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Q&A: “CEDAW is UNIFEM’S Entry Point”

Andrea Borde interviews JOANNE SANDLER, Deputy Executive Director, UNIFEM*

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 9 2009 (IPS) - On Sep. 14, the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly adopted a resolution that opened the door for the creation of a new U.N. agency specifically for women.

Joanne Sandler Credit: UNIFEM

Joanne Sandler Credit: UNIFEM

It will draw together under one umbrella all of the existing entities for women in the U.N. – U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), International Training and Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI).

The new women’s entity comes at a particularly exciting time in the women’s empowerment movement at the U.N. as another report has just been released by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) highlighting the lack of women’s control over economic and financial resources in both the developing and developed world.

The U.N. World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2009, published by UNDESA addresses increasingly progressive issues such as women’s unpaid work in the household, the urgency of women’s financial empowerment, especially in current times of economic turmoil, and the long-standing inequalities of women in care giving, the labour market and within central financial institutions of the state such as financial ministries and central banks.

This new women’s entity may be just the right environment for enacting legislation on progressive issues such as women’s unpaid work in the household, translating the UNDESA survey into real-life change.

In the meantime, while the U.N. is still coming up with official names for the agency, it is working to depoliticise it and make the nameless agency more gender neutral, so it is unofficially being called “The New Entity”.

IPS spoke with Joanne Sandler, deputy executive director of UNIFEM, about the creation of this “New Entity” and the hopes and challenges of making the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – the binding convention that established the official women’s empowerment movement at the U.N. – finally work 100 percent for women within this new women’s focused arena at the UN.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Where will the new entity be located? JOANNE SANDLER: Our hope is that it is present where it can do the most good. We want to make it where it will offer the best use of our resources.

It is ultimately up to the member states.

IPS: There’s so much happening on gender empowerment between civil society and the UN, that it seems only right that the entity adopt a bottom-to-top approach taking its cue from civil society. Is there a likely conflict of interest? JS: A connection to a constituency is absolutely critical, because it’s a stronger, more unified system.

It’s coming from all directions. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top approach. It is a 360-degree process.

IPS: CEDAW is marking its 30th anniversary on Dec. 18, 2009. As of yet, 186 countries have ratified the convention, but there are all kinds of reservations by mainly Muslim and Catholic countries that counteract the influence of the convention. What are the successes and failures of this convention in your opinion and in the opinion of UNIFEM? JS: For UNIFEM, of course, CEDAW is a basic agreement. It’s kind of our entry point.

The trend is toward removal of reservations. There are a growing number of enlightening examples of how you take CEDAW.

Of course there are countries that ratify it, and still have laws in their books that go against it. The main examples are property laws and inheritance rights that counteract the convention.

We want to extend our support where there is a political will to demonstrate. It’s a core part of our community.

IPS: What will UNIFEM be contributing specifically (as far as goals and information) for this new entity? JS: We will be contributing our 30 years of experience. We expect to continue to work on the different background papers and analyses that we have been committed to on gender empowerment.

This is an important moment for all of this to be moving forward.

*IPS is running a series of interviews on the U.N.’s decision to create a new women’s agency.

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