VOA News Examines U.N. Envoy Lewis’ Campaign To Create New U.N. Women’s AgencyVOA News on Friday examined efforts by U.N. Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis to create a new U.N. agency to address women's rights and needs (Mallard, VOA News, 7/7). According to Lewis, his experience working with people affected by HIV/AIDS has highlighted the need for a U.N. agency focused on women. Lewis has presented his idea to a high-level U.N. panel that is investigating how to unify the agency's various sectors. If the panel endorses Lewis' idea, the agency would be on the agenda when the U.N. General Assembly opens in September. Lewis also has lobbied European, Latin American and African leaders to support his idea, and Graca Machel, a children's advocate and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, has traveled to the United Kingdom to discuss the initiative with Finance Minister Gordon Brown and ask for his support (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/5). According to Lewis, "women are suffering grievously all over the world" because of a lack of economic empowerment and exposure to maternal mortality, armed conflict, HIV/AIDS and sexual violence. "[As] I watch the carnage and ravages of AIDS in Africa and the toll it has taken on women, I know that finally, after 50 years of passivity and paralysis, it's time to have an agency through which women can assert their rights," Lewis said. The agency would not replace other U.N groups that work on women's issues, including the World Health Organization and the U.N. Population Fund, according to Lewis. "I wouldn't think for a moment of taking pieces out of reputable existing agencies, which are doing a good job. ... [I am] advocating for a new, independent, full-fledged operational [U.N.] Agency with country capacity on the ground, much like UNICEF," Lewis said (VOA News, 7/7).
Audio of the interview is available online in MP3 media format.
Lewis is "taking the opportunity to push women's issues to the very top of th[e] rethink" with his "impassioned plea to the U.N." to create an international agency for women, according to a Toronto Star editorial. Lewis' idea is "overdue," the editorial says, adding that the U.N. "knows how important empowering women is in the struggle to eradicate poverty, improve health care and bring social progress." Despite this knowledge, the "U.N.'s own record on women is nothing to crow about," and the U.N. itself has not met its target of employing 50% women in its departments and agencies, according to the editorial. "Whatever the outcomes of Lewis' efforts, the U.N. has a moral duty to push women's issues far higher up the agenda. Countless lives ride on the outcome," the editorial concludes (Toronto Star, 7/9).