15 December 2007

Some U.N. Funds and Programs seem to believe that the most satisfactory solution to a problem is to hitch it to a star: have a known name ready, hold a press briefing, produce a gimmick, take photos and announce it as a great accomplishment.

Recently, a most serious and widely prevailing crime worldwide -- violence against women -- was shorthanded by a glib announcement that "Goodwill Ambassador and Academy Award winning actress became the first to add her name" to a new internal campaign. "We can put a stop to this," she promised, once those with laptop access were able to add their names to hers in saying "no" to violence against women. She gets the limelight, women worldwide literally get the other end of the stick.

We don't know who "UNIFEM Acting Director Joanne Sandler is." For a long while there was another manager Noeline Huezer, an outstanding and capable woman from Singapore who devoted all her time to the cause and too little time for public awareness. Now the opposite seems to be true, except that public awareness is wrongly perceived as getting a press release with a few names in it.

Actually, Ms. Sandler could have easily drawn on her own Fund's work. Instead of grandstanding rhetorically about "impunity for perpetrators," she could have listed those "250 innovative programs in more than 100 countries in the past decade." Perhaps those countries who have such "programmes" ought to know! Where are those grants, how many are involved, how do you evaluate the feedback?

We are generally told that grants by the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women "are showing how to address the inter-linkages of violence against women, how to involve men and boys in ending such violence and how to reach underprivileged groups -- such as rural indigenous women -- so that they too can benefit from improved laws."

"Improved laws," indeed! Where are they? How are they implemented? Is Ms. Sandler -- whatever she does -- really and effectively reaching marginalized groups? Instead of "showing the inter-linkage" (a tired expression), show the work accomplished and what precise steps could be taken, with or without an Academy Award winner.

Focus on the tragic facts. Highlight them. The problem is not merely limited to Chile where 900 women were killed between 1990 to 2007 mostly by their male partners, or in the Bahamas where the "study" is stuck on the years 2000-2002 (as if there were no further data since!). It is not only in "rural or marginalized" sectors. Have the courage to declare that violence against women is taking place in the industrialized world as much as it is in the Third World. Men behaving badly exist in the United States, Japan, Korea, U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal and others as much as they are in Ghana, Singapore, Malaysia, Lebanon or the Maldives Islands.

The greatest advantage for a U.N. operation is its comprehensive reach and potential partnerships for joint strategy. Instead of merely "calling upon the governments to take greater action," why don't U.N. offices directly concerned practically and seriously lead the way?!