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    UN women's agency blocked by Cuba and anti-women Islamic countries

    UN women's agency blocked by Cuba and anti-women Islamic countries
    Posted: September 13, 2009, 1:55 PM by NP Editor
    Full Comment, Kelly McParland

    Where is the outcry among fans of the UN to the clear anti-woman bias
    this represents? Both the Liberals and (especially) the NDP continue to
    argue that Canada should team frequently with the UN in pursuing a
    multilateral approach to foreign policy. Jack Layton's position on
    Afghanistan consists largely of relying on the UN to handle difficult
    details while Canada recalls its troops and puts a priority on
    unspecified "peacekeeping" duties.

    But, as Steve Edwards reports below, the UN can't even bring itself to
    stand up to four countries that oppose creation of a super-agency to
    focus on promoting the rights of women. The dissenters? Sudan, Iran,
    Cuba and Egypt.

    Where's the outrage from the left? Where are the cries of anger from
    Canada's women's groups? Where's the feminist movement?

    Too busy signing petitions against 'Israel apartheid', perhaps.

    UNITED NATIONS — Plans to announce the green light for a United Nations
    "super-agency" for women as early as Monday are in doubt because of
    opposition from three Muslim countries and Cuba.

    Canada is at the heart of a frantic diplomatic effort this weekend to
    convince developing countries in the anachronistically named Group of 77
    to break with the "Gang of Four" opponents and ensure passage of the new

    Support of the vast majority of the 130-member group is essential if the
    super-agency — which would aim to do for women what UNICEF does for
    children — is to be endorsed by the 192-member General Assembly.

    But the G-77, like many other blocs at the world body, likes to act by
    consensus. This means that the opponents — Egypt, Iran and Sudan in
    addition to ostensibly socialist Cuba — can hold up the measure even if
    it is supported by the rest of the UN's core voting body.

    "Organizational structure and practices at the UN should not get in the
    way of delivering on vital women's issues," Foreign Affairs Minister
    Lawrence Cannon said Friday. "Canada has long been a strong advocate for
    strengthening the United Nations' capacity to deliver on women's issues,
    and Monday's vote is a chance for the world body to show that it is
    moving in that direction."

    UN reform ideas floated at the 2005 World Summit embraced the idea that
    more is needed to be done to tackle such gender-related issues as
    violence against women, women's property rights and HIV/AIDS among
    women. A panel subsequently recommended that the work of four smaller UN
    women's agencies needed to be brought together under a bigger agency,
    and a budget of around $1 billion U.S. is envisioned for the new entity.

    But though the proposal has been before the General Assembly since 2006,
    Cuba, Egypt, Iran and Sudan have decided they can now use it to press
    for other changes they seek at the UN.

    Insiders say these four have tied their support for the new agency to
    their demand that the UN General Assembly be given increased power over
    funds it collects from donor countries.

    While rich countries fund the overwhelming majority of all UN
    activities, they currently retain power over how a significant portion
    of the money is spent.

    Canada's Stephen Lewis is among longtime proponents of the new agency
    who say the tactic is unacceptable because it is holding up creation of
    a body he and other supporters say is long overdue.

    "I am deeply agitated by the effort to delay the women's agency, and to
    use women as a foil for other issues," said Lewis, co-director of
    AIDS-Free World, a U.S.-based Aids-advocacy organization.

    "Women are always expendable in the minds of some countries, but we will
    keep fighting. Women must have the agency that was recommended by the
    special panel."

    The delaying tactics have outraged women's rights groups, who say
    postponement past Monday — the last day of the current UN session —
    could lead to the idea being shelved indefinitely.

    "There has been a momentum for this for three years, but we're worried
    that there is a limit as to how long people will keep talking out it,"
    said Charlotte Bunch, executive director for the Center for Women's
    Global Leadership at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

    She noted the funding reforms the four delaying countries seek have been
    particularly divisive at the UN, hence it is unfair to link progress on
    women's rights to them.

    "It's like holding everything up for a settlement in the Middle East,"
    she said, citing another near-intractable issue on the world stage. "How
    long do women's rights have to wait?"

    Even if the General Assembly were to endorse the new agency Monday,
    creating it would still take up to two years.

    The super-agency would bring together and build on the work of the UN
    Development Fund for Women (Unifem), the Office of the Special Adviser
    on Gender Issues, the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, and UN
    International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of
    Women (Instraw).

    Canwest News

    UN women's agency blocked by Cuba and anti-women Islamic countries –
    Full Comment (13 September 2009)

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