TrustLaw: UN Women Pressured to Do More with Less Money
By Megan Rowling
March 4, 2011
LONDON — It took Crescentia four long years to persuade her mum to let her go back to school rather than supporting the family full-time. In the summer holidays — like hundreds of teenage girls in northern Ghana — she headed south to work as a construction porter. But there, her sister's husband drugged and raped her, making her pregnant.
Five years on, with assistance from the Nadowli Assembly Women Advocacy Group, Crescentia is a student again, doing exams. Now in her twenties, she wants to become a nurse so she can make a better life for herself and her child.
The Ghanaian organisation that helped her get back on track is a partner of international development charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which says the United Nations' new agency for women must make a real difference to the lives of women and girls like Crescentia who suffer violence and other abuses of their rights, including property, inheritance and land rights, particularly in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.
"One of the major barriers to development is the low status of women, and the discrimination they face," said Kathy Peach, head of external affairs at VSO UK. "The feedback we get from our volunteers and partners is that the U.N. is not really delivering for women at the grassroots."
The U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), operational since January but officially launched in late February, is tasked with helping states speed up progress on meeting goals for women's rights — a tough challenge after years of neglect by many governments, activists say.
VSO's Peach thinks the agency, headed by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, should get to work quickly on assisting women who have suffered domestic, sexual and other types of violence to get access to justice.
In a recent survey commissioned by VSO UK and Oxfam, covering 100 civil society organisations in 75 countries, 72 percent said ending violence against women must be the top priority for UN Women. Peach believes the agency should leverage the U.N.'s influence with governments to press them into criminalising violence against women and using the law to hold perpetrators to account.
Paula Donovan, co-director of the HIV/AIDS advocacy organisation AIDS-Free World, spots a promising opportunity to help HIV-positive mothers who visit clinics for treatment to stop their unborn babies contracting the virus. While much progress has been made in preventing HIV transmission from mother to child, it's shocking that many women who receive these drugs aren't assessed or given medication for their own infection at the same time, says the former U.N. official who has long lobbied for the creation of a women's agency with real guts.
"UN Women could say enough of treating women like incubators; they deserve proper attention," she told TrustLaw from New York. HIV/AIDS would be a good focus area for the agency to demonstrate results because infection rates and numbers of patients being treated are relatively easy to quantify, she added.
No Results, No Money?
UN Women is certain to face pressure to show it is having a deeper and wider impact than the four previously distinct parts of the U.N. system it brings together, including the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).