By Bojana Stoparic
Friday, January 28, 2005
Do women need special champions or are they better served when general humanitarian groups commit to their interests? The topic takes on urgency after the U.N.'s leading women's rights group loses a key donor to so-called gender mainstreaming.
UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--The United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM, has been at the forefront of women's activism in the international development community since it was founded in 1976. The fund was established in response to calls from women at the 1975 First World Conference on Women in Mexico City to help ensure that women's needs and concerns are incorporated in development programs and policies.
Besides working with other U.N. agencies and governments to promote women's rights, UNIFEM also provides financial and technical assistance to groups and programs worldwide that foster women's empowerment and gender equality.
In Senegal, for instance, UNIFEM supported an analysis of taxation that found women were taxed at a higher rate because men were considered the primary breadwinners; afterwards, the fund assisted local women's organizations in advocating for a change in the country's family code so that both parents are recognized equally. Meanwhile, as a result of UNIFEM's advocacy, female migrant workers in Nepal began receiving information from their government on their rights and on the resources available to them in the countries where they work.
This year, UNIFEM will lose funding from its second-largest donor, the Netherlands.
A long-time supporter of the organization, the Netherlands contributed almost $3.2 million to the fund--nearly 15 percent of its core budget--in 2003. The Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Agnes van Ardenne, however, announced last year that--in order to promote efficiency and avoid "fragmentation" of resources--Dutch development aid would focus on a fewer number of organizations.
Esther van Damme, press officer for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says Minister van Ardenne considered the effectiveness of small organizations such as UNIFEM and judged that women in developing countries would be better served if large development organizations such as the U.N. Development Programme and the World Bank were themselves expected to take full responsibility for defending and promoting women's rights. Consequently, funding to UNIFEM was cut after a final contribution of $1 million in 2004.
UNIFEM, however, was not left entirely in the lurch. The 2005 spending bill passed by Congress last fall doubles the annual U.S. contribution to the organization, from $1 million to $2 million, the result of efforts by four female members of the House--Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Judy Biggert (R-IL), and Nita Lowey (D-NY). It also provides another $1 million to the UNIFEM Trust Fund to Support Actions to Eliminate Violence Against Women.
Even with the anticipated U.S. funding increase, UNIFEM's budget will still be running at a loss of over a million dollars. As a result, UNIFEM has reduced its support to projects in the African Great Lakes region that work to protect women caught in the region's conflicts and including them in peace-building processes. Anoth