Tag Archives: gender equality

VGIF is happy to announce the re-launch of its VGIF @ the UN blog

We would like to introduce you to our VGIF United Nations interns, Meryl Roux and Taysha Milagros Clark.

Meryl and Taysha were involved with VGIF at CSW 57 and after a summer hiatus have continued to attend meetings at the UN throughout the fall.


Meryl is a senior at Manhattanville College, double-majoring in Political Science and International Studies. Working with VGIF is her first experience with a grassroots organization and she is very enthusiastic about gaining insights into the community development issues that she believes matter the most.  Meryl looks forward to continuing to learn more about the internal workings of the United Nations and reporting back to you, here on the blog.

Taysha is a sophomore at Barnard College, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Human Rights with a minor in Sociology. She is enthusiastic about VGIF because she is a firm believer that women’s rights are human rights, and vice versa. She is eager to see these issues discussed in different perspectives, and enjoys the work she is doing to help VGIF better the lives of not only women, but entire communities.

Taysha and Meryl will be representing VGIF at the UN through May, including as VGIF delegates at the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March.  They receive support from the program director at the VGIF office, and in biweekly UN discussion meetings with Michaela Walsh of the UN Committee.

The many human rights issues discussed at the UN include violence against women, poverty, gender equality, literacy, maternal health and child mortality —these are some of issues that VGIF address in its grants program for women and girls in developing countries. As representatives of VGIF, the interns are encouraged to “make their voices heard.”  They are learning to be leaders engaged in improving the lives of women and girls worldwide, so listen for their voices in the coming weeks.


CSW57: “It Should Not Hurt to Be a Girl”

By Kelly Lynn Ziemer

On Friday, March 8, 2013, the National Council of Women (NCW) hosted their parallel event “A Global Outcry: It Should Not Hurt to Be a Girl” for the United Nation’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women, a poignant topic given that March 8th was also International Women’s Day. The event was moderated by Leslie Wright, UN Convener for the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF), and brought together seven panelists from around the world representing government and civil society to discuss problems, initiatives and progress of women’s organizations in different regions of the globe.

Lindy Blanchard, President and Co-Founder of 100X Development Foundation and keynote speaker, provided examples of how her organization is working with orphans and vulnerable children in 10 countries, including Moldova and Malawi, to increase education and vocational and social skills. Teresa Hintzke, President of Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women’s Association (PPSEAWA) International, focused on the harmful cultural beliefs that perpetuate inequality of women and girls, as girls are raised to be second-class citizens in the Pacific Islands. Gender and social standing take precedence in this culture as opposed to economic status; status is attained as one ages. With rapid economic change in the Pacific Islands, which has led to more unemployment and the loss of natural resources, sexual violence has become prevalent. Therefore, being young and female allows for no power in this culture. She recommended an increase in awareness and education to change the perception of girls’ and women’s capabilities in this region.

Awareness is also a goal of Dr. Ranjana Kumari’s organizations as Director of the Center for Social Research and President of Women Power Connect. These organizations are increasing education about a girl child’s right to be born in India, particularly among the upper socioeconomic classes where research has shown that these couples are more apt to abort female fetuses than lower socioeconomic status couples. Dr. Kumari also discussed child marriage, trafficking and a cultural mindset of inferiority of women. Although there is a legal ban on child marriages, she stated, “customs are so strong” that 50% of marriages are still occurring for women less than 18 years old. To combat trafficking, where 70% of trafficked children from Nepal, Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh are pushed into prostitution, Dr. Kumari spoke of her organization’s campaign to raise awareness about trafficking and create a network of support services for survivors.

