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UN urged to quickly establish super-agency for women

United Nations – On 1 March the United Nations came under strong pressure to quickly establish a powerful super-agency to tackle women’s issues.

“We have spoken long enough about this. It’s time to act,” said Viviane Reding, the European Commission vice president in charge of justice and gender equality, who is attending the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at UN headquarters.

“I expect a lot of women from a lot of continents to say that they got enough of speaking about this… All the preparatory work has been done. Who gets the post, I don’t care, just do it,” Reding, who is from Luxembourg, told AFP.

“Either this (the UN) is an action-bound organisation or this is a talking club. Women would like it to be an action organisation.

“Now is an important moment… to seize the opportunity to take a great step forward by establishing our new UN women’s agency,” Britain’s minister for women and equality Harriet Harman said at the opening of the 12-day conference on the status of women here.

Last September, the UN General Assembly agreed to set up a powerful new department consolidating the activities of several existing bodies dealing with women’s issues.

The 192-member body adopted by consensus a resolution backing formation of the new composite entity, to have a substantial budget and to be led by an undersecretary general reporting directly to the UN secretary general.

Officials here say UN chief Ban Ki-moon is to make the appointment soon. Outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is said to be among several prominent women under consideration.

Currently, women’s issues are dealt with separately by several UN bodies, including the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues (OSAGI) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

But none of these agencies, with the exception of UNFPA, are deemed by women’s groups to be major players.

The call for a speedy establishment of a consolidated women’s agency is likely to be heard repeatedly at the conference over the next 12 days.

Dozens of government ministers and more than 2,000 women activists are attending the gathering, which aims to review progress since the adoption of the declaration at the 1995 world conference on women in Beijing.

The declaration is the most comprehensive global policy framework to advance the goal of women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world.

Among the areas where progress has lagged is in tackling the scourge of violence against women, UN Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rise Migiro told participants.

“Violence is the most blatant manifestation of discrimination against women,” she noted.

Reding also highlighted sexual violence and genital mutilation, human trafficking, the difference in income between men and women and poverty alleviation as other key issues on the conference’s agenda.

“We Europeans are very proud that the secretary general has nominated Margot Wallstrom as special envoy for violence against women (in conflicts),” she added. “That is the right way to go forward.”

Last month, Ban named Wallstrom, a former Swedish minister and former vice president of the European Commission, as his special representative tasked with combating sexual violence against women and children in conflicts.

Tens of thousands of women and young girls in DRC’s Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu provinces have been assaulted, kidnapped, raped and mutilated by members of armed movements and also by soldiers, according to UN officials.

Wallstrom indicated that she would soon travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where sexual violence against women is rife.

AFP / Expatica

Photo credit: Women’s issues campaigner by garryknight (Flickr.com)