The United Nations and Gender: Has Anything Gone Right?

Mar 3, 2009

The UN's record on women's issues has been abysmal, declares Stephen Lewis, particularly in dealing with HIV/AIDS. In order to give 52 percent of the world's population the representation they deserve, it's time to create a special UN Women's Agency.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to welcome our members and guests and thank you all for joining us.

Before we begin, I would just like to thank Kibui and the Canadian Consulate for making all the necessary arrangements to have Ambassador Lewis with us this morning.

It is my pleasure to welcome back to the Carnegie Council Ambassador Lewis. When Ambassador Lewis first spoke here three years ago, he discussed his book Race Against Time, which brought to life his experience working on HIV/AIDS in Africa. This talk left a searing impression and can be accessed by visiting our Web site at

Today the topic of his discussion is "The United Nations and Gender: Has Anything Gone Right?"

At a meeting on the Millennium Development Goals held this past September at the United Nations, it was emphasized that promoting gender equality and empowering women were some of the more effective ways of combating poverty, hunger, and disease. This idea is one that has been around for many decades. Although the United Nations has made some inroads on women's issues, with UN agencies such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women and UNIFEM, progress to establish one agency solely devoted to women's issues still remains a cause of concern.

Hopefully, that is about to change, as the United Nations has before it a recommendation to create a new international agency which could help to change the lives of females everywhere. However, the question remains whether the United Nations will allocate enough funding and staff to do the job effectively and make a remarkable difference in the lives of so many women, especially those in developing regions of the world.

Stephen Lewis is someone who is very familiar with the difficult challenges women face, especially those living with AIDS in Africa. As Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, he witnessed firsthand the suffering, vulnerability, and humiliation endured by so many women and saw how discrimination against them could affect them politically, economically, socially, and culturally. Because Ambassador Lewis cares so passionately about these issues, he founded the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which supports community-based organizations that are turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa. This foundation provides care to women who are ill and struggling to survive. It assists orphans and other AIDS-affected children and reaches out to heroic grandmothers who are almost single-handedly caring for their orphaned grandchildren.

He is also the co-director of AIDS-Free World, a new international advocacy organization that works to promote urgent and more effective global responses to HIV/AIDS.

In recognition of his contributions in this field, Ambassador Lewis was named a Companion of the Order of Canada and was cited by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Today, for too many women and for too long, their world has been fatally decimated by poverty, disease, and conflict, all of it sustained by staggering male indifference. Investing in women and girls will have a positive effect on health, poverty reduction, and productivity. If you don't agree, just ask our speaker. He knows the difference between rhetoric and results.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our guest this morning, the very effective and widely respected Stephen Lewis.

Thank you for joining us.


STEPHEN LEWIS: Let me thank Joanne immensely for so generous and amiable an introduction. I get a kick whenever I'm in the United States at being called "Ambassador Lewis." My Canadian friends will know that when you finish your diplomatic tenure in Canada, you lose your title and you revert to mortal obscurity. So to be rescued in this fashion by all of you is almost more than my frail psyche can endure.

I'm surrounded by people of diplomatic esteem, and I pay them all, collectively, due homage. I thank all of you for being here at this ghastly hour of the morning. I regard this as an indecent time to request someone to disgorge coherent remarks. I beg you to allow the milk of human kindness to flow through your veins and treat me with compassion.

I'm going to speak with an almost supernatural rapidity in order to cover the subject matters which I hope to reconnoiter. I do have a number of areas that I would like to touch on, if I may, and then we can perhaps engage in a brief exchange thereafter—albeit I'll probably speak for so long that the day will pass in the process.

I was looking for a context within which to deal with these remarks, and it occurred to me, if I may, to be nostalgic for a moment and to retreat to my days when I was a pretend-ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s, between 1984 and 1988, when, in an uncharacteristic fashion, the Canadian government momentarily cared about women and pursued that mandate quite vigorously and said to me, as ambassador, that I could pursue it in the context of the United Nations fairly vigorously as well.

So I did so and learned in the process that the under-representation of women in all of the major professional categories, and particularly in the senior categories of the United Nations—that under-representation was lamentable and inexcusable. It was unconscionable in terms of the needs and requirements of women. So as an organization at the United Nations, the Canadian mission decided to take it on.