It became evident that the panelists were advocating for an increase of awareness about violence against women while taking into account local cultural beliefs. This was reiterated by Dr. Manjula O’Connor, Vice President of Australia India Society of Victoria. She has found success in the state of Victoria, Australia where she estimates that 10% of the 250,000 Indian population living in Australia has been reached thus far through community education and healthcare providers. Initial steps to address this community’s isolation and lack of assistance were to form a task force. In doing this, they were able to understand the needs of the community and determine key stakeholders. Dr. O’Connor credits their success to working with stakeholders in the community through theater, Bollywood dancing and faith-based organizations, such as Sikh temples, to tailor domestic violence campaigns to this population. It has also created more opportunity for this population to embrace the Australian government’s White Ribbon program, which engages men and boys to participate in the fight to end violence against women.

The role of government to push forth legislation and programs was echoed by several other panelists. Licenciada Eunice Loyda Mijangos, member of NCW of Guatemala, gave her own personal accounts of surviving psychological and physical abuse. She encouraged the audience that “there are laws to protect us”. However, Ms. Yakovleva, President of Ukranian NCW, stated that Ukraine has a lack of gender policy and a lack of women in government. Because of this, the country has become a hotbed for sex trafficking and Internet pornography. To contrast, Honorable Anita Kalinde is the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare for the Republic of Malawi. Given that there is a post in the government to address issues of gender is progressive and one that many countries need to adapt, like the United States. Ms. Kalinde discussed the country’s recent passing of the Gender Equality Law and the fact that the country has a female President. She believes these initiatives have furthered rights and services for women in the country including the implementation of one-stop shops to assist survivors with social affairs, courts, medical, police under one roof.

Though the panelists came from different countries with various cultures, it was clear that patriarchy is embedded in many of these cultures allowing violence against women to continue to occur. To address these cultural beliefs and adjust the mindset that violence against women is harmful not only to the individual but also a community and economy, an approach needs to be tailored to that culture. Awareness, education, legislation and more women in government were solutions offered by the panelists. To conclude her address, Lindy Blanchard emphasized, “Yes you can as a girl child go into education. Yes you can go into higher education. Yes you can become a mother, entrepreneur and President of your country.” Through their work to end violence against women, the panelists are passing along the same message as Ms. Blanchard.

CSW57: The Right to Effective Remedies for Trafficked Persons

By: Cristal Espejo 

The trafficking of humans is an issue that continues to receive much attention in the international community. On March 14th, a distinguished panel gathered during CSW57 to speak about this issue for a side event named, The Right to Effective Remedies for Trafficked Persons. An Introductory Statement was given by Ms. Maarit Kohonen who is Sheriff, Deputy Head of OHCHR NY Office. Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking persons, especially women and children, spoke about key concerns and challenges to the realization of the right to a remedy. She explained that oftentimes, adequate and effective remedies are often inaccessible to trafficked persons. In reality there is a wide gap between law and implementation. In her report to the UN council in 2011, she focused on the legal framework of trafficking. The report sent out each component of the right to effective remedies. She put forth recommendations in order to fulfill these remedies. More info on this report is available on the OHCHR website.

Ms. Jean D’Cunha, Senior Policy Advisor of UN Women, explained issues confronting trafficked migrant domestic workers. Ms. D’Chunha explained that the confinement of workers’ work environment limit them from joining unions and mobilizing their rights. A lack of labor protection disqualifies domestic workers from getting the help they need. Some countries have bans on being a domestic worker. Many countries of origin do not allow returned undocumented domestic workers to get funds when they are abused from their home countries. The domestic worker will lose papers if she files a complaint against an employer or flees them. When some of them are in confinement they wait for travel documents and for their wages. Many employers use documents as a bribe and therefore do not even pay them. These are just some of the reasons, she explained, that domestic workers do not use the justice system to help them. In addition, women migrants are often on spousal visas and will not report abuse, because they are dependant economically with a spouse. It is even harder to report domestic abuse if they are undocumented because they have to prove that they are with the husband. Another problem is that they are afraid of losing custody of children. Ms. D’Chunha urged that the lack of services that are provided to these women needs to be addressed.

