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RIGHTS: Gender Equality Gets a Drop of the Funding Bucket

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22 2008 (IPS) - The United Nations has never run out of statistics to reinforce its arguments against one of the most troubling issues the world over: gender discrimination.

The Asia Pacific region alone is losing between 42 billion and 47 billion dollars annually because of women&#39s limited access to employment opportunities, according to a U.N. study, and another 16 billion to 30 billion dollars annually as a result of gender gaps in education.

The world body also says that one in three women in the world is likely to be subjected to violence in her lifetime.

And according to the World Bank, a sister institution of the United Nations, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria.

The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), on the other hand, points out that women make up about 70 percent of the world&#39s poor and 67 percent of the world&#39s illiterate.

Elizabeth Mataka, the U.N.&#39s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, estimates that nearly half of all adults living with HIV worldwide are women.

And perhaps one of the most neglected gender-oriented issues revolves round the under-funding of women&#39s activities around the world – and also at the United Nations.

All of these issues will be debated at a two week session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Feb. 25 through Mar. 7, which is expected to draw over 5,000 participants from governments, civil society and international organisations.

The meeting is scheduled to feature more than 240 side events, both inside and outside the U.N. headquarters in New York.

"Where is the money to sustain women&#39s movements for justice and empowerment," asks the NGO (non-governmental organisation) Committee on the Status of Women.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon complains that the global commitments on gender equality and empowerment of women since the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Monterrey, Mexico, "have yet to be implemented".

"Despite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that gender equality makes good economic sense, and the calls for gender mainstreaming in economic policies and public finance management, adequate resources have not been systematically allocated," he says in a 21-page report to be discussed at the CSW session.

Among other things, the study calls for an increase in the share of development assistance specifically targeting gender equality and women&#39s empowerment.

According to a study by the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit in London, of the 69 billion dollars in official development assistance in 2003, only 2.5 billion dollars was allocated to gender equality, as a principal objective. The situation has not changed significantly since then.

In his report, the secretary-general also urges international financial institutions to take gender perspectives into account in loan approvals, debt servicing and debt relief, in compliance with commitments to gender equality.

A follow-up to the FfD conference is scheduled to take place in Qatar in late November, where funding for gender activities is expected to be on the agenda. The secretary-general has asked the CSW to ensure that the preparations for, and outcome of, the Qatar conference "fully incorporate gender perspectives."

Meanwhile, women&#39s organisations have also complained that the United Nations itself has failed to provide necessary funding for gender-related activities in its own backyard.

The combined budgets of all of the U.N. women&#39s entities – including UNIFEM, the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) – totalled only about 65 million dollars in 2006 and twice that amount for 2007.

Still, it pales in significance to the annual budget for the U.N. children&#39s agency UNICEF, which was about 2.34 billion dollars.

Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Centre for Women&#39s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, told IPS that the CSW sessions will be an important forum to discuss strengthening resources for women&#39s rights at the United Nations.

With the theme of "Financing for Gender Equality", there is an opportunity for the CSW to address the serious under-resourcing of women&#39s rights and gender equality at the United Nations which women&#39s groups have been raising ever since the Beijing World Conference in 1995.

At that time, and at both the five and 10-year reviews of that conference, women&#39s groups emphasised that the only way the Beijing Platform for Action can come close to being realised is to increase dramatically the funding for women&#39s rights at the national and global levels.

"We hope that this CSW will address this seriously and recommend actions that can be taken by the General Assembly to redress this lack," Bunch said.

The issue of creating a consolidated and strengthened U.N. entity for women can be seen as one of the important steps that the United Nations could take to address this problem because it provides a way for the work on gender equality to be more effectively organised as well as better funded, she added.

A proposal for a new U.N. women&#39s agency – to be headed by an under-secretary-general, the third highest ranking position in the world body – has remained in limbo, despite support from the secretary-general.

The proposal can be a reality only when it is eventually approved by the 192-member General Assembly. But member states have been dragging their feet – either for political or financial reasons.

Bunch said the issue is still very much alive with NGOs and with many governments, "and we hope that the CSW will give added momentum to last year&#39s call by (a high-level) panel of world leaders for initiating this key U.N. reform that has been endorsed by both the previous secretary-general and the current secretariat."

Certainly, she added, the CSW should include support for strengthening the U.N.&#39s institutional arrangements for gender equality in its agreed conclusions.

"There are many scenarios for how this can be done but the CSW, as the U.N. political body mandated to address this issue, should lead the way in moving this agenda forward," Bunch declared.

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