Monday, 14 March 2011

UN Women

by Lola Okolosie
UN Women.  Never heard of it?  Well, that is not altogether a surprise.  News of its launch was lost amidst coverage of the North African political uprisings.  In a week in which we celebrate 100 years of International Woman’s Day, it  seems apt, then, to remind people of this little known organization.

Set up to ‘champion’ equality for women on the global stage, its remit encompasses tackling violence against women; advocating for female involvement in politics and making the economic argument for women’s equality.   In the Asia Pacific region alone, it is estimated $40 billion is lost each year as a result of women’s limited access to employment.  Such statistics remind us of the urgency with which the issues linked to gender equality, in an age of ever increasing globalization, are a serious concern for all.

UN Women replaces four smaller organizations, themselves hindered by poor funding.   A lack of adequate financial support threatens to render this new body as ineffectual as its predecessors.  Only a handful of the UN’s member nations have made core-funding commitments, both the UK and US governments remain conspicuous in their absence.  Such inaction could make the organization and its director, Michelle Bachelet, toothless lions, existing merely as representational mascots to gender equality.

In July 2010 International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, supported the setting up of the organization.  Indeed, he was “relishing the opportunity to work with the single powerful agency which will have responsibility for promoting the rights of women across the world, and ensuring gender equality.” He qualified this statement by urging ‘UN [Women] to get started with delivering real change on the ground quickly.’  The question is, how can this be done when it faces a funding shortfall of £312 million?

Kathy Peach, Head of External Affairs at VSO UK welcomes Mitchell’s enthusiasm.  However, for many gender equality campaigners, empty support is not enough.  Peach  argues that “it is now time for the Government to put funding behind its words and commit a minimum of £21 million in core annual funding to UN Women so it can start to deliver real change for millions of women.’

Over 400 events were held to mark the centenary of International Women’s Day and to celebrate what has been achieved in that time.  The congratulatory tones of the last week must not lead us to forget one key fact; we are still a long way from winning the battle for women’s equality.   It’s time to put the proverbial money where the mouth is, Mr Mitchell.

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