So what suggestions did Ms. D’Chunha have? She suggested that principles and a right to remedies must take into account the nature in which the women work. The trafficking policies should help women in all stages of migration. The definition of criteria to define that a women is trafficked must have questions of women pre-departure, it should not focus just on the country of destination. She stressed the need to look at measures of recovery and the need for assistance with economic recovery. Stigma and censorship must be addressed when women return and the emotional trauma that they experience afterwards should be considered. There is a demand for cheap labor and we need to address the demand for the trafficked person. Lastly she suggested that there should be sanctions for recruiting agents and mechanisms that monitors judicial decisions.

The 3rd speaker was Suzannah Phillips who is a Clinic and Staff attorney for the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic. She spoke about access to justice for trafficked persons. She started off her talk by stating that victims of being trafficked are treated as criminals. She continued by saying that a state-inflicted harm is that trafficked victims are often demeaned by police officers. She suggested that their psychological trauma post being trafficked should be considered. Trafficked persons may also be convicted when they come forward, which can affect legal immigration status, child custody, and employment opportunities. Therefore, they will not be likely to come forward with abuse. Being labeled as a criminal can lead to self-criticism. Deportation can lead to re-trafficking. Traffickers also instill fear of law enforcement in trafficked peoples. They will therefore be less likely to trust the judicial system.

Ms. Phillips then asked, “What can we do to ensure access to justice for trafficked persons?” She suggested that we should allow trafficked persons the opportunity to clear their criminal history. It can help eliminate criminal history as a barrier to leading a good life post-trafficking. She stressed the need to provide public apology to ensure that they are recognized that a human rights law has been violated. There is also a need for more help for them psychologically. Women’s voices should also have an equal weight in comparison to men’s voices.

Ms. Jayne Huckerby, Associate professor of clinical law spoke about the international legal framework on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons. She stressed that much discussion is made about the problem and not the solution. She suggested that humanitarian and refugee laws should be considered. Overall, the distinguished panel did a reputable job of presenting the special rapporteur’s thematic reports, presenting the challenges that lay ahead for trafficked persons and providing suggestions for the future.

So what about the boys? The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality

By Victoria Sung, VGIF UN Representative

Men and boys are frequently painted as the perpetuators of gender inequality, but new campaigns and programs targeting men and boys have become the subject of discussion in the fight for gender mainstreaming. At the CSW 56 side event “So what about the boys? The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality” hosted by the Mission of Canada and Plan International’s program Because I Am A Girl, panelists discussed the merit of male-targeted programs. Pointing to examples such as the White Ribbon Campaign that started in 1991, which asked men to wear a white ribbon in solidarity and awareness of gender-based violence, the event sought to create a conversation between men and women. This was presented as a necessity to avoid the disempowerment men often feel when presented with the issue of women’s rights.

Ravi Karkara of UNICEF called for intervention to sensitize men and boys to gender inequalities. Although he suggested approaching men and boys of all ages, he stressed that it was important to work with boys as early as possible. “We must do this to unlearn patriarchy and masculine hegemony,” he said, to the applause of the audience. As the founder of the Men Engage Alliance, he gave an example of a program in Nepal, which mapped out unsafe spaces in villages for women and girls, and engaged men and boys in a dialog on why these spaces were unsafe. Another example came from Bangladesh, where local religious leaders were involved in a campaign to “Say no to early marriage.” His suggestion to the audience and other panelists were to hold such participatory and inclusive interactions to create a meaningful exchange.

Bringing voices from the grassroots level, two youth delegates from Because I Am A Girl, Alishba from Pakistan, and Len from Cambodia, addressed the crowd. Alishba shared her own story of educating her father on her rights as a girl, including allowing her the freedom to leave the house on her own and not agreeing to an early marriage. Len stated that men are more likely to listen to other men, and suggested educational policies for fathers. Both youth delegates emphasized that gender equality should start in the home, specifically the relationship between a father and his family.

The sentiment at this event was that working only with women for gender equality provided an incomplete picture of inequality, and that involvement with men was necessary to improve the situation across the globe. This should be considered in future discussions of gender equality.

UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet Calls for Increased Political and Economic Empowerment for Women

By Victoria Sung and Charlotte Lorick, VGIF UN Representatives

On February 2nd, Executive Director Michelle Bachelet gave a press conference marking the one-year anniversary of UN Women. Referencing the democracy movement in the Arab states and the global economic crisis, Bachelet outlined six priorities for UN Women in the coming year.

“At this moment of historic change, we cannot afford to leave women out. Women’s full and equal participation in the political arena is fundamental to democracy and justice,” Bachelet stated, placing emphasis on the first goal of UN women, the advancement of women’s political participation and leadership. For 2012, UN Women will support movements in 52 countries for gender equality in leadership, including training in legislative techniques to advance women’s presence in politics.

Bachelet also prioritized economic empowerment. In 2011, for example, UN Women improved laws and conditions in various countries by increasing access to markets and providing training. In one case, UN Women worked with a women’s cooperative in Senegal to provide women with fishing licenses for the first time ever. Bachelet plans to continue facilitating economic progress for women like this in the year 2012 and beyond.

Bachelet went on to speak about three more goals: ending violence against women and girls, expanding the role of women in post-conflict talks and recovery, and increasing intergovernmental coordination and accountability across the UN in terms of gender equality. She stressed that sexual violence affects both men and women, remarking, “Violence against women is not just a woman’s issue. It diminishes each of us and has tremendous social and economic costs.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 150 individuals were convicted of rape and other acts of sexual violence. Their recent conviction was a milestone in the fight against gender based violence.

In order to accomplish its goals for global economic and political empowerment for women, UN Women hopes to increase contributions from $235 million in 2011 to $700 million in 2012 through 2013. For, as Bachelet reminds us, “We simply can no longer afford to deny the full potential of one-half of the population.”

The UN General Assembly created UN Women in July 2010 in a historic move towards gender equality within the UN system. UN Women works towards equality as outlined in the UN Charter of Rights, including the empowerment of and the elimination of discrimination against women and girls. UN Women became operational on January 1, 2011. Although it is only a year old, UN Women can celebrate the achievements of the previous year and look forward to a busy 2012.


To watch the UN webcast of the press conference, visit: http://bit.ly/zNp7cc

Report of the First Regular Session of the Executive Board, UN Women

Reporting by Julie Tam

Delegation Responses to the Report on Operational Activities

The Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director Michelle Bachelet produced a statement underlining the key issues discussed in the report of the Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on operational activities. Following Bachelet’s statement were statements made by delegates of countries of the Executive Board in regards to the report in the following order: Spain, Estonia, Tanzania, Bangladesh, India, Peru, Japan, Argentina, U.S., Russia, China, Korea, Mexico, Finland, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Indonesia, New Zealand, Dominican Republic, Libya, Pakistan, Malaysia, Norway, Nigeria.  After these statements, delegates from these non-members of the Executive Board made contributions to the discussion:  Germany, Greece, Kenya, and Switzerland. Click for a full list of the Executive Board and Bureau.

Broadly speaking, the general issues raised were concerns about UN Women’s funding,[1] fair distribution (with some suggesting emphasis on middle income countries[2] and others emphasizing equitable funding geographically[3]), effectiveness[4], efficiency, capacity[5], and systematic cohesion. The delegate from Kenya specifically requested funding be allocated where it will be the most effective and that UN Women not become just another UN agency — that it distinguish itself by being different. Several delegates made calls for sound financial management, including support for gender responsive national budgeting[6] and cost recovery policy reform[7].

Cohesion: It was suggested UN Women consolidate human resources of the UN in general and make gender mainstreaming a priority within the UN[8].  Delegates from China and Pakistan both suggested better integration of UN Women with governments and other development agents. Brazil’s delegate called for a comprehensive guideline for national policies. Such a guideline would likely be challenged by China’s delegate, based on the country’s vocalized concerns about national sovereignty over policy. China’s delegate also expressed concern over linking aid with development gender indicators. In contrast, Korea’s delegate advocated for the mainstreaming of gender statistics into national statistics to make country monitoring more comparable and conclusive. The delegate for Indonesia called for a comprehensive assessment of national regime efforts in regards to gender inequality. Russia’s delegate made explicit his concern over the legitimacy of UN Women. Russia’s delegate emphasized country ownership of programs and declared authorization for a UN Women presence to be garnered by request from the host nation.  In line with Russia’s delegate’s concerns, Pakistan’s delegate was apprehensive about the use of noncore resources for any program out of sync with national priorities.

