Women’s Groups Criticize UN’s Commitment to Gender Equality

In an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the UN’s member states, women from more than 50 countries and dozens of NGOs expressed their disappointment that the United Nations has not placed more of an emphasis on women’s equality. In advance of International Women’s Day and coinciding with the UN’s 50th Session of the Commission of the Status of Women, the letter states, “We are disappointed and frankly outraged that gender equality and strengthening the women’s machineries within the UN system are barely noted, and are not addressed as a central part of the reform agenda.”

Secretary-General Annan, in his published Message for International Women’s Day, noted that “it isÉright and indeed necessary that women should be engaged in the decision-making processes in all areas, with equal strength and in equal numbers.” However, his critics contend that such sentiments do little to actually improve gender equality. Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, said, “Although we’ve had a lot of rhetorical commitment to women’s rights, it still hasn’t made it on to the big agenda of UN reform,” reports the Associated Press.

The letter also notes concern that women are not advancing within the ranks of the UN, a point of tension exacerbated by the UN’s announced list of candidates for the position of executive director of the UN Environment Program, which does not include any women despite the availability of qualified choices. June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, said, “This disparity between men and women at the UN is getting worse and we’re really at an all-time low. In 2006, this is just unacceptable in an institution that’s committed to gender equality and women’s participation in decision-making.”

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AP 3/6/06; Message of the Secretary-General 3/8/06; Open Letter on Women and UN Reform 3/6/06

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