Sometimes it takes the call for a United Nations women's agency to realize there wasn't one in the first place.
A high-level U.N. panel endorsed the creation of an agency focused specifically on women yesterday. Special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis has been pushing for such an agency, and argued that such a body "holds the prospect of transforming the lives of women -- removing the worst poverty and oppression, saving lives in the midst of the AIDS pandemic and other massive health problems."
The proposal comes amid mounting frustration within the U.N. over internal sprawl, fragmentation and ineffectiveness. The creation of the agency, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan hopes to approve by the year's end, would consolidate efforts around the world -- and do so "fully and ambitiously funded."
The agency would be "one of the panel's boldest recommendations," said June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women's Environment and Development Organization. Others both inside and outside the U.N. issued similar statements about the boldness, even radicalism, of the idea.
"No society, no nation, can progress if the women in that society don't get due rights," panel co-chairman Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan said.
Once again, there's progress and then there's institutional progress. The recognition that women's rights are integral to peace and global health should scarcely warrant a yearlong panel investigation -- but there it is. Then again, even such an obvious concept has its opponents. Steven Ertelt at LifeNews.com referred to the would-be agency as a "pro-abortion women's agency."
He wasn't the only one voicing that concern. "Lewis proposal would dramatically strengthen the already-incredibly strong radical-feminist influence at the U.N., and it would virtually ensure that abortion would become a human right around the world," Concerned Women for America spokeswoman Janice Shaw Crouse said in a statement. More cryptically: "Having another initiative for 'gender equality' would establish another roadblock to having the real needs of women addressed," she claimed.
If shoving multiple ineffective agencies under one giant new umbrella sounds familiar, well, the Department of Homeland Security probably already knows you were thinking that. But bureaucratic consolidations are not all created equal, and U.N. watchers sound optimistic that the new agency will improve efficiency.