I remember vividly lashing out at the third committee session about the actual situation of women. It was a comic response, because all hell broke loose. The secretary-general at the time, Perez de Cuellar, suddenly appointed a woman at the assistant secretary-general level—she was from Venezuela—to coordinate the status of women in the Secretariat and attempt to elevate them to more prominent roles. Then the secretary-general came to Canada and said that they wanted to appoint the first-ever permanent under-secretary-general, who would be a woman. This was in 1986. I ask you to remember how many years passed before the United Nations got around to this. It's my view that the United Nations has yet to discover that there are two sexes in the world. But they are getting there; they are limping in that direction. In 1986, Canada was the recipient of appointing the first-ever under-secretary-general on a permanent basis in the Department of Public Information.

The one sympathetic voice in the Secretariat that I was able to divine at the time was the head of personnel, a fellow named Kofi Annan. It's interesting to see his career in the aftermath. With all of his sensibility and with all of the alleged renewed interest in the roles of women in the Secretariat and the agencies, the fact is that between that day and this the record has been abysmal. We have never managed to move beyond roughly a third of women in prominent positions in the various UN agencies and Secretariat. Indeed, in the early 1990s, there was a formal target set of 50-50 parity by the year 2000, and we have never even approximated it.

So the United Nations, in its very conduct, exemplifies the depths of hypocrisy around gender equality to which most governments, alas, are equally given.

Then, after that, along came the 1990s and the succession of international conferences which were to set the agenda for the 21st century. The two conferences that have greatest applicability, in UN terms, to this subject matter were, of course, the conference in Vienna in 1994, where it emerged that human rights were women's rights and women's rights were human rights—this was the mantra of the Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. It was a conference where there was a stunning tribunal held, orchestrated by Charlotte Bunch of Rutgers, who brought together 30 or more women from around the world who bore their torment publicly in terms of sexual violence and battered violence and discrimination of every kind. There were makeshift judges who made comment on the situation of women. It rested deeply in the viscera of all of those who had attended the conference, and one felt as though there was a breakthrough imminent.

Along came Beijing in 1995. There was a tremendous excitement over the possibility that we were ushering in a new era for women. There were, you may recall, the 12 critical issues which were identified in the document from Beijing, ranging from dealing with the abject poverty of so many women in the world to the questions of violence, to human rights, to the pursuit of equality, to the sharing of power and decision making in all of the key areas. Alas, not a one of the 12 critical issues agreed upon in Beijing in 1995 to serve as the agenda for the United Nations for multilateralism generally—not a one of them has been achieved. Indeed, you could argue, I think probably irrefutably, that not a one of them has been adequately approximated.

As a result of the pulsating currents of interest in gender in the 1990s percolating through that decade, there rose some modest sensibility, which, in a way, resulted, in the year 2000, in the famous Resolution 1325 in the Security Council, which said that women must be involved in peacekeeping and peace-making. Again, it's interesting that in the more than eight years since that resolution passed, with enormous admiration and excitement, not a single peacekeeping operation—not one—has had at the table, where the Security Council mandated it, the kind of participation of women which should have made a decisive difference.

Abby Disney is here. Her quite remarkable film on the women of Liberia and the way in which the peace process was influenced is a measure of the new engagement.

But in terms of signing the peace documents and being at the peace table and involved in the peace-making operations, 1.3 percent of all the signatures in the world on these peacekeeping documents have been rendered by women. It demonstrates how 1325, even though it was meant to usher in a new era, ushered in very little indeed.

On top of that, you have had an International Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, which that very tiny and struggling, often, agency, UNIFEM, has attempted to distribute. But even the Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women has been inadequately funded. There are moments when the government of Japan or the government of Spain gives a significant amount of money, but the Trust Fund has turned out to be a deplorable effort in the context of what is at stake in response.

So time and time again, the expectations around equality, gender equality, are dashed.

Then we enter into the first decade of the 21st century. It is emerging in the sensibility and the minds of people that maybe the performance of the United Nations needs a major reformation. There is some thinking emerging about the possibility of an international women's agency to do what everyone else has failed to do. It, in significant measure, began to come to a head as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the first decade of this century, where everything was brought into such sharp and excruciating relief, primarily, I guess, from the continent of Africa, which is the epicenter of the pandemic.

Again, I want to remind you that the extraordinary vulnerability of women in the face of the pandemic is evidenced by the fact that of the 23 million to 24 million people living with the virus in Africa, 61 percent are women and girls. If you look at that category of 15-to-24, where fully half of the new infections occur, of the millions living with the virus, something between 75 and 80 percent are women and girls. It's like some kind of demonic focus on one sex, and it has had catastrophic results for the women of Africa.

If I may say so, as someone who tramped through those high-prevalence countries for so many years, the failure of the United Nations to intercede on behalf of women was one of the most heartbreaking dimensions of responding to the pandemic.

