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Kofi Annan accused of ignoring women's reforms

The accusation came in an open letter signed by women coming from over 70 organisations from all over the world.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 10:26 IST

Women from over 50 countries have criticised Kofi Annan in an open letter for failing to promote women and women's rights.

The women said on Monday that they were "disappointed and frankly outraged" that strengthening the UN machinery focusing on women is not a central part of the UN's reform agenda.

They also expressed deep concern "that the position of women in high-level UN posts has stagnated."

At a news conference to highlight the letter, Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership, said, "We are really disappointed that once more we have to be here asking, 'Where are the women? Where's the money? Where's the commitment in concrete terms?'"

"Although we've had a lot of rhetorical commitment to women's rights, it still hasn't made it on to the big agenda of UN reform," she lamented.

At the 1995 UN women's conference in Beijing, and at the 10-year review in 2005, commitments were made by the United Nations and governments to achieve equality of the sexes.

"If we are really going to say that women's equality is at the centre of the 21st century" and that this is an issue the UN has advanced in its 60-year history, Bunch said, "then it's time to have a new look at the reforms from the eyes of women."

The women who signed the letter are attending the 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and come from over 70 organisations.

They urged Annan in his address to the commission on Wednesday, which is International Women's Day, "to announce concrete proposals for advancing gender equality" and strengthening the UN bodies that work for women's rights.

June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women's Environment and Development Organisation, said that women attending the commission's two-week meeting "are demanding that women be seated at every decision-making table in these discussions regarding UN reforms, and that the women's equality agenda be addressed."

The letter noted that a high-level panel appointed recently to study how the UN system deals with development, humanitarian assistance and the environment has only three women out of the 15 members.

This week, the UN announced an all-male short list for the new executive director of the UN Environment Program despite a campaign by women's groups to appoint a woman, Zeitlin said.

"This disparity between men and women at the UN is getting worse and we're really at an all-time low," she said.

"In 2006, this is just unacceptable in an institution that's committed to gender equality and women's participation in decision-making." Perhaps the problem is best exemplified by last Friday's appointment of Annan's chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown to replace Louise Frechette as deputy secretary-general when she steps down on March 31, Zeitlin said.

Pawadee Tonguthai, head of Asia Pacific Women's Watch, who spoke on behalf of women in the region, said they protest "the fact that the UN hasn't been acting as a role model for governments in terms of putting more women in decision-making roles or taking care of this equal participation by women."

"If you don't have the UN as a role model," she said, "the government itself will also go backward."

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 10:26 IST