UN Women – bad for development

In: Uncategorized

4 Jul 2010

The establishment of a new United Nations (UN) organisation for women is bad for development and for women. It will mean an even further narrowing of development from striving for material equality towards what could be called therapeutic intervention in the third world.

UN Women was established by a unanimous vote of the UN general assembly on 2 July. It brings together four existing UN women’s organisations under one umbrella.

There are several reasons to be sceptical of the new organisation. For a start, it seems like a way of diverting attention of the G8’s failure to meet the promises it made at its 2005 Gleneagles summit.  Back then it promised that by 2010 it would it would increase annual aid to the world’s poor by $50 billion with half of the increase going to Africa. But it has fallen far short of meeting these goals.

Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia economics professor and adviser to the UN secretary general, outlined two ways in which this failure was largely obscured from view:

“First, in an ‘accountability report’ issued before the summit, the G8 stated the 2005 commitments in current dollars rather than in inflation-adjusted dollars, in order to minimise the size of the reported shortfall.

“Second, the G8 summit communique simply did not mention the unmet commitments at all. In other words, the G8 accountability principle became: if the G8 fails to meet an important target, stop mentioning the target – a cynical stance, especially at a summit heralded for ‘accountability’.”

As I have previously argued the G8 approach itself was seriously flawed as it represented a narrowing conception of development. But the establishment of UN Women goes even further in that direction.

Today’s orthodox gender-centred approach redefines equality from material terms – making poor countries richer – to focus more on inter-personal relations. For example, it favours intervention by non-governmental organisations and the police in family life as a way of preventing abuse. Equality becomes redefined as policing men to ensure they do not abuse women rather than attempting to bring prosperity for all.

The different prongs of the strategy are apparent in the statement by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, on the establishment of UN Women:

“I have made gender equality and the empowerment of women one of my top priorities — from working to end the scourge of violence against women, to appointing more women to senior positions, to efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates.”

It is worth breaking this down into its component elements:

-      “Empowerment of women” – This is a top-down conception in which UN agencies, presumably working with NGOs, strive to rescue those below them.

-      “Ending the scourge of violence against women” – More policing of inter-personal relations.

-      “Appointing more women to senior positions” – This is likely to primarily mean more women bureaucrats at the UN.

-      “Efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates” – Note NOT to strive to equalise mortality rates but merely to reduce them in the poorer countries. Presumably this effort will involve the minimum amount of resources possible. No attempt to provide anything like the level of medical facilities available in the West.

The UN women’s initiative is in line with the priorities of western governments including the Obama administration (for example, see posts of 9 January 2010 and 3 April 2010) and popularised by journalists such as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (see post of 23 August 2009 and my January 2010 review of his book).