I was going to leave this to the end, but let me identify for you my co-director of AIDS-Free World—I'm going to say something about AIDS-Free World at the end—Paula Donovan, who is sitting at this table. She cannot be seen from the celestial reaches of the outer divisions, but she's here, for those of you who would wish to make contact.

Paula was the regional adviser on HIV and AIDS for UNICEF for several years in the earlier part of this century, looking after 23 countries in East and southern Africa. We know, together, from what we learned and observed, that we have made progress on a variety of fronts in response to the pandemic. The one area we have made infinitesimal progress on is around women.

I was in Mozambique not long ago. I was speaking in Princeton last night and I was telling this to a student body and some profs. I was sitting down in Mozambique with the entire UN family around a table. There must have been 25 representatives of the United Nations. They were the technicians. They were the people who were involved in the programs in the field. They recited for me the nature of their interventions and their engagement. It went on for an hour and a half. It was very impressive.

At the end of the hour and a half, I said to them as gently as I could, "In this entire narrative, I have not heard the word 'woman.'"

Mozambique is one of the countries in southern Africa where the prevalence rate is still rising. It went from 14 to 16 percent in the last year. Sixteen percent is a cataclysm for a country. And it's mostly the women.

I said, "Who's responsible for the women in the UN system?"

There was a lot of shuffling and a good deal of embarrassment. The deputy UNDP representative took the floor, as it were, and said to me, "Well, Mr. Lewis, I guess we're responsible, and I want to assure you that we're thinking about it."

That was the exact quote. I want to tell you, it speaks accurate volumes. In truth, empowering women to withstand the predatory sexual entitlement of men has not identifiably changed in the African context. Saving the lives of HIV-positive pregnant women is yet to become a singular priority within the context of many of the African countries. Paying the home-based care workers, whom we describe as voluntary workers when in truth it's conscripted labor—and they are all women and they sustain the societies—that hasn't been advanced in a significant way by the United Nations. Finding the resources for the grandmothers to whom Joanne referred has never been a target and an object, and these grandmothers are looking after between 40 and 60 percent of the entire orphan population, who now number something close to 12 million.

How is it possible that in the legacy of multilateralism over so many years we are not yet at a point where we deal with issues around women that are so compelling and so insistent and so imperative in terms of the response that's required?

Launching testing programs in countries of a kind that would deal with the stigma and discrimination against women hasn't been confronted. Restoring property rights and inheritance rights, which are so gratuitously taken from the women in the course of this pandemic—that hasn't been dealt with. Keeping girls in school is a rhetorical objective, but girls are being taken out of school time and time again to look after sick and dying parents.

Just addressing the carnage and death so disproportionately visited on women—when I was in Mozambique on this recent trip, I went up to the second-largest city in the country, Beira, the port right on the ocean. When you have a port on the ocean, you have inevitably a combination of sex workers, truck drivers, and traders, and you have an elevation of infection. I went, as I often do, into the local hospital. I went up to the second floor, the adult women's ward.

There were 56 beds on the ward. There were between 80 and 90 women in the ward. They were lying on the floor between the beds. They were lying under the beds. They were lying two and three to a bed. The place was filled with a sense of anguish and agony. Virtually every single woman in the ward was there because of an AIDS-related illness.

I couldn't get over it. I remember standing at the door and thinking to myself, the world has gone mad. This is the first decade of the 21st century. How is it possible that this appalling circumstance perpetuates? And they were all so young. They were all in their late teens and 20s and 30s. You think of the kids who are left behind and you think of the circumstance with which they are struggling.

I was ashamed of my multilateralism context, because I know the force of the United Nations on the ground. I have spent over 20 years of my life directly or indirectly employed by or working with the United Nations. The capacity to move mountains on the ground, if there is leadership at the center, is monumental. And it wasn't and isn't being done. It's heartbreaking, the carnage that occurs.

There just isn't the kind of advocacy—UNAIDS, although the new executive director looks as though he's going to change it, over the last few years has been reduced to a kind of epidemiological, desiccated calculating machine, where you incorporate the statistical data, but you don't deal with the issues that require confrontation.

It wasn't until the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in 2004 that we began seriously to deal with questions of gender. So around HIV and AIDS, everything came into sharp relief. The need for a new agency came into very, very sharp relief.

In 2005, I delivered in Canada something called the Massey Lectures. I feel very self-conscious about this, because these are just accidents of timing. But in the course of the lectures, Paula persuaded me—and we had worked together on this for a year or two ahead of time—in the course of the lectures, I devoted an entire lecture to the need to create an international agency for women. That was in the fall of 2005.

