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UN Panel Considering New Agency for Women

Efforts are underway to establish a new UN agency for women. A position paper on the matter entitled – Gender Equality Now or Never – has been submitted to a UN panel for consideration. Currently, UNIFEM, the United Nations Fund for Women, supports programs for women. But many say the agency is under funded and receives little support.

Paula Donavan wrote the position paper for the proposed new UN agency for women. She’s currently senior adviser on women and children’s issues in the office of the UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa. From Boston, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“The point that UNIFEM doesn’t get much attention and doesn’t get much of a budget is indicative of the way women’s issues are treated throughout the international community and the United Nations. They are always the poorest, the least well resourced. They just always are second-class citizens…and what we’re finding now is that the results of that sort of indifference or neglect are proving literally fatal to women through the AIDS pandemic and to all of human society.

If you let gender issues just spin out of control and assume that giving lip service to them will be sufficient to address them, without putting any sort of targeted programming in place to really crack this difficult nut of gender discrimination and gender bias, then what you find is that the entire human society suffers. It’s just illogical and crazy to think that we can continue to treat women as a second class citizenry,” she says.”

Asked whether there’s any current UN agency that comes closest to what she envisions for a new women’s agency, Donavan says, “There’s no perfect analogy. UNICEF comes closest because UNICEF has the size. It’s got the budget. It’s got country presence, which is critically important in all developing countries…the analogy is less than perfect because children, of course, their capacities are evolving and woman are full-fledged human beings. They’re able to speak for themselves. They just don’t have the wherewithal because they don’t have the resources and their voices have been silenced.”

She says there much grassroots support for a new women’s organization, but admits some within the UN structure are concerned about the effects a new agency might have on the organization. It’s unclear how long it might take to establish such an agency.