Other issues raised by country delegates at the session included concern over monitoring and evaluation plans as well as improved transparency at the country and UN levels of operation[9]. Various delegates called for UN Women to prioritize economic empowerment, poverty elimination, and/or political inequality. Pakistan’s delegate advised the creation of a network of women parliamentarians and Libya’s delegate requested greater support for women’s political empowerment. Germany’s delegate called for UN Women to maintain a network of business women to encourage the exchange of information, practices, and support internationally. Kenya’s delegate called on UN Women to be more than just another UN agency, but something more dynamic.  Along with these initiatives, some delegates requested a greater emphasis on South-South and triangular cooperation plans[10].

Executive Staff Responses to Comments by Board and Delegations

The response to these concerns was extensive and underscored where UN Women may already be addressing the issues mentioned by the country representatives. In regard to the call for greater cooperation with other agencies, delegates were reminded that UN Women is working closely throughout the UN system, specifically with QCPR, DESA, UNDG, FAO, ILO, World Bank and others.  It was also noted that the regional architecture review, a report coming in May, will address the changes needed to improve capacity and help with efforts to restructure UN Women’s strategic plan. The staff agreed that a greater emphasis should be placed on efficiency and results orientation. To achieve this, the staff accepted the requests to strengthen evaluation teams on the ground and set up a community of practitioners to share best practices across regions.

Funding: Core and noncore funding should be matched 50/50.  As noncore funding increases, countries can expand programs in line with national agendas but that as core funding increases, UN Women’s initiative will gain capacity and these funds will be used in line with UN Women’s priorities. In regard to requests for the allocation of resources to middle income countries the staff restated the universal mandate of UN Women but also conceded to the need for further discussion on the allocation of resources since 72% of the world’s poorest people live in middle income countries. The staff agreed that a major issue for UN Women is resource mobilization as there is an overdependence on voluntary government pledges.  A continuous point of effort will be to enhance contributions to reach the target of $400 million for 2012.

The staff emphasized the importance of a positive sum relationship between core and noncore resources and the need for core resources to reach critical mass. It was stated that core resources should not subsidize noncore programs. Additionally, it was said that UN Women will focus on developing and strengthening private sector’s interest in gender issues at all levels to enhance funding, especially on the ground level. Also needed is greater evidence of the value added of UN Women to increase intergovernmental connection with operational activities.

Capacity: The Executive Board staff agreed with the call for better structured and institutional linkages between field and center.  The staff mentioned the role of CSW in bringing operational experience to strengthen field activities.  The focus on increasing core funding to maximize country teams was described as necessary to improve UN Women’s reach and impact on the ground.  Efforts to strategically change national policy and mainstream gender issues within the UN are also critical next steps to improve capacity.

Draft decision, First Regular Session 2012 of the UN-Women Executive Board

1)    Takes note of the “Report of the Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on operational activities (UNW/2012/1).

2)    Decides to transmit the report to the Economic and Social Council

Draft Annual Workplan

Annual Session: 29 May – 1 June 2012

Second Regular Session 5 – 7 September 2012

[1] Estonia, Bangladesh, Peru, Argentina, Canada, Indonesia, NorwayDominican Republic, Libya

[2] Peru, Argentina, Mexico

[3] China, Libya, Pakistan

[4] Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Kenya, Switzerland

[5] Canada, Estonia,

[6] Ethiopia, Germany

[7] Canada, Korea, Argentina, Indonesia, Kenya

[8] Canada, Switzerland, Korea

[9] Russia, China, Canada

[10] Mexico, Kenya