Then, in 2006—I guess it was February—Kofi Annan appointed a high-level panel—you probably all know this. I guess I touched on it when I was here last time, although, thank God, I don't remember what I said. For heaven's sake, don't go to the Web site and watch that. I have matured. I'm even aesthetically more pleasing now than I was there. So please look at what's current.

In February of 2006, Kofi Annan appointed a high-level panel to look into system-wide coherence of the United Nations to attempt to bring those inchoate factions into some semblance of coherence. And the panel of 15 had 12 men and three women, at precisely the moment when the secretary-general had said that on all senior decision-making bodies there must be gender parity. Then they appoint a panel with 12 men and three women, and a secretariat to serve it of three men.

Some of us got what might be called "rhetorically rambunctious." We protested—gently, with moderation, with appropriate sensibility. We didn't want to offend anyone. We just told them what louts they were and then demanded that on this system-wide coherence setup, something be devoted to looking at gender.

Paula wrote a 40-page paper, which we sent to all of the members of the high-level panel. I must say, I think I phoned almost all of them individually. I was fortunate enough to have had some contact with them. Many of the exemplary women's groups weighed in to put pressure on the panel. My former colleagues and present colleagues at the Canadian mission—bless them—took this all very seriously. There was an important government that was, at least existentially, allied with the need for an agency.

Lo and behold, in the fall of 2006, this panel recommended the creation of an international agency for women, a new agency, and that it should be at under-secretary-general level, reasonably well funded—we are arguing for $1 billion a year to start with. Don't have palpitations. No need for a cardiac arrest. UNICEF is funded at a level of more than $3 billion a year; UNDP, at more than $4 billion a year. It's very modest to think of merely $1 billion for the women of the world. We wanted it to have operational capacity on the ground to support the women, to fund the women's groups, to influence the government, to influence the adjacent United Nations agency.

We are making extraordinary progress. I'm getting a real kick out of this, because it's causing traumatic apoplexy in the Secretariat, as the governments appear to be really serious. If the Secretariat does not manage to sabotage the agreement, which they have tried very hard to do, in a variety of offices, which I shall not name from this podium now but would be pleased to name if I'm asked the question—because then, of course, I'm provoked into naming the groups that are doing the unpleasant work behind the scenes—governments are insisting that this happen.

They are just about to appoint the ambassadors for Spain and Namibia to chair the activities of the United Nations, looking at the architecture of the new agency. The secretary-general has been asked by the General Assembly to present a report on what the new agency should look like. There are four possible alternatives. Two of them are being focused on. There was a resolution in the General Assembly at the end of last year saying the agency must come into being. I would predict that by the end of this year, maybe early next, we will have an agency. With one of my colleagues from AIDS-Free World, we met with the president of the General Assembly just a few days ago to discuss his own possible intervention in this process.

There is tremendous pressure, and we are on the threshold of the agency—thank God. And if ever—and I think I can wind these remarks down—if ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind as to the need for an agency to intercede on all of these issues, not just HIV and AIDS, but from sexual trafficking to political representation, to honor killings, to child brides, to the entire panoply of discrimination visited on women across the world—if ever there was any doubt as to the requirement of some force to deal with women's issues, it's what's happening around sexual violence in conflict areas. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in countries like Zimbabwe, and in the election violence in Kenya and in the terror in Darfur and in the fratricidal moments in northern Uganda, what's happening to women—the raping of women, the conversion of rape as a weapon of war into a strategy of war in order to demean, humiliate, subordinate entire communities and societies—it's unbelievable.

Everybody in the United Nations understands what's going on. No one should imagine otherwise. The Security Council certainly does. It has debated these things often enough. Everybody understands that there is a war against women in the Congo. Everybody understands that Mugabe has unleashed his thugs in a pattern of rape and sexual violence visited on the political opposition that knows no precedent. It's debated and it's talked about. We have the largest peacekeeping force in the United Nations, 17,000-strong, MONUC, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have absolute mandates and Security Council resolutions requiring the peacekeeping forces to protect the women. We have a resolution, 1820—I guess it's back in June or July of this year—which was introduced, interestingly enough, by the then-secretary of state for the United States [Condoleezza Rice], asking that the violence come to an end, elevating sexual violence to a level of a threat to international peace and security. And we are simply not making sufficient progress.

In fact, let me say what it pains me to say. We are making more progress in protecting the women of the Congo and forcing activity by virtue of Eve Ensler and her V-Day NGO and the work she is doing in the Kivus than we are in the entire assembled United Nations agencies put together. I just can't get over it.

