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8 October, 2008


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed the importance of continued support for the efforts of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to empower the world’s women, particularly to improve maternal health and promote gender equality, even in the midst of the economic woes countries are currently facing.

“The global financial crisis is forcing all of us to save and cut costs where we can. But our work for the women of the world must continue undiminished,” Mr. Ban stated last night at the presentation of the 2008 International Award for the Health and Dignity of Women, which is given out by Americans for UNFPA.

The recipients of this year’s award, which honours exemplary contributions to women’s health and the promotion of women’s rights, were four American women from the corporate sector and activists from Madagascar, Mexico and Nepal.

“These honourees all understand a fundamental truth,” said Mr. Ban. “When you empower a woman, you empower a family.”

Empowering women also frees up the most valuable resource for development, as well as increases the chances of an education for their children, and their children in turn, he added.

“In short, when you empower a woman, you change the world,” the Secretary-General said, adding that this is exactly what UNFPA does by striving for maternal health and gender equality.

Too many women live in societies where maternity wards have inadequate medical equipment, or where there is no maternity ward at all, Mr. Ban noted, pointing out that one woman dies each minute from complications related to pregnancy or labour. “We must halt this terrible tragedy.”

Recently the UN teamed up with world leaders to launch a new initiative to strengthen health systems in an effort to reduce the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with a 2015 deadline.

The task force on maternal mortality, which will be co-chaired by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and World Bank President Robert Zoellick, will focus on innovative financing to strengthen health care systems and pay for health care workers.

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23 July, 2008


The first women lawyers association in Somalia has been established in the Somaliland region with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“It will take time for the male-dominated legal profession to understand and accept the importance of women lawyers in society,” Antonia Lulvey, UNDP’s judiciary project manager, said.

UNDP said in a statement yesterday that the association, which was created earlier this year, currently has five members, with a further 17 women set to graduate from the University of Hargeisa in September. The UN agency has provided grants to enable women to attend the law faculty, as well as supplying equipment, training and financial support to the association.

The sole practising female lawyer in Somaliland until last year was Ifra Aden Omar, who currently heads the association. With UNDP help, Ms. Omar provides free legal aid services to women and juvenile cases – most commonly rape, domestic violence, divorce, child custody, child maintenance and inheritance.

Currently there are no female prosecutors or judges in Somaliland, according to UNDP, which says it is in discussions with local officials on how to support new female law graduates to practise either as prosecutors or trainee judges.

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22 April, 2008


Academy-Award winning actress and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman and senior world body officials today issued a call for greater support for an online petition aimed at eliminating violence against women.

“Every voice counts, and every amount counts,” Ms. Kidman told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, urging people to add their names to the campaign and donors to step up funding for the cause. “Let survivors of violence around the world know that they can count on us.”

When asked about her motivations in taking part in the movement, the Ambassador said that as a mother of two who is seven months pregnant, she seeks to help both her own children and children around the world have a “better life.”

Since its launch late last November, the “Say NO to violence against women” petition has garnered more than 200,000 supporters.

“By signing on, citizens send an unequivocal message to leaders around the world, letting their governments know that they want to see decisive action,” Joanne Sandler, UNIFEM Executive Director, said at the press conference. “They want to see an end to impunity, services for survivors and – most importantly – strong investments in prevention.”

In a welcome development, governments have started to sign on to the campaign, including the entire Senegalese Cabinet, led by the West African nation’s President, she added.

In response to a journalist’s question over whether the current number of signatures is a disappointment, Ms. Sandler said that she is thrilled at the current response, observing that “this is something that catches on over time.”

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said that the UN system is now converging around this key topic, noting that in February, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off a multi-year global campaign bringing together the world body, governments and civil society to try to end violence against women and called it an issue that “cannot wait.”

Characterizing it as the “most pervasive human rights violation,” Ms. Migiro said that violence against women “transcends borders, cultures and economic differences.”

