By Naisola Likimani

February 24, 2011,

FEMNET Executive Director Ms. Norah Matovu-Winyi speaking at the forum

UN Women will be officially launched today February 24th, 2011, during the 55th Session of the UN Commission of the Status of Women here in New York. In the months leading up to this moment, civil society actors worldwide have been actively engaging with the transition process of UN Women in various ways. Oxfam Novib, for instance, undertook a global survey of organisations working on women’s human rights at national, local and grassroots level, to gauge their expectations of this new UN entity. They revealed the findings of the survey in a parallel event today, moderated by Novib Executive Director, Ms. Farah Karimi.

One hundred CSOs in 75 countries were interviewed for this survey, 28 of the countries being in Africa. Overwhelmingly, 99% of respondents cited Violence Against Women (VAW) as an urgent issue for UN Women to address, while 93% indicated that women’s access to economic resources requires urgent attention. Similarly, majority of respondents felt that VAW must be the top priority for UN Women. This is in line with the priorities that UN Women has recently expressed.

Civil society organisations were also clear that the group that needs the most attention from this entity is rural women, followed by disabled women and uneducated women. The needs of these groups do intersect, however UN Women should not take a ‘one size fits all approach.’

The survey showed that CSOs feel that UN Women must be in touch with the needs of women at the grassroots. Historically the United Nations efforts on women’s rights have not been very visible at national level.  Typically these efforts are in partnership with the State or government organisations, working on laws and systems, but with little change felt at the grassroots level.  In future, CSOs recommend that UN Women must work more closely with civil society organisations in collaborative partnerships, and use its access to governments to open up spaces for CSOs to play a part in strengthening women’s rights and promoting gender equality in their countries.

Panelists at this side event, who had also participated in the survey, indicated that most of these findings were not surprising, especially that the issue of VAW came out very strongly. Norah Matovu Winyi, Executive Director of FEMNET, noted that this was in line with the outcomes of the recent Beijing +15 review. She posed the challenge “What can UN Women do differently to tackle the issue of violence against women?”  Lina Abou Habib from the middle east/north Africa region, urged UN Women to develop a mechanism to hold governments accountable for implementation of CEDAW in the MENA region, and build relationships with independent feminist organisations, particularly in countries where there are oppressive regimes.

The commitment shown thus far by UN Women, to increase the relevance and responsiveness of UN efforts on women’s rights, has been encouraging. A note of caution, however. Thus far the new entity has a financial shortfall  to meet its US$1 billion budget – the UK and United States have not pledged any funding, and Canada has pledged a mere $10 million. If UN Women is to fulfil the mandate for which it was established, it will need adequate resources, and it is imperative to advocate during this CSW for donor states to commit to supporting the agency.  Only in this way can UN Women begin to meet the expectations of thousands of women’s CSOs working on the ground.

Naisola Likimani is the Advocacy Officer at FEMNET. She is currently in New York, at the CSW.

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