NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — The new head of the United Nation’s women’s rights agency says girls’ access to education will be a top priority in the coming years, but warned that the body’s limited budget was “the elephant in the room”.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a former deputy president of South Africa, also said she wanted closer collaboration with other U.N. agencies to achieve progress on crucial issues including reproductive health and economic empowerment.
“In the realm of things we need to do … I look at education as one of the founding services that all women and girls need to access in order for us to make a difference,” the new UN Women executive director said in her first media briefing.
“I see reproductive health and reproductive rights as essential building blocks on which we need to serve the women. And I see economic development as another important layer. Having those layers we can then address poverty and we will be able to lead to women’s emancipation,” she added.
However, Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was a long-time member of parliament in South Africa, made it clear that UN Women, due to budgetary and other constraints, could not achieve its goals alone.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Lack of money has been a sore point for the agency since its launch in February 2011 with former Chilean president Michele Bachelet at its helm. Bachelet resigned from UN Women in March to return to Chile where she will run for president in November.
When Bachelet launched the agency it was with a budget of $500 million, less than 1 percent of the U.N.’s $5 billion budget and miniscule compared to the budgets of $3 billion for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or $4 billion for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
UN Women’s projected budget for 2014-2015 is $690 million.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said her first job would be to push U.N. member states to increase their funding.
“Now, for the elephant in the room — money,” she said. “We do have the challenge of resources in UN Women. May we rob a bank? Maybe, but we won’t do that. But I have to make that a focus of my work, especially in the first six months.
“It is our hope that we will be able to increase the number of member states who are making a contribution that is above the level of $50 million,” she added.
One reason given for the lack of financial support for UN Women is that its mission of gender equality and women’s rights is duplicated, in various forms, in other U.N. agencies.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the agency should become the key catalyst in motivating U.N. agencies and outside institutions to work together to achieve broad goals for women.
“We see the work of UN Women not just as a service to women, but a service to humanity because the positive impact we can make on women has a far-reaching impact on humanity as a whole,” she added.