Calling on the international community to cooperate in stemming the scourge, UN Foundation (UNF) President Timothy E. Wirth said that everyone can play a part.

“Taking the simple step of signing on to this campaign sends the message that enough is enough, and that the cycle of violence must stop now,” he said.

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06 March, 2007


The United Nations human rights chief today expressed strong concern over Iran’s arrest of at least 31 women activists during a peaceful gathering in the capital Tehran at the weekend, and urged the authorities to adhere to all international rights agreements that the country is party to, including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour stressed that these women were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, her office said in a press release. They were demonstrating against the arrests of five women activists who were charged with criminal offences against public order and security for having organized a protest in the capital last June.

Iran is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Civil and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Iran must adhere to the legal obligations undertaken under those treaties to respect all human rights without discrimination, Ms. Arbour was quoted as saying by a spokesperson at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The High Commissioner also encourages the Iranian Government to ratify other international human rights treaties, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol.

In addition, Ms. Arbour highlighted that these arrests, which occurred on Sunday, took place just four days before the celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March that this year is dedicated to the theme of “Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.” She also noted that on the same day last year, Iranian security forces violently broke up a peaceful gathering of hundreds of women who were demonstrating for their rights in Tehran’s Daneshjoo Park.

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30 January, 2007


For the first time in the history of United Nations peacekeeping, an all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU) arrived today in Liberia to join the world body’s operation as it works to strengthen the rule of law and maintain peace in the West African country.

The new officers serving with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) are “very confident, they are trained, and I think they will perform well out here,” said their commander, Seema Dhundiya.

She emphasized that the Unit, which consists of 103 women performing operational tasks and 22 men doing logistics work, is well-prepared to meet the challenges ahead. “Our contingent has been carved out from a paramilitary force and as far as training is concerned, it is almost on the same line of what army recruits get.”

Ms. Dhundiya pledged that the officers, who are armed with sophisticated weapons, will carry out their work with utmost professionalism. “We are definitely going to perform to the best of our abilities and raise the expectations of our senior authorities and our own country.”

Describing the disembarkation of the female police, UN spokesman Ben Dotsei Malor said they looked sharp and motivated despite having just arrived by air. “Even though they have just come off this flight they look like they are ready for action,” he said.

Mr. Malor emphasized that the Indian blue berets would help the Liberian National Police (LNP) while supporting the work of the UN in the country.

“We hope that the presence of this all-female contingent will serve as an incentive and an attraction to encourage young Liberian women to join the Liberian National Police,” said UNMIL Police Commissioner Mohammed Alhassan.

Ms. Dhundiya was optimistic that her officers could function as role models. “I think the Liberian people are going to welcome us with open arms and more of the local population will get inspired seeing these girls properly dressed, well equipped and probably they will get motivated to join the UN police officers, especially the girls.”

The Indian women “are the right people at the right time to come here now,” said Mr. Malor. “They are professional, skilled, capable, and they will be able to do the job just as well as their male counterparts are already doing on the ground if not better in some instances.”

“The arrival today of the all-female FPU from India is an extra boost to our policing efforts here in Liberia,” agreed Mr. Alhassan.

The new Unit joins 82 female UN police officers serving with UNMIL in various capacities.

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22 November, 2006


The number of countries with laws tackling the scourge of domestic violence has surged in the last three years, with 89 States now with some sort of provisions, the head of the United Nations Development Fund for Women
(UNIFEM) said today.

Speaking on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is being marked on Saturday, UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer told reporters in New York that there were welcome signs of progress around the world.

In 2003 only 45 countries had specific laws on domestic violence, she said, but that number has now increased to 60, and in total there are 89 nations with some form of legislative provisions that deal with domestic violence.

Funding for initiatives is also on the rise, with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women – which is disbursed by UNIFEM – set to hand out nearly $4 million this year, almost twice the amount of last year.

Noting that many countries still had a long way to go, Ms. Heyzer said the key challenge is to help nations ensure that the laws and measures they have introduced are fully implemented, enforced and monitored, especially at the local level.