In fact, it was Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege, who runs the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the eastern Kivus, who met with the secretary-general of the United Nations and persuaded him to go to Bukavu. He's doing so, I think, in two days' time.

I want to tell you, that it should take an NGO to effect these things rather than for the United Nations to effect these things, taken as a corporate body, is absolutely beyond me.

We have Marianne Mollman here from Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch and so many of the others have been chronicling the pattern of violence for so long. It is terribly important that the work they do be recognized. Otherwise, the world simply would be profoundly indifferent.

AIDS-Free World, this organization which Paula and I co-direct, is an international advocacy organization focused on AIDS, using AIDS as an entry point to so many of these issues. AIDS-Free World has for the last few months—this will interest you—been taking affidavits from the women who have been raped by Mugabe's thugs during the election violence. The affidavits are a nightmare. We are doing it with pro bono lawyers, the majority from the United States, under absolutely unassailable circumstances; wherever possible, videotaping the testimony. There is full informed consent. There is a commissioner of oaths authenticating the testimony. It is of such a high quality that we are preserving the evidence for some future legal intervention.

We have met with the new United Nations high commissioner for human rights and discussed with her the use of the affidavits and the intent down the road, because Mugabe and his colleagues can never be exempt from the consequences of their behavior. Impunity does not apply.

It's fascinating and soul-searing to hear the stories of these women, which are so eviscerating in their content that it's almost unimaginable. And the whole world knows.

We have not used, for example, the principle on which the entire United Nations agreed in the fall of 2005, the responsibility to protect. We have used it not in the Congo. We have not in Zimbabwe. We have used it not in Darfur. We have used it not in Kenya. We have used it not in northern Uganda. We have a vehicle to bring these things to an end, and as I stand here, it's because it's women.

That brings me to the end of my remarks.

One of the wonderful things about having an international agency for women is that it might well change the culture of the United Nations. We get past the excruciating patriarchy which so suffocates so much of the work of the agencies and the Secretariat. We might be able to introduce into the culture of the United Nations the sense of equality and the sensibilities of collaborative cooperation rather than this insensate rivalry which so confounds the issues and the interventions which should be made.

Therefore, the international agency for women has a role not merely to intercede on behalf of the women of the world, but to rescue the United Nations from some of its worst behavior, which it desperately needs.

I'm a Social Democrat. I live in a feminist household. I love it. I have said a thousand times, all our kids are feminists, or they would be disinherited. There is no negotiation about this. I have always believed that the feminist analysis is probably the most penetrating and insightful analysis of these issues related to power and intervention that exist. I will always believe that the struggle for gender equality is the single most important struggle on the planet. You cannot continue to marginalize 52 percent of the world's population and expect to achieve social justice or equity. It's just not possible.

All this mainstreaming guff simply doesn't work. Rendering little agencies and groups, like UNIFEM or the Division on the Advancement of Women or the secretary-general's special representative, dealing in these tiny clumps of assiduous fidelity, hoping that they will somehow reform things—they don't. It's not enough. They don't have the resources. They don't have the staff. They don't have the mandate. It just isn't enough. It requires an international agency for women.

We created AIDS-Free World, which is the ostensible guise within which I speak, because we wanted to continue to give profile to the issues that are controversial, contentious, but profoundly important. Whatever work that was done in the days of being the envoy on AIDS in Africa we wanted to perpetuate by keeping the focus on these issues. Women invariably are at the center of everything we do. It's the way the world works. That's why we have been working so hard on achieving the international agency for women.

I'm here thanks to Carnegie and thanks to the Canadian Consulate, and I really, really appreciate it, and I appreciate your willingness to endure this gentle polemic so early in the morning.

Thank you.

JOANNE MYERS: I have to sincerely thank you. When women speak about women, we listen, but when a man of your stature speaks about women, it's extraordinary. So thank you very much.

I would like to open the floor to questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. You can have a permanent title of "Ambassador for Women." I think we are all very grateful to you for that.

As we listened, since you understand the issues so well, and with 48 percent of the world made up of men, why is it that more men don't think about this, especially if they have daughters? Maybe the wife is supposed to be in the background, but a daughter—aren't they concerned about her future, and therefore don't they have empathy for young women who are being raped?

STEPHEN LEWIS: We might also like to have the wives in the foreground rather than merely in the background.

But just around these issues generally, there has been a paucity of male involvement. There are numbers of men who we thought might be appointed to speak to these issues internationally. We have not been able to get the appointment.

