the next stage in the process, the idea is gaining momentum and has been widely supported by NGOs at the CSW,” she added.
The letter sent to the secretary-general also calls for a commitment “to significant and sustained funding of the new women’s entity and the gender equality and women’s rights/empowerment work of the whole U.N. system, including gender mainstreaming within all U.N. policies and programmes.”
The coalition also seeks “meaningful and ongoing civil-society participation, particularly of women’s groups, in the consideration and implementation of the (High-Level) Panel’s recommendations at the national, regional and global levels.”
The letter says that structures and avenues for such participation should be built into the gender equality architecture of the United Nations at all levels to ensure that women’s voices, and especially those at the grassroots, are heard and that women’s concerns are effectively addressed in sustained ways.
Zeitlin said the three existing women’s units have a total budget of about 65 million dollars, compared to 450 million dollars for the U.N. Population Fund and about two billion dollars for the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.
“These recommendations present the best opportunity to reduce the gap between the rhetoric on gender equality at the United Nations and the reality of women’s lives,” she added.
She also pointed out that the panel had recommended an initial target of some 200 million dollars for the proposed new women’s agency.
“We understand this number was taken out (of the panel’s report) because some panel members believed it was far below what was needed for the United Nations to deliver on gender equality and women’s empowerment.”