She also said the rise in both anti-violence laws and Trust Fund grants is no coincidence – many grants in recent years have gone to campaigns that push for legislation on violence against women.

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1 September, 2006


India’s landmark decision to send 125 female police officers, one complete specialized unit, to assist United Nations peacekeeping operations in Liberia in October is an “unprecedented” move that sends a message not only to other post-conflict countries about the importance of having women officers, but also to police contributing nations, senior UN officials said today.

“This is an unprecedented move by India to deploy these female officers in policing and we applaud it and think that it is extremely timely and extremely relevant to the policing needs in the years ahead,” Police Adviser Mark Kroeker told the UN News Service.

“We think it’s a breakthrough that India has expressed its willingness and it’s also good for our Liberia mission because it brings to that police operation these officers who are trained, who are capable, who are women and who can bring the best of what the UN police is to the component there.”

The 125 officers, who are currently undergoing the final stages of their training in India, will make up a specialized unit, known as a Formed Police Unit (FPU). The UN has had increasing success with such units over the past few years as a means of bridging the gap between regular and lightly-armed police and fully-armed blue helmets.

Details of what exact role the all-female FPU will play as part of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) are currently being worked out, said Noor Gabow, Acting Mission Management Coordinator at the UN Police Division. However he added these specialized units have traditionally been employed as a rapid reaction force, trained in crowd control and better armed than regular police, as well as playing a strong training role for local officers.

“This Indian women’s contingent are made up solely of volunteers who have decided that they’d like to be a part of peace operations and that they can play an effective, credible role which we know they can,” said Mr. Gabow.

India currently contributes almost 400 police officers to UN missions worldwide, one of the top 10 police-contributing countries, but only 15 of these personnel are female officers, something which the introduction of the 125 women officers in October will dramatically change and which UN officials say will also send a powerful message for change to other contributing countries.

“This decision is extremely timely because as we look at our deployment of women in UN police components around the world, we still retain an unacceptably small number of three or four per cent, compared to up to 25 per cent of women officers in an acceptable police organization,” said Mr. Kroeker, himself a former Los Angeles police officer for over 30 years.

“It enhances our access to vulnerable populations by having women in UN missions and also sends a message to the post-conflict societies where we work that women officers can have any position and play any role in a police organization, including that of commissioner, or deputy-commissioner or chief of regions or whatever.”

The all-female Indian unit will join other FPUs currently serving in Liberia, where the concept was first tried out although its success there and in other operations has led to calls for increasing deployment.

UN officials also highlight that FPUs are cheaper to deploy than regular military units, noting that it costs around $5 million to set up a specialized police formation while a military battalion can cost up $30 million. In addition, the deployment of FPUs sends a message to the populations of post-conflict countries that the UN is demilitarizing, while maintaining a credible force that at the same time is helping build local police capacity.

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13 July, 2006


As part of further efforts by the United Nations to enforce its “zero tolerance” policy for sexual exploitation and abuse, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has put forward a draft strategy on assistance and support to victims of such behaviour by UN staff and related personnel, including recommendations for medical care and child maintenance.

In a letter to the General Assembly detailing the main points of the strategy, and also a related policy statement, Mr. Annan emphasizes that the “vast majority of those working under the United Nations flag proudly live up to” standards of integrity, many serving difficult and dangerous circumstances.

But the strategy comes as an acknowledgement of the fact that within the ranks are “individuals who have violated the trust that is placed in the United Nations by engaging in acts of sexual exploitation and abuse of the same people that the United Nations is mandated to protect.”

In order for the strategy to be truly comprehensive, “a common approach” by both the UN and the Member States is needed, the Secretary-General says.

“As part of its overall efforts to respond to sexual exploitation and abuse, the United Nations commits to working with Member States and its partners to ensure that there is a comprehensive and coordinated response to meet the needs of complainants, victims and children fathered by United Nations staff or related personnel.”

