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A GLOBAL CALL TO ACTION!!
UNIFEM AND ALL WOMEN AND DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES UNDER THREAT


Onderstaande oproep werd op 13 november 2003 verspreid via de nieuwsbrief van het International Women's Tribune Center:

Women's GlobalNet, Issue 238
Activities and Initiatives of Women Worldwide
This issue by Anne S. Walker and Vicki J. Semler
November 13, 2003


Last week, women worldwide were alerted to the fact that the Dutch
government has decided to eliminate their funding for UNIFEM. Currently,
funding from The Netherlands represents 20% of UNIFEM's core budget.
What does this mean for UNIFEM? According to Executive Director Noeleen
Heyzer, the loss of these funds could lead to cutbacks in all regions
and programmes, including up to a 50% cut of UNIFEM funding in the
African region alone. It appears that the government of The Netherlands
decided to prioritise support for gender mainstreaming over support
for women-specific programs, inferring that women's agencies have not
been successful in mainstreaming gender equality.
The cutting of funds to UNIFEM is further evidence of a change in heart
and policy among major government donor agencies that have until now
been such strong supporters of women and development activities. Since
the first United Nations World Conference on Women in Mexico 1975, when
the world sat up and took notice of the needs, concerns and issues of
women worldwide, The Netherlands has led the way in this respect. Major
non-governmental organization (NGO) initiatives such as the Women's
Global Network for Reproductive Rights and the International Women’s
Tribune Centre could not have achieved all that they have without this
support and encouragement. Yet sadly, both of these groups have now lost
their Dutch funding along with other government donor agency funding and
are in danger of having to close their doors.
In the words of Peg Snyder, founding Director of UNIFEM, we have
invested gender mainstreaming with too much promise, to the neglect or
even disparagement of women-specific institutions and organizations that
have been and still are the fount of ideas and innovative actions, and a
source of women's collective strength. Peg goes on to say: “Women and
development transformed development thinking about women, who had
previously been seen as wives and mothers only in the history of UN
assistance. That transformation, giving visibility to women's profound
economic and political contributions to their families and societies,
needs to be celebrated, not denigrated, as we move forward to support
women's peace actions, and to assist women and men workers who are
trapped by the negative effects of the global economy.
Just last week, women worldwide mourned the passing of Sharon
Capeling-Alakija, UNIFEM Director from 1989-1994. Sharon worked to put
UNIFEM and women's rights solidly on the UN map and at UN tables. She
held a gender lens to mainstream issues such as the environment,
refugees, and human rights, and strongly advocated the idea that women's
rights are human rights. She also struggled to frame violence against
women as a legitimate focus of UNIFEM's efforts.
All this comes at a time when the rise of religious fundamentalism in
all its forms already threatens to set back many of the gains made in 25
years of UN world conferences on women. Women activists and advocates
who have used the UN conferences to leverage change dare not allow the
re-opening of already agreed-upon policy documents, such as the 1995
Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), for discussion and possible
updating, not with retroactive forces poised to take away many of
women’s hard-won gains as represented in these documents. Most affected
would be reproductive health rights for women, rights that could not be
more important in a world facing an AIDS pandemic that threatens to
destroy all the development gains of the past 25 years. Never before
have women’s lives and livelihoods been under such serious threat. Never
before have women’s activism and advocacy been more needed.
The possibility of seeing focused efforts to implement both the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed upon by all Member States of
the UN in 2000, and the BPFA, has also been dealt a severe blow by the
threat of donor support withdrawal. In fact, many of the goals enshrined
in the MDGs have been brought to the world’s attention by women’s
activism and advocacy efforts in the past 25 years. Would violence
against women have become a central item on the global human rights
agenda without UNIFEM and the worldwide activism of women’s NGOs? Would
Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (2001)
have become a reality if UNIFEM and women peace activists had not
lobbied hard in every world region, and in the halls of the UN? These
are just two among hundreds of issues that the combined efforts of women
in NGOs working in concert with UNIFEM have brought to the UN and
governmental decision-making tables. As the late Sharon
Capeling-Alakija, director of UNIFEM 1989-1994, frequently commented,
If UNIFEM does not speak of these issues, who in the UN will?
It is not difficult to imagine that perhaps we women have been too
successful in putting gender concerns at the core of the world’s
agendas. Perhaps we are threatening the powers that be in ways they have
not been threatened before? Suffice to say that women’s networks and
organizations everywhere, whether UN agencies such as UNIFEM, government
gender units, or NGO networks, are facing a backlash that is now making
itself felt worldwide by the withdrawal of essential funds. We must take
action before we lose our hard won gains.
For those who feel they would like to support actions to stop the
withdrawal of funding for UNIFEM and other women and development
organizations, we are including here an URGENT ACTION, originally
called for by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization
(WEDO).

URGENT ACTION:
We urge you to:

  • Write the government of The Netherlands requesting full funding to
    UNIFEM for fiscal year 2004 and a continued commitment to women's
    programming within the UN system, bi-laterally and non-governmentally.
  • Mobilize to support UNIFEM and women-specific programming in the UN and
    globally
  • Alert the Dutch press and international press to this situation
  • Open a broader debate about the failure of gender mainstreaming in
    the UN and globally, due to a flawed understanding of the concept -which
    for most officials has meant simply adding women to failing
    development policies, or paying lip-service to gender while ignoring
    women's concerns.

Please act this week! Below, find a sample letter and contact
information for the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Ministry
of Foreign Affairs.


SAMPLE LETTER:

To: The Honorable Anna Maria Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven, Minister
for Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The
Netherlands
From:
Date:
Dear Minister van Aardenne,
We are/I am writing to you out of our concern over pending budget
choices of your office that will effectively weaken UNIFEM as a strong
voice for women within United Nations policymaking and implementation
processes, and as a staunch proponent of women's advancement at the
country level.
UNIFEM is the only UN agency with a mandate to advance women's rights
and empower women. It was created not from the bureaucracy itself but
from the demands of the women's movement. Any reform should be in the
direction of strengthening UNIFEM with more resources for regional level
activities and more political clout within the UN itself. UNIFEM is also
one of the few UN agencies that actively supports the work of NGOs
working in women and development.
While I/we share the frustration of many over the slow progress of
gender mainstreaming within the UN system, we view this as a failure of
the institutional leadership to give serious recognition and resources
to women and gender concerns. The weakening of UNIFEM, therefore, will
only result in the further marginalization and diminution of women's
concerns, throughout the UN system and globally.
I/we stand ready to work with you, UNIFEM, the UN and other stakeholders
to truly integrate women's concerns into UN policy and programmes.
Yours sincerely,
(Put your name and organization contact information here)

SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

In English:

Minister Anna Maria Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven
Minister for Development Cooperation
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Postbus 20061
NL-2500 EB Den Haag
The Netherlands
Fax: 31 70 - 3 48 4848
rs@minbuza.nl

In Dutch:

Minister Anna Maria Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven
Ontwikkelings-samenwerking
Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
Postbus 20061
NL-2500 EB Den Haag
The Netherlands
Fax: 31 70 - 3 48 4848
rs@minbuza.nl