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Lancet World Report Examines How U.N. Women Agency Will Work To Address Global Health Issues

A Lancet World Report article examines how many are looking to the new U.N. agency tasked with advancing women’s equality and rights to help improve the health of women in developing countries.

According to the journal, U.N. Women, which “merges several organizations previously charged with advancing gender equality and female empowerment” is expected to “be operational by January, 2011, headed by an Under Secretary-General to be appointed by [U.N. Secretary-General] Ban [Ki-moon] before September’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Summit.”

The article describes the operations of the new body, much of what the journal notes will be based on the 1995 Beijing Declaration, which “codifies international policy on issues such as gender mainstreaming, violence against women, and reproductive rights,” and the role it will play in “holding the U.N. to account over its work on gender equality and female empowerment.”

One topic demanding the attention of U.N. Women early on will be that of maternal health, the journal notes. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 set out to reduce “maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015, and universal access to reproductive health by the same year,” the journal notes. “According to WHO, it ‘remains the MDG target for which progress has been the most disappointing’, despite the fact that from a technical perspective experts are clear about how to proceed.”

The article explores several reasons why progress toward maternal health MDG targets has been slow, including that “[m]any governments simply have not shown their commitment to the problem, inadequately investigating cases of maternal death and failing to establish surveillance systems and accountability measures.”

The journal continues, “[Moez] Doraid [formerly Deputy Executive Director of UNIFEM] points out that the analysis which preceded the decision to create U.N. Women concluded that the U.N. infrastructure to tackle gender inequality was under-resourced, poorly positioned, and inadequately coordinated. All of which might have contributed to the lack of attention given to MDG5. With effective leadership and funding, U.N. Women should be able to raise the profile of maternal health issues.” The article also looks at how the agency will devote attention to violence against women and HIV/AIDS.

“In the short-term, ‘an indicator of whether success is possible is if UN Women is given the resources it needs to do the job,’ noted [Liesl] Gerntholtz [of Human Rights Watch],” the Lancet writes. “US$500 million has been mooted as the minimum budget; this is double the combined budgets of the respective merged bodies, although some experts would prefer nearer $1 billion,” according to the story.

The article also includes comments from Ban and Joseph Amon of Human Rights Watch (Burki, 8/7).