The strategy, representing more than 12 months of wide-ranging consultations involving UN operations, Member States and various organizations, offers seven main recommendations to the General Assembly on ways to deal with the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse.

The recommendations are that the United Nations:

Commits to providing assistance and support to complainants, victims and children fathered by UN staff or related personnel; Commits to ensuring that complainants, victims and children fathered by UN staff or related personnel receive relevant assistance and support, including for example medical care and child maintenance; Instructs the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator in each country where the UN has a presence to work with the country team and any peacekeeping mission to assist in providing services for the victims of sexual abuse; Requests its agencies and partners that are experienced in gender-based violence to offer their skills in making sure the right services are provided; Establishes a common funding mechanism to ensure a reliable source of funding to implement this strategy; Develops guidelines for the provision of financial support to victims, including guidelines on the scale of support and the circumstances in which it is to be provided; Reviews the Policy Statement and Comprehensive Strategy after 18 months of implementation.

“We are all aware of the imperative to eradicate sexual exploitation and abuse. We must also address the harm it causes, both to the victims and to the reputation of the Organization,” the Secretary-General declares. “A truly comprehensive approach will leave no uncertainty for the victims and will restore the reputation of the Organization as one that acts responsibly towards the communities it serves.”

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22 June, 2006


Describing the “gender equality experience” in Sweden as being a “contradictory process,” a United Nations rights expert has said that the root causes of violence against women in the country have remain unchallenged and become normalized despite an impressive amount of legislation aimed at stamping out the problem.

Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences, made her remarks after returning from a fact-finding mission to Sweden, where she held meetings with officials, women’s groups and others, and talked with women who have suffered extreme violence.

“The gender equality experience in Sweden has been a contradictory process.
While the equal opportunity agenda has paved the way for public representation of women, it was not effective in countering the deeply rooted patriarchal gender norms that sustain unequal power relations between women and men,” she said in a press statement.

“As a result, the root causes of violence against women remained unchallenged and perceived as pertaining to the private realm of life. In the quest for equality, violence against women is said to have become normalized and personalized.”

In particular, Ms. Ertürk highlighted a 2001 survey, commissioned by the Government, which found that 46 per cent of all women have experienced male violence since their fifteenth birthday, while 12 per cent had been subjected to such violence in the last year prior to the survey.

“The study also highlights that those men who perpetrate violence againstwomen can be found at all income and education levels. Contrary to common stereotypes, they are “normal”, more often than not, Swedish-born men.
Similarly, women who suffer gender-based violence can be found in all segments of society.”

Describing the “legislative and institutional response” of the authorities to violence against women as “impressive,” she said that despite this, only about 10 per cent of all reported crimes of sexual violence result in a prosecution of the perpetrator. Ways of improving this situation, she suggested, include specific training of police, medical and other personnel, and also more proactive methods of investigation.

While emphasizing that “violence against women remains a mainstream problem in Sweden,” the Special Rapporteur said that some groups appear to face higher risks, including for example women from immigrant communities and he called for special protection and assistance for such groups from both the State and society at large.

“In this regard, it is important to recall that cultural, traditional or religious considerations can never be invoked to justify any form of violence against women,” said the expert, who is unpaid and works in an independent, personal capacity.

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15 June, 2006


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) voiced deep concern today that children and women could be trafficked and subjected to sexual exploitation during the Football World Cup currently underway in Germany, where some 7 million fans are expected at the various games.

While welcoming the German government’s efforts to fight child trafficking and child prostitution, the Agency said it was concerned that children might still be trafficked into Germany from surrounding countries in Eastern Europe, where trafficking of young girls for sexual exploitation, forced labour and begging is a common problem.

According to news reports, a large brothel is being constructed close to the main venue for the World Cup in Berlin. Prostitution is legal in Germany.

UNICEF cited a report issued last week by the United States State Department noting the potential of increased human trafficking during the World Cup matches and naming Germany as a transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe.