What's interesting, again, about the United Nations in the Congo is that there are 12 agencies that have a rubric called UN Action that are supposed to be doing things on the ground. But with the exception of UNICEF, which has been quite collaborative—and UNFPA has the alleged oversight, and OCHA is certainly involved in producing material from time to time—on the ground, the agencies simply haven't worked effectively to protect women. There's just no question about it. They will admit it if you force them to it.

There has been some discussion—I raised it—within UN Action about having a number of male figures to raise these issues frontally. We even took Dr. Mukwege, who just received an International Human Rights Award, along with Human Rights Watch, from the United Nations, just a few weeks ago—from the president of the General Assembly—who has just been given the honor of African of the Year by Nigeria, in conjunction with the African Union.

We brought him to the secretary-general and to UN Action and said, "Organize some men around Dr. Mukwege. Give him the status of a representative, as you do with others, as an ambassador to speak on these issues." No appointment in sight.

So the effort is being made.

Why do men behave that way? Because men as a species are beyond redemption. After you get past that reality, then you can attempt to do something. But it's tough. It's tough. Where AIDS is concerned, changing male sexual behavior is very, very difficult.

QUESTION: We talk about the feminization of HIV. Particularly in Africa, we are talking about the feminization of water, and also the feminization of education. Those are two entry points that, along with HIV, I think are quite significant as far as the argument and the advocacy for women's rights are concerned.

Would you comment on that, please?

STEPHEN LEWIS: It's wonderful to have a question from Sylvan, because we have intersected now for 20 years or more. What Rotary has done for this world, in the context of polio in particular, is really quite extraordinary. Rotary has given now close to $1 billion, and if polio is eradicated, it will be because of Rotary. It's really a tremendous contribution.

Sylvan, you are completely right about both water and education. The need to engage women in a way which isn't prejudicial to them, to keep girls in school—one of the things that we do at AIDS-Free World is to focus people on secondary education. Although now primary education is frequently free, I guess, in the majority of countries, there are still somewhere between 77 million and 100 million children of primary-school age who are not in school. So that's still a struggle. But at the secondary level in Africa, for example, of all the kids in secondary school, only 16 percent are girls, because, of course, girls are not chosen first to go to school, and the school fees simply act as an obstacle to get kids into school. For girls, it's terribly difficult.

So education becomes important.

Water is vital, not only in availability, but the imposition it puts on women to walk many kilometers—since I'm in the United States, many miles—to get the water.

So in both cases, you are quite right. These are significant issues.

Joanne, when she made her friendly introduction, mentioned the Millennium Development Goals. All of these goals are being compromised in their achievement by the year 2015 by virtue of the prejudice visited on women. It's not only the poverty, the communicable diseases, the lack of education; it's the tremendous struggle around gender equality in country after country in order to diminish the prevailing difficulties.

We are still not even close to getting by that. And now we face a tremendous resource difficulty. It's clear that with the economic downturn, we are going to be struggling for dollars. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria is $5 billion short at this moment. The United States, in its PEPFAR program for AIDS, despite approving a $48 billion budget for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria over the next five years, has defaulted on that objective in the first year. The money hasn't been appropriated. One hopes that when the president—I guess it's tonight, come to think of it—talks about his budget, that money will be preserved and will one day get allocated. But it's not allocated yet.

We are in a very difficult situation. When Bono was here in September, when the UN General Assembly opened, he had a press conference in which he said he did not understand how it was possible to find $700 billion in 48 hours to bail out Wall Street, but we couldn't find $25 billion from the United States and the entire assembly of G8 countries to meet the commitment that had been made at the Gleneagles Summit in the United Kingdom in July of 2005—the $25 billion additional per year for Africa, effective 2010. We have reached a level of $4 billion additional dollars.

In the meantime, the world has managed to find somewhere between $3 trillion and $5 trillion, worldwide, to deal with bailouts and stimulus packages, and we cannot find the $25 billion to make the Millennium Development Goals real in Africa, and that means to make life better for the women of Africa.

Just watching the inveterate systemic sexism of multilateralism, I just have to say to you that it really needs a profound change. That's why we are fighting so hard for the women's agency.

QUESTION: In terms of 1325, do you think that a resolution or anything written that is persistently and over a period of years unenforced, unfunded, under-mandated, does more harm than good?

STEPHEN LEWIS: I think so. But I am not sure that that is shared. I think people are so pleased to—UNIFEM always holds it up as one of their great achievements. But in truth, in the more than eight years, even UNIFEM is now conceding—in fact, UNIFEM has done a statistical breakdown of what hasn't happened for women in peace-making and peacekeeping operations, and I think they themselves are a little taken aback by how difficult it has been.

