It's on the table: Secretary-General calls for action on GENDER EQUALITY

Womenact's Response to UN Coherence Panel's recommendation on women's agency job 1484

If you've been following the course of UN reform, the news is out. The High-level Panel named by Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reported and it recommends the creation of an independent, international women's agency, for the first time in the UN's history.

From the Toronto Star report, 10 November: A landmark proposal for creating a powerful new United Nations women's agency moved a giant step closer to reality yesterday, with the endorsement of a high-level panel on reforming the sprawling UN system.

"This is the most dramatic step forward in decades, for women and for the UN," said Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy on AIDS/HIV, who has lobbied vigorously for an agency that would deliver programs and services to billions of women throughout the world on an unprecedented scale.

"It holds the prospect of transforming the lives of women, removing the worst poverty and oppression, saving lives in the midst of the AIDS pandemic and other massive health problems," said Lewis, who leaves his job at the end of December, but will continue to promote the new body.

Its creation is part of a series of recommendations tabled yesterday by the panel, which was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is expected to ask the 192-country General Assembly to adopt it before his term ends Dec. 31.
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The panel of 13 Prime Ministers and Presidents recommended the creation of a powerful and "ambitiously resourced" gender agency, to be entrusted with a dual mandate

programming on the ground, by guaranteeing it a presence in every country office, on a par with major agencies like UNICEF and UNDP, and chief adviser to the Secretary-General on gender equality and women's empowerment.

This structure would make the Agency a full member of the UN country teams throughout the world, and give it stable, core funding and specialised staff. The Executive Director of the consolidated entity should have the rank of Under-Secretary-General, and would report to ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council) and the General Assembly, through the SG. In other words, the new agency will have clout.

Reaction world wide has been positive. Panel members have underlined the importance of their proposal, and their hopes that the GA will act swiftly. "I am more than optimistic," said Ruth Jacoby, director-general of the Swedish foreign ministry's development corporation, and a Panel member. "This is as close to victory as you can get."

Lewis's office said in a statement that the recommendation, of "an enhanced and independent" policy, advocacy and operational agency for women's empowerment and gender equality, to be headed by an Under Secretary-General, is an inspired and entirely welcome remedy. If implemented and funded as recommended, the new organization will begin to correct over six decades of UN neglect and indifference toward women. The Special Envoy's statement went on to stress the importance of acting on the key elements of the recommendation: To make up for lost time and turn rhetoric into reality, the new organization will need a budget of $1 billion.

African women leaders, who had encouraged the Panel to make such a recommendation supported the call for serious funding in the weeks leading up to the Report. In a joint statement, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Graça Machel, President of Mozambique's Foundation for Community Development, and the Ministers of Health of Botswana and Kenya, Hon. Sheila Tlou and Hon. Charity Ngilu, underlined the need for major funding:

"Let's put that in perspective: last year, UNICEF had a budget of over $2 billion for children. Surely half of that would not be excessive for the world's women. Surely ameliorating the lives of half the global population is worth $1 billion a year, for a start."

There are important steps to take now, that gender advocates can support in their countries. Three good starting points would be:

1. Endorsements by several developing countries in every region, to take the lead in ensuring General Assembly adoption of the Report's recommendation.

2. Initial commitments by donor countries towards the $1 billion start-up target.

3. And, since the new agency for women will need a leader with vision, expertise, authority, empathy and devotion unparalleled in the history of multilateralism - let the global and transparent selection process begin, with nominations from every part of the world.

Kofi Annan has endorsed the call for rapid action: I believe action can be taken immediately on the Panel's important proposals for advancing gender equality and women's empowerment. As the Panel rightly stresses, the commitment to gender equality is, and must remain, a mandate of the whole UN system. To make that mandate effective, it is urgent to endow the System with a single, strong voice on women's issues, based on the principles of coherence and consolidation. I hope, therefore, to begin moving this particular recommendation forward in the coming weeks, so as to enable my successor to appoint a new overall head of our gender activities soon after he takes office.

The Panel stated that its recommendation meant strengthening the coherence and impact of the UN's institutional gender architecture by streamlining and consolidating three of the UN's existing gender institutions as a consolidated UN gender equality and women's empowerment programme. It explained: The gender entity would be a full member of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) and proposed UN Development Policy and Operations Group. The normative, analytical and monitoring division would
subsume the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW). The policy advisory and programming division would subsume the current activities of UNIFEM.

The High-level Panel's recommendation goes next to the General Assembly. Member States' decisions are crucial on: getting the start-up funding at the critical $1 billion mark, approving the plan to replace the UN's current, weak women's machinery with "sharply focused operations on gender equalityand women's empowerment issues, equipped with high-quality technical and substantive expertise, to provide leadership in regions and countries", and finding the top-level leader through an open, transparent world-wide search.

As Lewis's office said: We have great hopes for what the new women's agency can accomplish through targeted programmes in developing countries. At long last, the UN is poised to act on behalf of more than 17 million women living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, and the additional 225 young women between 15 and 24 who will become infected every hour today. It can now begin to reverse injustices that have forever been tolerated: the fact that one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime; that women produce most of the world's food but own just one per cent of its deeded land; and that they make up the majority of the poor and illiterate.

The text of Annan's 9 November 2006 remarks can be found at here:

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