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UNIFEM, top HIV/AIDS envoy in Africa hail panel’s call for new gender agency

UNIFEM, top HIV/AIDS envoy in Africa hail panel’s call for new gender agency

Stephen Lewis
The United Nations women’s fund chief and UN envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa have heralded a high-level panel’s call for the creation of a new gender agency as a major step towards equality.

“Its recommendation of ‘an enhanced and independent’ policy, advocacy and operational agency for women’s empowerment and gender equality, to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General, is an inspired and entirely welcome remedy,” said Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, commenting on a report issued yesterday by the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence. “A giant step towards equality was taken.”

UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer also welcomed the panel’s suggestion to merge three UN entities, including her own, to form a single strong agency, adding that firm financial commitments and a top-level official were needed.

“We strongly hope that Member States will show their commitment to a strengthened operational presence and make the necessary resources available,” Ms. Heyzer said.

To curtail redundancies and streamline services, the new gender body would consolidate three of the UN’s existing entities under two organizational divisions, stated the report, entitled Delivering as One. A “normative, analytical and monitoring” division would subsume the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women and the Division for the Advancement of Women. A “policy advisory and programming” division would subsume UNIFEM’s current activities.

The report recommended that the head of the consolidated entity should have the rank of Under-Secretary-General to guarantee organizational stature and influence in UN system-wide decision making.

Mr. Lewis remains hopeful that a new entity will thrust gender issues into the forefront more efficiently and expediently than the UN has operated in the past.

“A destructive pattern has taken hold of landmark agreements on women’s rights: gender equality advocates work tirelessly to gain international consensus, only to see their hard-won declarations and resolutions reach dead ends for lack of expertise and operational capacity at country level,” Mr. Lewis said. “We have great hopes for what the new women’s agency can accomplish through targeted programmes in developing countries. At long last, the UN is poised to act on behalf of more than 17 million women living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, and the additional 225 young women between 15 and 24 who will become infected every hour today.”