I would be inclined to say that there should be—what do they call it?—a sunset clause for Security Council resolutions. If there was one, there probably wouldn't be any Security Council resolutions left, when you think of it. But there should be some way of saying that if after a decade virtually nothing has happened with this resolution, it has to be abandoned, and let's start again.

That's a very disappointing resolution. And I fear that Resolution 1820, which Condoleezza Rice introduced, is going to go a similar direction. We may find that those admirable clauses will be simply pleasing rhetoric on paper, but nothing more than that.

QUESTION: You are very critical of the United Nations, its institutions. You have mentioned a number of resolutions that are already in place, and now you are advocating for a new agency. Do you really think that will change anything, or do we just have another agency and a name? Then isn't it the problem of implementing what is already there?

STEPHEN LEWIS: That is such a valid question. I appreciate your asking it. We have, ourselves, struggled with the proposition: Given the performance of the United Nations on women, will the creation of a new international agency make a decisive difference?

When the high-level panel reported and recommended the agency for women, they said some pretty critical things—in fact, a very unusual criticism of the United Nations and its record on women. Yet they recommended an international agency.

I think we feel that it's the one last chance. If it doesn't work, as far as I'm concerned, we wash our hands of a multilateral response and we find a way internationally of rallying the NGO community to do what the United Nations has failed to do. But I don't believe it has to come to that. I know what the United Nations is capable of.

When you had a UNICEF, for example, which was headed by Jim Grant in the 1980s and 1990s, you had this extraordinary progressive visionary who was able to put in place astonishing initiatives that transformed the lives of children all over the world, from immunization right through to oral rehydration salts, through, as Jim was leaving the post, to the protection issues—child soldiers, child labor, child sexual exploitation, et cetera.

I saw it with James Morris, when he took on the World Food Programme, transformed the agency into a responsive organization where there were disasters into an activist organization where there was human need. So suddenly James Morris, having traveled and seen what was happening to women- and child-headed households around the pandemic in Africa, began to take initiatives that had never been taken before by the World Food Programme. You could see the transformation.

I have to tell you this funny story, because it's so wonderful, so delicious.

James Morris was a classic Indiana Midwestern Republican, close ties to Lugar, the senator, phoned the president on a regular basis. He was Republicanism, burned into his soul. Had never been outside Indiana, suddenly finds himself wandering around the world. Paul and I made a trip with James Morris to four countries in southern Africa, where it was like a revelation, what he saw around him.

When he left office, he put on his Web site the following words. I swear it's real. "I left Indiana a Midwestern Republican and I returned a radical feminist."

It was so exquisite that a Republican could actually undergo a metamorphosis. Most Republicans don't have sufficient intellectual power to undergo any metamorphosis, but that they should be able to approximate something of this kind was absolutely stunning. I was very, very excited. It didn't restore my faith in the possibilities of others, but it did restore my faith in James Morris.

What I would like to see is that there be a worldwide effort to enlist applications, that the under-secretary-general not come from within the United Nations establishment, but come from outside, from the magnificent range of NGO and other leadership that's out there, so that we find the right woman to do it. I think if it came from within the United Nations, there would be a problem.

I know you are edging towards asking me who the bottleneck is, but I have to be asked frontally. I'm so well behaved.

QUESTION: I have the same concerns as the ambassador regarding the success of another agency, trying to grapple with funding issues and political obstacles at the level of the United Nations. I think you have addressed that somewhat.

Another dimension of my question is the ability of this agency to succeed, given the fact that they are seeking to transform societies that are inherently patriarchal and not willing to change that. What strategies would you recommend for such an agency? They have to go right back to these governments and try to implement policies, which will be tough enough itself to do. What would your suggestion be?

STEPHEN LEWIS: In partial response to the first half of that, let me point something out to everyone here. The high-level panel was appointed in the early part of 2006. It reported at the end of 2006. We had a General Assembly resolution, with no dissenting voices, supporting the architecture, the governance of a new agency for women to be drafted. That's two years after the recommendation. In the history of the United Nations, nothing has moved as quickly as the possibility of this international agency. It shows, I think, that everybody is aware that there is this enormous void in the United Nations system in responding to the needs and rights of women. Whoever heard of things moving in two years' time? It's just absolutely astounding for the United Nations. It would normally take them 200 years. So this is what you would call an incremental improvement.

Then you look at the other side of it. These are fights that have to be fought. If you get strong women, like strong people everywhere, you fight the fight. I can think back to UNFPA, when Nafis Sadik effectively chaired the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo—I was at that conference also—in 1994, and she took on the pope. She took on many of the other countries that were against condom use and against population work and family planning, et cetera.

