On New Year's Eve I was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 'Women’s Hour' by presenter Jenni Murray. My fellow-guest was UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP. The topic for our broadcast discussion was the new United Nations Agency for Women which launches today 1 January 2011.
Former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, a known fighter for women’s rights, has been chosen to Head the new Agency. The UN Agency must be set up to succeed. It will need : Cash, clout and activists setting the agenda alongside officials and politicians. First budget target is 500million US dollars so far Michelle Bachelet has 175 million dollars for the entire world’s female population. In the competitive UN family it’s a case of no cash, no clout. Without sufficient budget the UN Agency for Women will not get taken seriously by the other international Agencies. UNICEF – the agency for children has a budget of 2 or 3 billion dollars.
To earn credibility the UN Agency for Women needs to be seen to deliver visible results. I want Michelle Bachelet to insist that at least 40% to 50% of people at all top Peace Talk tables from now on are women. This is in line with the UN Security Council’s own Resolution 1325.
I would also like the UN Agency to make it a priority to improve lavatory facilities in schools and girls access to adequate sanitary protection for their monthly menstruation. Not a romantic-sounding issue, but I know from my experiences in Nepal, Serra Leone, and many other countries two key reasons why girls drop out of school are smelly badly located lavatories and lack of adequate sanitary protection for monthly periods.
Girls who get an education increase their choices and chances in life. Increased earning capacity gives a woman the choice to leave a violent husband, more chance of making her voice heard in governance of her community and her country and better earning opportunities to care for her family and access to better health care.
The new body replaces four UN agencies and offices: the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI), and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). There is optimism about the choice of former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet to Head the new Agency. A Canadian friend says “Ms Bachelet looks good on paper and has a nice practical as well as political bent to her experience. Can she tame the dogs of war? Can she unite and give clear and visionary direction to the previously fractious four agencies? (UNIFEM, UNDAW, OSAGI and UN-INSTRAW.) ”
Here is the link if anyone would like to listen to the programme - you have to get past the trailer for the items on killer high heels and women Bishops first!! http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/wrbrl/
Join the UN Godmothers: the Godmothers is a group of men and women who think women everywhere deserve a chance. Together they will watch over UN Women, help keep it on track and protect it from people who’d like to see it fail - everything a good godmother would do. By making sure UN Women gets the powers and funding it needs.UK based Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) have set up a web-site for women and men who want to act as Godmothers. Sign up to be a UN Godmother at www.thegodmothers.org.uk