Sunday, July 04, 2010

New United Nations body for women

From The New York Times:

A U.N. Agency for Women? Yes! But Those Names...
Published: July 2, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — A certain hallowed ritual around the United Nations holds that to ensure a truly auspicious beginning, any new branch of the world body needs a really first-rate acronym.

So the new umbrella organization for women, which was unanimously approved by the General Assembly on Friday after years of haggling, seemed off to a rocky start, given that its acronym would be Unegeew.

That shorthand stands for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. It borders on being unpronounceable, and as some indigenous wags pointed out, ends with a rather unfortunate “eew” sound.

The General Assembly’s resolution actually christened the fledgling organization U.N. Women, which nobody likes either. (The basic complaint is that it smacks of a social club, rather than an organization designed to lead the transformation of women’s lot globally.) A proposed name discarded as not quite catchy enough was Nations United for Women. In the end, diplomats have resorted to calling it the “Gender Entity,” often groaning or laughing as they say the words.

Of course, there is nothing like a language issue to get the French exercised. French is one of the two official languages of the United Nations, but very little work around headquarters unrolls en français. (To make the point, a few months ago the French ambassador to the United Nations, Gérard Araud, who speaks mellifluous English, refused to start speaking at a news conference until the often elusive interpreters were in place to translate from French to English.)

With the new women’s organization, the French managed to get the official translation included in a footnote: ONU Femmes. Now they are pushing for that name to be used over the English version.

“ONU Femmes just sounds so much better than ‘unwomen,’” said Stéphane Crouzat, the spokesman for the French Mission.

The basic idea behind U.N. Women is to pull together four small, fragmented agencies that worked on women’s issues, with much duplication. By reconstituting the agencies into a single entity, member nations are hoping the organization will provide the United Nations with more clout in addressing women’s problems. U.N. Women is supposed to undertake a variety of tasks, from supervising projects around the world to lobbying for better laws for women to ensuring that United Nations agencies promote women’s equality.

Its director will be a senior post, an under secretary general. The basic criterion for the job, which is expected to be filled in September, is for someone seen as an international star from “the south,” so as not to give the impression that the Western world is thrusting its concept of women’s rights on the rest. The favorite so far is Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile.

The negotiations dragged on because of resistance among some member states to the very idea that women needed their own United Nations organization. It took four years to negotiate the final text. The problem with finding a good name, diplomats said, is that they ran out of time.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 3, 2010, on page A5 of the New York edition.

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