The GEAR coalition (UN Gender Equality Architecture Reform) has advocated the amalgamation of several agencies at the United Nations into a single organization better able to end discrimination and protect women around the world. This proposal was approved by the UN General Assembly in September, 2009.
An interview with Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership which provides history and background of this initiative is available on-line. The interview was conducted by WINGS, an international women’s news gathering service, whuch was co-founded by Frieda Werden, now a program coordinator with radio station CJSF-FM at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.
Gender issues should take high priority at the United Nations but currently the largest agency devoted specifically to women is UNIFEM which has a core staff of about 100 people, a budget of approx $115 million, and is part of the UN Development Program. In comparison, UNICEF, which deals with children’s issues, has a staff of over 8,300, a budget of $3 billion, and is headed by an Under Secretary-General.
International Women’s Day on March 8 is an occasion to celebrate women’s achievements, but it is also a time to recognize the work yet undone. Women are subject to numerous forms of violence, including domestic abuse, rape, sex slavery, child marriage and female circumcision. Each year, about 500,000 women still lose their lives during pregnancy or childbirth. Women are disproportionately represented in part-time, seasonal and short-term jobs, and consequently deprived of job security and benefits. And in January 2008, the global proportion of parliamentary seats held by women was only 18 per cent.
Details of the organization and funding for the new women’s agency are now being considered at the UN. The new organization will report directly to the General Assembly and have staff at world, regional and country levels. The draft mission statement for the new organization states that it will work for:
· The elimination of discrimination against women and girls;
· The empowerment of women; and
· The achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action, and peace and security.
The Very Rev. Lois Wilson, the first woman Moderator of the United Church of Canada and a former Canadian Senator adds, “Resolutions at the UN provide enormous leverage for Governments and Civil Society to turn ideals into realities on the ground, so that all human beings – men, women and children – will no longer be subject to human rights abuses, violence and exploitation. But rhetoric must be matched with institutional resources that can protect our most vulnerable individuals. By throwing its support behind the new women’s agency, Canada can help the world community discharge its important responsibilities to women and girls under international law.”
Unfortunately, the current budget introduced by the Conservative government will cut $4.4-billion from the government’s planned foreign aid spending by 2014-15. What does this reduction mean for any contribution Canada might make to supporting the work of the new UN agency, and and to promoting the maternal health of women and children in developing countries as recently promised by Stephen Harper?
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