Turio Bayeed (phonetic) has, in a pretty impressive fashion, done much of the same thing, with very, very difficult governments.

I think the United Nations has the capacity—I remember that memorable moment when Nafis said to the Vatican, "Tough luck. I'm running this show. You run your show. You have your little city-state. You go off and do what you want to do. I'm running the rest of the world." It was one of those moments when you realize there is a sea change occurring.

I genuinely believe that it is possible to fight the good fight. That's the way social change occurs. You have convulsive moments.

On behalf of AIDS-Free World, I spent last week in the Caribbean, in Barbados and Jamaica, dealing with homophobia and AIDS. I had never seen anything like it. We were talking with all of the sexual minorities, the sex workers, the transgendered, but mostly it was men having sex with men. Mostly it was the vulnerability of the homosexual community, but the unbelievable animus and rage and anger and hatred visited upon them by Jamaican society generally, and how you deal with that in the context of AIDS. Even though the prevalence rate in the country as a whole is around 1.5 percent, the prevalence rate in the gay community is almost 32 percent. So they present a highly disproportionate number infected, and because of the incredible sodomy laws—they call them "the buggery laws"—and because of the criminalization of homosexuality, you drive people underground, you drive them into relationships with women in order to show their hetero side, as it were, to hide their homosexuality. Then women get infected.

You can't deal with the epidemic in those countries unless you recognize that you have to give full rights to the gay population and decriminalize the homosexual laws and get rid of the sodomy laws.

It's really ugly stuff. I did so many radio programs where I thought I was—I just hadn't dealt with that kind of thing in many a year. It was fascinating to confront it, but it was very difficult.

There had been an unbelievable series of statements by a member of Parliament just a few days before I got there, who had got up in their own Parliament and excoriated gays and said they were violent and given to guns and that they were infiltrating the police and the security apparatus, and they shouldn't just be put away for five years, they should be put away for life, and their organizations should be disbanded.

It was astonishing. Human Rights Watch wrote a most intelligent, forceful letter to the prime minister setting out how this was a violation of human rights on every single front. Indeed, that material was picked up and used by others. There were even editorials, finally, and you could see that things were beginning to come together.

I was watching this momentary social convulsion and thinking to myself, this is the way social change occurs. You confront the issues forcefully, in an uncompromising and principled way. It's tough. It takes its toll. But society moves forward.

That's what has to happen around the women's issues. That's what I hope the women's agency will do, although I have to say that you have every right in the world to ask that question. It is the question. Are we riding on faith, to some extent? Maybe it's a religious moment in a secular soul. I don't know. But it's difficult.

QUESTION: Ambassador Lewis, given the problems that some women have under Islam, have Islamic countries or Islamic institutions made any efforts, directly or indirectly, to thwart your drive toward gender equality?

STEPHEN LEWIS: That's interesting. We have heard that within the G77, for example, there are some tremors of opposition based on ideological and religious disposition. But on the other hand, the initial opposition from the G77 countries has diminished, and now many of the leaders of the G77 are in favor of creating the agency. Indeed, they have gone so far as to say, if the other parts of system-wide coherence compromise creating a women's agency, then maybe we should de-link it as a separate issue and create it and not have it sullied by matters of governance or matters of finance.

The original opposition of the G77 was based more on a concern that the industrial world was again hoping to impose something on the developing world, rather than a religious or ideological opposition.

I think we can overcome that. We do have significant allies. I don't want to pretend that it's not important. It is. But I think there are ways of addressing it.

May I also introduce you to Sohaila Abdulali, who is our communications director? She is sitting one over from Paula and is cosmic in her encyclopedic grasp of these issues. Please don't hesitate to approach her afterwards if need be.

I'm going to end simply by saying that—this is shameless and indefensible, and you don't have to invite me back—we do want you to take a hard look, if you would be so kind, at the material we left on your tables for AIDS-Free World. I think we are doing things which are worthwhile in this world. It isn't easy to fund advocacy. It's not as difficult to fund programmatic work. I have a foundation in Canada where the funding is pretty easy, because it's all food, clothing, and shelter.

But here in the United States, where we have created AIDS-Free World to do advocacy, to raise the kinds of issues I have been raising this morning, it isn't as easy. So if you have friends or associates who might be interested, please don't hesitate. And if some of you are monumentally wealthy, then share your beneficence, for heaven's sake. Don't be so insular in your interests. You gave to Obama, so you understand what's required.

Thank you, everyone, immensely.

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