WE are UN women!
On March 8 this year, women around the world – young, old, poor, rich, literate and those barely able to recognise their own names written down – will awaken to the routine of their daily lives, little realising that that Tuesday’s sunrise ought to symbolise, for them all, the promise of renewal in more ways than just a new day dawning.
The women’s lobby will shout. Gender activists will march. For the few with the privilege of knowledge, and a spirit of compassion, the 100th commemoration of International Women’s Day will be cause for action. But for the panic-filled teenage girl who has just found out she’s pregnant, and for the dejected woman who’s just learnt that her husband will be taking a second wife because she bears him no children – the day will likely mark nothing but the continuation of desolation and isolation.
Sadly, while we chant and scream and protest, the many women with whom we should celebrate, and commiserate, remain ignorant of our efforts. Perhaps, because we have become so distanced from their daily plights, they even think we do not to care.
But do we care?
The United Nations has recently constituted a new agency, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women in short, to coordinate and spearhead the UN’s drive towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.
According to its Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, UN Women is the largest single UN body ever charged with advancing gender equality. I cheer because I am excited that the inception of such an entity coincides with the 100th year of commemorating a day when women’s issues come to the fore. I cheer because I can look back and see how every woman’s effort over this century-long journey has contributed to today where we have a resourced global agency that cares just about us.
But while I cheer, I fear too.
While UN Women is set to receive at least US$500 million annually, analysts say this will not be enough to cover the body’s proposed local and global advocacy activities. Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) believes that a more realistic annual budget for the entity should stand at US$1 billion.
With the world still finding its feet after the economic collapse of a few years ago, one wonders if and how this extra funding will be found; and how this will affect efforts towards furthering UN Women’s cause.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that global maternal mortality rates had fallen by just over a third between 1990 and 2008. In other words, within the lifetime of a young adult, deaths due to pregnancy-related complications fell from 546 000 to 358 000 annually. If that young adult is a woman, it means that her chances of a safe and healthy pregnancy are far greater than they were at the time of her own birth.
While these are commendable figures, they are still far too high, especially bearing in mind that Millennium Development Goal 5 aims, by 2015, to have slashed maternal mortality rates by 75% of their 1990 levels.
There are only four years left to honour the pledges made to the world’s women amid the excitement and promise of a new millennium. These pledges are achievable, if UN Women can make an impact in pushing governments, civil society and the private sector towards their fulfilment.
For too long, the UN’s various agencies have acted and reacted to gender matters haphazardly and without strategic vision. Here, now, is the chance to focus sights.
The road is steep. And the challenge lies with each one of us to travel it each day.
But the questions remain: Do you care that a sister will awaken on that Tuesday unaware that she ought to be celebrated and not castigated? Does it make a difference to your life?
UN Women is not merely an agency based in a far-off place. Each one of us forms its body - its advocates, its facilitators, its supporters. WE are UN Women and we need to make sure our fellow women know this and register their voices rising with the sun not just on Women’s Day, but every day.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.