In January, the European Parliament warned about the trafficking of women and children during the games. According to the UN International Labour Organization, more than 1 million children are trafficked every year.

“Trafficking and sexual exploitation deprive children of their dignity and put their safety, health and education in peril,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in New York. “Caught in an underworld of illegality and violence, trafficked and sexually exploited children virtually disappear. Such abuse of children cannot be tolerated during the World Cup or any other time.”

UNICEF helps fight against the sexual exploitation of children around the world. Global estimates indicate that as many as 1.8 million children, most of them girls, are exploited in the multi-billion-dollar commercial sex trade.

Many of these children are trafficked within and between countries, where they are forced into prostitution, pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation. They are often denied their right to an education, endure sexual abuse and violence, and become more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

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30 May, 2006


The world’s rural women can play a crucial role in efforts to restore drylands, according to a new study released by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at a major UN conference on women and desertification being held in Beijing this week.

The report entitled, “Gender and Desertification: Expanding roles for women to restore drylands,” highlights the role of women in managing natural resources and the disempowering constraints they face while dealing with desertification of land.

Desertification is a process of land degradation in dryland areas, which is caused by poverty, unsustainable land management and climate change. Experts say it affects women and men differently due to their “strictly gendered division of labour.”

Through their daily work, rural women have acquired extensive knowledge on managing natural resources, which enable them to play a crucial role in combating desertification, according to the report’s authors who note that women often do not have decision-making authority and thus are excluded from dryland development projects.

“We need to have a long-term focus on women affected by desertification, extending beyond this International Year of Deserts and Desertification,” said Sheila Mwanundu, an IFAD official responsible for technical advice. “Women need to be empowered to take control of their own lives and their own development.”

According to IFAD, currently one-third of the earth’s land surface is threatened by desertification, a phenomenon that poses a risk to the survival of over one billion people in more than 100 countries. Over the past 23 years, the UN agency has spent over $3 billion to support dryland development projects in a number of developing countries.

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15 May, 2006


Paying tribute to three decades of work by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), agency Goodwill Ambassador and internationally renowned actress Nicole Kidman has hosted a gala in New York honouring Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Terry J. Lundgren, Chairman, President and CEO of Federated Department Stores, Inc.

“Commemorating UNIFEM’s 30th anniversary is a special opportunity for me to bring UNIFEM’s accomplishments to the attention of a larger audience of concerned citizens,” said Ms. Kidman as she welcomed a packed room of almost 500 guests on Saturday evening.

“So many people have come together this evening, not just to look back on UNIFEM’s 30 very impressive years but to look ahead – when you’ve been blessed with a fortunate life, it is very much your duty to find the places where you can give back,” she said. “I’m so proud to be part of UNIFEM’s present and future.”

UNIFEM used the occasion to honour President Johnson Sirleaf as the recipient of its first Global Leadership Award, in recognition of her efforts to advance women’s rights, and her new role as the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa.

Terry J. Lundgren, CEO of Federated Department Stores, the parent company of Macy’s department store, received UNIFEM’s first Global Championship Award. Macy’s is a key partner of the Rwanda Path to Peace project, launched in 2005 to open a global market for women artisans, most of them genocide widows in the country.

The Path to Peace project had its early beginnings in 2002 when UNIFEM chief Noeleen Heyzer visited Rwanda and was struck by the beauty of the traditional baskets woven by rural women. On her return to the US, she approached a group of American businesswomen to help develop a market for Rwandan basketwork. Three years later, through the facilitation of artist and UNIFEM supporter Willa Shalit, the baskets were being sold at Macy’s flagship Herald Square store in New York.

Speaking of the three decades of UNIFEM’s efforts to empower women and improve their lives, Ms. Heyzer acknowledged the importance of partners, “every step of the way.”

While hailing progress achieved in its three decades of work, she cautioned that much remains to be done. “On our 30th anniversary, my wish is for a strong UNIFEM to reach more people with the power to change the conditions under which women work and live, making the world a more just, equitable and happier place for all,” she said.

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