Sophie Morris: Help women and you can save the world

Share
Related Topics

I usually take no notice when days are arbitrarily dedicated to one cause or another. No Smoking Day next Wednesday, for example, I shall be giving a wide berth to. National Chocolate Week makes more sense, but do I need an official excuse to break out the Green & Blacks?

But this Sunday is International Women's Day, which carries a bit more weight. And it's as good a springboard as any to call for the creation of a United Nations Women's Agency. The demand for such an agency is no outmoded feminist plea. In the 60-odd years of its existence, the UN has worked its way into pretty much every nook and cranny of international life, while executing a conspicuous disservice to women. Who working outside of a bureaucratic or policy-wonkish environment has even heard of Unifem, the United Nations Fund for Women?

The "fund" is woefully under-funded, existing on $129m a year and 47 staff. It has no actual programmes operating in specific countries, and as such is not really equipped to do anything practical. It has two straitjacketed stablemates, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues. By comparison, Unicef (the United Nations Fund for Children, as you all know) has a budget of $3bn spread around 8,000 staff and 190 country programmes. Yes, children are our future – but they need someone to raise them first.

Women's issues are central to a whole range, from the economic and the social to health, education and the environment, and experts in different fields are behind calls for a new agency.

Stephen Lewis, a former UN Envoy for HIV/AIDS, for example, was among the first to support the move three years ago. Of his five years working with HIV/AIDS in Africa, he says, "The single most intractable dilemma has been the excruciating vulnerability of women, the huge and disproportionate numbers of deaths they face, their overwhelming responsibilities for the sick and orphaned."

As the new chief executive of Voluntary Service Overseas, Margaret Mayne's interests reach into all areas of international development, and she is making the campaign for a new women's agency her first priority. "The current UN system is failing women," she says. "They hold the key to development around the world and until their skills and time are effectively used we will never live in an equal world."

But even small steps towards equality make for heartening statistics. For every year a girl attends school in the developing world, her family's income will increase by 20 per cent. If women were permitted to own the land they break their backs working, food production in Africa could receive a 20 per cent hike.

Ban Ki-Moon is behind the idea. You can ask your MP to write to Lord Malloch-Brown if you want to support it yourself. The only thing standing in its way seems to be certain G77 nations. The finger has been pointed at Pakistan and Egypt, among others. They resent any conditions imposed upon donor money, which is fair enough. But they seem most worried about precious UN funding transferring from "development issues" (read "economic issues") to "women's issues". Did they miss the memo about women driving development?

As usual, it all comes down to money, and the agency itself won't work if it doesn't get a decent wedge – at least $1bn (half Unicef's budget). Some of the hundreds of groups campaigning on this issue are willing to accept a smaller amount to get it off the ground. Settling for less sends out the wrong message. A history of doing just that is the reason we need the agency in the first place.

What are you doing with this guy, Rihanna?

Today is the day the American singer Chris Brown is due to appear in court for allegedly using his fists to hospitalise his girlfriend, R&B starlet Rihanna.

Two weeks ago 21-year-old Rihanna ended up with a bruised and bloodied face. Her crime? Apparently she dared to argue with Brown when he received a text message "booty call". This is the same Brown who has spoken out against domestic violence in, having watched his mother suffer at the hands of her own boyfriend. "I don't want to put a woman through the same thing that person put my mum through," he said in 2005.

Any story of domestic violence is tragic (though this one is remarkable in that it started in a Lamborghini), but Rihanna's tale took a turn for the worse a few days ago when she reportedly kissed and made up with Brown, 19, after he called on her birthday and sent her an iPod Touch. RIP Romance.

Since she burst on the scene with the irritating "Umbrella", Rihanna has been a role model for teenage girls. It is not the responsibility of everyone in the public eye to set a good example, but Rihanna has just appeared in a Gucci ad campaign for Unicef, an organisation which would never condone an abusive and exploitative relationship like Rihanna and Brown's.

The pub landlady isn't a community leader

Thirty-nine British pubs are closing every week, and John Grogan, chair of the all-party Parliamentary beer group and MP for Selby, blames the crisis on the rising price of beer, subject to increased taxation, rather than the wily credit crisis which is crunching other industries.

It would be safer for drinkers if there was a smaller margin between the price of beer in pubs and in supermarkets, argues Grogan, because "social control" is exercised in a pub, and the landlord or landlady will look out for your wellbeing.

Are there are no Wetherspoon's in Selby then? Apparently not: a controversial plan to build one of the cruise ship-like superpubs has just been abandoned.

Good for Selby, but elsewhere Grogan is a few decades too late to save his nostalgic ideal of the community landlord.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
 

I've tried reason, but my cat is pig-ignorant

Dom Joly
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin