UN: ''In UN reform, where are the women?'' By June Zeitlin, WEDO

At this year's CSW, WEDO and the other groups expressed their disappointment and outrage that gender equality and strengthening the women's machineries within the U.N. system are still not being addressed as a central part of the U.N. reform agenda.
Last year at the 10-year Review session of the Beijing Platform for Action in March and in the lead up to the September World Summit, WEDO working with other women's organizations, urged UN Member States and the Secretary General to significantly strengthen, upgrade and better resource the U.N. women's machineries at the international and national level.
The response has been under-whelming, to say the least.

WEDO, Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom made their views known in an Open Letter to the Secretary General and Member States endorsed by more than 300 women from over 50 countries and by numerous international and regional organizations.

The disregard by the Secretary General and governments for women's rights issues and women's participation in critical UN reform decisions was evident in the composition and terms of reference of a new High-Level Panel focusing on the implementation of system-wide coherence. Established by the SG, the panel includes only three women out of 15 members and its three-person secretariat comprises all men. Furthermore the terms of reference-covering development, the environment and humanitarian activities-never mention gender equality.

The Open Letter was released just before the Secretary General's office announced that his Chief of Staff, Mark Malloch Brown would replace the UN's top ranking women, Louise Frechette as Deputy Secretary General. Highly qualified women had already been passed over for the top post at the United Nations Development Programme with the appointment of Kemal Dervis in August 2005. And women again lost out when Achim Steiner, head of the World Conservation Union, was recently appointed Director General of the United Nations Environment Programme.

More than 10 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Bejing, the number of women in top posts at the UN continues to lag and now seems to be sliding downwards. ''(P)rogress towards gender parity in the UN is nowhere near what it should be,'' the Secretary General admitted in his message for International Women's Day. Yet despite this poor record on gender equity from the institution he heads, Mr. Annan's message was nonetheless full of fine words and solidarity-''(T)he role of women in decision-making is central...to the progress of humankind as a whole...'';

''In the UN, we need to do much more to attract talented women to decision-making posts...''; and even, ''(T)he world is ready for a woman Secretary General,'' to great applause.

Frankly, women have had enough of these kind words and promises. WEDO and others are not letting the issues of women's empowerment and gender equality fall off the UN Reform agenda.

Following up on our Open Letter WEDO, CWGL WILPF are seeking a meeting with Mr. Annan on incorporating gender equality as a central aspect of the reform agenda, and the need for an institutional mechanism with stature, authority and resources equal to the task. We have suggested several qualified women who could be immediately added to the High-Level Panel and we are reaching out to Panel members as well.

Meanwhile WEDO and other groups have joined the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy's UNSGselection.com that aims to promote a more effective, transparent and democratic selection process for the next UN Secretary-General, which includes gender sensitivity in the proposed candidate qualifications and a stipulation that the selection process be guided by the principles of gender equality and geographical balance.

In addition, advocates have gained an outspoken champion in Stephen Lewis, the UN's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, on the matter of establishing an agency focused on gender equality with enough resources and clout to make a difference. In recent speeches, Lewis has argued for a new agency with a new name and a broad mandate to be headed by an Under Secretary-General.

ENDNOTE: Human Rights Council Update

The resolution to establish a new Human Rights Council was passed in March by an overwhelming majority, with only four countries voting No-U.S, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau. The General Assembly will elect the 47-nation membership on May 9 and the Council is set to begin its work on June 19 in Geneva where it will be based.

The resolution creating the Council preserves NGO participation and the system of special procedures (independent experts called special rapporteurs who focus on specific countries or themes, and working groups on specific topics), although both will be reviewed in the first year of the Council's work. This has been one of the concerns of women's NGOs, which have increasingly utilized these mechanisms to advance women's rights. It is important, therefore, that advocates pay close attention to this review process to ensure the continuation (and on-going evolution) of the work of independent experts and that the participation of NGOs in the Council remains at the levels currently allowed in CHR processes, which are greater than those of the General Assembly.

Human Rights and women rights advocates, including WEDO endorsed the creation of the new Council as a positive step, while recognizing it doesn't embody all of the reforms advocates sought. (See: Center for Women's Global Leadership, Statement on passage of Human Rights Council resolution.)

This article originally appeared in the ''News & Views'' section of the WEDO website