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U.N. General Assembly Votes To Create U.N. Agency For Women

After three years of negotiations, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously voted on Monday “to create a new, more powerful agency for women, in a move supporters hailed as a breakthrough for women’s equality and rights,” Reuters reports (Worsnip, 9/14). Last week, Cuba, Egypt, Iran and Sudan “mounted a last-minute campaign to delay ratification” (Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, 9/11).

Though the U.N. has four existing entities that deal with women’s issues, “none of them is as politically powerful and financially stable as full-fledged U.N. agencies,” Inter Press Service (IPS) writes (Deen, 9/14).

The assembly resolution called for the amalgamation of the four women’s affairs offices “into a single body to be headed by an under-secretary-general [USG] – a higher rank than exists at present on the issue,” according to Reuters. “It requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to produce within a year a comprehensive proposal that would specify the new entity’s mission statement, organizational arrangements, funding and executive board” (9/14).

IPS reports that a group, consisting of more than 300 international non-governmental organizations, which has been pushing for structural gender equality reforms in the U.N. system, in a statement “urge[d] Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately begin the recruitment process for appointing a strong leader grounded in women’s rights and gender equality as the USG who will lead this process of consolidating the four existing entities.” The article includes reactions from additional parties (9/14).

Oxfam described the absence of a specific mandate for the new agency as “deplorable,” though group officials said they understood the delay resulted from pressure from within the “Group of 77” developing states. “While calling the creation of the new agency potentially exciting, Daniela Rosche, head of Oxfam’s gender campaign, said it would ‘mean absolutely nothing if member states fail to give it a clear mission,’” Reuters writes (9/14).

Death Of Child Bride Highlights Need To Better Protect Women’s Rights, UNICEF Says

In related news, a “12-year-old Yemeni girl, who was forced into marriage, has died during a difficult delivery in which her baby also died,” the Yemeni Organisation for Childhood Protection, known as Seyaj, said on Sunday as the group also demanded action to prevent Yemeni men from taking child brides, Agence France-Presse reports (Mounassar, 9/14).

According to the Associated Press, Yemen’s parliament in February “passed a law setting the minimum marriage age at 17. But some lawmakers who are trying to kill the measure … forced it to be sent back to parliament’s constitutional committee for review.”

In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman, said, “the younger the girl is when she becomes pregnant, the greater the health risks for her and her baby.” She added, “Tragedies like these underscore the urgent need to better protect the rights of women and children, particularly girls” (9/15).